Turkish Democracy and Our Regrets

By: Shahab

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to power simultaneously with Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran and Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan and founded modern Turkey. During 100 years, Turkey has experienced many highs and lows, defeats, and victories. As citizens of the miserable country of Afghanistan, when we want to draw a conclusion from these 100 years, we ask ourselves: What is the state of Turkey like and what is our state like? Comparing Afghanistan with Turkey and recounting the events that happened to these two countries in the last 100 years makes us disheartened and hurts our consciences, but we have to go through this unpleasant state to achieve self-knowledge and find a way out of this tragic situation.

Regardless of who will win the Turkish presidential election in the second round, holding elections in a democratic and competitive environment with the participation of about 90% of qualified candidates is considered a great success for Turkey. This event shows that democracy has been institutionalized in Turkey and has overcome obstacles. Turkey’s recent 100-year history has repeatedly witnessed the overthrow of elected governments by the military, but if we don’t ignore justice and fairness, one of the major achievements of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 20-year rule is that he stopped the military from interfering in democratic processes. In this way, he faced many challenges, but ultimately, he succeeded in sending back the military to their place and reducing their influence on the political system of his country.

Whether we love Erdogan or hate him, his role in shaping Turkey’s contemporary history cannot be underestimated. Some consider him the most important figure after Atatürk in the history of Turkey. If we consider the fact that he has achieved significant achievements in various fields in these 20 years and has completely changed the face of Turkey, then we will speak more fairly about him. We must remember that Erdoğan did not adjust Turkey’s parliamentary system to the presidency by force and fraud, but achieved this goal by using democratic mechanisms. Such events are common in all democracies of the world.

Justice and Development Party led by Erdogan was in power for 20 years. The fact that in an Islamic country that has a history of tyranny, individualism, and dictatorship, a party in power comes to fight with its political opponents in a free and competitive environment and tries its luck to stay in power during a democratic process is certainly an indication of the leader of that party’s faith in democracy and the rules of the political game. Some Western media always seek to question Erdogan’s belief in democracy and even one of the Western newspapers asked Turkish citizens to end the dictatorship by participating in the elections. The main point is that Westerners disagree with Erdoğan on other issues under the pretext of protecting democracy. The lively and serious presence of parties in the political environment of Turkey demonstrates the institutionalization of democracy in this country. In Islamic countries, it rarely happens that a party in power with a charismatic and experienced leader faces another party that challenges its power in elections and even takes it away from its hands, which is happening right now in Turkey. In fake democracies and republics, the opposition is treated as an enemy and attempts are made to remove the rivals from the game by using all kinds of tricks.

Many Islamic countries got acquainted with modernity at the same time as Turkey, trying to find a suitable way to face the new developments. Many of these countries advanced in this way to some extent whereas some of them stagnated or regressed. Studying the history of modern Turkey enables other Islamic countries to realize their mistakes and errors and helps to find the answer to the question of why Turkey moved forward while they are still in the same state. The tumultuous history of contemporary Turkey can be a mirror for us to know our true face and to know what situation we are in.

We should carefully study the developments that have taken place in Turkey in the last 20-30 years, which have turned this country from an isolated and xenophobic one into a touristic and attractive land for foreign investors. Naturally, examining this period of time teaches us many points, one of which is that even a quarter of a century is enough to take advantage of opportunities and improve affairs in a large country. Many countries of the world have dramatically improved in 30-40 years, taking the world by surprise.

A twenty-year golden opportunity (2001-2021) was also available to us, but unfortunately, due to various factors, we could not take advantage of it properly. If we had had high human capacity, if our politicians had been forward-looking and national interests were their priority, if our modernists had not indulged in extremes and taken into account the cultural and social situation of Afghanistan in their plans, and if our political leaders had benefited from vigilance and acumen to defeat the evil policies of neighbors and countries in the region, we would likely not have regressed at this terrible speed, and we would not have been dominated by a group that carries the thoughts of a thousand years ago and has nothing to do with the contemporary world.

Comparing the form and manner of holding our elections with the way of conducting the recent elections in Turkey is a matter of embarrassment for us. We remember that during the 20 years of the republic government, after Bon Conference on Afghanistan, we held several elections full of fraud and manipulation during which there were strange and shameful scenes. In the last presidential election, about one million people participated in the voting, but counting their votes took up to a year. Meanwhile, the institution assigned for organizing the elections in Turkey counted the votes of more than 60 million people in about 17 hours.

When we see the stunning authority of the Turkish political system and the greatness and glory of democracy in this country, it generates many questions in our minds, including why we have never been able to bring forward progressive trends to our destination. Why have the words of Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani and reformers like him never been appreciated in our country? Why did Amanullah Khan not only achieve success but also caused the marginalization of the progressive movements for many years? Why did the decade of democracy burst like a bubble at the end of Zahir Shah’s rule and was reduced to zero by Dawood Khan’s white coup? Why were we not able to take advantage of the 20 years of the republic system after the Bonn Treaty to gain great achievements in various fields?

Why do reactionary and retrogressive groups get a chance to destroy the little hopes and put society in absolute darkness? Why, despite the fact that the movements of enlightenment in our country have a long history, they still have not been able to become a serious challenge against the reactionaries? Why are our elites unable to gain public opinion? Why does reaction never stop and always take the initiative?