THE BLOG
01/22/2014 06:13 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

It's Still the Same Old Same Old in Turkey

What it looks like from across the ocean is that polemics are causing deep divisions and polarization in Turkish society and causing confusion and a lack of credibility with regard to foreign affairs. The latest picture of Turkey shows that people need to be more aware of the influences that have molded them over thousands of years so as to be able to face the problems that come with change.

For Turkey, the year 2013 ended with a damaged democracy, a government corruption scandal and conflict between the Gülen movement and the government. There is growing aggravation that is becoming a tsunami. In a televised end of the year address, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "I invite every one of our 76 million people to stand up for themselves, to defend democracy and to be [united] as one against these ugly attacks on our country," blaming "dark forces" and foreign countries for the current chaos in Turkey. Even though it's great to hear Erdoğan call the whole nation to duty and not just his 50 percent, it's unbearable to start the new year with an old-fashioned speech. Turkish politicians have always preferred to believe in conspiracy theories rather than face the causes of problems. And some politicians cannot give up on their old habits. Even though Turkey is ready for an open democracy it seems that the prime minister and the circle around him want to stay in a closed society.

Yes, since 2001 the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has significantly improved the Turkish economy. Turkey's economic relations have been expanded in its neighborhood and these improvements elevated the credibility and visibility of Turkey in the international arena. Many believed Turkey's "soft power" would be a source of stability in the region and it was considered a potential remedy to the many conflicts in its geography. Thus, when the Arab uprising started in 2010, Turkey was presented as a model for the transition to better democracy and economic prosperity in the region.

Yet, soon after the AK Party won the parliamentary elections for a third time in the summer of 2011 this picture started to change. The AK Party's domestic policies and Erdoğan's harsh style of interfering in people's private lives has polarized society. His commitment to a pluralist understanding of democracy faded. We have been witness to amazing instability and turbulence in Turkey since June, beginning with the Gezi demonstrations. Now, Erdoğan is being accused of becoming authoritarian.

However, Prime Minister Erdoğan insists that all those who disagree with him are either being manipulated by the old forces he has been fighting for his whole political life or they are provocateurs acting with the support of other countries. He totally ignores the fact that there are lots of people who have truly and sincerely been criticizing only Mr. Erdoğan's overbearing attitude with regard to their privacy and personal liberties and now the recent corruption investigation has left many with questions.

Mr. Erdoğan and his advocates in media have to accept that the Turkish government cannot change reality to be according to his perception and that they are damaging the democratic image of Turkey and the prestige in the international arena that the AK Party government has been trying to build up for the last decade. We don't need worn out conspiracy theories to read the situation or old-fashioned political vision to see what's going on. The recent picture tells us that somehow Prime Minister Erdoğan and many others cannot grasp the results of the AK Party's own policies: Turkey is not the same as it was 10 years ago. It has changed. The Turkish people now want a more transparent and open democracy.

It's time to change our mindsets. If we want to have a solid and mature democracy we have to pay for it. The leaders and society of the 21st century should be open to discussing different ideas and respect them even if they don't approve of them. Turkey is an important country in the international arena and shouldn't try to go back to its old identity. We have been there already; now it is a new day. In order to understand what's going on, we all need to get rid of the templates and clichés in our attitudes.

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