The summer of 2013 has been a critical breaking point for Turkey. As the government faced strong opposition from the youth, the voices of the Young Turks echoed throughout the world. The Occupy Gezi Movement demonstrated a few key issues about Turkey that need attention and deserve some critical thinking.
What did Turkey and the rest of the world, from the Middle East to America learn from the protests? What do these protests actually mean, and whom do they speak to? At first glance, it may seem like the protests damaged the prestige of the current government and worried foreign investors. However, a closer look at the root of the protests reveals something rather positive about Turkey. So what do we see when we consider the glass half full? The youth in Turkey are protective of their civil liberties and are willing to fight for them until the end. The Occupy Gezi Protests, that later spread to the other major cities this summer, prove that the Young Turks of modern Turkey have crossed the threshold and internalized western democratic ideals. They proved that no one could restrict their liberties, that they knew how to organize, challenge their administrators and fight for their rights.
Further, the Occupy Gezi Movement was a demonstration of the internalization of the rule of law by the Turkish society; but, most importantly by the new generation of Turks. Different people or academics measure development in myriad different ways ranging from using GNP and GDP data to other forms of wealth distribution in a specific country to education. Nonetheless, respect for the rule of law is usually never mentioned as one of those aspects that determine the level of development in a country. Amartya Sen, Winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, for example, believes that development should be aiming at freedom in a society. I find such methods more in line with the reality and socio cultural dynamic of societies. Development is much more than having access to education or access to clean water and should be beyond the numbers associated with GNP or GDPs.
I believe that respect for the rule of law, by the citizens of that country, is one of the most important variables in measuring development. Without the respect for the rule of law, laws can never be a tool of social change or progress. Returning to my point after this brief digression, what I mean is that one of the most significant points that deserves careful attention regarding the Occupy Gezi Movement is that the protests demonstrated a respect for the rule of law in Turkey. The protests shed light on the Turkish youth, who have internalized this respect for the civil society and their freedoms associated with it.
My take away from the protests is that Turks have internalized the values and norms associated with a real democracy. Democracy entails much more than just a popular vote. Democracy means freedom and protection of the freedoms one should enjoy in the society that person lives in. What happened in Turkey this summer was the first was the first proof of the internalization of civil liberties associated with a democracy. Is there more to come? We will wait and see what happens in the following months as we watch the Turkish story unfold.
The modernization process in Turkey is still relatively recent when compared to western democracies. It was only in 1923 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's first president, founded the republic. Since then, Turkey has gone through severe times: World War I and right after a bloody War of Independence, in which the country lost a substantial majority of the working population. The population was very hard to rally. Moreover, many citizens did not posses the most basic education. Literacy levels were low and the work they could do was limited. Mustafa Kemal was by all means ahead of his time. His vision for his country was far reaching in terms of modernity, democracy, civil rights, women's rights and education. His reforms changed laws, as he was building a new republic from the ashes of the destroyed Ottoman Empire. Consequently, Kemal had no time to waste. His reforms needed to be strict and implemented effectively. Turkey's modernization process took place over a short period of time. Not leaving enough time for its citizens that were raised with traditional values to fully accept and internalize such momentous changes. Nonetheless, the Turks did work diligently. For the following ninety years they managed to build and maintain a secular democracy.
Recently I have been reassured that the new generation of Turks have internalized a respect for the rule of law, something that is fundamentally necessary to advance Turkey into the 21st century continuing its development and progress.