In a mental state of emergency

The recent ″March for Justice″ organised by CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu proved a wake-up call, even for secular, politically reticent Turks. Finally people have realised that, without a voice in politics, they will slowly but surely forfeit their identity. By Yavuz Baydar

By Yavuz Baydar

"No one wants to eat dinner together anymore," a friend told me recently on the phone. "One or two glasses of raki and we all start dragging each other down. Everyone is depressed about the current situation and is withdrawing into his own cocoon."

The nightlife in Istanbul, Izmir and other coastal towns in Turkey has always been informal and colourful yet also a forum for political discussion. People used to meet up with friends and talk about the eternal question of what is happening in the country.

My friend expressed what so many of us are feeling: these discussions aren't any fun anymore. Fear is so omnipresent, the sense of alienation in this "cultural struggle" so intense and the injustice all around so appalling that resignation has become a universal state of mind.

A member of the main opposition party, CHP, also noticed how the national psyche has been ailing in the post-coup era, so she inquired at the Ministry of Health to find out how many cases of mental illness have been registered in Turkish hospitals in recent months.

The official answer made her catch her breath. The use of antidepressants has increased by more than 25 percent in the last four years. By the end of 2016, nearly 9 million Turks had been in hospital at least once due to mental problems. Moreover, since January of this year, more than 3.2 million people have consulted a doctor for a psychological evaluation.

Hope for justice

"The actual number of those affected is probably much higher, because many are afraid to see a doctor due to social pressure and prejudices," said MP Aylin Nazliaka. "The only cure for this condition is for justice to be restored. Restrictions on democracy must be lifted, the repression of the opposition must stop – we need a return to normality. Otherwise we will eventually all go crazy."[embed:render:embedded:node:28383]The situation reminds me of a film I saw a long time ago: "Bure Baruta / The Powder Keg" (1998) by the great Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic. Masterfully, he portrays the anger, frustration and intolerance that gripped Serbia under political siege.

Similar emotions and behaviour can now be observed in urban life in Turkey. The political state of emergency goes hand-in-hand with mental malaise.

The "March for Justice", initiated by the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, was basically about the need to restore justice. But has it had any effect on the Maltepe Prison, where Enis Berberoglu and other journalists are being detained? No one can say for sure, but many people supported the CHP's efforts to send a message of hope.

Putting a stop to the AKP's "cultural revolution"

The protest march has however roused the secular, politically rather cautious Turks. They have finally understood that, without a voice in politics, they will slowly but surely lose their identity; and that the "cultural revolution" of the AKP is currently being pushed through with nothing to stop it. Unless action is taken, the party′s national Sunni identity will soon dominate over all others.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo: Reuters)
Applying the thumb screws to opposition and civil society: over the weekend Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Kemal Kilicdaroglu of wanting to influence the judiciary with his protest march. The president, who never tires of commenting on current legal proceeedings, also warned the leader of the CHP that he would face problems with the law if he continued with the March for Justice

The theory of evolution has been removed from the national curriculum, while the teaching of Islamic law, the Sharia, is now mandatory. The secular portion of the population is now better able to understand what the representatives of the CHP or the Kurdish HDP party are talking about when they describe Turkey as an "open-air prison" or even a "giant concentration camp".

It is finally dawning even on the "docile, law-abiding middle class", which felt ignored with its "no" to the constitutional amendment, that the street is the only place to put up a show of resistance. Every day, more and more such citizens have joined the protest, recognising the political machinations of those in power, which can only work if they continue to swallow up more and more civil liberties.

The AKP will not lift the state of emergency despite multiple appeals. Instead, it keeps announcing further extensions. Such is the mood of the nation as the first anniversary of the attempted coup looms – a collective suicide act that gave Erdogan and his power circle everything they needed to overthrow democracy.

As the anniversary nears, many things are now coming to an end, including the state of political torpor. Opposition forces have now begun protesting loudly against their criminalisation, while the main opposition party organised the bold and forward-looking "March for Justice".

By contrast, the AKP leaders have planned a week-long series of "democracy watches" throughout the country. No antidepressant is strong enough to let one ignore this confrontation any longer.

Yavuz Baydar

© Suddeutsche Zeitung 2017

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Yavuz Baydar is journalist, blogger and co-founder of P 24, an independent media platform in Istanbul. He was awarded the European Press Prize for his work in 2014. He does not live in Turkey.