Mouradian: Decoding Turkey’s ‘Yes’ to Constitutional Amendments

Journalists, political analysts, historians, and activists discuss the implications of the vote with the Armenian Weekly.

On Sept. 12, Turkey voted in favor of constitutional amendments that could usher in an array of reforms and further curb the influence of the military. The 58 percent “yes” vote was touted as a victory for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of the General Elections of 2011 and the Presidential Elections of 2012. But that’s the short—and oversimplified—version of the story.

The CHP Headquarters in Ankara. The party was opposed to the constitutional amendments. (Photo: Armenian Weekly)

No more excuses

“Once again the opposition underestimated the strength of AKP. This result exceeds the most optimistic forecasts for a ‘yes’ vote. The majority of Turks voted for change,” said Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for the Economist. 

But with victory comes responsibility—or at least the loss of excuses to escape from it. “The onus is now on AKP to make those changes. It no longer has the excuse of an obdurate judiciary to hide behind. The true test of AKP’s democratic credentials is now before us,” explained Zaman.

Taner Akcam, assistant professor of history at Clark University, agreed. “This is one of the important steps in Turkey’s democratization process and facing history. My hope is that the government upholds its promise for a totally new constitution, and its promises related to the Kurdish issue. They don’t have excuses anymore.”

A message to all

Baskin Oran, professor of political science at Ankara University, believes the result of the referendum is a message to all. The message to the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the military is “to recognize the rights of the oppressed and the marginalized, instead of acting as champion of the nationalist civilian/military bureaucracy and of the educated petty bourgeoisie.” The message to the National Movement Party (MHP) is similar. It will “get nowhere by betting on nationalism from now on,” said Oran.

'Evet' (yes) and 'hayir' (no) at the referendum. Drawing by Firuz Kutal.

The days when the judiciary controlled the state are gone, he went on. The higher judiciary “must quit trying to replace the Executive and the Legislative through the wrong interpretation and also the repudiation of the laws, Constitution, and international treaties.”

Oran warns AKP to follow through with its promises, “because if it fails, the tide will definitely turn against it.” According to him, Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which had called to boycott the referendum, “will get nowhere as long as it remains a Kurdish party. It has to become a ‘Turkey party’ by distancing itself from the PKK [the militant Workers’ Party of Kurdistan] and by defending the rights of all the oppressed and marginalized.” He criticized the left, too, for being “extremely split…with many voting ‘no’ just for the sake of voting against ‘Islamist’ AKP.” He adds, “They think they are leftists, but they are Ittihadists, ‘Revolution-from-Above’-ists, nationalists, and laicists.”

If you ignore the Kurds…

President Obama hailed the “vibrancy of Turkish democracy as reflected in the turnout for the referendum that took place across Turkey,” announced the White House on Sept. 12. The situation on the ground was—to put it mildly—a little different. Most voters in the densely Kurdish-populated provinces upheld BDP’s call to boycott the referendum.

Bilgin Ayata, whose Ph.D. dissertation at Johns Hopkins University examines the displacement of Kurds in Turkey, has a different assessment of the Kurdish situation than Oran. “An entire region in Turkey boycotted the vote. Such an outcome is hardly a victory for AKP or its main opponent, the CHP. The only party that could take out a victory from Sunday’s referendum is the BDP.”

Ayata explained that the call to boycott was based on the fact that the proposed constitutional changes “did not touch upon key undemocratic elements, such as the 10 percent threshold for parties during elections,” and neglected Kurdish demands, including the recognition of Kurdish identity by the constitution.

Ayata considers the proposed constitutional changes to be contradictory. “Even though Prime Minister Erdogan presented them as a break from Turkey’s military legacy, this was hardly the case. The proposed changes related only to a few elements of the undemocratic constitution and were rather contradictory: Some changes were indeed introducing more democracy, while others curbing existing rights,” she said.

“Nearly two-thirds of the population in southeast Turkey followed this call for boycott. In Hakkari, for example, the participation was less than 10 percent. Such a boycott coming from the region that suffered the most from the military legacy in Turkey in the past decades is rather telling. It sends a clear signal to Ankara: If you ignore the Kurds, the Kurds will ignore you.”

Lesser of two evils

Istanbul-based human rights activist and Armenian Weekly columnist Ayse Gunaysu was one of those who boycotted the vote—in part to express solidarity with the Kurds. “I boycotted the referendum to support the Kurdish position, to protest against the AKP government, and to express my conviction that the solution of the problems rested not with the constitutional changes offered, but elsewhere,” she said.

However, according to Gunaysu a “yes” vote was the lesser of two evils. “I knew that I would feel better if ‘yes’ votes won, and would feel defeated if ‘no’ votes prevailed. After all, nationalists on the left and right opted for ‘no.’ However, the ‘yes’ front included not only those who are opposed to Turkish military’s domination, but also—for example—the soul mates of the violent Sunni Islamic mobs who resorted to violence against Alevis during a cultural festival in 1993, burning down a hotel, and causing the death of 37 Alevi intellectuals. So once again I found myself—like many others—in a position to choose between the lesser of two evils, while the ‘good’ is nowhere in sight.”

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Khatchig Mouradian is the Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist at the Library of Congress and a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the project on Armenian Genocide Denial at the Global Institute for Advanced Studies, New York University. Mouradian is the author of The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, published in 2021. The book has received the Syrian Studies Association “Honourable Mention 2021.” In 2020, Mouradian was awarded a Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia University. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on late-Ottoman history, and the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Armenian Review.
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

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  1. I am glad that some are wary of yet another round of Turkish “reforms.”

    One must recall another widely hailed reformist victory in Turkey: that of the Young Turks in 1908, which ushered in the Cilician massacres of 1909 and the Armenian genocide of 1915 – 1923.  In 1908, Armenians and others danced in streets which were soon to run red with their blood.

    Ataturk was also hailed by the world as a reformer, but as we know he also committed genocide against Armenians and tried to destroy the fledging Republic of Armenia.

    This is the history of Turkish reform.

    Now we have some Armenians hailing the new Turkish “reforms.”  Are Armenians now Turkey’s nannies?  Has Turkey even implemented the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923?

    Let us reform ourselves and worry less about alleged Turkish reforms.

  2.   I appreciate the coverage by the Weekly on internal events in Turkey. It is important for Armenians, especially those who participate in the political process, to understand the dynamics and political diversity of Turkey. It is in our interests to remain informed and active.
         This current reform event seems to be a display for EU candidacy and more of an exposure of the divisions in Turkey rather than reform. Until the Turks value the minorities of their country and stop trying to assimilate them( probably too kind a term… oppress is probably more appropriate) real change will be limited. The Kurdish is not going to go away by saying,”we are all Turks” or by limiting the poltical power of 20% of the population. I agree with David. There are plenty of broken promises that are a more accurate reflection of Turkey’s intentions. How about respecting signed treaties like Lausanne. How about legislation to repeal the ridiculous 301? Unfortunately, I don’t see this as the game changer that some are describing it as. More of the same superficial activity.

  3. Turkey and the European Union:  Ship of Fools
    Serious reforms were first attempted during Ottoman Turkey’s Tanzimat (Reorganization) period of 1839 to 1876. Pushed by Europe, Turkey declared measures, quickly proven ineffective, to safeguard the rights of its subjects, including Armenians.
    A Turkish constitution was then declared in 1876 but suspended, along with parliament, just two years later.
    Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878 by the European powers, Turkey, and Russia, guaranteed the safety of Ottoman Armenians but was dead before the ink dried.
    Turkish “reforms” reached new levels in the 1890s with massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
    In 1908 came the “reformist” Young Turk party. Inspired by European ideals, it pledged liberty, equality, and fraternity. “Reform” culminated in the cataclysm of 1915.
    Turkey’s next European-inspired “reformer” was Kemal Ataturk, who all but finished off the country’s remaining Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians, not to mention thousands of Muslim Kurds.
    He seized historical western Armenia, which Europe had promised to Armenians, and attacked the just-reborn Armenian Republic while Europe looked on.
    Ataturk’s “reformist” legacy endures to this day: Genocide denial, the blockade of Armenia, and 80 years of military coups, human rights abuses galore, and even massacres, all tolerated by Europe.
    more here:

  4. Berge Jololian is right about all the Turkish evil that has been tolerated by Europe, and I include the US. It is strange to watch the elites in Europe and the US put a positive spin on the election which is another step in cementing Turkeys drift into an Islamic state. The US continues to support the inclusion of Turkey into the EU which is suicide for its Judeo-Christian civilization. If you don’t think this then why not support the mass immigration of Muslims into Armenia?

  5. I agree with Arius and everyone who posted here.

    This is nothing but a mockery.. a laughing matter to say the least.. is West that blind and stupid about this whole circus Turkey has organized??

    There is nothing Turkey can do that will be genuine and democratic… this is how they operate and this is how they plan to overtake everyone…

    But Turkey does not know that there will always be handful of civilized societies that will never fall under their evil spell…and will always point out their treacherous, lying, denialists, and Ataturk mentality ways….


  6. Selcuk’s comment: (Turkey’s importance is growing day by day and you guys cannot see the reality.) Is absolutely right! And political matters might not be too unlike the ideaology of the Young Turks almost 100 years ago, that is – the Turks haven’t really changed all that much although they might infer to the contrary.  I beleive tricky then and still so.  Selcuk’s disdain is quite evident…

  7. did anyone interfere with russia when it liberated ossetia and abkhazia from those pretending to be georgian nationalist…NO
    what’s the lesson to learn…stop crying and start pumping (military strength into armenia’s defense system)
    you want justice… you need to force it on your enemies
    you want to liberate your ancestral lands and demand reparation…then inject your roots in the motherland and produce the soldiers needed to Carry on this project,
    it is not going to happen from across the oceans by grass root campaigns and buying corrupt politicians, stop waisting precious money
    yesterday i heard the best comment on USArmenia’s network, in a soap called LOS, a visitor from armenia having a conversation with another character who identified himself as america-hye…the guest replied, americahye??? then went on to say…
    hays are produced only in hayastan and consumed in america and to that i add, hays are consumed not just in america but anywhere outside our borders, and i believe i don’t
    need to prove this point, the sad realities of our so called armenianness is proof positive, our kids are not even speaking armenian with each other, so much for creating an effective armenian army…what a joke  
    not eurpoe nor the U.S. or anyone else is going to take our side unless it is to their adavantage…yeghunq unisne’ glukh@d qere

  8. hayrenaser,
    Yours stands out amongst all other good ones as well.”Todos  tenempos razon”,Sr.Javier Solana´s idiom…(ten yrs head  of Euro Diplomacy.Now in  the interim,before I cafrry on with above subject matter.-
    “How is it that after Javier Solana(after all in EU country rep.) a Lady Baroness From U.K has taken over the EU diplomacy-go figure that out…
    Then again, how is it  that a turkis diplomat was chjosen/elected to head EU council at Starsbourg’  another one  of those jokes? someone above hinted  at  as “joke”s or intended diplomacy to shake the EU down and crrrreate  an aglomerate of Anglo-Am.influenced  ruled  EU?
    We have been taken in by many big powers in the past.This one is also of importance to know.Someone above mentioned the lesson that our neighbour Georgia received from RRRussia  and I ´d add at  that precise  juncture  of time great Turkey´s attitutde softened up somewhat..
    If Turks and Turkey are reforming themseslves their laws-in simple lingo-GOOD FOR THEM.Let them carry on ,we  neither have to rejoice, get deistressed or depresssed or in any of such moods. IF THEY ARE ADMITTED INTO  EU,which totally is the bIZ if the Euros…let  it be.Keep out  of it.If Turkey joins up  more openly with little brother Azerbaijan-recent  hints- then GET SMART, GET THE DIASPORA  REALLY RE-ORGANIZED,LIKE I HAVE BEEN TRUMPETING, FOR  OVER  3 DOZ.YRS…
    FOR OUR PRESSENT STRUCTURE,IF YOU CAN CALL THEM AS SUCH ARE NOT COMPATIBLE with present needs  of  both RA/NK and Diaspora.We are in a slumber, if I may say so, content  with a “Sahmanatrutyun”  that  was drawn up over  160 yrs ago in istanbulla  by a decadent clergy and lay  under Ottoman  turkish oppressive rule.Shake free of it,or best yet,leave  that to our clergy to stick to.We need a new STATUTE FOR THE ARMENIAN DIASPORA, THAT  THIS SERVANT OF THE ARMENIAN PEOPLE IS ADVOCATING ..AROUND our Huge collectivities  of “Professional Caolleagues Associations”  Five on the scene already,we need ten more  and then linkgagte of thse through their 3-person ELITE delegates,alongside them, our 4 political party  rep.s and one each as formality  from our Spiritual leaders´denominations…
    Otherwise speculating what  will present Turkey´s constitution accomplish and what effect it will have upon its KURDS or Armenian ex-rayas  or at the most just in recentg yrs  “Ermeni”s.Giavours…(by the by if they called  us so why don´t ,didnt´ cal the EURO-AMS  so…aren´t they as  much christian Giavours-See the difference?
    Simply put for turks only  Ermenis  are giavours(bad , unwanted) not ZGermans  or other such.They hated  us to the gutts. ARe they to change  along with any such slight Constitutional changes?  one would doubt  very much…

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