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Democrats, liberals and the AK Party

By  Suat KINIKLIOGLU


The Gezi Park protests are still continuing. All of us are trying to digest
what happened and what it means for our society, politics and future. One
of the highlights reflecting pro-government thinking occurred during the
height of the protests. Taha Ozhan, the head of the pro-government think
tank SETA, tweeted the following: "State employees' Kemalism that
mismanaged the republic rallies has been upgraded to lumpen Kemalism
through the enabling of liberal duplicity."

Ozhan expressed his frustration with Turkey's democrats and liberals, who
by and large supported the protests from the outset. This is rather
understandable as Turkey's democrats and liberals had been supporting the
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) agenda from 2003 to 2010. After
all, the AK Party was then clearly the most progressive force in the
country. Confronted with daunting challenges from the Kemalist deep state,
the AK Party was the primary force in transforming civil-military
relations, bringing Turkey to the negotiating table with the EU and
facilitating impressive economic growth. I myself was in the ranks of the
AK Party, defending it at every platform, foreign and domestic, most
forcefully when it was faced with the absurd closure case in 2008. In 2010
a crucial constitutional amendment was passed by 58 percent of voters in a
hard-fought referendum due to a comprehensive coalition that included the
AK Party, democrats, liberals, Kurds and many Nationalist Movement Party
(MHP) supporters.

What has happened since 2010? First, in 2011 the parliamentary group was
radically overhauled. A massive purge of those who were seen as more
centrist and liberal occurred. Many who were critical in shaping the
perception that the party was moving to the center in 2007 were expelled.
Then the party congress in September 2012 completed the job by purging
similar elements from the party's executive organs. The Turkish media
initially reported that it was a purge of people close to President
Abdullah Gül, but there was more to it.

In April of this year, Aziz Babuscu, the powerful chairman of the İstanbul
party organization, openly said the party was parting ways with Turkey's
liberals. In the bluntest manner, he said that there was no longer a need
for liberals with whom the AK Party cooperated to dissolve the first
republic. Babuscu said: "Those with whom we were stakeholders throughout
the past 10 years will not be our stakeholders in the coming decade. ... Let
us say the liberals, in one way or another, were stakeholders in this
process, but the future is a process of construction. This construction era
will not be as they [liberals] wish. Hence, they [liberals] will no longer
be with us. ... The Turkey that we will construct, the future that we will
bring about, is not going to be a future that they will be able to accept."
Babuscu denied his comments the next day, but the quotes came from the
Anatolia news agency, and many in the hall confirmed to me that he actually
uttered them.

Given the harsh response to the peaceful Gezi Park demonstrators on Friday
morning, the inflammatory statements by the prime minister as well as many
other mistakes, why was it such a surprise that Turkey's democrats and
liberals chose to side with the protesters? Babuscu's comments confirm the
AK Party intended to part ways long ago. Lumping democrats and liberals
together with Kemalists is not only unjust but also demonstrates a lack of
cognition of what actually happened in Taksim and elsewhere in the country.
Blaming democrats and liberals for the blatant mistakes the government made
throughout this crisis is irresponsible. Liberals are not engaged in
duplicity. They still stand for the freedoms and ideals they defended from
2003 to 2010. If any party in this coalition has changed it was not the
liberals.

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