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Turkey between sanity and insanity

Ece Temelkuran
Ece Temelkuran
June 18, 2018

Ahead of Turkey's presidential election, author Ece Temelkuran praises her compatriots' unbroken spirit. She says it is a model for all who have begun to experience the maddening absurdity of right-wing populism.

Rally of Turkish opposition leader Muharrem Ince in Yalova
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/Depo Photos/Dha/C. Erok

Just days before an election that President Erdogan has forced on Turkey to consolidate his power, the most heated debate on Turkish social media surrounds a photo of a maimed black puppy whose paws were cut off before it was thrown away.

Most people are shocked by this extreme act of cruelty. But as with everything else these days, even this discussion took on a political dimension: Government supporters dismissed the reactions as "hysteria," while the opposition said cruelty had simply become a daily occurrence in Turkey after 16 years with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power.

Read more: Can Erdogan lose the election?

From the far right to the far left, people in Turkey are distancing themselves from the current political system. For years, they have been very well aware that an authoritarian regime does not stop at just seizing the state powers and dismantling the political system. Rather, it continues its attacks and tries to conquer the human soul, invading every part of daily life with its poisonous set of crooked values. It imposes injustice and ruthlessness and demands ultimate obedience and religious dedication to its leader.

Author Ece Temelkuran
Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist and author, who lost her job following criticism of President Erdogan's policiesImage: Muhsin Akgun

So on social media, the only place where Turkish people can still make their voices heard, the real debate is not about the black puppy. It is about the determination to maintain sanity, to uphold the humane values of the country — as opposed to being reduced to obedient subjects.

Hoping against all odds

"It is hope that's exhausting, not pain," I once wrote in an article. And this sentence has become popular once more on social media. Because the people of Turkey, from all sides of the political spectrum, are hopeful as to the outcome of the elections on June 24.

That they can keep their hopes alive at all — despite knowing the elections will be rigged again —  is down to the enthusiastic and passionate opposition, which has been banging its fist on the table more strongly than ever.

The social democrats' candidate, Muharrem Ince, is on fire in his grand rallies; the leader of the Nationalists, Meral Aksener, is challenging Erdogan in her uncompromising speeches; the mainly Kurdish party HDP's leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is campaigning from his prison cell, where he has been kept as a political hostage for the last 20 months; and even the conservative Islamic party is speaking the language of solidarity against injustice.

Since they joined forces against Erdogan, all the parties have been fighting as if there were no tomorrow. Their message is that there is no future if this election is lost to the one-man regime.

Read more: Europe is letting Turkey's opposition down

To keep their hopes high, people of Turkey put up with all the inexplicable political dirt that keeps coming up as the election date gets nearer: The leaked footage of Erdogan's speech at a closed-door party meeting where he calls for finishing the elections before the vote count starts "by imposing pressure at the ballot boxes." The reports of government supporters carrying automatic rifles as they go to ask voters in Kurdish areas to support the government. Voter intimidation and election fraud, the spreading of fake news by the mainstream media, the attacks on Kurdish politicians — all that is being brushed aside by the government.

Erdogan vulnerable

Despite all this, the opposition is determined to keep dancing its own dance — even though the orchestra is directed by Erdogan. But now, for the first time in nearly two decades, it feels as though the orchestra is starting to follow the dance and not the other way around.

Erdogan has begun to stammer through his speeches; he has seemed more and more insecure ever since he started responding in his rallies to the attacks by  the opposition. 

In my country, "precariously hopeful" is the best state of mind you can expect in view of the current state of politics. The determination to maintain sanity, joy and normality both at the individual and societal level is extraordinary.

So, please take a moment today to pay respect to the people of Turkey for their resistance to this forced insanity. Their endurance and their determination to uphold democracy should inspire all the nations of the West that only recently started experiencing the absurdity of right-wing populism and already look confused and exhausted. If you cannot picture what it is like to be a Turkish citizen today, imagine living 16 years under Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in a situation in which they have all the state powers in their hands, and add thousands of devoted clones of theirs manufactured through the years to the picture. Then you can understand how much it takes to keep on hoping and to remain determined to stay humane. 

Ece Temelkuran is the author of several books, including "Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy."  

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