After last week’s failed coup in Turkey, observers quickly began fretting that the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government would start marching faster down the path of authoritarianism, drift further away from the Atlantic Alliance, and perhaps find itself tangled in prolonged civil strife. The authors Soner Cagaptay, Steven A. Cook, and Michael J. Koplow made such arguments in Foreign Affairs, for example, as did many others in different venues.
Although there are still many reasons to worry that Turkey could take a wrong turn, however, there is also room for hope. If the country’s political leadership seizes this opportunity, the summer of 2016 might mark a turning point for the better.
Turkey has always been a country held together by duct tape and wire. Turks might take pride in Kemal Ataturk’s founding dream of a vibrant, democratic, modern society, but Turkey today is anything but. Ankara describes itself as a bridge between civilizations but it belongs to neither East nor West. Turks champion the idea that their county is a cultural mosaic, but the government mutes the voices of those many cultures, literally and metaphorically, to keep public dialogue in monotonous harmony.
To some extent, Ankara’s insecurities are understandable. Turkey lives in a tumultuous neighborhood, the ghosts of a faded empire haunt the country’s collective memory, and its democratic culture has shallow roots. Indeed, before the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey had seen only 14 years of parliamentary democracy.
Had Ankara worked at that point to start building a robust democracy, it could have resolved some of these social tensions in the political arena. Instead, it erected an autocracy that kept the country together by destroying anything that risked pulling it apart. In turn, Turks united not behind a shared identity but behind shared grievances against the regime. Indeed, in the Turkish public’s collective imagination, there lurked inside the gray concrete slabs towering over Ankara’s government district an exclusive cabal of men
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