Turkey ‘at the heart of the storm’


Reporters Without Borders placed Turkey – where more than 30 journalists are currently under arrest – 151st on a list of 180 countries in its new World Press Freedom Index, Deutsche Welle reports:

While dozens of journalists that criticize Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wither in the corridors of courtrooms, the number of journalists fired for their “opposition” stances increases every day. Many renowned Turkish journalists have been expressing their views on internet platforms and social media channels in recent years.

One of the best-known examples is the P24 Independent Journalism platform [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy]. It was founded by the writer and journalist Hasan Cemal – with the goal of supporting and developing editorial independence. The founding members of P24 include the editor-in-chief of the independent news site T24, and the journalists Yasemin Congar, Murat Sabuncu and Yavuz Baydar. ….

Turkey’s current political climate does not allow for a return to democratic reform and the peace process [with the Kurds], writes Fuat Keyman, the director of the Istanbul Policy Center and professor of international relations at Sabancı University.

This state of affairs is not sustainable or acceptable, and the Turkish government and society at large must strike a balance between security concerns and democratic reforms, despite the hostile security and political environments. The following four steps would help to overcome these internal and external challenges, he argues in a report for the Center for American Progress:

  • First, the West should end its functionalist and instrumentalist approach to Turkey. Recent rhetoric from allies such as the United States and the European Union has increasingly stressed Turkey’s attributes as a “NATO ally” and a “partner in countering Daesh [or the Islamic State] in the region.” By the same token, Europe’s view of Turkey has skewed from that of a strategic partner to a strategic neighbor….. While short-term security objectives are equally important, enduring peace and stability in the region must lean on the tools on which Turkish soft power was built between 2002 and 2010, such as humanitarianism, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, human development, and equal citizenship based on constitutional rights. These pillars helped contribute to positive change in the region and the Western understanding, at that time, of Turkey as a strategic partner rather than a buffer state.
  • Second, Turkey should return to its previous proactive foreign policy—which had Turkey setting the agenda in the region rather than reacting to events that unfolded outside of its sphere of influence—and take action to avoid being treated as a buffer state. One way to do this is to work to thaw Turkey’s frozen accession negotiations for EU membership. Turkey’s successful combination of democracy, modernity, and Islam in the immediate post-9/11 world helped discredit the concept of a clash of civilizations between the East and the West or between Islam and the West. It was Turkey’s soft power and its ability to bridge divides that brought it closer to the European Union, which was struggling with its own problems of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and migration. In return, Turkey used the EU accession requirements to consolidate its own democracy, institutions of good governance, and rights-based equal citizenship. The motto “stronger together,” which was used then, is relevant again in the face of today’s crises. Ankara’s reengagement with Brussels and the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 on the judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom, and security will hopefully put Turkey back on track vis-à-vis full membership and prompt domestic reform.
  • Third, Turkey’s own democratic and institutional reform process is crucial for its successful return to a proactive foreign policy. Currently, Turkey’s ability to project power is limited by its highly polarized politics. The process of drafting a new constitution will be critical to addressing this polarization. But the ultimate objective of making a new constitution should not be to shift the Turkish political regime toward presidentialism. On the contrary, the new constitution should strengthen the norms and institutions underpinning Turkey’s democracy and should reinforce the culture of coexistence by strengthening individual rights. Presidentialism can be an integral part of the new constitution, but the main aim should be to enhance and consolidate Turkish democracy. Perhaps most importantly, the process of drafting must itself be inclusive, drawing in genuine participation and support from opposition parties and civil society groups.
  • Fourth—and related to the process of democratic reform—Turkey must reengage with the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria on more constructive and cooperative terms. Although this is difficult to imagine while the current conflict with the PKK rages on, the emerging role of Kurdish communities in the region could boost Turkey’s soft power if Ankara rejuvenated the peace process.



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