Sources of Authoritarianism in Turkey

The idea that democracy is essential for progress and that unhindered declarations of the preferences of the hoi polloi must replace those of authoritarian administrators has been supported by a great number of thinkers. Of these, Francis Galton’s experiment is one of the most convincing.

Betting at the farmers’ fair

In the year 1906, Francis Galton, a British scientist and polymath visited a farmers’ fair in Plymouth where an annual weight guessing contest was held. About 800 people entered the contest and recorded on their tickets their guess as to the weight of an ox that would soon be butchered and dressed. The name and the profession of the contestants had to also be indicated on the tickets. The person who guessed closest won a prize.

After the contest, Galton collected the tickets and analyzed them. He discovered that the average guess of all the entrants was very close to the actual result. The collective guess was better than the guesses made by cattle experts such as herdsmen, herd owners and butchers.

He then concluded that to benefit from the wisdom of crowds, several conditions had to be fulfilled:  Each person must have his or her own independent source of information and he or she must make individual decisions and not be swayed by others who may have different reasons for influencing the outcome.

Galton’s experiment is a convincing argument in favor of free elections for delineating members of Parliament and even members of all administrative councils and bodies and for finding the best solution in plebiscites.

Prime ministers are like cucumbers and pickles

A rather different but meagerly investigated factor is also at play.  Prime ministers and their cabinets are like cucumbers and pickles; they too have expiration dates. After a number of years their popularity wanes, the electorate gets tired of them and begins to criticize them for every calamity, even if they were not responsible for even a few of them, and opt for their alternatives. If you are the prime minister of a civilized country, the day you are chosen for the post you know the duration of your premiership will probably be just three or four years, if not shorter.

There are only a few people who have been able to remain a premier for long periods of time. But even if you are not among these exceptional people, you can continue at the helm by distorting facts, oppressing or buying the media, discouraging civilian demonstrations and suppressing all sorts of criticism by choosing to be authoritarian and later a dictator.

Your success will be proportional to the degree of acceptance such a regime finds in your country. In most of the European countries, even a small deviation toward despotism will be met with a very severe reaction from people, whereas the ensuing reaction will be rather week in most of the Middle Eastern countries.

What about Turkey?

The presence of authoritarianism within families is generally an important clue indicating the level of tolerance to authoritarianism on a larger scale. Despotism in families usually takes the form of men suppressing women, usually husbands acting against wives. Besides the proper statistics, literature and proverbs can also be key indicators to help assess the status of women vis-à-vis men in a given country.  The information obtained from these cultural indicators can be as valuable as those derived from statistics.

Cues found in Turkish proverbs     

  • A 15-year-old girl is either married or fallen.
  • If you let a girl loose she marries a drummer or a flute player.
  • A girl left to her own devices marries a musician.
  • If you chose to be confident with a lass, you will not have to search for a bell-man to sell your hemp.
  • No water comes out a well dug by women.
  • Women have long hair but short memories.
  • Women’s evil is par to that of Satan.
  • Man’s wisdom is nine times that of woman’s.
  • Expecting fidelity from women is like hoping to get a cure from venom.
  • The responsibility of having a daughter is comparable to the burden of carrying a bag of salt.
  • Whomever delivers a daughter withers fast.
  • A girl in the house is already a stranger.
  • Boys are like arrows and you can’t find them in every household.
  • There will be no peace in houses governed by women.
  • A daughter rebellious to her parents, a wife who doesn’t respect her husband and a horse who doesn’t walk straight… get rid of them fast.

These proverbs and idioms reflect a society where families are described by the father’s dependence and where the father’s authority prevails. It is a society where a woman’s level of education is low, where she is not an income generator and hence the value of a female child is lower than that of a boy.

Cues found in literature   

1. In his book “From my Village” (1954), Mahmut Makal tells the story of a man in his village who, because of dire economic conditions, has sold his wife to Dervish, a man living at a nearby village, for 200 Turkish Liras. The woman’s husband and the new owner, Dervish decide to meet in a forest equidistant to both villages. The day the transaction will take place, the man feigns pretext and takes his wife to the woods to tell her that she has been sold. She bids farewell to her ex-husband and walks away with her new one.

Makal tells us that such transactions were not rare and women were regarded as having a commercial value. When a female child was born, her father would typically rejoice and say “Oh that means we have 1,000 Liras!” (3)


2. Bekir Yıldız, in his well known story, “Bedrana” (1975), describes a woman in a village who has been raped (4). “Bedrana’s head hung over her legs, which she embraced in her arms. ‘I am in fear now,’ she said. ‘Your eyes look as if they’ll take something away from me.’

‘Yes,’ said Naif, her husband. ‘You must die. I have not been able to go out for days. Everyone is watching us.’

‘Was is my fault my master?  He forced me to. Is there anyone in the village who is unaware of that?’

‘You shall be hanged. Not really but we’ll act as if you have hung yourself.’”

Bedrana is convinced. Naif continues:

“A woman is like a tight shoe. You throw her away if she bothers you, but if honor is at stake you can’t just get rid of her. If you are a man, you must shoot her. Even if I pardon you, your father, your brother will punish you instead. Do you think they’ll pardon you? The village demands blood!” he said.

In the story they find a rope and thread it through a ring attached to the ceiling with the noose of the rope worn by Bedrana, who believes it is nothing but a game.

Yıldız tells us the rest of the story:


“At that very moment the wolves were howling whilst distancing themselves from the village. Naif wanted to finish the job he had been planning for quite a while. He kicked away the pillows on which his wife was standing. And then he couldn’t bear to see Bedrana fluttering at the end of the rope so he turned off the gas lamp.”

How can Turks avoid an authoritarian regime?

When the status of women is considered to be inferior to that of men as reflected in literature and proverbs in countries like Turkey, where the number of educated women is significantly less than that of educated men and a woman’s legal status is unsupported by law, democracy is also incomplete and authoritarianism prevails. A number of measures must be taken to undo this inequality and thus avoid authoritarianism.

*Girls must be educated: Grants, transportation services and other motivating factors must be taken to support girls attending all levels of schools and universities.

* The government must create a role model that reflects the fact that men and women are equal in all respects.

* This equality must be emphasized in schools, religious institutions, by the media and in the arts. In all these areas contradictions to equality must not be tolerated.

Authoritarianism in Turkey, as well as in a great number of countries where it currently prevails, can be fought against only through its elimination in family structures and educating women is the key for success in this means.