Chicken or egg?

The street battles which paralyzed İstanbul on May 1 were only a reminder of the bitter mood. The increasingly aggressive language in Parliament between parties, a deadlock in the talks within the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, growing enmity between the ideological divides on all levels and deep divisions opening up within the media all lie in the background.

The search for a peaceful national “modus vivendi” was summarized by the reformist camp on the eve of the referendum (for partial amendments to the current constitution) in 2010 as “Not enough, but yes!”

It put the expectations in context: Turkey needs change, and in total, for a first-class democracy.

Today, in the midst of a flux of developments, there is a new debate borne out of the (so far successfully ongoing) peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

While the Kemalist, nationalist and militarist opposition, which are disguised under misleading pseudonyms which recall left or right and are wrapped tightly in threatening rhetoric, engages in a Turkish version of a “nyet, nyet, nyet!” campaign, those in the reformist camp are now being torn apart around a new question of whether more democracy will bring peace or vice versa.

Hasan Cemal, who was forced to quit the Milliyet daily not so long ago for defending honest journalism, defined this in a blog as a crucial chicken and egg situation. Is it possible for there to be peace without democracy? Is it possible that there can be democracy without peace? We are all, as observers of the major flux in Turkey, Hamlets of our time, facing very tough questions.

The debate has already caused bitter episodes within the strictly proprietor-controlled big media, which has shrunk to the size of a dwarf overwhelmed by the magnitude of events. One after another, independent voices are silenced, fired or forced to leave.

But it has also spilled over to a focal point of free voices into the tiny but influential daily Taraf, which was shattered by the resignation of its editor, Oral Çalışlar, and the en masse resignations of its reformist columnists which followed.

Although many of the developments there still do not add up, it is obvious that much blood was lost and as some colleagues argued, “The backbone of a very important daily may have been broken for good.”

Yet, since much remains to be seen, let us leave it at that, only noting — on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day — that the Taraf case also shows how damaging the role of media proprietors in Turkish media today can be.

The main question remains: Peace or democracy, which comes first?

What makes it valid is certainly the ongoing peace talks with the PKK. As with many issues which have to do with major changes, it had a “centrifugal effect” along many layers. It has brought closer the anti-Justice and Development Party (AKP) and anti-Kurdish camps but caused new cracks and gaps among the liberals, moderate Islamists, social democrats and socialists.

It has also opened up new frontlines.

Perhaps the most important layer is the social fabric. At the moment, nobody knows for sure whether the peace process will succeed. Though the overall support for it is above 50 percent, Turks need to be convinced that Turkey will not be split into parts while Kurdish citizens need to be convinced that they will not be once more duped into submission with no rights granted.

The equation is made more difficult, on a political level, with a deeply rooted cultural element: blind obstinacy. It was on full display on May 1 amongst the demonstrators and authorities. Positions are locked.

In the deep background lies the bitter struggle for a new constitution. It paves the way for all sorts of tactical moves. The opposition has adopted a cunning stand that is only based on the possible failure of the peace process while delaying the draft work.

The ruling AKP, while aware that the peace process is a one-way street, is aggressively driving a presidential model which apparently falls short of the proper checks and balances, pushing the polarization to new heights.

As a result, uncertainties over whether Turkey will be able to deliver a constitution continue to accumulate. However, the genie is out of the bottle for good. Intertwined and non-separable, democracy and peace will have to give birth to each other.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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