But the current wave of anti-AKP commentators avoid looking back, which is why they get Turkey's present so wrong. Take the so-called mass trial under way in Turkey against 152 Kurdish politicians accused of working for the PKK rebels, as well as the Ergenekon trial. Supposedly, such mass trials are "becoming the norm" -- yet another sign of creeping authoritarianism in Turkey.
But these are modest affairs compared with the trials against leftists, Kurds, trade unionists, and others following the 1980 coup. One case against members of the leftist Dev-Yol group opened in 1982 with 700 defendants. Eighteen years later, the trial is still continuing. Two other Dev-Yol trials, since concluded, each had about 900 defendants. The trial against the DISK trade union had more than 1,400 defendants. The fact that Turkish law allows mass trials -- and schedules hearings so that cases drag on for years -- has nothing to do with Erdogan and everything to do with the deliberately imperfect system the former military junta bequeathed to Turkey's current leadership.
These critics profess shock at those who believe the Ergenekon trial may have validity. The real surprise is not that some members of the armed forces might have been planning a coup, but that Erdogan was courageous enough to challenge the military. The military, after all, has made a habit of staging and planning coups -- it seized power in 1960, 1971, and 1980, and engineered a "soft coup" in 1997, when it forced the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. Whether those on trial are all guilty is impossible to know. But to claim that the case portends an "ominous future for the country's democracy" ignores the fact that the military itself is responsible for some of the worst abuses of democracy in Turkey's history.
There are good reasons why some still find Turkey's judiciary and policymaking bodies wanting. Erdogan has not fully upended the faulty and easy-to-abuse judicial, civil, and political systems he inherited. And Turkey is not a Western, liberal democracy just yet. But it is moving in the right direction. Over the past eight years, Turkey has improved its civil rights protections, strengthened its free market economy, and moved closer to fulfilling the demands for EU membership. Erdogan has also pushed Turkey's military out of the political decision-making process and pressed the judiciary to investigate military officers implicated in extrajudicial executions of Kurds in the 1990s. These are positive changes, though you'd never know that by reading the new wave of anti-AKP commentators, many of whom seem to think that another military coup is needed to put Turkey back on the right track.
Of course, the situation in Turkey could change. Reforms could stall. Erdogan could become too power-happy. But one thing is for sure: The only real fiction here is that Turkey was a freer and more democratic place before Erdogan's AKP party took office.