Ayça Çubukçu

Sunday 11 December 2011          

There is a growing disjuncture between those who promote modern-day Turkey as a democracy and those who experience Turkey as a land of arbitrary detentions, political repression and military destruction.

In the past two years, the Turkish state has imprisoned thousands of its citizens <http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR44/015/2011/en/5ee6fd47-c65e-4830-a1eb-86e6ad50aa31/eur440152011en.html>  under the sweeping rubric of counter-terrorism operations. The recent wave of arbitrary detentions known as the KCK operations <http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/3047/turkish-politics-kurdish-rights-and-the-kck-operat>  has cast such a wide net that participation in a single protest or petition could constitute evidence of an intention to commit terrorism – if not directly, then certainly by association.

Today, even relatively privileged academic colleagues in Turkey face the prospect of sharing the fate of Professor Büsra Ersanli of Marmara University, whose detention in October 2011 as an alleged terrorist was proudly defended by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP).

Professor Ersanli’s imprisonment has received considerable attention in Turkey and beyond, prompting petitions <http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/detentionsinturkey/> , protests <http://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/133850-appeal-and-protest-against-kck-arrests> , and academic initiatives <http://www.gitinitiative.com/>  by her colleagues and others concerned with the deteriorating prospects of democratic politics in Turkey. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch have issued statements <http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/11/01/turkey-arrests-expose-flawed-justice-system>  condemning Ersanli’s arrest as "part of a crackdown on people engaged in legal political activity with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party".

A political scientist by training, Professor Ersanli is one among thousands <http://bianet.org/english/minorities/133252-7748-people-in-custody—3895-arrested-in-30-months>  of Peace and Democracy party (BDP) members – including elected parliamentarians, mayors, students and intellectuals – who have been imprisoned on account of their activism in support of the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey.

Some "progressive" commentators insist that Turkey, compared to many other states, at least in the Middle East, is an example of a successful democracy. Just observe, they suggest, the booming economy in the midst of a global recession, the popular wedding of "moderate Islam" and "secular" parliamentary politics and the emergence of an independent Turkish foreign policy critical of Israel and supportive of democratic forces in the Arab spring.

But is this the most that the peoples of Turkey, the Middle East and the world could hope for? Why should contemporary Turkey constitute the limit of our political imagination? Why should a state that parades its "development" through drones it purchases from the US, a state that imprisons professors, journalists, translators, lawyers, workers, and students and treats as terrorists the members of a political party representing millions of citizens – why should such a state be one to promote or follow?

Last summer, at a cafe near Istanbul’s Taksim Square, I met a dear friend, Ayse Berktay, a renowned translator, researcher and global peace and justice activist. Having not seen each other for months, we chatted as usual for a few hours about our families, lives and politics.

I am not sure when, if ever, Ayse and I will meet at a cafe again. She is now imprisoned for an unknown period of time.

My colleague Professor Büsra Ersanli and dear friend Ayse Berktay are only two women among many other members and supporters of the BDP who were imprisoned as suspected terrorists in October. Another wave of arbitrary detentions followed in November, and yet others will certainly come. Whether one chooses to call them "ordinary citizens" or "activists", increasingly, politically engaged people in Turkey are expecting that strangely familiar, five o’clock in the morning knock on their doors.

This is only one reason why the widening gap between those who promote contemporary Turkey as an example to be followed by the democratic forces of the Arab spring, and those who experience the Republic of Turkey as a threatening agent of political repression, is increasingly troublesome.

At this historical moment, when daring political energies and creative imaginations are at work worldwide – from Tahrir to Taksim Square, from Damascus to Diyarbakir – we can demand much more than the example officially offered by Turkey. To do otherwise would risk betraying not only the future of democratic politics in Turkey and beyond, but  all those who have already paid dearly for that future through the imprisonments, deaths, wounds and disappearances they have endured, even welcomed, during long periods of military rule and parliamentary politics alike.
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