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Turkish Paradox: Progressive Islamists versus Reactionary Secularists
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (d. 1938) founded the modern Republic of Turkey as a secular republic in 1923.1 Since that time, his followers, the Kemalists, and the military have successfully maintained that a secular Turkey is the only road to progress,
|Saturday, October 20,2007 19:53|
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (d. 1938) founded the modern Republic of Turkey as a secular republic in 1923.1 Since that time, his followers, the Kemalists, and the military have successfully maintained that a secular Turkey is the only road to progress, reform, and modernization; today, to be modern is seen by many Turks as membership in the EU. The Kemalists have always painted Islamists as reactionary impediments to their vision of a modern progressive Turkey. Nevertheless, it has not been easy for Kemalists to dismiss lightly the nation"s Islamic heritage.2 Since the beginnings of multiparty democracy in the elections of 1950, Turkey"s Islamic roots have proven important and even decisive in the evolution of Turkish politics. Both the ruling Democrat Party of Adnan Menderes in the 1950s and the Justice Party of Süleyman Demirel in the 1960s and 1970s depended on latent Islamic support. What is more, the various Islamic parties headed by Necmettin Erbakan beginning in the 1960s boldly espoused an Islamic agenda.
Erdoan"s AKP committed itself to pursuing Turkish membership in the EU. This policy, of course, entailed liberal political and economic reforms that challenged the privileged position of the Kemalist secularists and the military. The inherent struggle came to a head in April 2007 when the AKP nominated one of its own, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, to be the new President of Turkey.
At the same time, massive public protests against the AKP had begun in Turkey"s major cities of Ankara on 14 April, Istanbul on 29 April, and Izmir on 13 May; each attracted over one million participants. Smaller but still impressive anti-AKP protests of over 100,000 each also occurred in Canakkale, Denizli, Marmaris, and Manisa. Pro-secular associations, with memberships comprised of many retired military officers, helped to organize these protests and brandished slogans against the AKP, EU, and globalization. Secular women"s groups were also prominent. The secularist opposition in the parliament then managed to block Gül"s election simply by boycotting sessions and thus denying that body the necessary two-thirds quorum, a questionable tactic whose constitutionality, however, was quickly upheld by the secularist-controlled Constitutional Court.8 Erdoan was thus forced to call early parliamentary elections in an attempt to break the deadlock.
Embodiment of New Turkey: Erdoan
Recep Tayyip Erdoan was born on 26 February 1954 in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, but spent his childhood in the Black Sea town of Rize, less than 200 miles from his family"s ancestral homeland in Georgia.
The Islamism of the 1980s differed from the Islamic movements of the 1960s and 1970s in its social basis, nature, and impact. For example, the RP-led Islamic movement shifted from being an anti- global, market-oriented, small merchant, and farmer"s party to one that demands full integration into the global market and seeks to reduce role for the state in the economy.12
Erdoan gave fuel to his secularist opponents when he declared that New Year"s celebrations were a habit practiced by secularists and not a legitimate cause for him to mark. He also said that he shook hands only with the opposite sex so as not to upset and damage discussions but afterward he prayed to God for forgiveness. Then on 12 December 1997, Erdoan ran afoul of the article in the Turkish penal code that banned "incitement to religious hatred" when he publicly read a poem originally written by the Turkish nationalist theoretician, Ziya G?kalp: "Turkey"s mosques will be our barracks, the minarets our bayonets, the domes our helmets, and the faithful our soldiers." For this transgression, he was banned from politics and sentenced to 10 months in prison, four of which he actually served. It was this criminal conviction that prevented him from immediately becoming prime minister following the victory of his AKP on 3 November 2002.
Erdoan became the leader of the AKP when it was established on 14 August 2001, by the more moderate members of the former RP, while the conservatives of the now banned RP created the Saadet Partisi (SP) or Felicity Party. Having apparently learned a lesson from his earlier political experiences, Erdoan specifically declared that the AKP did not have a religious agenda and would work within the secular democratic framework.13 Increasingly, the AKP has assumed a position as a center-right party, rather than an Islamic one. Some analysts have seen an analogy between the AKP and Europe"s post- World War II progressive conservative Christian Democratic parties as well as the modern West"s catchall parties.
Who then would be the Islamists if the AKP members are not? Turkey"s Islamists do not constitute a cohesive movement but rather are comprised of diverse groups. Sufi orders such as the Naqshbandis and Qadiris, for example, constitute more traditional Islamists,17 while the Nur movement of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1876-1960)18 and its neo- Nur offshoot headed by Fethullah Gülen19 represent more modern, scientifically inclined Islamic movements. In addition, the SP represents the more conservative elements of Erbakan"s now defunct Refah Party (banned in 1998). According to Erdoan"s secular opponents, he maintains close relations with these openly Islamic groups and has a secret Islamic agenda for Turkey. In particular, they accuse Fethullah Gülen"s movement of establishing an international reach that includes hundreds of schools indoctrinating youths with intensive Islamist training in keeping with the teachings of Nursi and also creating a hierarchy of activists in
You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers until the conditions are ripe. You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power.20
Like the Islamists, Turkey"s secularists have also evolved in terms of their attitudes and political positions. Historically, Turkish secularism has been synonymous with Kemalism, an often flexible ideology named for modern Turkey"s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Kemalism consists of six principles: republicanism, populism, secularism, revolution, nationalism, and statism. Revealingly, democracy is not one of these essential principles. Since the establishment of the republic, Kemalists have pursued two of these principles with ideological fervor: secularism, i.e., the control of Islam by the state and the disestablishment of religion from the public sphere; and nationalism, i.e., creating a nation state out of diverse ethnic groups. Secularism opposed any sort of Islamic orientation, while nationalism came to view any sort of Kurdish identity as a mortal threat to Turkey"s survival.22 Despite legislative reforms to allow the usage of the Kurdish language, Turkey"s highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled in June 2007 to dismiss Abdullah Demirbas, the mayor of the Sur district of Diyarbakir province, because he had voted to provide public services in languages other than Turkish (an official survey had found that 72 percent of Sur"s population spoke Kurdish while only 24 percent spoke Turkish).
Accommodating Kurdish culture, especially linguistically, is necessary for Turkey to pursue its application for membership in the EU. Secular nationalists, however, tend to equate any expression of Kurdish ethnic identity with separatism and thus a threat to Turkey"s territorial integrity. Pressures from the EU for Turkey to be more accommodative of its Kurdish minority have thus prompted some secularists to question the goal of EU membership. For example, General Yaar Büyükant, the military"s outspoken Chief of Staff, has implicitly opposed Turkey"s EU candidacy on the grounds that it is "creating minorities in Turkey."23 He also implied that the United States was part of the problem because of its support for the autonomy of Iraqi Kurds; the latter, according to Turkey, refuse to expel members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - a Turkish Kurdish guerrilla group - that has bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.24 Büyükant"s views are relevant because the Turkish military thinks of itself not just as the ultimate guardian of the Turkish state but also as the ultimate interpreter of what is Kemalism.25 Indeed, the military has intervened to remove civilian governments four times (1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997) and seriously considered yet another coup in 2004.26
This attitude has historical roots going back to Atatürk, who based his original and ultimate power on his role as the supreme military commander in Turkey"s epic War of Independence during the early 1920s. The military"s insistence on its unique role in interpreting and defending Kemalism not only contradicts democratic ideals but also presents serious problems for Turkey"s EU candidacy.
During the initial years of the AKP"s government, Turkey"s "EU- phoria" disinclined the military from confronting its policies. Once skepticism about EU membership had set in, however, the military felt emboldened. The AKP attempt to nominate Gül as President would have removed one of the last bastions of political power from the control of Kemalists, and this prospect alarmed the military. Thus, the current struggle for ultimate power in Turkey may be seen as more between the AKP and the military, rather than between Islamists and secularists. For example, organizations such as the Türkiye Emekli Subaylar Dernei (Society of Retired Officers or TESUD), headed by retired Major-General Riza Kucukoglu, and the Atatürkcü Düünce Dernei (Society for Kemalist thought or ADD), headed by retired General ener Eruygur, the former commander of the Gendarmerie, played an important role in galvanizing the popular demonstrations against the AKP in April and May.
Although understanding the role of the military is important, it is essential to appreciate that even the military is being influenced by the economic and social changes that have been occurring in Turkey since the early 1990s. The country"s phenomenal economic growth has created a new socially conservative Anatolian middle class of urban migrants with strong Islamic roots who have become entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and politicians. Industry, represented by the Türk Sanayici ve adamlar Dernei (Turkish Association of Industrialists and Businessmen or T?SAD), which is dominated by large holding companies such as Koc, Sabanc, and Eczacbas, is part of this new mix. This new middle class is represented by the AKP and challenges the long existing privileges of the older Kemalist middle class that largely consists of bureaucrats. Politically, this older Kemalist middle class has been represented by the party Atatürk himself founded back in 1923, the Republican Peoples Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi or CHP). Since the beginning of multiparty politics in Turkey in 1950, the CHP has largely been on the defensive, and despite occasional revivals, slowly losing support.
In its 2007 election manifesto, the CHP questioned Turkey"s negotiations with the EU because it knew that it would be impossible to maintain a Kemalist state if Turkey joined the EU.27 Almost desperately, Baykal declared that "Erdoan speaks with the language of terrorists and supports the view of (Iraqi Kurdish leader) Barzani."28 These references were an attempt to paint the AKP as weak on the national security issue because it was unwilling to authorize a large-scale military intervention against the PKK in northern Iraq. Such a position, of course, offered the disaffected Kurdish population little in the way of democratic promise.
Despite the secularists" verbal attacks, the AKP has clearly benefited from the incompetence and corruption of the other political parties. Almost by default, it is the only mainline party that plausibly has something positive to offer toward dealing intelligently with the economy and minority problems.29
The July 2007 Elections
The national elections held on 22 July 2007 are likely to have a major impact on the future of Turkey. Four parties - the AKP, CHP, MHP, and the pro-Kurdish DTP - achieved representation in the parliament. The ruling AKP emerged the strongest party. After receiving 34.4 percent of the vote in the November 2002 elections, it increased its total to 46.5 percent in the July 2007 elections. This was an increase of 12 percent for its second term. This total would give the AKP 341 seats in the 550-member parliament. The secularist CHP and the nationalist MHP won an estimated 112 and 71 seats, respectively. Up to 25 seats will go to independent candidates, including 20 Kurdish representatives who are expected to merge under the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi or Democratic Society Party.
There are two key reasons for the AKP"s landslide electoral victory:
As far as political factors are concerned, the most crucial one was Erdoan"s charisma as the populist leader of the conservative masses.
Even though the AKP government did not propose any political solution to the Kurdish issue or put forward a regional economic development program, the Kurds voted for it. There are three reasons for this situation. Many Kurds regard the AKP as an anti-Kemalist and antisystemic party that has been "suppressed" by the same enemy as they have. The e-memorandum of the military created a sense of unity among the Kurds and the AKP that they all confront the same oppressive military and the Kemalist state. Moreover, many people liked the counter memorandum of the AKP leadership against the military. When terrorist attacks increased two months before the elections, the AKP presented this through its "local rumor channels," such as the coffeehouses, as the work of the "hawks" within the military to militarize the region and even to intervene in northern Iraq. Many religious Kurds believe that the AKP has a "hidden agenda" to transform the Kemalist state through a new civic constitution. Moreover, the AKP deputies in the Kurdish region carried out a vocal campaign against the military threat to intervene in the affairs of northern Iraq. The AKP had a Kurdish- first election platform in the region, and the people regarded it as a way of de-Kemalizing the state and reconstructing a binational state with decentralization of the power under a new "civic constitution" that the AKP promised to create.
Is this the beginning of a new Kurdish politics in terms of supporting a center-right party rather than only a Kurdish-based party? Does this represent a change in the political landscape of Kurdish politics? Did many Kurds vote for the continuation of the AKP policies or did they vote with the expectations of a new policy? The DTP was certainly taken aback by the AKP"s strength in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Indeed, the AKP victory was a response against those who had an identity-based election platform and sought to separate Kurds from Turks further.
Within the Kurdish political landscape, different voices are emerging. Ayel Tuluk (the cochair along with Ahmet Turk of the DTP) is calling upon the Kurds to understand the fear among Turks of the 1919 Treaty of Sevres (that had provided for a division of Anatolia but subsequently was abrogated in 1923) and embrace a new reconciliation,31 whereas Leyla Zana called for the division of Turkey along new federal lines.32 One may inquire whether the vote for the AKP in the Kurdish region is a vote for the current AKP policies on the Kurdish question or a vote on expectation that the AKP will deliver a new republic along the lines of a new civic constitution that might get rid of Kemalism and also open the door for a binational state solution. It is believed, for example, that the AKP is not comfortable with the Kemalist state ideology and wants to transform it without openly saying so. The "unspoken project" of the AKP is to transform Turkey from a rigid nation-state into a new community of ethnic identities held together by their Muslim identity. Thus, the party supports ethnic and cultural rights for the Kurds and other minorities within the framework of conservative (religious) values. In short, the AKP does not accept the Kemalist solution of homogenization (nation-building) to diversity but rather seeks to recognize diversity. Its different notion of political community is similar to that of the pre- Republican Ottoman millet system. The smallest party to enter the parliament is the pro-Kurdish DTP.
Although the independent DTP candidates did well in the Kurdish regions, a majority of Kurds actually voted for the AKP due to three key reasons. First, the DTP has no economic policy to give hope to the youth or emerging Kurdish bourgeoisie. Thus, it has no policy for the regional development or distribution of the growing national "pie" of Turkey. Yet Kurds do not vote only on the basis of identity politics but also consider economic conditions. Second, the DTP rhetoric about the brotherhood of people, freedom, and peace are concepts too abstract in the face of the immediate needs of the region. None of the candidates explained to the Kurds how these concepts would improve their daily lives. Third, there is very little bridge between the secular Kurdish leadership of the DTP and the conservative religious masses of the Kurds. Indeed, most DTP supporters are closer to the leadership of the AKP in terms of their moral values and piety.
The CHP remains the largest opposition party in the parliament.
By receiving 14.28 percent of the vote, the MHP is the third party to enter parliament with 71 seats. Although many people expected the MHP to receive around 18 percent of the vote, it had to compete with the AKP in Anatolia. It remains the main Turkish nationalist party, although it has shifted from ethnic to civic Turkish nationalism. Its leader, Devlet Bahceli, an economist and a former Deputy Prime Minister, is skeptical about Turkey"s EU bid, accuses the AKP government of being too soft on separatist Kurdish guerrillas, and supports a military incursion into northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish rebels based there. Interestingly, the MHP also has distanced itself from the military agenda and does not support military interference in politics.
On 22 July 2007, the AKP cruised to a landslide victory, securing an unparalleled 46.5 percent of the vote. It was the first time in more than a half-century that an incumbent government actually had increased its share of the national vote. The Turkish people had obviously opted for democratic and market economy reforms as well as for continuing their EU candidacy.33 They also had voted against inward-looking nationalism, military interference in politics, and ultra-secular fears of a secret Islamic agenda - all characteristics of what many have termed Turkey"s "Deep State."34 Gracious as well as prudent in victory, Erdoan assured his opponents that "there will be no concession on the basic (secular) characteristics of the republic."35 He also promised to "press ahead with reforms and the economic development that we have been following so far" and to "continue to work with determination to achieve our EU goal."36 Although he vowed to continue the fight against the PKK, it seemed possible to pursue a political solution to the Kurdish problem and oppose an invasion of northern Iraq.37 Indeed, the AKP further surprised analysts by winning 52 percent of the vote in Turkey"s ethnic Kurdish areas of the southeast.
Despite its impressive victory, the AKP fell short winning of the two-thirds parliamentary majority to force through its presidential choice. Indeed, the AKP"s seats in the parliament actually declined slightly because both the CHP and MHP passed the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament. This denied the AKP the extra seats it had taken in the election of 2002. In addition, 24 members of the DTP were able to circumvent the 10 percent threshold by winning as independents (Table 1).
2 See further Serif Mardin, Religion, Society, and Modernity in Turkey (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2006); and Jenny B. White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002).
3 See further Michael M. Gunter, "The silent coup: the secularist- Islamist struggle in Turkey," Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, 21 (Spring 1998), pp. 1-12.
4 See further M. Hakan Yavuz, Ed., The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2006). AK not only is the acronym for the party, but also the adjective ak in Turkish means white, clean, or honest.
5 "Strong warning to Erdoan by secular establishment," Briefing (Ankara), 16 April 2007, p. 2.
6 See the Turkish military"s web site: http://www.tsk.mil.tr
7 "Sezer"s farewell speech: the republican regime has never been under this much threat," Briefing, 16 April 2007, p. 3.
8 Sabrina Tavernise, "Turkish court blocks Islamist candidate," International Herald Tribune, 2 May 2007.
9 "The text of the general staff press release," Briefing, 11 June 2007, p. 14.
10 M. Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 122-128.
11 On Emine Erdoan, see Edibe S?zen, "Gender politics of the JDP," in: M. Hakan Yavuz, (Ed.) The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2006), pp. 268-270.
12 M. H. Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity, p. 213.
13 For background, see Berna Turam, Between Islam and State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), esp. pp. 134-150; Muammer Kaylan, The Kemalists: Islamic Revival and the Fate of Secular Turkey (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), pp. 410, 412, and 438; and Yavuz, (Ed.) The Emergence of a New Turkey.
14 "Das Sakulare Gesicht der Turkei Bewahren," Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Zurich), 18 May 2007.
15 Ihsan Dagi, "The roots of the AK party"s strength," Today"s Zaman, 12 July 2007.
16 "The sun also rises in the south east," Briefing, 15 August 2005, pp. 1-2.
17 On the Naqshbandis, see Hamid Algar, "The Naksibendi order: a preliminary survey of its history and significance," Studia Islamica 44 (1976), pp. 123-152; idem, "The Naksibendi order in Republican Turkey," Islamic World Report 1, 3 (1996), pp. 51-67; and on both the Qadiris and Naqshbandis, see Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State: The Social and Political Structure of Kurdistan (London: Zed Books, 1992), pp. 216-265.
18 On Said Nursi, see Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, pp. 151-178.
19 On Fethullah Gulen, see ibid, pp. 179-205.
20 Cited in Omer Erbil, "Sects, religious communities, and the 22 July [Elections]," Milliyet (Istanbul), 10-14 July 2007.
21 Cited in Rod Dreher, "For Turkey, a clash of civilizations," Dallas News, 15 July 2007.
22 The Kurdish problem in Turkey is beyond the scope of this article. For overviews of continuing problems involving the usage of the Kurdish language, see Scott Peterson, "Why Turkey"s Kurds are ever more edgy," Christian Science Monitor, 29 June 2007; and Joost Lagendijk (Cochair of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission), "Kurdish: a different language," Zaman (Istanbul), 28 June 2007.
23 See Ihsan Da, "Is the military in favor of EU accession?" Today"s Zaman (Istanbul), 19 April 2007.
24 See Ihsan Da, "Ready for an anti-western coup?" Today"s Zaman, 17 May 2007.
25 For background, see William Hale, Turkish Politics and the Military (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).
26 See the detailed analysis in Walter Posch, "Crisis in Turkey: just another bump on the road to Europe?" Occasional Paper No. 67 (Paris: Institute for Security Studies, 2007), p. 18ff. The prominent Turkish journal Nokta was forced to close down in April 2007 after publishing apparent details of the attempted coup.
27 Ihsan Dagi, "The CHP and MHP: a joint nationalist foreign policy front," Today"s Zaman, 28 June 2007.
28 Cited in "Election campaigns take a start," Briefing, 18 June 2007, p. 4. Also see Ihsan Da, "The CHP and the military: what are they up to?" Today"s Zaman, 14 June 2007.
29 On Turkey"s minorities and the EU, see Suat Kolukrk and Sule Tokta, "Turkey"s Roma: political participation and organization," Middle Eastern Studies, 43(5) (September 2007), pp. 761-777.
30 On the mobilization of the Gülen networks in Kurdish provinces, see Altan Tan"s interview in Milliyet, 30 July 2007.
31 Aysel Tuluk, "Sevr Travmas ve Kürtlerin Empatisi," Radikal, 14 June 2007.
32 "Pro-Kurdish politician Zana: time to divide Turkey into states," Today"s Zaman, 21 July 2007.
33 On the ups and downs of Turkey"s EU candidacy, see Michael M. Gunter, "Turkey"s floundering EU candidacy and its Kurdish problem," Middle East Policy, 14 (Spring 2007), pp. 117-123.
34 For an analysis of this concept, see Michael M. Gunter, "Deep state: the arcane parallel state in Turkey," Orient, 43(3) (2006), pp. 334-348.
35 Cited in "AK party wins big despite all odds," Today"s Zaman, 24 July 2007.
36 Cited in "Turkish PM vows to pursue reform," BBC, 23 July 2007.
37 Ian Traynor, "Turkey raises hopes of peace with Kurds," Guardian (UK), 25 July 2007.
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