In order to understand what took place in Turkey in July 2016, and broadly under Erdoğan’s reign, one has to go back to the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. The Young Turks—admirers of the West and the positivist spirit of the age—believed that progress must be attained at all cost and that in order to construct the New Turkey, the old one must be eliminated. Seeing them as a symbol of the old country, the Young Turks even massacred tens of thousands of Istanbul’s famous stray dogs. This zeal for the new has run throughout the country’s history, from Atatürk to Erdoğan, but at the same time has coexisted with a total negation of individual and fundamental liberties and rights. True democratic representation has only existed sporadically in Turkey, which has never taken completely seriously the idea that the people can govern itself. What kind of democracy was and is then-Turkey?
Gallatin Global Faculty-in-Residence Levent Yilmaz is a professor of intellectual and cultural history of the early modern and modern Europe. He has taught at Istanbul Bilgi University and Koç University and his research focuses on European historiography from the 14th to 18th century.
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