Turkey Couldn't be a Democracy
An Interview with
Recently, Manuela Paraipan was in Turkey, where in addition to taking in the
Tekfen Philharmonic, she had an opportunity to interview Yusuf Kanli, editor in
chief of the English-language Turkish Daily News.
Manuela Paraipan: Do you think that Turkey belongs to the E.U. club of nations?
Yusuf Kanli: I do not know whether Turkey belongs to E.U. or E.U. should take
Turkey in, but definitely, Turkey belongs to Europe. Turkey is already part of
I am well aware of that, but my question was whether Turkey's place from a
socio-political perspective is in the E.U.?
Socially, culturally, economically, militarily, and politically to a great
extent, Turkey is part of Europe. But will it become an E.U. member? That's
something else. It is a political formation, and the members of the club will
have to decide themselves whether they see potential in having Turkey in …
Is there an internal tension in the Turkish political arena between the seculars
and those who would wish to see Islam or anything else other than secular
democracy as dominant in politics?
Yes, there is.
What would the alternative be, if any?
I think there is not any viable alternative to secularism in Turkey if you take
into consideration the composition of the society. … We have had pluralism all
through our history. We never had the domination of one religion over the
others, including in the Ottoman Empire. Because the Ottoman Empire, regardless
of what some say, and although the sultan was a caliph, more or less it was a
secular state. Just take the fact that none of the Ottoman sultans performed the
pilgrimage. With one exception — the one who conquered Mecca.
While I do understand your point of view, there is an open discussion on the
possibility of seeing a different political approach in Turkey, ever since the
Islamists took power in the country. Can we talk about a possible revival of the
caliphate? How do you comment on it?
I do not think that in Turkey we can talk about the revival of the Caliphate.
Caliphate is a dead establishment. But of course, there is place in the Turkish
society for wider religious support and rights. And I think that it is right. I
do not like the way the Islamists are living, dressing, the way they are
thinking. But in democracies, people are not obliged to conform to my
expectations. And in their private lives, they can do whatever they like.
The state is secular, the system is secular, and this system is guaranteeing the
freedom of religion.
Without secularism, it would be impossible for Turkey to be a democracy.
Secularism is the key element of the success of coexistence of democracy and
religious people together. Otherwise, we will not be able to sustain democracy.
That's why secularism and democracy are so much interrelated. Maybe less in
Europe, because they have lived the enlightenment age. They lived the separation
of church and the state. So hundreds of years ago, they completed the cycle. But
in Islam, there weren't any reforms. There was no renaissance. And in essence,
Islam is a religion regulating every aspect of life. If you let it dominate the
state, then how will you have a national will, when you already have a will that
is superior, and divine. So this contradicts with the norm itself.
Where does Turkey stand on the war on terror? And, what are the relationships
between Turkey, Iran, and Syria, knowing that these Middle Eastern countries
support terrorism (Hezbollah) and Iran might be facing U.N. sanctions in the
Saying that these states are supporting terrorism is in itself a prejudice, in
We all know that the neighborhood of Turkey is not an easy one. We all know that
countries of this region have the habit of using illegitimate means to promote
their national goals. Be that supporting the opponent, another country's
government, terrorist groups, Islamic terrorists, traffickers, etc.
Turkey is one of the few countries in this region that fight so intensely the
terrorist threat. For about three decades, we had terrorism and we lost about
37,000 of our people. And I do not distinguish between those killed by the
terrorists, or those killed by the security forces that hunted the terrorists.
At the end of the day, all were our own people, irrespective of their fighting
the state or the state defending itself.
It is a big trauma, and that is why we are so alert to it. We know what
terrorism is. What pain it can cause. And we want our neighborhood, rather than
becoming a free terrorism area, an area free of terrorism. For that, we need
several things. First of all, we need the states of the region to conform with
international laws and the basic conduct of diplomacy. That is, noninterference
in internal affairs, respect to each other's territory, borders, and
What about the Kurds? What is their status?
The Kurds of Turkey are not a minority; they are part of the majority. Minority,
in the traditional understanding in this country, is a group of people who are
different from the main majority, and who while enjoying most of the rights
others enjoy, are denied certain liberties.
The Kurds must be given the additional rights. They must have rights and
liberties as any other citizens of the state. However, the problems of Kurds are
a bit exaggerated. Their issues are not only theirs; others are having the same
issues. This is not a minority vs. majority problem; this is the democratization
problem of Turkey. And we have to continue the democratization trend, with or
without the E.U. perspective.
It is the state's duty to solve these problems, but at the same time, it is the
state's responsibility to provide the fundamental rights of people, and the most
important one is the right to life. If the state is unable to protect its
citizens, whatever other rights it can provide, they mean nothing. For that, it
has to ruthlessly combat terrorism, no comprise, no mercy, so clear.
I want to tell you that the state [any state] has the right to protect itself.
But that does not mean for Israel to use excessive force. That is a very
delicate area. In combating terrorism, no state should be allowed to force
people out of their land and homes, to demolish their houses, to threaten them
as terrorists, without sufficient evidences. This is another subject, but we
have to differentiate between one thing and another. For example, I am one of
the strongest supporters of Israel's right to exist. Fifty years ago, we were
against this idea but now Israel is a reality of the region. If we are going to
have peace, peace must be based on that reality. Another reality is the
legitimate rights of the Palestinians, the right of the refugees, the right to
have a state of their own. We have to acknowledge this reality, too.
However, that does not mean that I approve of the suicide killers that blow up
buses in Tel Aviv, or the state terrorism that Israel uses against the
Palestinian civilians. Both are wrong and I condemn both of them.
I think the refugees should be allowed to return to the state of Palestine, not
in Israel. You seem to have a different opinion here, so please explain it a bit
I strongly believe that the Palestinians must have the right to return to their
previous territories and homes, from where they have been evicted by force.
Peace is a very painful task. If Israel can compromise in other areas, and that
can satisfy the Palestinians, who am I to complain? If they agree on having new
settlements as compensation, and they draw a line in history and say the past is
past, the future is ours, I will respect that. But, for that to happen they need
dialogue, talks. But first, the two sides must recognize each other.
I hope that the people all over the world will see this basic requirement and
try to fulfill it. One side is recognized as a state, and the other side as a
community asking for its rights.
If you are going to have a two-state settlement, or a federation or whatever,
these are the initial needed elements [mutual recognition and dialogue]. And let
them solve the problem on the basis of equality.
Recently we had in Europe the Spain bombings, the 7/7 London bombings, the
cartoon riots, and a general ascendant trend of Islamic fundamentalism. Why is
Europe a target?
We have to look at the root cause. And I differentiate here, between the Islamic
rise, and the Islamic terrorism rise. I believe the Islamic rise is good,
because as other religions, Islam preaches tolerance, peace, and love for man
and woman, is a religion based on love for humanity. According to Islam, killing
one person is like killing the entire humanity because you cannot give or take
life. This is the mentality of Islam, but when you use it in staging terrorism,
and you use Islam as pretext to achieve some political aims, that is the biggest
threat — and that is an insult to Islam. Therefore, the first to feel insulted
and act firmly against terrorism is not the Christian world, or the
international community, but the Islamic states.
Islamist terrorism, or whatever you call it, it's like a cancer in today's
society, and we have to cure it. The illiteracy so widespread in the Muslim
world is a big threat, and of course, to overcome the problem, you need to
consolidate education and democratization. Democratization without proper
education ends up in catastrophes, as we have seen elements of it in Egypt. the
first stage should be education, not only teaching people how to read their
rights, but also teaching people values, morals, gender equality, all those
things that constitute the fundamentals of a modern society. Increase the budget
for education. And if that were to happen, in 20, 25 years then we would see a
The more educated the society will be, the more they will demand democratic
But, can Islam and democracy go together well?
It can, if the Muslims accept the concept of secularism. This is fundamental,
without it, you cannot have democracy in any part of the Islamic world.
Secularism is the essence, the key, the magic wand, if you want. Without it, you
cannot have democracy. What is democracy? The people ruling itself by itself,
the basic definition.
What is the fundamental element here? Sovereignty, the right to decide, to make
errors. If you have a basic as the constitution, and the book of the believers
as the supreme book of the country, and if that book says, the only sovereign is
God, and if that book is defining everything in that society, how are you going
to have civil law? How are you going to have a sovereign people? Or, how are you
going to have democracy without people being the sovereign? This is the key.
That is why we are so sensitive about it in Turkey. I am not a secular, and I am
not an Islamist either; I am a social democrat, committed to democracy, to
freedom, values, in all aspects of life. To me, accepting a divine will over a
popular will is the end of the game. We may have elections, an elected
government; in Iran, they have elections, and an elected president, and
government. But is that democracy? Elections are not democracy. The worst
government can come to power through elections. Do not forget it. It is the
mentality that makes the difference.
Can you please go back to my previous question on Europe and expand your
perspective a bit?
We are the sole Muslim country with a democratic rule [in the region]. Indonesia
as well, with its own type of democracy and secularism, is a target. There was
no difference between the attack in London, or Spain, and the one from Istanbul,
or the attacks on hotels in Bali. It was the same mentality.
Can we do something to change it?
Yes, drop the "ifs" and "buts" in describing terrorism. If you continue with "my
terrorism is good, yours is bad" mentality, we will never succeed. If the P.K.K.
is a terrorist gang, than that's it, end of conversation, and there are ways and
means of fighting a terrorist gang.
You have to be determined, clear. And as media, we have a duty there. We have to
stop violence appearing on the first page. The more we report that, the humane
sufferings on the front page, the more we promote terrorism. We have to report
the stories, but the humane aspect, the sufferings, should not be exploited as
much. Media must report the issues. Instead of showing how many people were
killed, just show the impact of the attack and leave it to that. It is our
public duty to report, its our right, and the right of the public to be
informed, but we have to draw a line, we should not allow ourselves to be used
by the gangs, we must be aware of that.
What is terrorism in your view?
Any act, any use of force on civilian population with political motivation.
But, do you include here the so-called resistances? Like Hezbollah?
The right of resistance is something else. I am coming from a resistance. I am a
Turkish Cypriot and we fought the Greek Cypriot attacks on our population, but
we defended ourselves. We did not kill civilians. That is the difference. If a
resistance movement starts kidnapping, beheading people, that is terrorism.
Resistance is a legitimate right. If you are under occupation, you have this
right to resist. But, how do you resist? You resist domination power,
occupation, army you blow up their military installations, etc. I mean that is
war, but you don't kill civilians.
I respect the right of the Palestinian people to reject the occupation of their
territories, but how can I define a boy who blows himself up in a bus, as a
freedom fighter? That is criminal, pure terrorism, no question about it.
Resistance movement is a noble act, against foreign occupation and pressures,
with legitimate means.
If a noble resistance movement starts developing terrorist tactics, it is a
terror organization. That's the end of it. We have to be clear. That is why we
have so much difference of opinion with the West. They are
hypocrites. When it comes to their sufferance, they see, when others are
suffering, they sympathize. But they do not act, they start talking with "ifs"
and "buts," and that is something we cannot afford when we fight terrorism. We
are either for or against it.
And, finally my last question, what do you think about the U.S. relationship
Credibility is the problem, for both countries, for both sides. Turkey has lost
credibility in U.S., and U.S. lost credibility here. They say something, do
something else. They have severe credibility problems. We have to start
developing skills of action, not of rhetoric. This has happened largely because
the interests of U.S. and Turkey are no longer the same. The cold war is over.
In the past we had common enemies, interests, strategies, policies, etc. Now, we
need to develop separate strategies, polices, interests. Of course, we can still
cooperate. Now we are in the process of learning that.
July 24, 2006 World Press