‘Democracy’s Challenge with Turkey’ debated in Abant Platform

Abant Platform participants are seen during a session of the 34th Abant Platform meeting on Saturday. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mehmet Yaman)
Abant Platform participants are seen during a session of the 34th Abant Platform meeting on Saturday. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mehmet Yaman)


Date posted: January 31, 2016

SEVGİ AKARÇEŞME | BOLU

A large group of Turkey’s intellectuals gathered on Saturday in the Bolu province for the 34th Abant Platform meeting to debate the country’s democracy problems, amid criticism of increasing authoritarianism and conflict in the country.

The participants, most of whom are veteran intellectuals from all walks of life, agreed about the unsolved challenges of Turkish democracy, including the Kurdish issue, the debate over an executive presidency and a so-called “Turkish style” Constitution, as well as a heightened level of arbitrary rule.

The meeting’s participants included prominent figures such as former Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay, renowned intellectuals Baskın Oran and Murat Belge, Zaman Editor-in-Chief Abdülhamit Bilici, Zaman columnist Ali Bulaç, Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin, former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış, author and publisher Ömer Laçiner, former Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Reha Çamuroğlu and Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) Deputy Chairman Erkam Tufan Aytav.

The meeting’s theme is “Democracy’s Challenge with Turkey,” and it focuses on both Turkey’s recent past and the current issues of today.

Çamuroğlu, moderator of one of the panels, stated that Turkey is going through an “extraordinary period” which is not likely to end in an ordinary way. Writer and scholar Murat Belge defined the current period in Turkey as “frightening,” while using the example of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instruction to local governors not to pay attention to official regulations.

Placing responsibility on the country’s elite, Şahin Alpay, columnist for Zaman and Today’s Zaman, said Turkey now encounters a tutelary system backed by the people, which has replaced the military tutelage of former years.

At the Abant Platform meeting, the representative of each group in society all tended to express their grievances with the state of Turkey. The editor-in-chief of Greek newspaper Apoyevmatini, Mihail Vasiliadis, said the state applied a policy of erosion against non-Muslims in the country.

Kurds on the other hand, such as pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır deputy İmam Taşçıer, listed the Kurdish question as the number one challenge for democracy in Turkey while calling for “collective rights” for Kurds. Another Kurdish politician, Hüda Kaya, urged everyone to pay attention to the atrocities in southeastern Turkey, while sending a warning that violence would soon spread to the West unless people react to the ongoing issues.

A large group of journalists who have been targeted by the government were also in attendance at the meeting. TV journalist Tarık Toros, who was the editor-in-chief of Bugün TV, a station that was taken over by the government live on air in last October, complained about the lack of solidarity among different sectors of society in Turkey when it comes to defending the rights of others.

‘Feb. 28′ mentality is still rife in Turkey

Another sacked journalist, Nazlı Ilıcak, directed attention to the ongoing “witch hunt” against the faith-based Hizmet movement and rejected the assumption that the movement was an ally of the government. “Whomever is the government, that is responsible for mistakes in the past,” Ilıcak cried out in reference to mishaps in some of the controversial legal cases regarding the army over the last decade.

Professor of law Serap Yazıcı on the other hand argued that those who conducted the Feb. 28 post-modern coup in 1997 are still “influential and in charge” because they chose to use Milli Görüş (National View), [a political view from which the AK Party originated] instead of fighting against it.

A dictatorship of the majority is in the making

Political scientist Baskın Oran argued that Erdoğan has been establishing a dictatorship of the majority thanks to the popular support he receives. “He has created the Islamist version of the nation state,” Oran pointed out, while adding that the people in Turkey are now learning how to struggle against an evil that came out of the ballot box.

Another political scientist and former Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Binnaz Toprak, like many other participants, referred to the political culture and said a genuine liberal idea has never took root in Turkey.

An unchecked, personalistic system is desired

Veteran Professor of Constitutional Law, Ergun Özbudun, who in the past chaired a commission set up by the AK Party to draft a new Constitution, said the problem with constitution making in Turkey has nothing to do with Turkey’s inability to do so, but rather with unlawfulness.

According to Özbudun, the present government of Turkey, by asking for a switch to a presidential system, desires a “personalistic rule deprived of all checks and balances.” He also mentioned public opinion polls which suggest that people are against the idea of a presidential system.

Stating that the government eliminated judicial independence in Turkey, Professor Özbudun expressed his concern over the separation of powers in the suggested executive presidential system. Many AK Party officials have been referring to the system they would like to introduce as a “Turkish style presidential system,” details of which are unknown to the people.

The Abant Platform saw extensive participation from a wide range of scholars, civil society representatives, journalists and politicians. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yakar Yakış, Former Minister of Tourism and Culture Ertuğrul Günay, author Perihan Mağden, HESA President İbrahim Cerrah, and columnist and professor Mehmet Altan were among the names on the program.

Organized by the GYV, Abant Platform has been a main forum bringing together independent intellectuals to discuss Turkey’s key social and political issues.
The Abant Platform says it “was established on the premise that dogmatic biases dominant for a long time in Turkish political life are the foremost permanent obstacles hindering democratic development.” Since 1998, it has held regular meetings for the purpose of discussing and establishing solutions to critical problems in Turkey.

Source: Today's Zaman , January 30, 2016


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