BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Did you even notice? Two weeks ago that bastion of democracy, modernity, and hope for humanity’s future held an election. They elected a bunch of Turks. No surprise, of course, since it’s in Turkey.
But, there were a few interesting elemen’s. The Islamists, incarnated as the Justice and Reconciliation Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) returned to and expanded their hold parliamentary power, no doubt much to the consternation of the allegedly secular military elite that sees itself, by god-, er Ataturk-, given grace to be the guardians of the above mentioned bastion.
But what do you expect? You can’t keep people’s true nature forcibly repressed forever. Nor can you fight forbidden fruit syndrome– religion/Islam has been denigrated for over two generations in Turkey, so much like the revival of religion/Christianity in the former Soviet landscape, a comeback/reaction was due.
Now couple these human tendencies with the fact that governmen’s in Turkey, going right back to and through Ottoman rule, have been so corrupt that people were fed up. Half a decade ago, being well organized and perceived as clean, the AKP came to power. That carried through. Plus, a period of economic growth was ushered in, so why wouldn’t the electorate support such a party again?
However, in the West, anything smacking of Islam is suspect, so it’s a big deal. But by now, even the West should be accustomed to religion invading the government sphere. Look at what the radical Christians in the U.S. have wrought since their initial successes with Ronald Reagan and the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Heck, at least the AKP seems to be better at governing than the bozos who ran Congress for a dozen years.
But why should Armenia’s care? No fundamental policy shift regarding issues of concern to us is in the making in Turkey. There would be no such change regardless of who was in power. So what’s the difference?
Well, according to an interview with some of Bolis’ Armenian leading lights published in Hairenik before the election, the AKP is the best (or perhaps least-worst) option for Armenia’s. It’s not clear to me if this means Armenian needs in Turkey, Armenian issues in general, or both. It is interesting to consider. The same interviewees also liked a couple of unaffiliated candidates.
All this should be seen in the context of the three political “factions” extant in Turkey. Besides the Islamists, there are two types of secularists. One is the more enlightened, left-leaning, perhaps Europeanized faction (these are the folks who hit the streets over Hrant Dink’s murder). Then there are those secularists who are the chauvinists driving the court cases against anyone in Turkey who dares go against the official position regarding the Genocide or any other of Turkey’s taboo topics. Obviously, Turkey’s military falls into the latter category.
I can’t help but believe that the last faction probably wraps back into some part of the Islamist wing. After all, only two-three decades ago, it was the military that encouraged Islamic schools to counter the rise of left wing political activity. Also, as far as Armenian issues go, the AKP is not going to deviate from existing policy. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t since the guardian generals of Turkish “democracy and secularism” would probably resort to another coup d’etat if AKP added this class of issues to the already tenuous relationship it has with the military. Why do you think even the civilian leadership is saber rattling regarding invading Iraq to go after Kurdish freedom fighters? They feel compelled to kiss up to the generals so they can have wiggle room on other policy issues. Currently, since they’re ascendant, these kinds of lesser, internal divides will be minimized within the Islamist camp. But over time these rifts, if indeed they do exist, will surface and create fissures.
Another interesting aspect is the election of a number of Kurds to parliament. They ran as individuals, not on party slates. These guys should probably be approached by the Armenian political leadership ASAP. And this point is most important. We, in the Diaspora should initiate back door, quiet, communications with all significant political parties in Turkey. And, the AKP in particular might be confident enough now to enter such a process. This is separate from any formal diplomacy undertaken by Armenia, and probably complementary to the latter.
But Extreme caution must be exercised since any Turkish party would obviously participate only if they saw some benefit to themselves, and those benefits could be very detrimental to our interests. This is why only groups with rock-solid credentials should undertake such endeavors. Imagine two scenarios. The ARF (or even the Hnchagians) talking to the AKP. The Armenian Assembly talking to the AKP. AKP is far less likely to blab prematurely about such discussions with the ARF because of how AKP would be perceived in Turkey, vs. the analogous perception regarding the already tame AA (think TARC, port-building, Genocide resolution minimizing, Hoagland).
So we’ve got interesting developmen’s in Turkey on multiple fronts and must all re-acquaint ourselves with our current-enemies/eternal-neighbors if we expect to advance our cause.