A considerable portion of the reactions I receive on my analyses of matters related to Turkey has been shaped over the “optimism-pessimism” divide. It implies, often, that pessimism is a more correct approach, while optimism should be seen as naiveté.
It is partly understandable because of the history of unfulfilled promises and constant cheats that have defined Turkey’s path in the past decades. Wisdom says that it may be a trap.
That is the reason why my response to many of those reactions of my analyses is always the same. I tell them: “To understand Turkey and its people is equal to mastering a rational, consistent balance between optimism and pessimism. Turkey does the opposite: It pitches from one extreme or the other.”
Some reactions distinguish themselves as unrealistic or insincere. Often, points in criticism of the AKP’s decade fail because of the inability to make a connection between its pragmatism and the complex social realities which created it.
Furthermore, almost every critical point regarding the sincerity of the AKP needs a sincerity test itself. As it turns out, many of those who have held a secret agenda theory have proven to act from an opposing secret agenda themselves.
Transitional eras and powerful reform processes do this to you: Like what is happening with many domestic and international actors and monitors of Turkey, your realism and sincerity are under a ruthless litmus test.
It was Yossi Beilin’s views, I must confess, that made me write the lines above. A veteran Israeli politician and the architect behind the Oslo Accord and Geneva Initiative between Israel and Palestine, Beilin told Today’s Zaman the following about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) peace talks and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal ambitions: “I am reading interpretations that Erdoğan is doing it [peace talks] for the presidency. Imagine that he does it only because he wants to become president. So what? Whatever the motivation is, it is very, very important.”
In his wisdom, Beilin sends out a wakeup call. His is a good point: “So what?” Why is it a good point? Simply because there are more than enough pretexts for all the adversary political forces of the AKP to fear monger and demonize Erdoğan’s ambitions, with a particular focus on his persona.
The entrenched warfare of resistance in Turkey to any change has often been successful, making observers forget that the AKP as the interlocutor of transformation is far too complex to let itself be fully instrumentalized by its leader, no matter how popular. (If an alternative emerges, it will come from within the AKP in the future.)
With the lack of a reasonable alternative befitting a new Turkey to take shape, Erdoğan as a politician will seek a broader power base; it is natural for every politician to do so.
The problem is elsewhere.
The real, timely challenge in Turkey today is not in a frustrated opposition — formatted as a stumbling block for all change — but in how to increase the field of influence to steer the AKP to build a solid democratic foundation.
When the frustration is interlocked with blind animosity and hatred, and as long as the real intention is to fight for the status quo, reality can be evasive to observers’ eyes. Turkey now proceeds to two fixed destinations: a) The more Ankara, Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s armed command and Arbil progress toward a solution, the more inevitable a ground reform will have to be, and people need to realize that. The destiny of Turkey’s Kurds is not exclusively tied to Turkey but also to Iraqi Kurds and Syria. “Cheating” becomes too risky.
b) A new constitution is on every political party’s agenda, a major issue they campaigned for in 2011. It naturally feeds the opposition’s frustration when the AKP and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) mean serious business regarding a new constitution. Realistically, the issue is much less about a new (semi) presidential system and much more about proper checks and balances, rule of law, (collective) rights and freedoms, local self-rule and modern secularism.
Change is bound to happen. If not managed properly and wisely, then, and only then, will we have reason for pessimism.