My generation, born in the early years of the Cold War, has seen and lived through many dramatic events, both in Turkey and the world. We opened our eyes to the world with the Korean War. In the miraculous year of 1968 we were exposed to the winds blowing both from the West and the East, we were attracted to both the Flower Children in the United States and the Red Guards in China.
We watched how Europe, which started two world wars, founded and expanded the European Union, the fortress of peace and democracy on the continent. We witnessed what was thought to be impossible happen, first with the Communist Party introducing capitalism in China and later communism collapsing in Russia and the Soviet empire dissolving.
Today we are witnessing equally historic events with the Arab world awakening to political freedom. Once again, what was once thought to be out of question is taking place, and Arab autocracies are collapsing one after the other. People’s revolutions that started in Tunisia have spread to Egypt and from there to Libya with their shockwaves being felt all over the entire Arab world as well as Iran, and even as far away as China. There are many lessons to be drawn from the Arab awakening for both the world and Turkey.
Yes, the Arab people’s revolutions face many uncertainties. It is very likely that they will experience many ups and downs before they succeed in establishing representative governments that respect basic human rights. One thing is, however, certain: The door to freedom in the Arab world has opened and there will be no going back. This is not a regime change imposed from beyond or from above, but from below by the masses of young people motivated by demands for freedom and democracy, not using violence but by taking advantage of the new media.
With regime change from below through popular uprisings, the Islamophobic and racist myth widespread in the West that the Arab people are doomed to be governed by autocratic rulers due to their religion and culture has collapsed. Arab people are rightfully proud of what they have achieved and are regaining self-confidence. The United States and its European allies, who have so far had cozy relations with autocracies that backed Israel, will soon have to work with representative Arab governments who are not likely to approve of Israel’s continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.
It is high time for the United States and its European allies to abandon policies of unconditionally supporting Israeli governments, to revitalize the peace process and work toward a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The need for Israeli governments to come to their senses has never been as urgent as it is today. Arab revolutions will inevitably help the Israeli people and the Jewish Diaspora at large to finally grasp that Israel’s security and wellbeing cannot be achieved without the same for the Palestinian people.
Turkey has surely played a role in the Arab awakening. There is no doubt that the Arab people are inspired by the Turkish example, which has shown the entire world that a Muslim-majority society can be both modern and democratic. No one can deny that policies pursued by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of establishing closer political, economic and cultural ties with the Arab people, as with all neighboring people, while taking a stand against atrocities and injustices inflicted upon the Palestinians, have helped Turkey to win the hearts and minds of the Arab masses.
The myth that Turkey under the AKP government has changed axis, and moved away from the West toward the Middle East, has also collapsed. The case is not Turkey moving closer to the Middle East, but the Middle East moving closer to Turkey. Sensible Americans and Europeans should well assess the contribution Turkey is making towards democratization in its region and also grasp the deceptive nature of arguments that claim Turkey under the AKP government is moving towards an authoritarian regime, put forward mainly by the neocon and Israeli lobby circles in the US. And for those European governments who want to exclude Turkey from European integration, developments in the Middle East seem to provide plenty of reasons to revise their positions.
The Arab awakening is inviting Turkey to also come to its senses. Turkey has to move further with reforms to consolidate democracy with European norms, not only for the sake of its own security and prosperity but to also for continuing to inspire its neighborhood. In this context it is imperative that the AKP government meets the democratic demands of its Kurdish citizens, and take all measures necessary to open the way for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to lay down arms and take part in the democratic process. No one can stop Turkey from gaining greater hard and soft power when it reconciles with its Kurdish citizens.