Over the past few days, I have been asked the same question many times: “Can you please explain to me what’s going on in Turkey?” I was asked this by friends, the parents of my friends, co-workers and the German part of my own family.
Everyone can see on the internet what’s happening in Turkey. People are dying in attacks on a weekly basis. During the attempted coup last week, the military’s fighter jets bombed their own parliament building, injuring and killing their fellow countrymen. And afterward, a mob motivated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lynched coup plotters.
A new question is now coming to the fore: “What’s going to happen now in Turkey?” Or, as I was asked this weekend: “Can you please explain to me what’s going to happen with Turkey in the future?”
Turkey will become different to Europe. And a large part of the population is playing along with it. Am I happy with all of that? No.
The simple answer is that it will become more unsettled. Turkey, as I had come to know it, will soon no longer exist. Ankara is distancing itself from Brussels and arming itself and picking fights with large neighbors. The government is moving away from a parliamentary democracy. The voters have been voting in favor of a conservative and Islam-orientated government for 14 years now. It’s possible the death penalty will be reinstated. We won’t be able to stop this development.
I have a German mother and a Turkish father. Although I was born in Germany and have always spoken only German at home, when I am asked because of my name where my roots lie, I usually answer: “I am 50 percent Turkish and 100 percent German.”
I always found it difficult to explain this 50 percent because it’s so different. The Turkish population was always divided. On one side, the secular followers of the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. On the other, the conservative followers of Islam-orientated politics.
The country’s first putsch in 1960 was the result of an almost 10-year term in office of a conservative head of government, prime minister Adnan Menderes. He was hanged by the revolutionaries. In the two decades that followed, the intellectuals and nationalists fought each other, and after that, the Kurds and the Turks, and in the 1990s seemingly everyone against everybody else.
Now, once again, the country is being shaken to its foundations. Where once a constant parade of new elections paralyzed Turkey’s economic development, now a stability prevails, even if it’s an almost enforced political stability. Where a liberal society once wanted to be European at any cost, now a conservative, almost retrograde change is setting the agenda.
Where before Christopher Street Day was frenetically celebrated in Istanbul, today it is the breaking of the fast. Where E.U. accession was once the unalterable doctrine of every Turkish government, an elected president today never misses an opportunity to stress how little the bloc actually means to him.
No one can predict how it will turn out in the end. Two things are clear: Turkey will become different to Europe; and a large part of the population is playing along with it. Am I happy with all of that? No. My desire to at some point spend part of my life in Turkey is suffering a severe setback right now. On the other hand, it was only a question of time before the division of Turkish society would give rise to such flare-ups such as the ones we are now experiencing.
When I am now asked what is going to happen with Turkey in the future, I could make it easy on myself. I could simply answer it’s going down the drain. But it isn’t as simple as that. Yes, Turkey is moving away from Europe. We regret that and wonder why a country doesn’t want to be like Germany, with all its advantages and few disadvantages.
But that hasn’t been fully thought through. No one should believe that Berlin or Brussels will be able, with well-intended advice, to stop what is happening at the moment in Anatolia. Reminders to maintain the rule of law fall on deaf ears there, as do demands by German or German-Turkish politicians for Mr. Erdogan to resign.
I will continue to be asked about the situation in Turkey. My answer is that the bloodletting and political witch-hunts against those who think differently must stop. When the country subsequently decides it wants to be different to Europe, then that doesn’t have to mean that Turkey cannot nevertheless be Europe’s partner. Such as a partner in the refugee crisis, in the fight against Islamic State's brutal interpretation of Islam and especially in economic cooperation, in tourism – and to do so with mutual respect.
Building this bridge in our thinking isn’t easy. But it is possible. I have been doing it for three decades, even if it’s difficult at times.
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