Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

Towards a Turkish Spring

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AP
AP

Strange the way History hesitates, stutters, takes shape, speeds up and, suddenly, crystalizes.

For the past ten years, we've put up with everything from Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

We tolerated the arrest of journalists and intellectuals, the reign of the arbitrary, and terror as an everyday occurrence.

We tolerated the closing of bars on the pretext of concern for public health and the condemnation of writers, humorists, and pianists for blasphemy.

In the name of the "moderate Islamism" it was supposed to represent, we tolerated a feverish upsurge in anti-Semitism and the obstinate, almost crazy refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide, just months before its centenary.

We looked the other way when Kurds and other minorities were subjected to repression.

We refused to admit that, before Europe even reminded him of not only the economic, but the political and moral conditions set down for any candidate to join the EU, he, Erdogan, had already chosen to turn his back on Europe and on the values it presupposes and embodies.

To paraphrase Henri IV*, Ankara was worth a sermon, and so the myth of the "AKP model," founded on a State Islamism, under control and thus moderate, was created, one not dissimilar -- oh, maybe a just the slightest bit tougher -- to a German or Italian Christian democracy.

NATO obliged (and also, one must mention, the future pipelines of central Asia that would one day permit the capitals of Europe to escape their dependence upon heavy-handed Moscow's control over the energy faucet, or so it was thought), we discreetly shut our eyes to the suffocation of little Armenia next door, to the expansionism in the Muslim republics of the former USSR, and to the unfailing and unscrupulous support of all the local despots.

Turkish society itself, this Muslim society that thought it had definitively exorcized the bad demons of radical Islam a century ago, watched, powerless and apparently resigned -- or perhaps unable to really believe its eyes -- the slow but methodical unraveling of the Kemalist heritage and its beautiful conquests of civilization.

And now, suddenly, a real estate development project, a simple -- although Pharaonic -- development project has set the spark to powder, precipitating a revolt that has been smoldering in secret but had not yet found the adequate words or the courage to assert itself.

Who are these demonstrators at Taksim Square and those who, in the country's other cities, have followed their lead?

Ecologists, mobilized to save century-old trees?

Secularists who know their city is already the site of some of the most magnificent mosques in the world and can see no point in constructing still another at this symbolic place, not only of protest, but of Istanbul's citizens' capacity to get along together?

Kemalists, horrified to see the Ataturk Cultural Center that borders on Gezi Park, of which they were so proud, replaced by this mosque, along with a shopping center built exactly like an old Ottoman barracks?

Alevis, who consider naming the future third bridge over the Bosphorus after Selim I, the sultan responsible for the massacres that decimated their people five centuries ago, one more provocation to add to so many other humiliations and stigmatizations, crossing the threshold of the intolerable?

Democrats who, in this commercial and religious center planned by a new sultan fast becoming an Ottoman version of Putin, see the exact image of the wheeling and dealing with an Islamist face that is at the very heart, indeed, the signature of this regime?

Yes, of course, all that at once.

It's as though a veil has been lifted, or a mask removed.

It is the truth of a State that, though it has benefited from the exceptional economic growth that has made Turkey the world's ninth power, is bursting before our eyes after nearly eleven years of increasingly suffocating power.

It is Erdogan, the emperor who is, indeed, nude, and the myth of his Islamism with a smile that is crumbling like a mirage.

Arab springs are not the only ones.

There is, there will be, a Turkish spring, led by this same crowd of students, intellectuals, representatives of liberal professions, pro-Europeans, those who love their cities and democracy and who, six years ago, after the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, demonstrated in the streets, shouting, "We are all Armenians."

One day or another, Turkey will become part of Europe.

This will be a stroke of good luck for the country, as it will be for a Europe that is sinking deeper into crisis.

But to do so, the country must return to the path of its stride towards democracy.

Turkey must fully convert to respect for human rights and the rule of law.

And Erdogan is no longer -- and in reality never was -- the leader who can accomplish this.

He was adequate for the chancelleries and the realpolitik of the West.

But he has become the enemy of a civil society that will not easily allow the noble part of its memory to be confiscated, one that, today, is telling him, "You too, Erdogan -- beat it! »

*Henri IV converted to Catholicism in order to become king of France in 1593 and is said to have remarked, "Paris is worth a Mass."