Wednesday, 30 April 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The speech that Haşim Kılıç, the president of the Turkish Constitutional Court, gave at the 52th anniversary of the founding of the court, sharply criticizing the government for the purges in the judiciary, has been widely castigated by pro-government commentators. Kılıç, a religious conservative, is condemned as a “traitor” to the cause of the Islamic conservatives. More cautious commentators observe that Kılıç has pointed to a real problem, but nonetheless make the case that Kılıç and the court needs to dispel the impression that it is taking sides in the power struggle between the government and the supporters of Fethullah Gülen.


Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman notes that the results of the March 30 municipal elections came as a surprise to many. The conservative base did not shut its eyes to the errors of the government, but it did judge that that the opponents of the government were committing a graver and more dangerous mistake. The stance of the opposition served to confirm that an even greater threat was looming. The threat in question is the possibility that the broad masses that had had to support eighty year of state oppression and authoritarian secular hegemony were going to forfeit their gains of the last decade. What quickly spread among this constituency was the concern that not only the AKP but also their own democratic rights and possibilities were in danger of evaporating. People voted for the AKP, but deep down, they reclaimed their own future… The support given to the AKP expresses the refusal to resurrect the past and the search to construct something new in its place. In short, what we face is a popular movement, a popular “revolution” extended in time. An eighty year old parenthesis is being closed… The AKP government is continuing its adventure of rule that is likely to last twenty years as a one party era, thanks to the “natural” sociological impetus that underpins it. And the conservative section of society that continues to grow in strength knows precisely what this historical adventure means. For that reason, this appropriation is not for nothing. And there is no place in the future of Turkey for those who fail to recognize this.


Oral Çalışlar in Radikal writes that Haşım Kılıç has made clear that he has taken his place alongside the opposition against the government. With his speech, Kılıç has announced that he sides with the Gülen cemaat and the opposition in general. The most striking part of the speech was the part where he defied Prime Minister Erdoğan who often speaks about “parallel state” and “cabal”. Kılıç said: “If you have any proof in your hands, show it, or otherwise keep quiet.” We can see that the discussion is about much more than the question of the separation of powers and checks and balances; among public opinion, the discussion is understood to be part of a turf war, of a hardening power struggle that has now come to engulf the Constitutional Court as well. It is clear that we have not yet seen the end of this fight.


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak asks if it can be argued that the speech of Haşim Kılıç did not have a political backdrop. Of course not; as a rule, constitutional courts exercise the role of political checking the executive everywhere. Each and every ruling inevitably has political implications. This has become even more so (in Turkey) after 2010, when the right to make individual applications to the Constitutional Court was introduced. This political function becomes more pronounced in situations like the present one in Turkey, where the political opposition is weak and when the rulings of the court concern politically contested issues. Under these circumstances, the court acts as if it forms an opposition, or there is an expectation that it will take upon itself to play such a role. Special attention must also be paid to the cemaat factor. The allegations that are made in the AK Party concerning the influence of the cemaat in the court and the claims that certain judges are indeed close to the cemaat cannot be brushed aside. The government deserves criticism when it sets aside the rule of law. But the Constitutional Court also needs to cleanse itself from the ethical and political problems that surround it.


Fehmi Koru in Star notes that, as expected, the message of the speech of Haşım Kılıç was welcomed and embraced by the opposition, while it was disapproved by the government. There are many CHP supporters who now excitedly say that they have found the presidential candidate they had been looking for; they hold that Haşım Kılıç would be perfect. The Haşım Kılıç who I know is not going to shoulder that role; but you never know, he is only human… A presidential contest in which Haşım Kılıç runs against either Abdullah Gül or Tayyip Erdoğan would turn into an election where it would not be easy at all to find anything that distinguishes the candidates from each other. I don’t think that the CHP would gain anything by endorsing Haşım Kılıç is such a contest; a CHP that commits itself to send Haşım Kılıç to Çankaya (the presidential palace) would forfeit its raison d’être in the eyes of its base. And given Haşım Kılıç’s performance so far, once at Çankaya, he is bound to take positions that are going to make the CHP regret its endorsement.


Taner Akçam in Taraf writes that the real question is not about what Prime Minister Erdoğan said about the Armenian issue, but what and who made him make the statement. It is known that with 2015 approaching, the government is feeling that it has it back against the wall in the international arena, and that it wants to find an exit. These words don’t announce a changed dynamic; with the approach of 2015, Turkey is carrying out a damage control operation. If the prime minister had uttered these word ten years ago, then we would really have seen them as a “revolution.” What first must be done by the authorities is to admit that their prior refusal to say the truth was wrong; they have to say something about this. Without first admitting that 1915 was a crime against humanity, merely saying that “everyone suffered”, “let’s understand the pain of everyone” is not going to take you anywhere. Nothing will be solved unless you learn to distinguish between war losses and the crime against humanity that genocide constitutes. First you need to learn to call homicide a homicide. Going toward 2015, there is no other alternative that admitting the historical homicide, apologizing for this homicide and start negotiations with Armenia and the Diaspora with a view to making amends for the destruction that was wrought. Every initiative that paves the way for this is welcome, but only for that reason, not because it will put an end to the issue. This has to be recognized.

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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