As a part of Oklahoma’s 2017 Teach-In, speaker Soner Cagapty, of the Turkish Research program at the Washington Institute, presented a lecture on the current crisis facing Turkey’s political system. It was striking to learn how deep the roots of Turkey’s democracy go. Turkey has has had free and fair elections for seven decades; for reference, that’s longer than Spain has had free elections. The accusations that the last elections in the country were rigged therefore do not come lightly. There is a growing trend of authoritarianism throughout the country, and more and more opponents of the government are being jailed and silenced. Cagapty emphasized that this trend was not due to a fundamental breakdown in Turkey’s vibrant democratic institutions or civil society, but rather the leadership of its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite major accomplishments in stimulating economic growth and transforming Turkish infrastructure and living standards in the early years of his presidency, Erdogan has become corrupt in his attempts to mold Turkey into his own image.
Most fascinating was Cagapty’s discussion of Turkish youth and their role in the future of the country. Erdogan lost the recent referendum in the 18-32-year-old age group by a huge margin, indicating widespread disapproval of Erdogan and his policies among youth. Were a charismatic leader to emerge to represent this generation and fight for the return of fundamental democracy, Cagapty believes the direction of the future could be rerouted to heal the fractures within Turkey’s government and give the power back to the people. The fact that youth have the potential to create such important change goes to show that we should never doubt our individual role in politics, even if we are young.
Cagapty’s passion for Turkey was very apparent; he spoke of how he has been writing books on the country for more than 20 years, and that he truly loves this work. His charisma shone through when he quickly added that he “also loves yoga.” The combination of the wealth of knowledge Cagapty had to offer and his engaging speaking style made this lecture both educational and extremely enjoyable to listen to.