Turkish challenge

"Challenge" is one of the most functional words in English. It is used to describe both "risks and hardships" and "opportunities and possibilities." This word is a perfect candidate for describing the situation Turkey found itself in after the end of the Cold War. Thus, we can say that Turkey faces a "challenge."

First, an observation: Turkey ranks 84th among 117 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index for 2007/2008. This should not be the position we have acquired in 85 years.
However, this is not a very surprising picture. Indeed, out of the 42 years between 1960 and 2002, 24 years were spent in coalition governments and six in military juntas. During this period, the number of years where the country was ruled by a single party government has only been 12. The average lifespan for a government during the republican era has been only two years.

After the elections held on Nov. 3, 2002, Turkey managed to re-attain political and economic stability in extraordinarily favorable conditions. However, the performance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for the last seven years implies that it regards "stability" as a "mere value." However, "stability" is the greatest opportunity for a government to find solutions to destructive problems facing the country. The AK Party undertook considerably important moves during its seven years in office, but the country remains unable to form a new national consensus.

Yet, what we have now is a "new Turkey" and, for the first time, masses are assertively voicing justifiable demands.

Now, it is evident that the Turkish state will experience legitimacy crises to the extent it fails to satisfy these demands. Time wasted by resisting calls for agreement will further increase the price the country will pay. Here is the "risk factor" of "challenge."

Civilian and military ruling elites must manage this process and create a "new national agreement" around the values that keep the country together. Indeed, Turkey has no solution other than to reinforce its "national unity and integrity" on a more meaningful and realistic ground. If it can do this, given its existing capabilities and possibilities, it is very likely this will wield a strategic impact that will go beyond its region. Here is the "opportunity factor" of "challenge."

At this junction, can Turkey direct itself not toward the minefield ripe with "risks" but toward the road of "opportunities" that will take it to becoming a democratic welfare society?

And this can be done only by dumping the 1982 Constitution, which functions as a straitjacket the country has been wearing.

We need a new constitution, and if this is not possible, we need "renewed references." In Turkey, people expect respect for their identities, values and beliefs. The constitutional article on "equality" does not solve the people's practical problems. Rather, people demand concrete solutions to their concrete problems. Kurds, Alevis and students wearing headscarves all share this same need.

Here emerges the historic mission of the AK Party. What it has done during the last seven years is actually recorded in the book, but more importantly, what it will do in the future will be recorded in history.

The Constitution of 1982 has been in force for 25 years, with some trivial and some significant amendments. Five parliamentary elections have been held and 16 governments established under it. All of them were civilian administrations, but none of them mentioned the shame of ruling the country by a constitution resulting from a coup.

AK Party advocates like to talk about a new Turkey. The part it played in the emergence of a new Turkey cannot be denied, but a new Turkey cannot exist without a new constitution.

If it cannot achieve peace with respect to relations between the state, religion and the society, Turkey will always be looking into a future full of minefields. As a matter of fact, the Kurdish issue of the last 25 years, the secularism debates and real or postmodern coups which are connected in some way to these have all stemmed from our failure to achieve consensus/peace in relations between religion and the state and between the state and the society.

The government cannot postpone the need for a new constitution by hiding behind the pretext of no support from the opposition. The AK Party should voice this need on every occasion and open the drafts to discussions while seeking the support of the public at large. Adopting a new constitution must not be dropped from the country's agenda until it is in place.

It is sad but true that Turkey can no longer fit inside the shirts tailored for it in the past. The country needs bold politicians and farsighted civilian and military bureaucrats -- not middle course goers -- to rebuild the new Turkey.

Leaders and political movements that will satisfy this need will continue to exist in Turkey's future, while others will be left behind in the dust of history. This much is clear.

Gürkan Zengin