Oliver Wright
Jul 28 2018

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere out there is another Turkey, a state with impartial courts, a country whose citizens can freely express their opinions, a place where minorities are accepted.

Somewhere there is a Turkey where elections are free and fair, where citizens can access information and make informed decisions, a Turkey whose leaders accept the supremacy of law and take responsibility for their decisions.

Somewhere out there is a country where children receive an education rather than an indoctrination.

Somewhere out there is a Turkey that shines with light.

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high …

Turkey is none of these things today.

Those looking for it are fumbling in the dark without a torch. Those who struck sparks as darkness gathered are now, most of them, in exile, or prison or cowed into paralysis.

In Turkey, it is not just democracy that has died. Hope is fading fast.

Those who still dream are losing their dreams. One by one they close their eyes and let the darkness in.

Perhaps, in Western democracies, there is distress and consternation at Turkey’s descent. But the West has problems enough of its own, and little appetite, or indeed mandate, to interfere in the internal affairs of another state.

Those nations may, half-heartedly, wave the odd carrot in Turkey’s direction and point, without much menace, to whatever sticks they have at their disposal. But Turkey, these days, is more wolf than rabbit and the West is less co-ordinated, less unified and less fixated on Turkey than the legion of conspiracy theorists, spinning away on behalf of Turkey’s government, would have us believe. The West will not do anything unless Turkey is foolish enough to bite hard.

So, there are no knights riding to Turkey’s rescue. There never have been. And if there were, might not Turkey’s paranoid powers be right, just this once, to call them crusaders?

Those Turks who aspire to a country that respects the values listed in United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should know this. To believe otherwise is to entertain false hope. But they also need to know that the hopes they cling to, however precariously and however abstract and intangible those hopes might seem, are worth believing in. They need to know that dreams can come true.

If the most the West can practically offer is hope, it is still worth offering. Every change starts with hope. When hope dies, the last embers are extinguished and then, when the wind turns, nothing burns. You cannot start a fire without a spark. Even a small one will do.

Turkeys presiding genius, its all-powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, knows this too. How else can we explain his henchmen’s assiduous trampling of Turkish society? They are searching for the last flints, rooting out hot ashes and stamping them down.

Western democracies for their part should know that by turning a blind-eye to Erdoğan’s abuse of power in the service of their short-term interests, they are merely kicking problems down the road. They hope for the best, but in all probability their actions provide space and time for those problems to grow.

The refugee deal Turkey and the European Union struck in 2016 is a case in point. It was intended primarily to stop Syrian refugees reaching Europe. But as Turkey’s economy deteriorates and social conditions worsen, the trickle of Turks fleeing Erdoğan’s vindictive rage may turn into a torrent ― consisting not just of those escaping a despot’s wrath, but also of those fleeing a country that same despot has turned into another Iran, another Venezuela ― but without the oil.

Should this happen, the refugee deal will look like a medieval bloodletting ― a case of treating the symptoms, not the disease, and in doing so inducing a second illness, one located closer to the heart than the first.

The real tragedy of modern Turkey though, is not what is, but what might have been. When Erdoğan first came to power in 2003, he was viewed, with good reason, as a source of hope ― not just by the pious Sunni masses, but by many of those same people whose hopes are now dashed.  

The same hands that shaped and carried those hopes have carried them away.

And it is ironic too that as the lights go out in Turkey the symbol of Erdoğan’s political party is a light bulb. Darkness would have been better.