Letter from Turkey

Issue section: 

It has been a hot summer in Turkey. For two months it hasn't dipped below 30°C even in the cooler parts of the country, but the political temperature has been even higher.

Two issues have dominated: the government's attempt to amend 26 articles of the constitution, and the hotting up of the Kurdish national struggle.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), conservative, neoliberal, and from an Islamic tradition, has continued its attempt to break the stranglehold of the rabidly nationalist, aggressively secularist bureaucracy on the country's political life. The military, the judiciary, much of the media, and parts of academia have been resisting.

The current constitution was brought in after the military takeover of 1980. It is an anti-democratic straitjacket which put into place an oppressive state machine and upholds an unelected judiciary which can meddle at will with the decisions of the elected parliament. The Constitutional Court has even attempted to close down the government party, elected on 47 percent of the popular vote, on absurd charges of Islamism!

The government's proposed amendments change very little. But they do curtail the power of the judiciary. They also remove an article which blocks the prosecution of the perpetrators of the 1980 coup. The leader of the coup is still alive.

For 30 years the left argued for this constitution to be changed completely. Now, when at last an attempt is being made to make a big dent in it, almost all of the left, from the social democratic party to the far left, is arguing for a "no" vote in the referendum!

The unspoken argument is, "This is an Islamic government, Islam is reactionary, so we won't vote yes for anything it proposes." The argument actually being voiced is, "We want the whole thing changed, therefore we will vote against the changes or boycott the referendum".

Only two organisations of the left argue for a "yes" vote: the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSIP) and the Equality and Democracy Party (EDP). DSIP has initiated a "Not enough, but yes" campaign which has spread like wildfire. Even government ministers have been heard to use the slogan! The prime minister has said they would go for a wholesale change of the constitution after the general election next year. Opinion polls indicate there will be a "yes" vote of at least 60 percent.

In the midst of all this, it was time for the Supreme Military Council to decide on promotions in the top ranks. Usually the military decide and the government rubber-stamps their decision. This time the government put its foot down and refused to approve the promotion of several generals who are being or are about to be prosecuted for plotting coups.

The opposition social democrats screamed about the government interfering in the affairs of the military!

Calling Israeli president Shimon Peres a "killer" in Davos and being scathing about Israel during the attacks on Gaza in 2009 and on the aid flotilla this summer have certainly boosted the government's popularity. But no concrete measures against Israel have been taken, nor have any of the many bilateral military and economic treaties between the two countries been annulled. But even speaking out against Israel was in contrast to previous governments who have toed Washington's line and been great friends of Israel.

The government have even made moves towards some sort of solution to the Kurdish problem. They announced a "Kurdish Initiative" last year. This was even more cautious and faltering than their other reforms, and finally stalled some months ago. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) broke its ceasefire in June - the war heated up; the body-bags piled up. Its mission accomplished, the PKK again announced a ceasefire at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan in August. It is now for the government to respond, and the signs are that it may.

It is 33°C, humidity is above 90 percent, we await the referendum and the government's response to the ceasefire, and the danger of a military coup, while very unlikely, is never out of our minds. A hot summer indeed!

Ron Margulies is a Turkish journalist and a member of DSIP