It is true that the passage of the referendum in Turkey, with 58 percent of the vote, can be seen as a victory for the AKP regime. But that point shouldn’t be exaggerated. The bad feature of the reforms — in terms of consolidating the Islamist government’s power — is to strengthen the regime’s control over the courts and to limit further the autonomy of the Turkish army.
At the same time, though, there were many other provisions that the overwhelming majority of Turks wanted — expanding freedoms and civil liberties and reining in the possibility of military coups — which those left-of-center have opposed in the past. Moreover, it was sold as a step toward Turkish entry into the European Union, still a prime goal, though something that’s never going to happen.
I would bet that if it weren’t for the fear of the provisions in the referendum strengthening the regime, 90 percent of Turks would have supported it, instead of 58 percent. But that was part of the trick: putting in two provisions fundamentally transforming the Turkish republic amidst twenty others that mainly referred to historical issues.
The New York Times fawned over the referendum, uncritically supporting the regime in a shameful and quite ignorant manner:
Turkey, already the Muslim Middle East’s sturdiest democracy, fortified its freedoms in a referendum on Sunday, with 58 percent of voters approving a package of constitutional amendments meant to end army meddling in civilian politics. That overwhelming “yes” vote showed that Turks are fed up with ultimatums and coups and want elected politicians fully in charge.
Well, yeah — but not pro-Iran, Islamist politicians who are moving toward control of the mass media and arresting peaceful dissidents, right?
Why doesn’t the NYT mention that the referendum also tightens the regime’s grip on the court system — practically the last independent institution — and other instruments of power to an extent that many Turks find frightening? This is pure propaganda for the Islamist regime, not a balanced assessment. Not a single criticism of the regime is mentioned, despite its growing power over the mass media, intimidation of critics, mass arrests, and other forms of repression and anti-democratic behavior.
This kind of editorial should be compared to that newspaper’s whitewashing of Stalinism in the 1930s and 1950s. Lenin once boasted that he would get the capitalists to sell him the rope with which to hang them — but even he thought that he would excite only their mercenary attributes. Today, Islamists often gain heartfelt and enthusiastic praise from their adversaries.
The referendum did not end the struggle over Turkey’s future, but started it. The word is that the next elections will be called for around June 2011, though of course this could change. If past experience serves, a perceived victory like the referendum makes the regime more arrogant, and accelerates its move toward a more Islamist Turkey. Such an outcome would alienate more voters and make the next election a referendum against the anti-secular, pro-Iran current rulers.
And what will the ruling AKP party do with power? The regime isn’t merely pro-Iran, but publicly, loudly, and outspokenly pro-Iran — daring the United States to do something about it.
So at the very moment that much of the world is tightening sanctions on Iran against its nuclear program, the Turkish regime is coming to the rescue. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, at a meeting bringing more than one hundred Turkish investors together with Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, called for a tripling of Turkey-Iran trade.
Turkey is probably becoming the main government-encouraged violator of the sanctions in the world. Part of the motivation is money; part is to strengthen the regime’s ally in Tehran.