Turkey getting stuck again?

By Johan Galtung

From Istanbul

Turkey did the impossible, moving almost without violence from a military secular dictatorship to a civilian Sunni majority democracy. Turkey got unstuck. Sarkar’s circulation of elites at work: military elites, then religious-intellectuals, then business, then ordinary people–and once again the military. Second cycle.

Big Business would knock at the door, as it did in the Thatcher-Reagan revolution of the mid-1980s. Hence, not surprising that a big mall was one of the projects, together with an opera, a mosque and a monument from the Ottoman period for the Taksim Square-Gezi Park project. Every element a gift for Istanbul’s 14 million inhabitants. But, at the expense of a park, green nature, lungs, in that part of Istanbul.

Whether it escalated from this point to an extra-parliamentary confrontation between the winners (Justice and Development Party-AKP) and losers (Republican People’s Party-CHP) of the last two elections – the losers carrying much of the infelicitous past – or the other way round, or both, can be and is debated here.

Other processes are going on. Syria. Rather than the policy of zero problems with neighbors that has functioned so well, the AKP takes a stand for the opposition, against the Alevite regime. Not without reasons, but regime change is better done through FAFE, fair and free elections, well monitored. Violence stimulates military takeovers, not democracy. And the AKP chooses as name for the third Bosporus bridge Yavuz (The Ferocious) Sultan Selim I – reported to have killed 45,000 Alevis; adopting Sunni Islam. A strong stand. Necessary?

The Taksim Square protests spread all over Turkey. Very violent police reactions, some of it denounced by Erdögan, the prime minister. There are flames, violence to property, teargas, and people dancing in the streets all over. The Arab Spring has gone Turkish? Yes and no; what happens in Turkey calls above all for Turkish causes. So let us return to the square-park, well knowing there is more going on.

Regimes of all kinds: be careful with parks. Be aware that humans are also of, by and for nature. Parks are domesticated nature, nothing dangerous, yet nature. Don’t pour asphalt, do not “develop”. And be extra careful with trees. Not only are they live organisms and like everything organic entitled to a natural death, not for replanting or saw killings; they are also silent witnesses to history, a part of our lives and that of our predecessors, like old buildings. Care, care – ”develop” and like in Osaka there will be bitter regrets.

The conflict can be phrased in terms of government action against people, or as modernity-development against history-nature. There are deep commitments and good arguments on both sides; and unresolved conflict leading to massive violence, verbal, physical.

Can peace studies help in the Gezi case? Let us put the formula

Equity x Harmony
Peace = —————-
Trauma x Conflict

– at work, but backwards, starting with conflict resolution. A both-and is called for; it is hard to believe that Istanbul cannot have both the park and the projects, even if not all at one place. Example: put the mall under the park-square, like in Alcoy-Spain, with residences, the opera and the mosque elsewhere; the monument to history maybe there. An alternative worked out from the very beginning (the May 27 demo) would have communicated better than critique leaving to polarization, even if less attractive to aggressive minds. Peace is constructive.

Regimes of all kinds: be careful with history. Centennials of glory and trauma are coming up. There is Gelibolu, aka Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal’s brilliant 20th century victory over a 19th century relic, Winston Churchill, and the Aussies and others (half a million killed in eight months!) he sacrificed. Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey emerged, like everything organic, evolving. There is much to celebrate in what emerged and in what declined, and much to regret. Focus on both.

Harmony: what is called for is empathy with all parties. No need to demonize, much need to empathize; not for or against, only to know. For one who the last 60 years has had dialogues with all kinds of conflict parties to all kinds of conflicts, one basic experience is etched on the mind: all parties have some perfectly legitimate goals. Know them; chances are that some solution will come up.

Cooperation for mutual and equal benefit: in a conflict this is often known as debate, negotiating for some compromise. There is a better approach: dialogue, searching together for something new. As has been pointed out so often during this conflict: democracy is not only about multi-party elections every four years, but also about transparency and ongoing dialogue. Nobody has a monopoly on truth; if a government backed by a majority thinks so, democracy becomes majority dictatorship. Watch how those clever Swiss do it, coalition governments in permanent dialogue benefiting from good ideas right, left or middle. For seven hundred years, into the eighth century.

It is not good enough for a president to say that the message has arrived, his reaction and the reaction to that reaction matters. It is not good enough for a prime minister to refuse dialogue, nor for a foreign minister to deplore the damage to Turkey’s image abroad. The problem is how to move on, solving the conflict with a respect for the past sensitive to the victims of the expanding Ottoman Empire, fearful of a repetition. And sensitive to the martyrs of the May 1, 1977 Taksim Square demonstrations, making the square sacred to many.

The AKP has moved Turkey politically into leadership position and economically toward a mixed public-private economy and welfare state. The distance to becoming a victim of one’s own success, refusing dialogue, is short as history bears countless witnesses to. Opt for dialogue in all directions, searching for solutions as the way out.

And Turkey will become unstuck – again.

First published here.

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