The collapse of the Sri Lankan Model and Turkey's destiny
Turkey and Sri Lanka have many similarities. Perhaps this is precisely why the developments in the country are kept quiet from the Turkish public. Those who are following Sri Lanka can glimpse Turkey's possible collapse.
While Turkey was enjoying a vacation lull, Sri Lanka's regime collapsed. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had descended on the country like a nightmare, had to flee the country on a military ship following the uprising of the people overwhelmed by the economic crisis. The two brothers running towards the military ship pulling their suitcases made a big splash on social media.The breakdown of the Sri Lankan regime was relevant for Turkey in many ways. First, the "victory" achieved at a high cost after a brutal civil war with the Tamil Tigers was pointed to as a model for Turkey's fight against the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. A quick Google search reveals that nationalist and Islamist circles heap praise on this model.
For example, in 2012, Sri Lanka's first Ambassador to Turkey Bharti Wijeratne told then President Abdullah Gül that "a bloody organization that takes up arms can only be addressed in a language it understands and that Turkey has much to learn from Sri Lanka in this regard." The similarities do not end there. As the New York Times report highlights, Sri Lanka was once highlighted as a model of economic success for developing countries. Like Turkey, taking billions of dollars in loans for unnecessary infrastructure investment and irrational economic management led to economic bankruptcy.
The civil war, which claimed thousands of lives but was presented as a great success story, led to the abolition of democracy and an authoritarian regime. The abolition of the system of checks and balances and the repeal of the rule of law led to a massive wave of corruption and incredible enrichment of the Rajapaksa family.
Sri Lanka is an island off the southern tip of India. In the war with the Tamil Tigers, the geographic advantage of being an island worked for the advantage of the state forces. Of the 22 million inhabitants, 80 percent are Sinhalese, 11 percent are Sri Lankan Tamils and 9 percent are Sri Lankan Moors (Muslims whose mother tongue is Tamil). What sparked the fire of nationalism on the island was the arrival of one million Tamils from southern India to the island who were brought there in the early 20th century by the British to work on the tea and coffee plantations. Sinhalese nationalism viewed the Tamils as a group fostered and cherished by the colonizers and challenged the British.Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. The Sinhalese, who assumed power and constituted the majority of the population, began to take measures to redress the grievances they believed they had suffered during the colonial period and began to remove Tamils from public institutions. In this context, five radical steps were taken:
Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. The Sinhalese, who assumed power and constituted the majority of the population, began to take measures to redress the grievances they believed they had suffered during the colonial period and began to remove Tamils from public institutions. In this context, five radical steps were taken:
- Sinhala becomes the official language. Under the "one language" approach, all civil servants working in public institutions are required to speak Sinhala. Thus, native Tamil speakers were effectively excluded from the civil service. As a result, between 1956 and 1970, the employment rate of Tamils in the civil service dropped from 60 percent to 10 percent, and in the police and army from 40 percent to 1 percent. Tamil protests against this law were violently repressed, their homes and businesses were vandalized and 500 Tamils were killed.
- In 1971, conditions for Tamils were further aggravated. A legislation was enacted that required them to score higher in university admissions.
- A 1972 law granted Buddhism the status of "state religion" and, under the constitution, the state was mandated to protect and strengthen Buddhism. Minority unrest intensified.
- The name of the state "Ceylon" is changed to Sri Lanka, which translates to "Holy Land" in Sinhala.
- The Sinhalese were resettled in areas where Tamils were concentrated, which shifted the population balance in favor of the Sinhalese, and the Tamils became a minority in some areas where they were the majority. The oppression of "one language, one nation" resulted in the elimination of the will to live together in the island. The main Tamil party, the Tamil United Front, gave up its claim to coexistence in a federative system and from 1976 onwards began to express its desire for a separate homeland. In 1983, civil war broke out. The Tamil Tigers kill 13 Sri Lankan soldiers with landmines in an ambush in the Jaffna region. This provokes a great outrage in the country.
At the instigation of Buddhist monks, Tamil civilians were attacked, and the homes of Tamils identified from voter rolls were raided, killing 2,000 Tamils. Women were raped. To add to this, the army raided the area where the aggression took place, killing 50 Tamil civilians. The events triggered a massive exodus of Tamils. The state blames "separatist" Tamils for the events, expels the Tamil United Front from parliament and criminalizes advocacy of separatism. After failed peace efforts and negotiations, the civil war that began in 1983 ends in 2009, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa declaring the country liberated from the scourge of terrorism and the state victorious in the struggle.
An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people lost their lives during the 26-year civil war. It displaced 2.3 million people and forced them to migrate in and out of the country. This victory, which came at a heavy humanitarian and economic cost, put the "Sri Lankan model" in the spotlight and was cited as an example by proponents of security and hawkish policies in countries with minority problems, and Sri Lanka has strongly recommended its model to all countries facing similar problems, including Turkey.
The success was a "Pyrrhic victory." Enormous resources have been poured into the military struggle, the civilian population caught in the crossfire has suffered heavy losses and there have been incredible human rights violations. The economy in the conflict zones has completely collapsed. In the process, democratic institutions have collapsed, and the demands of minorities have been completely ignored. Rajapaksa was a hero to the Sinhalese people when he crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009. In the meantime, he has become their enemy because of the suspension of democracy and economic mismanagement. His palace, which was stormed by protesters, has practically become a public museum. People had the opportunity to see the luxurious life of their president without damaging the palace. Rajapaksa was a hero to the Sinhalese people when he crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009. In the meantime, he has become their enemy because of the suspension of democracy and economic mismanagement. His palace, which was stormed by protesters, has practically become a public museum. People had the opportunity to see the luxurious life of their president without damaging the palace. The effects of mismanagement were also evident in the agricultural sector. Despite the lifting of the ban on fertilizers in agriculture, prices have made access to fertilizers impossible and farmers have lost their assets. Vimblendra Sharan, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Sri Lanka, predicted that agricultural harvests will decline by another 50 percent this year.
Turkey and Sri Lanka have many similarities, from the violent resolution of a social demand, to the police and military becoming the dominant force and destroying institutions, to the establishment of irrational economic management centered on one family... Perhaps this is precisely the reason why developments in the country that is presented as a model are kept carefully quiet from the Turkish public. Those who follow Sri Lanka can glimpse the possible collapse of Turkey.
*Ergun Babahan graduated from Istanbul University Law School in 1981. After a short time working as a lawyer, he stepped into journalism as a reporter in Yeni Asır. He worked as an editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief in Söz, Hürriyet, Sabah and Yeni Binyıl newspapers, respectively. He joined the John Knight Professional Program at Stanford University with a German Marshall Fund scholarship in 1988, and the American Foreign Policy Process program at the University of Maryland in 1990 with a Ford Foundation scholarship. Babahan served as the editor-in-chief for +Gercek and now works as editor-in-chief for +GercekNews.