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ISTANBUL: Turkey: challenges and achievements

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  • ISTANBUL: Turkey: challenges and achievements

    Today's Zaman, Turkey
    June 13 2011

    Turkey: challenges and achievements

    12 June 2011, Sunday / MOHAMMED AYOUB*

    The dawn of progress seems to have arrived for the people of Turkey.
    After decades of tumult, unrest, denial of freedom and economic
    deprivation Turkey is marching towards liberation. Contrary to the
    expectations of `anarchists,' the `Imam's army' is taking the country
    to the peaks of prosperity and progress.

    For a couple of generations, the Turkish population was under a dark
    cloud of fear, paranoia, distrust and despair. People were harassed
    and prosecuted for standing up for their rights and freedoms. The
    majority Muslim population was taken hostage by ultra-secularist
    policies on the pretext of democracy and secularism, denying them the
    most fundamental principles of freedom of religion and speech. Under
    the guise of separation of `church' and state, policies were put in to
    marginalize the majority of the country.

    People who practiced any religion were kept away from positions of
    authority in the military, judiciary, civil service and many major
    areas of government. After controlling the majority it was very easy
    to make minorities obedient by killing important figures in their
    communities and blaming such acts on the majority to promote an
    environment of terror. The brutal killings of Christian missionaries
    Necati Ayd─▒n, U─?ur Y├╝ksel and Tilman Geske in Malatya are the most
    recent examples. The plan to kill Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew
    I is another grave instance in that regard. The killing of
    Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was a similar move to push
    Armenians over the edge. The parts of the country worst affected were
    the Kurdish regions. They were the epicenter for the start of the
    terror campaign. Those regions were affected the most due to this

    Since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came into power, it
    has made an extraordinary effort to overhaul the system. They have
    been very successful so far, though there are still big challenges
    ahead of them in gaining the confidence of the people. The majority
    Sunni population feels that now they will have the opportunities they
    were denied so far. The Armenian initiative put forward by the
    government is a major step to alleviate the fears of Armenians. The
    inroads the AK Party has made in the Kurdish region is an indication
    of how the Kurdish population is starting to trust it. The positive
    statements by Kurdish intellectuals about participating in nation
    building and the popularity of the party in the Kurdish region are
    clear indications of the atmosphere of trust in the country. The
    offering of Turkish citizenship to the possible future patriarch of
    the Greek Orthodox Church was greatly appreciated by the patriarchate.
    This symbolic gesture and other steps taken to dispel the fears of the
    Christian community have boosted the confidence of Christians in
    believing that real change is happening. Overall every group in the
    country is able to feel a sense of security now.

    The most significant development is the liberation of the press. The
    media, which was overwhelmingly pro-military by default, is freeing
    itself from the shackles of military control. Journalists feel free to
    tell the truth without fear of being persecuted. Even those who are
    trying to portray Ergenekon as conspiracy theory, despite the volumes
    of real evidence, can freely opine. It is the liberation of the press
    which has exposed the inner workings of the clandestine operations
    behind the junta rule.

    The transfer of power from military to the civil authority is a major
    step even though the military still asserts itself whenever they get a
    chance. The expansion of the authority of the Supreme Board of Judges
    and Prosecutors (HSYK) is a significant step towards the reform of the
    judiciary, but the removal of prosecutor Zekeriya ├-z from the
    Ergenekon trial is an indication that the judiciary is still a long
    way from correcting itself. What is entailed in constitutional reforms
    is still not very clear. The silence on part of major political
    parties regarding the constitutional changes that are going to take
    place is deafening.

    On the economic front Turkey has made major advances. The economy is
    constantly growing despite the fear of recession across the globe. The
    announcement of major projects in ─░stanbul, including the Kanal
    ─░stanbul project, the building of tunnels under the Bosporus, the
    creation of two new earthquake-proof cities around ─░stanbul, will
    bring millions of jobs to the city. Similar projects will be needed
    soon around all major cities in Turkey to decrease congestion and
    stimulate growth. Government also will have to institute policies and
    provide financial incentives to promote small businesses and
    small-scale industries because they are the foundation of an
    innovative and progressive economy. Education should be subsidized and
    made easily available at lower cost to encourage people to pursue
    higher goals.

    Turkey's internal stability also depends on regional stability. The
    Kurdish and Armenian issues are both domestic and regional. The
    immediate neighborhood of Turkey is full of conflict and chronic
    unresolved disputes. The stabilization of the region is also essential
    for the stability of Turkey. With that in mind, the leadership is
    actively involved in helping the neighbors resolve their conflicts.
    The restoration of the 10th-century Church of Akdamar is an important
    gesture in reconciling with Armenia. Turkey is also helping Armenia
    and Azerbaijan negotiate a settlement for their territorial disputes.

    The stability of a very complex situation in Balkans is also very
    essential. Turkey is playing a major role in that region. Its friendly
    relationship with all the countries involved in the conflict has been
    a great advantage for it to be a mediator. Turkey and Serbia have a
    healthy trade relationship, much like other countries in the region
    and Turkey. This gives Turkey the leverage it needs to be a mediator.

    The recent talk of building strategic relations, including a visa-free
    regime, between Ukraine and Turkey completes the full circle of
    cooperation of Turkey with all the nations around the Black Sea. This
    is the final piece of the puzzle, which will complete the process of
    regional cooperation in the Black Sea region. This partnership will
    help greatly stabilize both the Balkans and Caucasus regions.

    The North Caucasus region is another turbulent part of the landscape.
    It has been a battleground for a long time now. The leader of the
    Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, in collaboration with the central
    Russian authorities is providing very bold and dynamic leadership. He
    is creating opportunities for youth to keep them away from terrorism
    and bring economic progress for the people. He is emerging as a role
    model for the leaders of the other republics to emulate. Turkey has an
    opportunity in this region to provide infrastructural and educational
    development. This partnership can bring the necessary capital to the
    region to create economic and political stability.

    The Kurdish issue is also closely connected with all the other Kurdish
    regions of Iran, Iraq and Syria. The leadership of the AK Party is
    closely working with all the players involved. Prime Minister Recep
    Tayyip Erdogan's enthusiastic welcome by Kurds in Arbil is an
    indication of the trust of Kurds in his leadership. This also brings
    us to the recent turmoil in the broader Middle East, which will have a
    very significant impact on Turkey. The unrest in Syria is affecting
    Turkey directly. Turkey has developed very close bilateral and
    multilateral relations with Syria in the region. The outcome in Syria
    is very important for the future of these relationships.

    The pulse of Prime Minister Erdo─?an's team's policy as regards Middle
    Eastern developments is very palpable. They are very clear in what
    their expectations are regarding the outcome. The steps they are
    taking and the statements they are issuing show that they know the
    major players in the conflict, and the solution has to come from a
    consensus between all those who are involved. But they are very clear
    that the ultimate goal has to be to give priority to the people of the
    region. Any settlement made irrespective of who takes charge, people
    should get their dignity, freedom, right to pursue their dreams
    without any obstacles and most of all economic prosperity. They are
    tirelessly working to achieve these goals and persuading the powers
    that be to understand that it is time for change after decades of
    deprivation of human dignity, disregard for the will of people, denial
    of basic needs and devastation of the fabric of life.

    Turkey's achievements are remarkable, especially when we look at the
    challenges it has faced. This will make Turks proud of their choice.

    *Mohammed Ayoub is a psychiatrist specializing in child, adolescent
    and adult psychiatry and resides in Houston, Texas.