These criticisms do not come from diehard Kemalist opponents of the AK Party but from liberal circles that supported the party’s agenda of democratization. And these recent criticisms are not altogether baseless. The once reformist party of Turkey seems to have developed statist, nationalist and even Islamist tendencies, which are the likely grounds for a new authoritarian politics.
These tendencies can be discerned in the government’s approach to the Uludere incident, in which 34 civilians mistaken for terrorists were killed during a military air strike near the Turkish-Iraqi border, as well as its attempts to legislate conservative values into law. We can start with Uludere, where the government, from the beginning, acted inconsistently, first admitting there was a mistake and then making statements to the contrary. An investigation was initiated, but after six months there still is no answer to the simple question of who is responsible and what really happened on that particular day.
Knowing state tradition, I do understand why we are not getting straight answers to these questions. What disturbed me most is the attitude of the government towards the victims. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed to the compensation paid to the families of the victims, saying, “The government paid the compensation, even more than required by law.” Instead of apologizing Erdoğan seemed to reduce the matter to compensation. This did not fit well in his own discourse of “human-based politics.” What is more is that last week he asked “why smugglers do not step on the mines,” implying that the villagers who were killed by Turkish fighter jets were collaborating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while in fact it is known that this particular village was in fact the one armed by the state, known as a “korucu” village.
The government’s Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin went further by saying that in the Uludere incident where 34 people were killed by security forces “nothing happened that would warrant an apology on the part of the government.” He appalled many when he added, “if those villagers had not been killed, they would have been tried for smuggling anyway. Now the smuggling case against them is dropped.” For his remarks the minister of interior was congratulated by Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In this picture what is obvious is that the ruling party sides with and protects state officials and security forces who made the mistake of killing 34 innocent people. This, however, not in line with the AK Party’s previous rhetoric and policies that prioritized the people over the state. The statist and nationalist tradition that was inherited from the Islamist “national view” movement is being revived within the AK Party government. The most recent debate about abortion reveals another disturbing ideological element in the AK Party. It has become an observable fact that the ruling party is trying to enact its conservative values into law. Two weeks ago this slipped out from the mouth of Erdoğan, who said, “One country, one nation, one flag and one religion, yes I say religion.” He repeated his motto adding “one religion” into it in two subsequent speeches, but after facing severe opposition in the media he stepped back, saying that the addition of “one religion” to the motto was mistake.
Mistake or not the fact is that religion has become a constant reference point in the political arena. The process started some months ago with a statement from Prime Minister Erdoğan, who said he wants to “raise a religious generation.” This “wish” was put into practice by introducing a new education law that included optional Quran courses and courses on the Prophet’s life throughout middle and high schools. I think these were indications that the AK Party is inclined to use the “secular” state institutions to raise a “religious generation,” which is basically the Kemalist policy of “creating a new society” in reverse.
Then started a new debate on abortion that is leading to a new law banning abortion. It is indeed not part of a global debate between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” lines of argument. The government’s move to ban abortion is due to a sudden discovery that abortion is a trap for the future of the nation. Prime Minister Erdoğan justified his sudden anti-abortion stand on the argument that “there is an international conspiracy to erase this nation from the world.” Welcome back to Erbakan’s world of conspiracies!!!
The following statements from the government side were revealing indeed. Health Minister Recep Akdağ said: “Even if the pregnancy is due to rape the mother should give birth. If a mother does not want to raise the child, the state will look after it.” Then came another appalling statement from the head of the Human Rights Commission in Parliament, Ayhan Sefer Üstün who supported his minister’s stand that even rape victims should give birth by giving the unfortunate example of the Bosnian rape victims, saying, “Didn’t the Bosnian women give birth?”
I am having difficulties in understanding the recent discourse and policies of the AK Party. It seems that something is changing dramatically. I think the state power that is now fully controlled is poisoning the AK Party.