The Constitution of the Republic of Türkiye has been evolving constantly according to the needs of the society since the founding of the Republic. Therefore, it has had numerous different versions such as the 1921 Constitution which had an emphasis on the importance of the nation’s “sovereignty”, the 1924 Constitution which rigorously defined “Turk”, the 1960 Constitution which was ratified after the first coup of the Republic, and ultimately the 1982 Constitution which was prepared after the 1980 Coup. Throughout the administration of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current President of Türkiye who was reelected in the May 2023 elections, 134 articles of 177 articles in the 1982 Constitution have been amended and changed by some means, including 3 referendums. Despite these excessive amendments regarding the constitution, discussions concerning the implementation of new amendments or even the formation of a whole new constitution for The Republic of Türkiye have arisen between the opposition side and the government again as it has always been a controversial discussion topic that shows itself in the agenda periodically.
On September 12th, Erdogan talked at the “Constitutional Change Symposium” to articulate his and his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) exertion to provide the people of Türkiye with a comprehensive constitution that aims to reflect the Turkish nation’s “diversity” and wealth. In order to do that, Erdogan suggested, “We have to generate a completely new constitution instead of the existing one owing to the fact that it is shadowed by the 1980 Coup. Moreover, the lack of cohesion in this constitution, which is caused by the countless edited articles, shows that another constitution is needed immediately for the sake of our nation.” The opposition side objected to Erdogan’s idea of “subverting the constitution” by defending the imperishability of the first four articles. These four articles are actually the main reason why this topic is brought up constantly.
Many people wonder: Why do these four articles matter? To have a better understanding, the first four articles state that “The State of Türkiye is a Republic, the Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law, within the notions of the public peace, national solidarity, and justice, respecting human rights, loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk, and it is an indivisible entity whose language is Turkish, flag is a white crescent and star on a red background, and capital is Ankara”. The 1982 Constitution, which had precautions in order not to become corrupt by the powerholders, had been prepared effectively according to its aim that the fourth article says that “The provision of Article 1 regarding the form of the State being a Republic, the characteristics of the Republic in Article 2, and the provisions of Article 3 shall not be amended, nor shall their amendment be proposed.” This fourth article was the insurance of the first three articles which are the fundamental principles and core values of being a “Turk” and are set by the Turkish ancestors who prodded the future generations to pursue their path and never stop developing. As a result, the first four articles were obstructed from being “legally” changed. However, the controversy still remains due to Erdogan and his party members’ continuous discourses about subverting the status quo of the constitution.
Another proposal after Erdogan’s speech came from a member of the Presidential Policy Board, Sukru Karatepe which offered the subversion of the beginning principles of the constitution. “If a beginning text was to exit, it must be about human rights and the significance of democracy.”, suggested Karatepe. Many opposition politicians drastically disaffirmed Erdogan and AKP’s intentions as well as Karatepe’s confusing offer. One of the politicians who responded to Karatepe was the IYI Party Head of Political Affairs, Oktay Vural. He said, “A nation can’t discuss its identity.” and invited the government to indicate which articles hinder the constitution from showing the nation’s diversity. Another politician, a Deputy of the Democrat Party, Cemal Enginturt stated “We are Turks and we will be Turks perpetually. Why does the existence of the word ‘Turk’ annoy the government so much that they want to change it?” Even though several opposition politicians spoke up about the controversy, there hasn’t been any action taken against the government officially to thwart the government party’s plans.
Although the opposition politicians have objected to any possible change in the first four articles, they are not completely against a change in the constitution. Actually, the table of six, which had comprised the 6 parties: Republican People's Party (CHP), DEVA Party, Democratic Party, İYİ Party, and Saadet Party, declared a proposal for a new constitution in order to transfer to a strengthened parliamentary system without amending to change the first four articles of the constitution on 28 November 2022, before the elections.
Many people have argued how Erdogan was even able to propose omitting the current constitution, which contains four unchangeable articles, and they wonder if the opposition side will take action against the government or maintain the silent status of their actions. As a response to the opposition side’s actionless approach, responses from activists and communities aiming to raise awareness didn’t delay. ESIK( Equality Platform for Women) protested the circumstances and invited the opposition side to not even discuss the possibility of any amendments regarding the first four articles of the constitution. They remonstrated to both the opposition side and the government by saying “We as women, are protesting against any constitutional change presented by a government which has performed activities contradicting with secularism and equality.” They are now hoping to see the opposition politicians mobilize and immediately carry out judicial activities.
With Turkey entering a new era of administration and politics, diverse changes have been elicited by the parliament and powerholders. Nevertheless, pent-up question marks have still not been answered, especially about the amendments regarding the Constitution of the Turkish Republic. Therefore, people are looking forward to being answered as soon as possible. By the passing of time, the truth will come to light and the everlasting controversy will come to an end although it might not end as expected.
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