Elif Shafak

Turkey is at an existential crossroads

[Getty Images]

The wonderful Barbara Kingsolver wrote that hope is something you should not admire from a distance, but rather live inside of, ‘under its roof’. Last week I lived under the roof of hope as the campaigns for the first round of the Turkish presidential elections drew to a close. This is an existential crossroads for Turkey, my motherland. The AKP under Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been in power for two decades. Although they started off on their journey with promises of liberal reforms, a democratic constitution, and plenty of rhetoric about joining the EU, they have become increasingly nationalist, Islamist, patriarchal and authoritarian with each passing year. Women’s rights have been rolled back and the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence was abandoned despite heartbreaking protests from women; press freedoms completely destroyed; separation of powers ruined; human rights activists, such as Osman Kavala, unlawfully put in jail.

The leader of the opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is a decent, principled politician who has run his whole campaign with admirable calmness and kindness. His fight against authoritarianism is not easy and the fact that he comes from an Alevi minority background has been used against him in a country where prejudice is never far from the surface. But despite the odds, he managed to bring together people from different backgrounds. His approach is constructive, peaceful. Thanks to him, the opposition is now more united than ever. So I live under the roof of hope and yet there is a tightness in my chest.

On Sunday, the day of the vote, the turnout was close to 90 per cent, but it’s a mistake to call the elections free and fair. The Turkish media is heavily controlled, the monopoly of power is absolute. Erdogan appeared on 27 TV channels in the days before the election, while the opposition could only make their voices heard on limited platforms.

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