What do you expect to happen in the elections? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Why or why not?
It is difficult to predict the result of Turkey’s upcoming presidential election because it is an unfair competition. The former leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, is in prison. Demirtaş is supporting the candidacy of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), from prison. Moreover, the regime built by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has almost total control over the media, uses the Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs)—which runs 80,000 mosques—as a political instrument, and requires other state institutions to be loyal to the personality of Erdoğan.
If it had been a fair competition, I could confidently say that it is a done deal— all reliable surveys show that Kılıçdaroğlu will win the election. The only question is whether he will win in the first or the second round.
But because Turkey is a competitive authoritarian regime, we do not know what means Erdoğan will be willing and able to employ in order to hold onto power for another five year period.
According to the Turkish constitution, Erdoğan is not qualified to run again after serving two terms. But the Supreme Electoral Council discounted his first term and allowed his candidacy. This is another indication that the election will be irregular.
If the gap between the vote share of Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan appears to be too large, then the regime will be forced to accept a power transition, similar to what happened in Turkey after the 1950, 1983, and 2002 elections.
If Erdoğan manages to stay in office, Turkey will face even darker times. Both the brain drain and the economic crisis will get worse. Authoritarianism will also become more entrenched; Erdoğan has publicly announced that he will go after the opposition after the elections.
If Kılıçdaroğlu wins, this will create waves of positive energy at home and abroad. Many in Western countries will see it as a new opportunity for strengthening economic and cultural ties with Turkey. This is what Turkey needs to solve its economic problems.
It is the Turkish Republic’s 100th anniversary. How has Turkey tumbled into this massive crisis at every level?
To begin with, Turkey was built on the ruins of a collapsing empire. This is always a problematic start, as seen in the comparable case of the Russian Republic after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Turkey inherited many problems from the late Ottoman Empire, such as socio-economic underdevelopment, the authoritarian state, and the complex relations between Islam and politics. The Kemalist elite thought that they could easily solve these problems by creating a republic based on assertive secularism and Turkish nationalism.
But both these pillars of the Republic caused complications. “Assertive secularism” created a reaction among conservative Muslims who have been the numerical majority in Turkey. Turkish nationalist policies were also resisted by most Kurds.
Erdoğan came to power in 2003 by promising to solve these problems, by establishing an alliance with Kurds, Gülenists, and liberal intellectuals. Ten years later, he put most of his former allies into jail and established a new partnership between his populist Islamist followers and the ultra-nationalists. This new partnership has caused multiple crises.
Will Kılıçdaroğlu be able to solve these problems if he is elected? There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Kılıçdaroğlu declared that he will not return to assertive secularist policies, such as the headscarf ban. He also seems to be more open-minded than the typical Kemalist elite on the Kurdish question. We will see whether he will work with a team qualified enough to address these issues effectively.
What do you see as the solution for a stable and peaceful Turkey, given the culture, demographic changes, and global instability? Any suggestions?
We are facing a global decline of democracy. Right-wing populists have brought together religious conservatism, xenophobic nationalism, and demagogue leaders in many countries. Social media and communication technologies could have been used to expand education and spread information. Instead, they have been largely used to disseminate misinformation and promote anti-intellectualism.
In the last few years, right-wing populists lost elections in two major countries — the United States and Brazil. If Erdoğan loses, Turkey will be added to that list. It will be an opportunity to rethink everything.
We can be hopeful about the future of Turkey if various groups pursue self-reflection about what they have done in the last few decades and learn lessons from their own mistakes.
Groups in Turkey should stop blaming other groups. There may be “innocent individuals” but there is not a single innocent group in Turkey when we think about our decades-long crises.
Similarly, people in Turkey should stop blaming the West for their own problems. Anti-Western conspiracy theories globally promote laziness and “group narcissism.” Anti-Westernism is not beneficial for Turkey. Reestablishing stronger relations with Western countries will help Turkey address its economic, scientific, and geopolitical problems more effectively.