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Mustafa Domanic

Istanbul, Turkey

Mustafa Domanic is an online activist and blogger. He contributes to several blogs on Turkish current affairs as well as global political issues including Close.

Mustafa Domanic

Istanbul, Turkey

Mustafa Domanic is an online activist and blogger. He contributes to several blogs on Turkish current affairs as well as global political issues including more »

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2007, Turkey’s Breaking Point

The Question: What was the biggest news story in your country last year [in 2007], and why?

For all the observers who have followed Turkey regularly throughout the last decade, 2007 seemed like a 'two-hour-long season finale'. In January, Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in front of his office, prompting thousands to take the streets in protest. This was only a prelude to the massive secularist rallies of April and May, which were then followed in November by nationalist demonstrations in reaction to deadly terror attacks by the separatist PKK. Although all these crowds had seemingly different reasons to take the streets and different ideological and demographical make-ups, they all shared a common motivation; a strong feeling of insecurity and a desire to raise their voices in a way that would penetrate the cacophony of Turkish politics. That is why, instead of singling out one of these as the most important event of the year, I will try to explain their interrelatedness and the significance of 2007 as a breaking point in modern Turkish history.

A few hours after Hrant Dink's murder, I joined the first spontaneous protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The prevalent feeling around me was one of outrage and of insecurity. The protesters chanting slogans of empathy with Hrant Dink were afraid that their right to free speech was under assault and that their government had once again failed to protect it. Hrant Dink was not the only journalist to have been murdered in Turkey but his murder epitomized the many failures in Turkey's political system that left her citizens feeling insecure. Hrant Dink's murder was not a hate crime, it was a political crime. He was targeted because he was taken to court on a charge that he insulted 'Turkishness' although any literate person could have told the court that it was not the intention of his column. And I won’t even discuss the vagueness of the infamous Article 301, under which he was charged.

It was a political crime because Dink was a member of Turkey's diminishing minority, which has repeatedly been terrorized. The political system did nothing to prevent it. If we had taught our schoolchildren, including Hrant's 17-year-old shooter, about what happened to the Greek minority in Istanbul in September 1955 – or if we had taught them of the plight of the Armenians in 1915 instead of the Seljuk-Roman war of 1071 – Hrant Dink might well still be alive.
The protesters in Taksim Square knew all this. They had repeatedly tried to speak out before, but their voices were lost in the cacophony and their demands were not given priority. Now they stood side by side walking the streets to fight their fear that they might have been targets too, had they spoken their minds.

Another group that felt insecure and gathered to protest in April was the middle class secularists, who felt that the overwhelming conservative majority in the parliament had an agenda to slowly impose a more Islamic life on all. Despite the fact that the organizers of these protests had their own secret agenda as well, people attended because they felt that the constitution was not enough to protect their rights. They needed a show of force and unity in order to be recognized. Their representatives had failed to serve their needs; the true demands of the millions of people who came to the numerous rallies were again lost within the gears of Turkish political machine. Their speakers were either blocked by the oppressive ten-percent national threshold to win seats in the parliament, or they had spent more of their energy within the monarchic party politics of Turkey.

Yet another group who followed the tradition of expressing their views in the streets were the nationalists. The ongoing perceptions of a threat from all sides had put Turkish nationalists in an introverted mood; they felt besieged and helpless against attacks from terrorists. In fact, this was again the result of the shortcomings of Turkish politics. Within Turkey’s junta-designed political system, the prevailing method of forging unity against any problem was to use nationalist fear. The state had used this method without any regard to its consequences, yet ironically here were the nationalists finding themselves marginalized and on the streets as well. The state and its institutions could not find a solution to Turkey's Kurdish problem, which was at the root of its terror problem; instead, they focused on their old methods and in the end left citizens feeling that they needed to take matters into their own hands.

When citizens of a country cannot trust their constitution or the institutions of the state and they feel the need to protest, it must mean that the political system has hit its expiration date. The make-up of Turkish public has been changing rapidly since the 1980s with the impact of liberal capitalism. Turkey is no longer a simple nation state and the political design based on that assumption cannot be enforced anymore. 2007 showed all observers and commentators that Turkey is in desperate need of re-designing its constitution and its major institutions in order to meet the needs of all its constituents. If it fails to do so, it will cease to be the strong country that its people believe it to be.

Some will say that the events of 2007 were birth pains during a reformist process, and that the current government has good intentions. But I am starting to worry that what we are witnessing is not real, in-depth reform, but rather the replacement of one status quo with another.

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