Ten Years of AKP Leadership in Turkey

25 Aug

Nothing better epitomizes the great political changes in Turkey over the course of the last decade than a seemingly minor media item reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan attended a private iftar dinner (the ritual meal breaking the Ramadan fast each evening) by the invitation of the current Turkish Chief of Staff, General Necdet Özel, at his official residence. It was only a few years earlier that the military leadership came hair trigger close to pulling off a coup to get rid of the AKP leadership. Of course, such a military intrusion on Turkish political life would have been nothing new. Turkey experienced a series of coups during its republican life that started in 1923.

The most recent example of interference by the military with the elected leadership in Turkey took place in 1997 when Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan sheepishly left office under pressure amounting to an ultamatum, outlawed his political party, and accepted a withdrawal from political activity for a period of five years in what amounted to a bloodless coup prompted by his alleged Islamic agenda. Unlike the prior coups of 1960, 1971, and 1980 when the military seized power for a period of time, the 1997 bloodless coup was followed by allowing politicians to form a new civilian government. Really, looking back on the period shortly after the AKP came to power in 2002 the big surprise is that a coup did not occur. We still await informed commentary that explains why. For the present, those that value the civilianization of governance can take comfort in the receding prospect of a future military takeover of Turkish political life, and this iftar social occasion is a strong symbolic expression of a far healthier civil-military relationship than existed in the past.

Improving Turkish Civil Military Relations

Somewhat less dramatic, but not less relevant as a sign of this dramatic turn, is the remembrance that shortly after the AKP initially gained control of the government in 2002, it was much publicized that the wives of the elected leaders were not welcome because they wore headscarves at the major social gathering of top military officers at its annual Victory Day Military Ball held at the end of summer in Ankara with much fanfare. A similar issue arose a few years later when ardent Kemalists insisted that Abdullah Gul should not be allowed to serve as Turkey’s president because his wife’s headscarf supposedly signaled to the world that he did not represent the Turkish secular community in the European manner associated with the founder of the republic, Kemal Atatürk.

Recent court testimony by the former Turkish Chief of Staff, Hilmi Özkök,  confirms what many had long suspected, that there existed plans in 2003-2004 supported by many high ranking military officers to overrule the will of the Turkish electorate by removing the AKP from its position of governmental leadership and impose martial law. Such grim recollections of just a few years ago should help us appreciate the significance of this recent iftar dinner between the Erdogans and Özels as a strong expression of accommodation between military institutions and the political leaders in Turkey. Such an event helps us understand just how much things have changed, and for the better, with respect to civil-military relations.

We can interpret this event in at least two ways. First, indicating a more relaxed attitude on the part of the military toward Turkish women who wear a headscarf in conformity to Islamic tradition.  Although this sign of nomalization is a definite move in the right direction, Turkey has a long way to go before it eliminates the many forms of discrimination against headscarf women that continue to restrict their life and work options in unacceptable ways from the perspective of religious freedom and human rights. Secondly, and crucially, these developments show that the armed forces seems finally to have reconciled itself to the popularity and competence of AKP leadership. This is significant as it conveys the willingness to accept a reduced role for the military in a revamped Turkish constitutional system, as well as exhibiting a trust in the sincerity of AKP pledges of adherence to secular principles that include respect for the autonomy of the military. This latter achievement is quite remarkable, a tribute to the skill with which the Erdogan in particular has handled the civilianization of the Turkish governing process, and for which he is given surprisingly little credit by the international media, and almost none by the Turkish media. Such an outcome was almost inconceivable ten years ago, but today it is taken so for granted as to be hardly worthy of notice.

In 2000 Eric Rouleau, Le Monde’s influential lead writer on the Middle East and France’s former distinguished ambassador to Turkey (1988-1992), writing in Foreign Affairs, emphasized the extent to which “this system [of republican Turkey], which places the military at the very heart of political life” poses by far the biggest obstacle to Turkish entry into the European Union. Indeed, Rouleau and other Turkish experts believed that the Turkish deep state consisting of its security apparatus, including the intelligence organizations, was far too imbued with Kemalist ideology to sit idly by while the secular elites that ran the country since the founding of the republic were displaced by the conservative societal forces that provided the core support to the AKP. And not only were the Kemalist elites displaced, but their capacity to pull the strings of power from behind closed doors was ended by a series of bureaucratic reforms that have made the National Security Council in Ankara a part of the civilian structure of government, and not a hidden

and unaccountable and ultimate source of policymaking.

Continuing Political Polarization Within Turkey

At the same time, despite these accomplishments of the AKP, the displaced ‘secularists’ are no happier with Erdogan leadership than they were a decade ago. (It needs to be understood, although the available language makes it difficult to express an important attribute of Turkish politics: the AKP orientation and policy guidance has itself also been avowedly and consistently secularist in character, although the leaders are privately devout Muslims who steadfastly maintain their religious practices of prayer and fasting, as well as foregoing alcohol, but their political stance on these issues is not very different than that of their opponents. Indeed, quite unexpectedly, Erdogan in visiting Cairo after the 2011 Tahrir uprising urged the Egyptians to opt for secularism rather than Islamism.) Those that identify with the opposition to the AKP, and that includes most of the TV and print media, can never find a positive word to say about the domestic and foreign policy of the AKP, although the line of attack has drastically shifted its ground. A decade ago the fiercest attack focused on fears and allegations that the AKP was a stalking horse for anti-secularism. The AKP was accused of having ‘a secret agenda’ centered on an Islamic takeover of the governing process, with grim imaginings of ‘a second Iran’ administered strictly in accordance with sharia. The current unwavering critical line of attack, in contrast, is obsessed with the unsubstantiated belief that Erdogan dreams of being the new sultan of Turkey, dragging the country back toward the dark ages of authoritarian rule. It is odd that the same opposition that would have welcomed a coup against the elected leadership a decade ago now seems so preoccupied with a fear that the far milder AKP is incubating an anti-democratic project designed to weaken Turkish constitutional democracy and end the civil rights of the citizenry.

There are certainly some valid complaints associated with Erdogan’s tendencies to express his strong, and sometimes insensitive, personal opinions on socially controversial topics ranging from abortion to the advocacy of three children families. He needlessly made an offhand remark recently that seemed an insult directed at Alevi religious practices. As well, there are journalists, students, political activists, non-AKP mayors in fairly large numbers being held in Turkish prisons without being charged with crimes and for activities that should be treated as normal in a healthy democracy. It is difficult to evaluate this disturbing trend, partly because there are strong rumors that the AKP is not in firm control of parts of the bureaucracy including the police, and thus these repressive developments are not entirely of its making, although this line of explanation is possibly expressive of the political situation it does not relieve the AKP from ultimate responsibility.

And there are also many allegations that Erdogan is laying the groundwork to become president in a revised constitutional framework that would give the position much greater powers than it now possesses to the distress of opposition forces, which merges with the allegation that he is a closet authoritarian leader. In my judgment, on the basis of available evidence, Erdogan is opinionated and uninhibited in expressing controversial views on the spur of the moment, but not seeking to enthrone himself as head of a newly authoritarian Turkey.

This persisting polarization in Turkey extends to other domains of policy, perhaps most justifiably in relation to the unresolved Kurdish issues, which have violently resurfaced after some relatively quiet years. It is reasonable to fault the AKP for promising to resolve the conflict when it was reelected, and then failing to offer the full range of inducements likely to make such a positive outcome happen. It is difficult to interpret accurately the renewal of PKK violence, and the degree to which it is viewed by many segments of Turkish elite opinion as removing all hope of a negotiated solution to this conflict that has long been such a drain on Turkey’s energies, resources, and reputation. The ferocity of this latest stage of this 30 year struggle is not easily explained. To some degree it is a spillover of growing regional tensions with the countries surrounding Turkey, and particularly with the Kurdish movements in these countries, especially Iraq and Syria. There is also the strong possibility that elements of the Kurdish resistance see the fluidity of the regional situation as a second window of opportunity to achieve national self-determination. The first window having been slammed shut in the early republican years by the strong nation-building ideology associated with Kemalist governance of the country.

Also serious is some deserved criticism of Turkey’s Syrian policy that charges the government with an imprudent and amateurish shift from one extreme to the other. First, an ill-advised embrace of Assad’s dictatorial regime a few years ago followed by a supposedly premature and questionable alignment with anti-regime Syrian rebel forces without knowing their true character. Ahmet Davutoglu’s positive initiatives in Damascus were early on hailed as the centerpiece of ‘zero problems with neighbors,’ an approach that his harshest critics now find totally discredited given the deterioration of relations, not only with Syria, but with Iran and Iraq. Again such criticism seems greatly overstated by an opposition that seizes on any failure of governing policy without considering either its positive sides or offering more sensible alternatives. Whatever the leadership in Ankara during the last two years, the changing and unanticipated regional circumstances would require the foreign policy establishment to push hard on a reset button. Mr. Davutoglu has done his best all along to offer a rationale for the changed tone and substance of Turkish foreign policy, especially in relation to Syria, which I find generally convincing, although the coordination of policy toward Syria with Washington seems questionable.

In the larger picture, there were few advance warnings that the Arab Spring would erupt, and produce the uprisings throughout the region that have taken place in the last 20 months. Prior to this tumult the Arab world seemed ultra-stable, with authoritarian regimes having been in place for several decades, and little indication that domestic challenges would emerge in the near future. In these conditions, it seemed sensible to have positive relations with neighbors and throughout the Arab world based on a mixture of practical and principled considerations. There were attractive economic opportunities to expand Turkish trade, investment, and cultural influence; as well, it was reasonable to suppose that Turkish efforts at conflict mediation could open political space for modest moves toward democracy and the protection of human rights might be an appropriate context within which to practice ‘constructive engagement.’

Foreign Policy Achievements

It should also be pointed out that from the outset of his public service the Turkish Foreign Minister has been tireless in his efforts to resolve conflicts within an expanding zone of activity and influence. There were constructive and well organized attempts to mediate the long festering conflict between Israel and Syria with respect to the Golan Heights, encouragement of a reconciliation process in former Yugoslavia that did achieve a diplomatic breakthrough in relations between Serbia and Bosnia; he made a notable effort to bringing conflicting powers in the Caucasus together; bravest of all, was the sensible effort to bring Hamas into the political arena so as to give some chance to a negotiated end to the Israel/Palestine conflict; and boldest of all, in concert with Brazil, was a temporarily successful effort in 2010 to persuade Iran to enter an agreement to store outside its borders enriched uranium that could be used to fabricate nuclear weapons. These were all laudable objectives, and creative uses of the diplomacy of soft power, and to the extent successful, extremely helpful in reducing regional tensions, and raising hopes for peace. Even when unsuccessful, such attempts bold and responsible efforts to find ways to improve the political atmosphere, and to find better diplomatic options than permanent antagonism, or worse, threats or uses force to resolve conflicts and enhance security.

These various initiatives helped Turkey become a major player in the region and beyond, a government that almost alone in the world was constructing a foreign policy that was neither a continuation of Cold War deference to Washington nor the adoption of an alienated anti-Western posture. Turkey continued its role in NATO, persisted with its attempts to satisfy the many demands of the EU accession process, and even participated militarily, in my view unwisely, in the failed NATO War in Afghanistan.  Fairly considered, the Davutoglu approach yielded extraordinary results, and even where it faltered, was consistent in exploring every plausible path to a more peaceful and just Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia, as well as reaching into Africa, Latin America, and Asia, making Turkey for the first time in its history a truly global political presence. His statesmanship was widely heralded throughout the world, and quickly made him one of the most admired foreign policy architects in the world. In 2010 he was ranked 7th in the listing of the 100 most influential persons in the world in all fields (including business, culture, politics) that is compiled periodically by Foreign Policy, an leading journal of opinion in the United States. Turkey had raised its diplomatic stature throughout the world without resorting to the usual realist tactics of beefing up its military capabilities or throwing its weight around. It s increasing global reach has included opening many embassies in countries where it had been previously unrepresented. This raised stature was acknowledged in many quarters, especially throughout the Middle East where Erdogan was hailed as the world’s most popular leader, but also at the UN where Turkey played an expanding role, and was overwhelmingly elected to term membership on the Security Council.

It should also be appreciated that Turkey has displayed a principled commitment to international law and morality on key regional issues, especially in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Syrian mediation efforts were abandoned only after Israel’s all out attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, which also led to Erdogan’s famous rebuke of the Israeli President at the Davos World Economic Forum. This refusal to ignore Israel’s defiance of international law undoubtedly contributed to the later confrontation following Israel’s commando attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla of peace ships in international waters on May 31, 2010 that were carrying humanitarian assistance to the unlawfully blockaded civilian population of Gaza. Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals in the incident, which caused a partial rupture of relations between the two countries that has not yet been overcome, although Turkey has adopted a most moderate position given the unprovoked and unlawful assault on its ship and passengers, seeking only an apology and compensation for the families.

There were other special Turkish international initiatives, none more spectacular than the major effort to engage with Somalia at a time when the rest of the world turned its back on an African country being written off as the worst example of ‘a failed state.’ Not only did Turkey offer material assistance in relation to reconstructing the infrastructure of governance. It also more impressively ventured where angels feared to tread: organizing a high profile courageous visit by the Turkish prime minister with his wife and other notables to Mogadishu at a time when the security situation in the Somalia capital was known to be extremely dangerous for any visitors. Such a show of solidarity to a struggling African nation was unprecedented in Turkish diplomacy, and has been followed up by Ankara with a continuing and successful engagement with a range of projects to improve the economic and humanitarian situation in this troubled country. In a similar spirit of outreach, Turkey hosted a UN summit on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in May 2011, and formally accepted leadership responsibility within the UN to organize assistance to this group of states, considered the most impoverished in the world.

More recently, Mr. Davutoglu together with Ms. Erdogan visited the Muslim Rohingya minority in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine that had been brutally attacked in June by the local Buddhist majority community claiming that the resident Muslims were unwanted illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and should leave the country. Bangladesh officially denied such allegations, insisting that the Rohingya people had been living in Myanmar for centuries. This high level Turkish mission delivered medical aid, displayed empathy that could only be interpreted as a genuine humanitarian gesture far removed from any calculations of national advantage, and above all, conveyed a sense of how important it was for Turkey to do what it can to protect this vulnerable minority in a distant country. Mr. Davutoglu made clear universalist motivations underlay his official visit by also meeting with local Buddhists in a nearby town to express his hope that the two communities could in the future live in peace and mutual respect. This trip to Myanmar is one more example of how Turkey combines a traditional pursuit of national advantage in world affairs with an exemplary citizenship in the wider world community. It is this kind of blend of enlightened nationalism and ethical globalism that gives some hope that challenges to the world community can be addressed in a peaceful and equitable manner.

Surely, Turkey as is the case with any democracy, would benefit from a responsible opposition that calls attention to failings and offers its own alternative policy initiatives, while being ready to give those in authority credit for constructive undertakings and achievements of the government. Unfortunately, the polarized and demoralized opposition in Turkey is strident in its criticism, bereft of the political imagination required to put forward its own policies, and lacking in the sort of balance that is required if its criticisms are to be respected as constructive contributions to the democratic process. It is especially suspect for the most secularized segments of Turkish society to complain about an authoritarian drift in AKP leadership when it was these very social forces that a few years earlier was virtually pleading with the army to step in, and hand power back to them in the most anti-democratic manner imaginable.  Instead of taking justifiable pride in the great Turkish accomplishments of the last decade, the unrestrained hostility of anti-AKP political forces is generating a sterile debate that makes it almost impossible to solve the problems facing the country or to take full advantage of the opportunities that are available to such a vibrant country. It needs to be appreciated that Turkey viewed from outside by most informed observers, especially in the region, remains a shining success story, both economically and politically. Nothing could bring more hope and pride to the region than for the Turkish ascent to be achieved elsewhere, of course, allowing for national variations of culture, history, and resource endowments, but sharing the commitment to build an inclusive democracy in which the military stays in the barracks and the diplomats take pride in resolving and preventing conflicts.

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26 Responses to “Ten Years of AKP Leadership in Turkey”

  1. Jnp August 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Agree.

    Sent from Galaxy Note

  2. Ceylan August 25, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Dearest Richard,

    Foreign policy wise AKP might be a true global success story, an exemplary for “living together well” but I am afraid you will have to look deeper into domestic policies:especially on judicial, educational and, various vital freedoms. Also, while mentioning of “held” opinion leaders, journalists, students, you did not mention tens of high ranking brains, military members, who have been retired this year while being held.

    I agree, there is a significant change: AKP have gained enough time and ground to get organized at all levels by now not to have any opposition from within the governance :-)

    Nevertheless I sincerely hope this essay of yours will find its way into Turkish for Turkish only readers too.

    Keep on the good work!

    Ceylan

  3. deepaktripathi August 26, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Thank you this nuanced analysis. I myself have been critical of Turkey’s Syria policy from “one extreme to the other.” Tragically the thoughtful trio at the helm of the Turkish government seems not to have considered the consequences properly, not only for Assad, but for the wider region, for the minorities and further the (im) balance of power. The risk is that like after Gen Zia’s miscalculations in the 1980s and of Gen Musharraf’s in 2000s in Pakistan, Turkey could become a hub of violence. That would be bad for Europe, too, which France, Britain and the rest also not understand. Of course, Turkey’s government is a democratically-elected and still popular government at home and in that respect the comparison with Pakistan is of limited value in terms of domestic politics.

    Having said all that I understand that like the 1980s and 2000s with regard to Pakistan, there are great pressures on Turkey in 2010s. But a wise leadership must see the dangers ahead on the path it chooses.

    • Richard Falk August 26, 2012 at 2:30 am #

      Yes, Deepak, as usual, we are in total agreement. I think the Pakistan
      experience of blowback is very important for Turkey too absorb before it is
      too late, which may already be the case. I hope you will write on this analogy, and publish here in Turkey or via AJE. Greetings, Richard

    • rehmat1 September 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Tayyip Erdogan is not Gen. Zia ul-Haqq and Turkey has no neighbor which doesn’t recognize the existence of Turkey. On the other hand, Pakistan borders Indai whose Hindutva leaders have not recognized Pakistan as a sovereign Muslim state. Like Zionism’s dream of Eretz Israel, these Hindu extremists too, believe a “Maha Bharat”, which never existed until the Mughal Empire.

      India invaded East Pakistan and with the help of CIA and Mossad succeeded in the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. Pakistan’s problem is not the so-called “political Islam” – but the US-Israel-India fascism.

      http://rehmat1.com/2010/04/29/how-india-israel-created-bangladesh/

  4. Ceylan August 26, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    Addendum: we both forgot to mention those elected non-AKP mayors; besides some high ranking “directors” among the “held”.

    • Richard Falk August 26, 2012 at 2:27 am #

      Ceylan:

      Thanks for these comments.

      You are right on both counts, and I will revise somewhat.

      On the Ergenekon arrests there were surely some over-reaction, but I know
      first-hand from reliable sources that plots against the AKP were being planned
      and could have been life=threatening to the present leadership.

  5. rehmat1 September 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Erdogan is no Erbakan – and AKP is not Islamist Welfare Party. While Erbakan wanted the Kemalist Army to go to barrack and cancel diplomatic relationship with Israel – Erdogan has no problem with Kemalist-nationalist policy and sharing bed with Israel and NATO.

    The West has chalked out AKP role as Sunni policeman to replace the Wahabi Saudia and look after the interests of the US and Israel in the region. Since Erdogan’s support for pro-West regime changes in Libya and Syria – AKP has lost its so-called “Islamic credentials”. AKP government has shown no concern for the plight of Shia-majority in Bahrain and Yemen or Shia minorities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE – just because their rulers are pro-West and don’t create problem for Israel.

    Erdogan’s support for Hamas is a symbolic gesture to put a wedge between Sunni Hamas and its only supporter, shia Iran.

    The Task Force Report 2012, issued by the powerful Israel lobby group, the Council on Foreign Relations, which has concluded that even though AKP government in Ankara has angered Israel and its supporters in the United States – it’s still the best card in Washington’s hand to stop anti-US-Israel Islamists coming into power in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon and other parts of the Muslim East engulfed by the ‘Arab Spring’ and supported by Iran and Syria.

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/05/19/israel-lobby-turkey-is-an-ally-against-islamists/

    • deepaktripathi September 2, 2012 at 2:13 am #

      My dear friend Rehmat,

      The democratic credentials of the Turkish government must be acknowledged and hailed. However, in international politics dictators and democrats often behave in similar ways. It is simply wrong to claim that actions of democratic governments do not start, or fuel, wars. I would advise you to read a book titled Democracy Kills by my good friend and once a BBC colleague Humphrey Hawksley.

      You refer to the history between India and Pakistan. I would not go into great detail about this here, for it is a diversion; it is perhaps slightly mischievous on your part in this context, though you are perfectly entitled to be so if you wish. But again, it is simply not true that India did not recognize Pakistan. What the body of Hindu fundamentalists (a minority) says makes no marerial difference, in the same way as those who have difficulty “recognizing” India on the other side of the border. A careful analysis of recent Indian history would show that the rightwing Hindu lobby is in disarray since reaching the mountain in the 1990s.

      Evidence of the CIA’s and Mossad’s involvement in the 1971 war on India’s behalf in the then East Pakistan is absent as far as I know. On the contrary, India hurriedly signed a treaty with the Soviet Union to counter the arrival of the US 7th Fleet and Chinese warnings. Let us not forget the atrocities on the Bengali population and the denial of prime ministership to the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujib despite winning a majority in the Pakistani parliament. India’s military intervention in East Pakistan was ostensibly for “humanitarian” reasons, though much more important geopolitical reasons were behind it.

      • rehmat1 September 2, 2012 at 6:22 am #

        Deepak – Anyone who is associated with BBC – is only good for the anti-Muslim bigots. BBC is Murdoch’s Israeli Hasbara outfit.

        Calling my understanding of India-Pakistan as “a diversion” shows your Hindu hypocrisy. No wonder Gandhiji was murdered by a Hindu fascist and not a Muslim who were the main target of the ‘gay Gandhi”.

        As a former East Pakistani – let me introduce you to the former head of counter-terrorism branch of India’s intelligence Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), B. Raman, who in his book ‘The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane’ documents the major part played by India-Israel intelligence agencies in the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh in the Eastern part of Pakistan in 1971. And I’m sure, readers will agree that B. Raman is a more reliable source than some anti-Pakistan Hindu spreading lies here.

        http://rehmat1.com/2010/04/29/how-india-israel-created-bangladesh/

  6. rehmat1 September 2, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Dr. Falk – you being a frequent target of the ‘UN Watch’ – I have decided to dedicate my latest post to you.

    UN Watch’s anti-Sudan Campaign

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/09/02/jewish-un-watchs-anti-sudan-campaign/

  7. deepaktripathi September 2, 2012 at 7:18 am #

    Rehmat,

    RAW and other intelligence agencies would have been active behind the Indian operation in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. I take it for certain. My issue with your is about your claim that Mossad was involved in the 1971 India-Pakistan war and breakup of Pakistan. You produced no evidence that Mossad was involved in the 1971 war. Further, some of your remarks are too sweeping or irrelevant to address.

  8. peri pamir September 2, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Response to Richard Falk’s “Ten Years of AKP Leadership in Turkey”.
    The domestic political picture in Turkey today is unfortunately far more contentious and conflictive than the glowing euology to akp’s achievements painted by Richard. More precisely, there’s a glaring gap between akp’s past record and current position.
    This will be a cursory attempt to illustrate this claim.
    İt is true that akp had considerable support from outside its power base when it first came to power in 2002 on the part of individuals and groups who simply wished to give this new political formation a chance on the then fairly defunct Turkish political scene. This was also why there was a tendency to either overlook the new role “religion” was ascribed to by the akp in the socio-political realm, or to exaggerate its intended influence. İn this context and on the part of the population who were alarmed by the ascent of a religious, however seemingly “moderate”, party to politics, public talk of a possible military coup to reverse this process was a pretty common topic of public discussion. So it comes as no surprise that the same discussions were also held at the highest levels in the military establishment at the time. But i disagree with Richard’s claim that it was surprising that no military coup actually took place because everyone was in fact waiting to see how the akp would tackle the “secularism” issue, how it would pursue its promised political agenda, especially in relation to accession to the EU, and how its popularity would fare over time.
    Yes the akp has effectively ousted the military from civilian life to most people’s relief and approval. But the full picture is not so rosy. At the same time, this process has enabled the imprisoning of a vast number of akp opponents, both civilian and military, under the banner of the famous “Ergenekon” trials. Some of these people, whose actual complicity in apparent coup efforts is still to be revealed despite several years already spent in prison, do not even know what exactly they are being charged with. Others complain about trumped up charges. Given the profiles of the people who have been rounded up (members of the “old elite”, as Richard calls them) many suspect these trials to be a convenient mechanism for silencing akp opponents.
    The process of distancing the military from civilian life has also involved the complete revamping of the military as an instiution whereby all top level officers previously hostile to the akp have effectively been displaced and replaced by those partial to the party. The current Chief of Staff with whom the Erdogans had dinner that Richard speaks of is simply the prime example of this cleansing process. He is a man appointed directly by the PM himself. Such a social encounter can hardly be defined as a truce between institutions but rather as a dinner between cronies..
    This tendency to have removed from public office or to imprison critical voices has infact become a standard policy of the akp. Highly alarming is the fact that Turkey now TOPS THE WORLD LİST in imprisoning journalists, writers, students and other citizens whose main fault is to exercise their democratic right to hold the government accountable. What has now become standard practice is for the PM to publicly call for the removal from office of a prominent journalist or the cancellation of a tv programme not to his liking, and most times his behest is carried out instantaneously to the horror and distate of many public observors. Of course there are opinion makers opposed to the akp who countinue to speak out, but most are burdened by innumerable impending court cases. Even a non public person such as myself who speaks out in the social media in the style expressed here has been cautioned by well wishers to be “less outspoken”. Such is the climate of fear that reigns in a country where it is also common knowledge that telephone conversations are listened to with impunity and the information thereby (and İLLEGALLY) gathered used by prosecutors in any future trials.
    Consequently, the PM’s extremely authoritarian, aggressive and politically tactless style – which is a charge not even his closest followers would deny – has not only served to swing the country into a(n even) more authoritarian and politically intolerant mould, but has also clearly served to further polarize the country into fiercely opposing factions. The term “secularists versus islamicists” used in this article are infact pretty outdated at this point. Rather, some of the main divisons today seem to be between the following groups :
    The most critical division is between Turks and Kurds, a resentment which is being fomented by the PKK’s intensified attacks, the akp’s virtual abandonment of a political solution, the Turkish military’s weakened position as an effective opponent and the political turmoil in the Middle East which is playing into the hands of Kurdish factions. İf the present hostility and polarization between the two populations continue unabated, this could well result in an ugly civil confrontation in the not too distant future triggered by other explosive factors.
    Sunnis and non Sunnis, including Alevis, towards whom this government (and others in the past) has committed great injustice by not even recognizing their faith as legitimate, is another prominent axis. This “pro Sunni” approach is internationally extended to embrace countries and groups of the same denomination. Relations with Syria, İraq, İran, İsrael, Egypt, Sudan, the Hamas in Palestine, etc, are all explained in part or in whole as part of this global strategy. This policy has in turn led critics to accuse Erdogan and his FM of pursuing sectarian based politics and of the PM of harbouring grandiose ambitions about becoming the leader of the global Sunni community which doesn’t seem plausible at all. But nevertheless the perception persists..
    Old elite versus new elite : its one thing to give a previously ignored social class a new political and economic identity, its another to completely pit one set of the population against another with populist talk and practices stemming from what seems to be a deep set social resentment and inferiority complex..
    Pro-akp versus forces which object to the use and manipulation of religion as an instrument of politics : this includes groups and individuals who oppose the steady infiltration of religious values and practices into public life and, most importantly, into the Turkish educational system. Starting September 2012, three new supposedly optional classes on religion (The Kuran, Life of the Prophet, and Comparative Religions) have been added to the one existing obligatory class (Religion and Ethics) for 9-10 year olds, ostensibly to help raise what Erdogan has wistfully called a “religious-minded youth”. This new system has been installed in stark defiance to the rulling of the ECHR which had supported an Alevi father’s objection to the obligatory nature of (Sunni-dominated) religious education. According to the new system the option of exemption has effectively been removed in state schools.
    By the same token, the use of the headscarf is by now an accepted feature of Turkish public life and if a bill were to be introduced in parliament today to have it legalized, it is virtually certain that the opposition parties would give it their approval. The akp is merely using the “headscarf controversy” to strengthen its position by keeping the population polarized and to capitalize on the resentment thereby generated. This is yet another example of how religion is being used for political ends rather than as a practical vehicle for peaceful coexistence.
    On the question of religion, another point that needs to be mentioned is the clear tension between individuals and groups who are genuinely pious and who have grown to resent the negative image the political and public use of religion has tainted it with, and those akp supported groups, including sects, who clearly benefit from this association. Rather than emphasizing the peaceful and positive elements of İslam as a unifying force, the akp has used it instead as a weapon to strengthen its position among a predominantly conservative population susceptible to manipulation on grounds of faith.

    Foreign Policy

    İ do not want to respond to the FM’s record as Richard has done so extensively. i tend to think Davutoglu has pursued an innovative and visionary track which definitely served to place Turkey on the global map at a time when the world in general and the ME in particular have been undergoing vast changes. İn regard to Syria, which is the most controversial topic to date, i support the position adopted by the akp to oppose Essad’s merciless war on his own population. However in doing so, more thought needed to be given to consistency with regard to former policies and preparedness with respect to the consequences such a change of policy might entail. The absence of these considerations across the board seem to be the principal problems tarnishing what could have otherwise been an exemplary record.

    Hence, in summary :
    Akp has passed its heyday : most people not part of its popular base who supported it in the past have withdrawn their support today for a variety of reasons some of which have been cited here. But principally because Turkey under the akp has moved away from democracy into a governance mode which has been defined as civil dictatorship.
    The authoritarian tendencies of the government and its policy of placing cronies in all institutions including, alas, the judiciary, has effectively removed all checks and balances from the system and has left a party in power that is unchecked and unaccountable to public scrutiny. So in effect, military tutelage has been replaced by political authoritarianism backed by the heavy handed tactics of the security forces, and the tutelage of a judicial system that is neither fair nor impartial.
    İn addition to the judiciary, institutions “reformed” by the akp include the military, secondary education institutions, state universities, and the media (most media companies have very close relations with government circles; only a handful of publications and writers are “independent” today). Powerful business magnates have in some way or another been “bought off” to side with the party in power. Citizens groups are still mostly nascent and not in a position to offer effective opposition to objectionable practices by the government. Added to this is the highly inadequate position of chief opposition party, the chp, that is no match to the well organized akp today.
    But as recent polls show, both the main parties, the akp and the chp, have lost popular support. What this country desperately needs is a new political formation perhaps made up of elements of both these parties which, above all, help extripate this society from the grips of age-old authoritarianism and serve to uphold basic civil rights and the principles of constitutional democracy, which are sadly and sorely lacking in today’s Turkey.

    Peri Pamir

  9. rehmat1 September 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    When the so-called ‘Islamist’ Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 – it sent waves of shocks in the Zionist-controlled world capitals. To counter the western and powerful Kemalist army’s opposition, AKP extended its hands in friendship to its Muslim neighbors; Iran, Syria and Iraq. Erdogan coined the ‘Zero-tolerance foreign policy’ toward Turkey’s Arab neighbors. This enhanced Erdogan’s popularity among the Arab population.

    Erdogan tried to bring both Syria and Israel on negotiation table. Turkey joined Brazil to resolve Israel’s ‘existential threat’ from a future ‘nuclear Iran’. “Regionally, Iran is the main counterforce to the pervasive western influences. For all players, it’s a country too powerful to be ignored,” wrote Mmitri Sedov in the Strategic Culture Foundation, September 4, 2012.

    Ankara exploited the Israeli terrorist attack on Turkish Mavi Marmara aid ship at interanational waters on May 31, 2010 while paid lip services to the Palestinian cause and showed support for Lebanon against Israel.

    However, since the arrival of US-sponsored ‘Arab Spring’ – Sunni-majority Turkey saw a window of opportunity to replace Shia-majority Iran as the regional Muslim power. Ankara joined US-Israel-NATO axis to bring an anti-Iran Sunni regime in Damascus in order to weaken Iranian influence in the region. Canadian Jewish academic, professor Michel Chossudovsky (University of Ottawa) and founder of the Centre for Research on Globalization says: “While the Syrian regime is by no means democratic, the objective of the US-NATO Israel military alliance is not to promote democracy. Quite the opposite, Washington’s intent is to eventually install a puppet regime.”

    “War preparations to attack Syria and Iran have been in ‘an advanced state of readiness’ for several years,” says Michel Chossudovsky. “The July 2006 bombing of Lebanon was part of a carefully planned ‘military road map’. The extension of ‘The July War’ on Lebanon into Syria had been contemplated by US and Israeli military planners. It was abandoned upon the defeat of Israeli ground forces by Hezbollah.”

    American Jewish writer and blogger Stephen Lendman says: “Israel wants regional rivals removed. Washington and key NATO partners want independent regimes ousted, replaced with subservient ones. Fabricated IAEA Iranian documents escalated tensions. Assad’s government is unfairly blamed. Washington’s dirty hands are at fault. So are Israel’s and other conspiratorial allies“.

    The Syrian conflicted has pitted Turkey against the Islamic Republic and Lebanese Islamic Resistance Hizbullah. Iran-Hizbullah-Syria now consider Turkey as part of US-Israel axis. The semi-independent Arab regime like Iraq has distant itself from Turkey as it’s toeing Saudi Arabia’s Sunni-Shia sectarian divide.

    Ankara imports 30% of its oil and 20% of gas needs from Iran. Turkey’s trade with Iran has become the largest after the United States. However, Turkey’s anti-Syria policy has put a damper on Iran-Turkey relation. So much so that Iran’s top gun, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, last month warned Turkey saying: “Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will fall victim to the spread of terrorism. Therefore, we warn our friends. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are responsible for the blood being spilled on Syrian soil. It is not right for Syria’s neighbors to help the war-mongering United States achieve its goals. These countries must know that after Syria, will come the turn of Turkey and other countries“.

    Iran has warned the warmongering Zionist occupied regimes that if Syria is attacked by any of them – Tehran would have no choice but to come to the aid of Damascus as part of a 2008 military defense treaty between the two nations.

    Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia has lost their credibility to act as objective negotiators as proposed by Egyptian President Dr. Morsi during the NAM summit in Tehran last week.

    Turkey is en route to regional isolation by its pro-US-NATO policies. Seeking regional dominance via the demise of Assad’s regime in Syria, Ankara obviously failed to take into account the feelings of the great majority of Arabs and Muslims in particlar, who hate the Zionist regime – and the US administration for its blind support for the Zionist entity.

    • peri pamir September 6, 2012 at 2:26 am #

      Yes Turkey has taken a risky gamble in vying for regional dominance along a pro-Sunni, “neo-Ottoman” axis, with or without US backing, which appears to have backfired. Turkish military casualties in its conflict with the pkk is on the increase as is domestic pressure on the government, also in connection with Syria. A considerstion of risks and long-term implications is what seems to have been missing from the policies adopted by the akp in its attempt to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria as part of its pursuit of regional hegemony.

      • Richard Falk September 6, 2012 at 6:45 am #

        I think your criticism of AKP regional approach on these grounds is reasonable, although the situation was unstable in ways that virtually no one anticipated. And I would question the contention that the goals were ‘regional dominance’ and ‘regional hegemony,’ but rather seemed to me to be regional independence and influence.

      • Peri Pamir September 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

        Ok I agree that the last phrase can read “regional influence” (instead of “hegemony”). But what does that change on the ground, in terms of results, today ?…

      • Richard Falk September 7, 2012 at 7:18 am #

        Dear Peri:

        Language does, in my view, matter in such a context. Every poll I have read indicates that Turkey is the most admired country in all
        the Arab countries, and that Erdogan is by far the most popular leader for the Arab peoples in the whole world. When influence and
        popularity converge it is likely that something positive has been happening throughout the region and the Turkish government of the
        past decade deserves some credit.

        Turkey is not to blame for the Syrian tragedy, but may have been inept in its effort to adjust its policy to an unforeseen and rapidly
        changing set of realities. It did try early on to rely on diplomatic persuasion, and no outside power on any side has acted in a consistently
        constructive fashion.

        Again my difficulty with your approach is that it accentuates the negative, ignores the positive when it comes to dealing with addressing the
        AKP. To contend that only those who live in a country can judge the government is convenient, but residents in Turkey disagree with each other
        on precisely these issues of assessing the AKP.

      • peri pamir September 9, 2012 at 5:56 am #

        Dear Richard

        I have not wished to engage you further on this front as I have been following with emphathy the prolonged debate on the Israel-Palestine question.

        So briefly :

        Of course I agree that language matters. I try my best to use the right words or to reform them when need be.

        I wasn’t speaking about Erdogan’s popularity in the Arab countries where we all know it peeked due to his stance on the Gaza war and Palestine. However that, as well as his influence in the region has since waned. Nor do I deny that the akp did important work since its accession to power. I personally was never a fan as you know because of my deep distaste for the introduction of religion in any manner into politics. But in my commentary i made a distinction between their past achievements and present position, underlining that I was focussing on the latter.

        The main point i was trying to draw attention to is the alarming rise of a systematic campaign of repression and silencing of critical voices across the board, albeit in familiar (and accentuated) authoritarian fashion which, unfortunately, is an undeniable reality in Turkey today. This situation cannot be juxtaposed against the positive elements of akp’s past record and somehow exonerate it from present mishaps, even though I understand your annoyance at my position of withholding credit..

        You are a scholar with particular experience and sensitivity towards questions relating to the expression of fundamental human rights and civil liberties. That is why I always hoped you’d be more observant and critical of the erosion of such rights in Turkey in the last few years.

        I agree with you about Syria and never said it was Turkey’s fault. I supported the govt’s attempt to somehow broker the situation. I merely made the point you later conceded, concerned about all the consequences such an oversight might unleash..

        So Richard let us continue to observe and watch developments, from close up and afar.. And maybe one day we will draw closer in our reading of events…

        P.

      • Richard Falk September 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

        Thanks, Peri, for this clarifying comment and support. It has been a struggle to sustain this blog given the firepower being brought to bear against me by pro-Israeli comment writers.

        On AKP and Erdogan popularity in the region: I agree it has peaked, and has declined somewhat, but it was always based on broader considerations than the Palestine/Israeli conflict. In my visits to Cairo the past two years and Morocco recently, Turkey is primarily admired for two reasons: its perceived independence from the US Government and its combination of economic success and political stability with a leadership seen as moderate and Islamic. Also, Turkey has exhibited diplomatic creativity in a number of other areas not generally noticed: peacemaker in the Balkans; major initiative re Somalia that has made Turkey a credible actor in Africa. Finally, Istanbul has become a diplomatic venue of choice for many multilateral events, and has somewhat displaced the traditional diplomatic primacy of European capitals at least for now.

        Warm wishes,

        Richard

      • peri pamir September 10, 2012 at 4:28 am #

        Dear Richard : I agree with your remark regarding foreign policy initiatives of which there have been many and I commend the FM for his “diplomatic creativity” as you say, which initially won Turkey much prestige in the world. Istanbul’s attraction as a lieu for international conferences is an extension of this appreciation, as you point out. But I am not sure how many would support the perception regarding akp’s distance or “independence” from US policy…

        It’s a huge time consuming responsibility to keep this blog going in respectful fashion and i for one support your indefatigable (:) endeavors in this direction..

      • Richard Falk September 10, 2012 at 6:45 am #

        Dear Peri:

        Thanks for your supportive statement about the blog. I waver in my own mind as to whether it is worth the effort, but for the moment I will persist.

        On Turkish diplomatic success, I was reporting on perceptions based on my Egyptian visits, which included meeting some highly influential persons in Cairo; the same perception was present at the highest level of the Brazilian government. These perceptions could be wrong, or exaggerated, although I share the view that even with the present troubles Turkey is one of the few diplomatic success stories since the end of the Cold War.

        On the U.S. relations: Turkey has self-consciously pursued an equip-distance diplomacy that stresses independence and alliance relations. No other government has been able to anger Israel and yet keep positive relations with Washington, which underscores my point that Turkey has achieved a status, previously unknown, which allows it to be a relatively autonomous actor on a regional level, and when it crosses American red lines, as it did in relation to Iran, it can still retain its influence. By and large, these red lines do not deserve respect in any event, in my judgment.

        Finally, to say that criticism is shut down in Turkey seems incomprehensible to me. In the media, including even TZ and TDN, there is a steady flow of highly critical commentary, including somewhat inflammatory attacks on public figures, especially Erdogan.

        Warm wishes, Richard

      • peri pamir September 11, 2012 at 6:02 am #

        Dear Richard,

        I will only respond on the question of internal politics, for that was my main focus from the beginning.

        I never said all criticism was silenced. That is hardly possible. But that a strong climate of repression of critical voices exist, assisted by a judiciary that is not impartial and a judicial process that is extremely long, and by heavy handed security forces on the ground.

        If you don’t believe me, or remain skeptical because of impressions gathered from the two english language papers you speak of, then please look at least at the OECD’s April 2012 Report on “Main findings of the table of imprisoned journalists in Turkey”, which starts with the sentence, “Since this report was published a year ago, the number of imprisoned journalists has almost doubled in Turkey (95 from 57).” It appears that an important number are related to the Kurdish issue.

        Reference : http://www.osce.org/fom/89371

        I truly hope your appreciation for the akp and it’s achievements – which I respect – will not bar you from taking a closer look at this problem which is of deep concern to a large portion of the Tukish population today.

        Warm wishes from me too…

      • Richard Falk September 7, 2012 at 7:21 am #

        Peri, further in response: I do agree that the failure to anticipate long-term effects is a fault of the
        Turkish approach, especially as it pertains to the overall Kurdish problem, and the bearing of these conflicts
        on Kurdish grievances within Turkey.

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