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Turkey!s "Undemocratic" Constitution

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The furor regarding the case accepted by Turkey’s highest court that could result in the banishment of the AKP ruling party makes me laugh out loud.

“Judicial coup!” shouted the Turkish media.

“A pre-emptive coup!” noted one pundit, grinding a finer point on the issue.

And the world’s media picked up the beat.


“You can’t impose secularism by force!”

“A more forceful U. S. intervention is warranted,” suggested America’s Newsweek magazine, adding that the Turkish court’s decision to indict the AKP and 71 of its members, including the prime minister, plus the nation’s president, was based on an “undemocratic Constitution.” What is going on here? And there?


By constitutional definition Article 2 declares the Republic of Turkey a “democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law.” Under Article 4 this cannot be changed. The Constitution also provides for the freedoms of religion, speech, and press among others. And the state is charged to “ensure” such freedoms. There is a distinct separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and the Constitution holds “supremacy.” Furthermore, the judgments of Turkey’s highest court are final. There are some unique provisions such as parliamentary immunity from prosecution, citizens having “the right and duty to work,” parliamentarian salary limits (“shall not exceed the salary of the most senior civil servant”), and, now most controversially, rules for closing political parties. While Turkey’s Constitution provides for the basic freedoms of any other so-called democratic country, it also reflects the particular needs and circumstances of Turkey. In short, the Constitution is aware of exactly where Turkey resides in the world. It’s a “Turkish” Constitution.


One should remember that modern, secular Turkey arose from the remains of the Ottoman Empire, itself a sharia state. One need only read a little history to see the dangers that were immediately imposed on the new secular nation by subversive religious movements. This helps account for Turkey’s historic sensitivity thereto. Somehow it also seems important to remember that Turkey is neither in Europe nor North America. Turkey is in Turkey, a land of distinct and dramatic difference, and danger. The so-called Turkish liberals who scream “democracy” and “judicial coup” might more closely examine their habitat… and it’s not at all like the Champs Élysées or Hyde Park. And the outside kibitzers might better concern themselves with their own abundant and historic problems with democracy. The Turkish court is doing its constitutionally-endowed duty. Perhaps the AKP is undermining the secularism of the Turkish state? Perhaps not? The court will so determine.

 George Orwell famously wrote in his essay, Politics and the English Language, “In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.” 

So when the European Union and the United States blathers on about democracy, the Turkish Constitution, and the Turkish court, I laugh out loud at their ignorance and arrogance. Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of American democracy, wrote: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Me too, but more so.

I weep that in the name of democracy, and under the Constitution of the United States, millions of black men, women, and children were held in slavery for 77 years (1788-1865) and thereafter denied equal rights of citizenship until 1964.


I weep that in the name of democracy, and the assumed will of God known as “manifest destiny,” and under the Constitution of the United States, millions of American Indians were slaughtered and displaced. To this day, these aboriginal people are still denied equal citizenship rights by the Supreme Court of the United States.


I weep that in the name of democracy, and in contravention of both the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States, America stands shamed and condemned as a torturer of epic proportion. And other countries, some in Europe, in the name of peace, freedom, and, most of all, democracy, are complicit in these same crimes.


I weep for what might have been. If only the United States Supreme Court had done its constitutional duty in the manner of the Turkish court.  


Never forget that in the name of democracy, the institution that brought the Bush regime to power was none other than the Supreme Court of the United States. A judicial coup? Don’t make me laugh harder. No one said a word about that.


James Ryan

Istanbul, Turkey
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James (Cem)Ryan is a writer living in Istanbul, Turkey. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he has a MFA from Columbia University.

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