Hope and the Turkish Political Imagination

By William Garriott

In response to Turkey’s constitutional referendum on April 16, 2017, which replaces the parliamentary system with an executive presidency,  PoLAR and APLA commissioned a series of responses from scholars and activists working on democracy and human rights in the region. In this installment, Oguz Alyanak and Funda Ustek-SpildaDeniz Yonucu, and William Garriott reflect on the ramifications of the referendum.

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By serts/Getty Images. Happy young woman smiling, having fun and making victory sign with her hands at Turkish L.G.B.T. (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual) protest at street in sunny day.

The essays in this final installment on the Turkish referendum address the question: what now? Both essays eschew a narrow focus on the referendum’s immediate implications in favor of a broader consideration of time, emotion, and the political imagination. Deniz Yonucu emphasizes the importance of the past for understanding the present. She critiques the discourse of exceptionalism that surrounds the referendum by placing it within the context of the ongoing Kurdish political struggle. Kurds and other marginalized groups, she notes, have long been living in an effective state-of-emergency, and have suffered, not just from the actions of Erdoğan and the AKP, but also from the inaction of the CHP, the country’s primary opposition party and vocal proponent of the “No” vote during the referendum. This history hangs over the CHP’s current efforts to establish a strong opposition bloc in the 2019 parliamentary elections, and highlights the ongoing significance of enmity towards Kurds in the Turkish political imaginary.

In their essay, Oguz Alyanak and Funda Ustek-Spilda query the significance of the present for thinking about the future. They address the “melancholy of lost hope” that has set in for many following the referendum. For Freud, melancholy (or melancholia) is the pathological version of mourning. It is pathological because it knows no end; the grief of the past is perpetually projected into the future. Alyanak and Ustek-Spilda recognize how the politics of the present could encourage such a melancholic response—a retreat into hopelessness. But they encourage reflexive engagement instead. “Losing hope in hope itself risks leaving us to wallow in apathy,” they write. Echoing Jennifer Curtis’s contribution to this series, they argue that, even in the best of times, hope is insufficient to sustain democracy, for democracy thrives, not just on hope, but on participation. They note there are pockets of opposition and resistance that are even now operating in the wake of the referendum. For the authors, these are not just democratic practices undertaken in hope for a different future, but are themselves a “practicing of hope for democracy.”

William Garriott is associate professor in the Law, Politics, and Society Program at Drake University. His research and teaching focus on the relationship between law, crime, and criminal justice, broadly conceived, with specific interest in drugs, addiction, policing and governance. He is the author of Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America as well as editor of the volumes Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Police in Practice and (with Eugene Raikhel) Addiction Trajectories. He currently serves as co-editor (with Heath Cabot) of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

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