November 2, 2015 Print

One of the most fundamental measures of freedom is the ability to criticize political leaders without fear of government persecution. At a recent conference held on Oct. 15 in Istanbul titled “Constitutional state in Turkey: Issues and conflict zones,” Turkish Atlas Network partner Freedom Research Association (FRA) focused on the importance of a society governed by a consistent rule of law, rather than the arbitrary decrees of government officials.

“It is disgraceful and dreadful to see some so-called intellectuals hiding behind silence when they witness unlawful pressure on critical people,” said former Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç at the conference, as reported by newspaper Today’s Zaman. “The general rule of a pluralist system is to protect dissident voices; however, anxiety in Turkish society, especially among those who are critical of the government, is increasing.”

FRA has released a report in conjunction with the conference that elaborates on the socio-cultural, political, and legal history of Turkey and how these have all led to the country’s lack of consistent protection for individual rights and freedom of conscience today. The study’s author, Professor Mustafa Erdoğan, refers to the current political climate in Turkey as “raison d’État,” loosely translated as “by reason of the state” — the opposite of the rule of law.

“Indeed, the intellectual, cultural and institutional components of democracy, including the rule of law, have very shallow historical roots in Turkey,” Erdoğan concludes. “There were no autonomous cities or municipalities, no landed or religious aristocracy or other local centers of power that could counter the authority of the central government, no idea of ‘sanctity of property’, and no autonomous legal authority that could limit the powers of the Sultan in Turkey's history. In lands where the idea and institution of private property is not well established, there can be no talk of an autonomous society that can stand on its own feet, and the state inevitably becomes the benefactor of society. Because Turkey had no history of a religious authority autonomous from the state, the Islamic sharia also failed to act as a brake on the powers of the rulers. This is why the relationship between state and society in Turkey is traditionally top down not bottom up. That is to say, we have a historical sociology in which the state comes before the society, where the state constructed the society rather than vice versa. Given this historical background, it is not surprising that the political culture of Turkey is basically state-centered and based on the philosophy of raison d’État.”