Will the Turkish referendum bring about real change for youth?

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder as well as the first president of the Turkish Republic, had an impeccable vision when he constituted its formation after the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapsing. When the first constitution was amended back in 1923, which declared Turkey to be a secular republic, the Turkish people saw hope, light and democracy.

The declaration of the Turkish Republic as a secular state was a first among the various Islamic countries in the region. Ataturk made Turkey unique. Secularism had given the Turkish people a culture that nurtured differences, promoted democracy, enriched history and advertised exactly what our land represented, which entailed a unified and strong republic. These ideologies have supported modern-day Turkey for almost 94 years, and, as a result, to say this nation has lived without independence or a lack of democracy would be an injustice.

Although the republic has overcome various wars, martyrdom and economic downfalls, we prevailed with the light envisioned by Ataturk. But now it is 2017 and the Turkish people are being confronted with another test that will ultimately determine if Turkey enters a dark era down a path of dictatorship, or an era of continued justice in which Ataturk had prepared us for years prior as he knew our democracy would be challenged at some point.

My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.
— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

As a Turkish-American millennial, I can say the majority of Turkish youth, whether in Turkey or abroad, have grown up for almost a decade under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Although I live in the United States, the effects of this administration are strong enough to be felt across the Atlantic Ocean; as a result, this has empowered the youth to stand up and shed light upon the political changes that are taking place. I am who I am due to my culture and we need to preserve that. We must be smarter as citizens, rely on accurate research so that we are not outsmarted and unify to stand against the concept of only allowing one view point. It is not fair, that anyone who decides to vote ‘HAYIR,’ (No), is getting accused of being a Communist, supporting the terrorist group PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), or supporting Fethullah Gulen (an Imam who presides in Poconos, Pennsylvania and the individual who has been accused as the mastermind behind the July 15 coup last year) and last but not least being considered a traitor. This is not what democracy is; accusing individuals and trying to sway them from voting a specific way. I am not a traitor. I do not support terrorism. I do not support war or the failure of the Turkish state. I do not support anything that will lead to a weaker state. I do not support the concept of sealing citizen’s mouths because they do not agree with the parties’ policies and regulations.

I support the right to choose, the right to support any party, the right to speak without being punished, the right to publish articles without the fear of being accused and locked in jail, the right to pick your religion and practice as you like, the right to attend bars, buy liquor after 10 p.m., walk around freely as a female, laugh in public, the right to protest without being gassed by police, the right to roam the streets of my country without being called a traitor, the right to not live in fear. I support the idea of personal preferences. I support a secular state. I support Turkey’s democracy. These preferences have promoted a balance of harmony since the Republic was founded, why are we trying to take them away?

As the days continue to dwindle down to the referendum results, ‘Evet’ (Yes) and ‘Hayir’ (No) are two words that have become prominent in every citizen’s vocabulary. With an unemployment rate reaching almost 12 percent, and much of the youth finishing school and not being able to find jobs, Turkey has now turned into a kettle on a hot stove, getting ready to release its pressure from the heat as it continues to build upon the momentum from the divided citizens. Supporters of AKP vs. Kemalists who want to preserve the democracy and free ruling that was enacted by Ataturk. Our worry now is, will the kettle blow enough heat to burn the entire system, or will it be preserved and cool down? How hot the water is will ultimately determine how sweet the tea is. The answer will be revealed in what we claim to be a democratic election, as April 16 will ultimately determine which road we will take.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV