Can Turkey Lead the Islamic World and Still Be a Western Ally? (Huffington Post)

(15.January.2015) Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power for 13 years, is currently gearing up for the June 2015 general elections. During his campaign tour of Anatolia, Prime Minister Davutoğlu attended a party congress last month in his hometown of Konya, a bastion of political Islam since the 1970s. Broadcast live on every television channel, this AKP rally featured a surprise guest: Hamas chairman Khaled Mashal. The Palestinian leader — who was welcomed by a crowd of thousands chanting slogans like “We’d die for you, Hamas” and “Mujahid Mashal” — described Turkey as “a source of strength for all Muslims,” while also vowing to “retake Jerusalem and Palestine.” To all appearances, Mashal’s visit to Konya was a favorable omen for Davutoğlu and his fellow pan-Islamists, who wish to see Turkey become the leader of the Islamic world. In reality, however, Davutoğlu and his followers have little cause for optimism.

To understand why, let’s rewind two years to the September 2012 AKP congress, attended by Mashal as well as numerous other prominent Middle Eastern statesmen: Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (who had been elected president of Egypt several months previously), Rashid al-Ghannushi (whose Ennahda party had won the elections in Tunisia), and Iraqi Sunni leader Tariq al-Hashimi. With political Islam making headway everywhere from Tunisia to Turkey, it seemed just a matter of months before the Syrian regime would be overthrown; Erdoğan had even pledged to say his prayers in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

One by one, the aforementioned statesmen came to the podium and showered Erdoğan with praise, while Mashal saluted the Turkish prime minister as “a leader for the Islamic world.” Davutoğlu and Erdoğan believed that Turkey had finally climbed back onto the world stage, nearly a century after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and was about to make its pan-Islamic dream a reality.


However, two years later, nearly all of the AKP’s hopes have been dashed. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been overthrown, and Morsi is currently on trial. Ennahda has been defeated in the Tunisian elections. Al-Hashimi, Turkey’s main ally in Iraq, is living in exile in Istanbul. In short, of the “Muslim Brotherhood belt” envisioned by Davutoğlu and Erdoğan, only two players are left standing: the AKP and Hamas. After Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory in Gaza, Turkey made every effort to have Mashal’s party — considered a terrorist organization in the West — recognized by the international community. (To give credit where it is due, Erdoğan was right to argue, despite Western criticism, that Hamas was the legitimate representative of the Gazan people).Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

At present, however, the AKP is not merely an intermediary for Hamas but is its close ally. Nor is this the only instance of the AKP’s tendency to deal with Islamist political parties, rather than recognized state actors, in its Middle Eastern policy. One could also mention the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s parliament-in-exile in Istanbul, or Turkey’s good relations with the rival Tripoli government in Libya, which includes members of the Brotherhood.

However, Davutoğlu’s pan-Islamist foreign policy is currently at an impasse. Turkish Airlines has had to cancel flights to Libya after the government in Tobruk — recognized by the entire world as the legitimate Libyan government — threatened to down its planes. Turkey also has a very tense relationship with Egypt and Israel, while sharing a long border with the Islamic State in Syria — a border which has become a transit point for thousands of jihadis from all over the world. Instead of praying at the Umayyad Mosque, the AKP is worrying about how to deal with the some 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

According to Davutoğlu, the chief culprits in all this are Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the West. Iran’s “sectarian” foreign policy, Davutoğlu believes, is one of the main causes of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf autocracies, for their part (Davutoğlu significantly omits Qatar from this group) are guilty of trying to undermine the popularly-elected Muslim Brotherhood, which they view as a threat to their own monarchical regimes. Finally, Davutoğlu accuses the West of hypocriticallysupporting the coup in Egypt while refraining from using military force to overthrow al-Assad in Syria. In Davutoğlu’s view, of all the players in the Middle East, onlyTurkey, Qatar, and Hamas are acting out of principle.

The AKP likes to describe its 13 years in power as the time when Turkey became an “advanced democracy.” Yet Turkey is currently ranked 154th out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index. The rule of law has been dispensed with, corruption allegations reaching to the highest levels of the government have been hushed up, and the country is turning into an authoritarian single-party regime which uses its intelligence services and police force to stifle opposition.

Basking in his aura of inviolability, Erdoğan is making headlines with ever more eccentric pronouncements (e.g., that Muslims discovered the New World before Columbus) and behaviors (such as receiving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with an entourage dressed in military costumes from different epochs of Turkish history). Disappointment at the current status quo in Turkey is all but universal. It is felt by the U.S., which supported the AKP in the hopes that its brand of moderate Islam would furnish a counter-model to radical “bin Ladenism.” It is also felt by many countries in the European Union which once believed that Turkey would act in accordance with the EU’s universal criteria of democracy and human rights. The AKP does not aspire to be a model for the Islamic world; it aspires to be its leader — a duty which includes safeguarding the interests of the nearly 20 million Muslims living in Europe. In Erdoğan’s view, it is the EU which must accommodate itself to Turkey, not vice versa.

Thus, both sides have suffered disappointment: Turkey, at the thwarting of its own pan-Islamist ambitions, and the West, at Turkey’s failure to realize its democratic potential.

Yet the West and Turkey still need each other. As a NATO country situated amidst the turmoil of the Middle East, Turkey is invaluable to the Western world. And Turkey cannot do without the West in propping up its own economy.

However, as was the case with Salazar’s Portugal (a member of NATO) or the Shah’s Iran (the U.S.’s erstwhile Middle Eastern ally), Erdoğan wants an alliance based on strategic interests, not democratic ideals. In effect, Erdoğan is saying to the West: If you want my help in the Middle East, then we’ll play by my rules. Will the U.S. and the EU turn a blind eye to Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian one-man regime? Or will they reprise the West’s role in fostering democracy in Turkey after 1945? The path taken by Turkey will also depend on the decisions made by the West. We will know soon enough.


The collapse of Davutoğlu’s Pan-Islamist foreign policy (Hurriyet Daily News)

Neo-Ottomanism has been a prominent issue in Turkish foreign policy debates over the past decade. However, contrary to the claims of certain journalists in the West and in Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu does not espouse a doctrine of neo-Ottomanism. Ottomanism emerged in the second half of the 19th century, aimed at preserving the Ottoman Empire by two methods: First, by Westernizing the country and becoming part of Europe; second, by abolishing the dominant status of Muslims as a “millet system,” thus integrating non-Muslim communities into the state, and preventing the emergence of nationalist movements. Davutoğlu opposes both Ottomanism’s tendency toward Westernization and its removal of the privileged position enjoyed by the Islamic identity. Stressing the failure of Ottomanism to prevent the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Davutoğlu idealizes and seeks to emulate the Islamism of the era of Abdülhamid II. In Davutoğlu’s view, just as the Islamism of Abdülhamid’s era forestalled the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, it is likewise the only ideology that will make Turkey a leader in the Middle East in the post-Cold War period.

Davutoğlu believes that the end of the Cold War also marked the end of a hiatus that began with the Ottomans’ withdrawal from the Middle East in 1918. In his view, this change represents a historic opportunity for Turkey to take up a leadership role in the Middle East. Turkey should put aside its “dream” of becoming part of Europe, and redefine its own identity in Islamic terms. As early as the 1990s, Davutoğlu wrote that the authoritarian regimes headed by Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Hosni Mubarak would not survive. Ankara needed to wait until circumstances favored the ascendancy of Islamist parties and movements over Arab nationalism in the Middle East, and then act when the time was right. Davutoğlu decided to seize this historic opportunity in the wake of the Arab Spring of 2011. The rise to power of the Ennahda in Tunisia and the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria were to be the historic developments making Turkey the global power that Davutoğlu has dreamed of.

However, as recent events have shown, things have not gone as Davutoğlu expected: Libya is in chaos, a military junta is in power in Egypt, and Syria is experiencing a civil war in which hundreds of thousands have died. There are two important reasons why Davutoğlu’s predictions have not come true, and why Turkish foreign policy during the Arab Spring has been unsuccessful, to say the least. The first is the fact that Davutoğlu’s Pan-Islamist foreign policy is ideologically ill-suited to the realities of today’s Middle East. The Islamism practiced under Abdülhamid II was a defensive reaction aimed at averting the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire; Davutoğlu’s Pan-Islamist foreign policy, on the other hand, is based on principles of expansionism, seeking to create a new political order in the Middle East under the hegemony of Turkey. Moreover, in the pursuit of this aim, proponents of Pan-Islamism assume that it will be possible to wipe out movements like secular Arab nationalism and socialism in one stroke, and set the Middle Eastern clock back to 1914.

The second serious problem with Davutoğlu’s foreign policy strategy stems from the theoretical underpinnings of Strategic Depth. Theories that sought to legitimize Western imperial expansion prior to 1945 are taken as a reference point in this book, and in Davutoğlu’s foreign policy in general. In laying out a strategy for Turkey’s future hegemony over the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus, Davutoğlu refers to proponents of British colonialism such as Mackinder, as well as strategists of American and German expansionism such as Mahan and Haushofer. In a sense, Davutoğlu bases his Pan-Islamic ideology on theories of Western imperialism. One should note that terms such as “Lebensraum” and the “Hinterland,” which are frequently employed in Strategic Depth, were also repeatedly used by Haushofer, the architect of German expansionism in the 1920s and 30s, and the notion of a “central state” was inspired by the concept of the Mittellage, which exerted a great influence on German foreign policy during the same period. While it may be packaged together with concepts such as the “foundational actor” or a “proactive foreign policy,” Davutoğlu’s foreign policy is a synthesis of Pan-Islamic ideology with archaic, long-outdated Western expansionist theories.

The foreign policy of the Republican era steered clear of adventurism and partisanship; it succeeded, even if only to a limited extent, in upholding Turkey’s position of respect. However, Davutoğlu regards this as insufficient. He has claimed that if Turkey insists on remaining on the level of a nation-state – within its national borders – in its foreign policy, it will be erased from history. Either Turkey will become a regional leader and a global power, or it will disappear entirely. According to Davutoğlu, the Middle East is an indispensable Lebensraum for Turkey, which has no choice but to dominate the region.

Although Davutoğlu claims to have a local’s knowledge of Cairo and Damascus, under his aegis Turkey has lost its way, so to speak, in Egypt and Syria. With its partisan foreign policy, which takes no heed of the historical experience of the Turkish Republic, the Davutoğlu era represents a serious break with the past. The latest crisis at the consulate in Mosul shows that this era has now come to an end.


Erdoğan’s “New Turkey” (Capital)

Imagine a country whose ruling party boasts that it will remain in power for another 57 years, while breathlessly describing the grandiose projects it intends to carry out during that period. Imagine its prime minister claiming that the transformations wrought by his party will last “until Judgment Day.” No, the country I am referring to is not a jingoistic nation from pre-World War 2 Europe, but today’s Turkey, a candidate for membership in the EU.

Since 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been the ruling party in Turkey, under the leadership of former prime minister and newly-elected president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Curiously, although Erdoğan has been his country’s most powerful figure for over a decade, his speeches these days frequently refer to the concept of a “New Turkey.” 2071, the 1000th anniversary of the coming of the Turks to Anatolia, is being aggressively promoted as a landmark year for this “New Turkey.”

Unfortunately, Turkey’s increasingly serious domestic and foreign problems cannot wait another half-century for a solution. In particular, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy fell into a quagmire under the stewardship of Ahmet Davutoğlu, who served as minister of foreign affairs from 2009 to 2014 before becoming prime minister. How Turkey will get back on track is anyone’s guess. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Davutoğlu described his vision of erasing the defunct borders of the Middle East and creating an Islamic Union in their place. An AKP-led Turkey was to be a guiding light for the Islamic parties filling the power vacuum left by the region’s toppled dictatorships. It has now become clear that this was all a daydream. For the past several years, Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has been waging a proxy war in order to overthrow the Assad regime. This has caused the Syrian opposition to fall into the hands of more and more radical groups.

One such group is ISIS, which seized Turkey’s consulate in Mosul in June and has held 49 Turkish diplomats hostage for the past three months. ISIS is a grave threat, not just to Turkey, but to the entire Western world. Indeed, the fight against ISIS was a key topic at last week’s NATO summit. As much as Turkey wishes to rid itself of ISIS, it is the only NATO country to share a border with that radical group. Hundreds of ISIS militants are known to be present in Turkey. Understandably, therefore, Ankara is apprehensive about the possibility of these militants carrying out terrorist attacks within Turkey in the event of a NATO intervention.

Then there are the refugees of Syria’s civil war, more than a million of whom have fled to Turkey, and whose plight has become increasingly serious. Recently, there have been reports of tensions and even clashes between the local population and the refugees, especially in cities in Southern Turkey. Nor are Turkey’s foreign policy problems limited to Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s relations with the post-coup Sisi regime in Egypt are quite strained; due to the Palestinian issue, so are its relations with Israel. In short, Turkey – acclaimed as the future leader of the Middle East just three years ago – now finds itself isolated from the rest of the region.

Turkey is also at odds with the West. This is due, in part, to Turkey’s use of police violence to suppress the Gezi protests in the summer of 2013, as a result of which eight young people lost their lives and hundreds were wounded. In addition, the Turkish government has obstructed the judiciary and police force in order to silence corruption allegations, extending to the highest echelons of the state, which surfaced in December of last year. Consequently, the AKP – seen by the West as a pioneer of democratic reforms when it came to power in 2002 – is now regarded as an increasingly authoritarian party which covers up allegations of corruption. However, the recent NATO summit made it clear that the West needs Turkey in order to fight ISIS, and is therefore willing to overlook these problems for the time being.

Erdoğan has won every election in which he has run over the past 12 years. The main factor in his success has been the Turkish economy. Under Erdoğan, Turkey has witnessed a veritable boom in sales of homes and automobiles. In 2002, fewer than 200,000 homes were built in Turkey; that number has now reached 600,000, an increase of 300%. Similarly, in 2002, annual automobile sales stood at 91,000; by 2013, they had reached 665,000. In a sense, Erdoğan is making good on capitalism’s promise of “a house and a car for every family.” However, this success has come at a high cost. In order to purchase all these cars and houses, Turkish families have become heavily indebted to banks, with consumer credit increasing 125-fold over the past 12 years. In recent months, there have been reports that the construction bubble has started to burst – an ominous sign for the Turkish economy.

The greatest beneficiaries from these developments have been the wealthy, capital-owning classes who control the production sector. Crony capitalism has flourished in Erdoğan’s Turkey. Conglomerates with ties to the ruling party have made huge profits from the frenzied construction of new homes and roads, and from the privatization of education and the health sector. In the past few years, these conglomerates have purchased television channels and newspapers, preventing the media from criticizing the ruling party or reporting on corruption investigations and street protests. As a result, the media did not even address the government’s responsibility for the deaths of 301 miners in the Soma coal mine in May, one of the deadliest workplace accidents since the Industrial Revolution.

Nor is there any discussion in the Turkish media of the 49 Turkish diplomats held hostage by ISIS. Rather than debating serious issues which concern society, the media is painting a rosy picture of present-day Turkey; this goes a long way towards explaining Erdoğan’s success in the elections. An analogy made by a friend of mine in marketing may shed some light on the workings of Erdoğan’s New Turkey: “Give me the most ordinary detergent on the market. Provide me with an unlimited advertising budget and the chance to disparage my competitors in my ads, but don’t allow them to market their own brands. Before long, I guarantee that my detergent will have 80% of the market share.” Careful management of how the ruling party is perceived has kept Erdoğan’s share of the vote within the 45%-50% range, despite his country’s domestic and foreign problems. However, as time passes, Turkey’s problems are becoming too urgent for such “perception management” to sweep under the rug.

*Behlul Ozkan is an Assistant Professor at Marmara University, Istanbul. He is the author of the book From the Abode of Islam to the Turkish Vatan published by Yale University Press in 2012.

Erdogan’s Winning Hand (AlJazeera)

Unprecedented prosperity makes AKP seemingly unbeatable, but concerns over ‘Putinisation’ of Turkish politics linger.

A platform of unprecedented economic growth and greater regional influence should propel the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a third term in parliamentary elections on June 12.

But an intense campaign, fought by 15 parties of which only three could end up in parliament, has been darkened by accusations over the jailing of hundreds of government opponents allegedly linked to a secret nationalist conspiracy, and concerns that the country could be drifting towards Kremlin-style authoritarian rule.

Erdogan’s AKP, in power since 2002, is expected to win a third consecutive term with upwards of 40 per cent of the vote, according to opinion polls, and form a majority government with around 300 MPs out of 550.

Whereas European countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain are struggling with debt crises and sluggish economies, in 2010 Turkey became the fastest growing economy in Europe with 8.9 per cent GDP growth. Since 2002, GDP per capita tripled from $3,500 to $10,079. This economic achievement has allowed Ankara to follow a more assertive foreign policy.

Under AKP rule, Turkey’s foreign policy, based on foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s strategy of “zero problems with neighbours”, sought to establish improved diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with all neighbouring countries.

Ankara initiated visa-free travel with countries in the region from Russia to Libya, and increased trade with its neighbours from $5 billion in 2002 to $16 billion in 2010. During the ‘Arab Spring’, Turkey has been a source of inspiration for the masses in the Middle East due to its political stability and democracy. But there is also a dark side to this rosy picture.

Over the past four years, several hundred journalists, academics, politicians and military officers have been jailed as part of an investigation dubbed ‘Ergenekon’, allegedly a secret secular nationalist organisation with the objective of toppling the AKP government.

Whereas Erdogan portrays the investigation as a crucial step in eliminating the military’s traditional tutelage over Turkish democracy, opposition parties accuse the AKP government of manipulating Ergenekon to silence opposition in politics and the media.

At present, 57 journalists are in prison in Turkey and, according to international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranks 138th among 178 countries, only two steps above Russia. Some of the arrested suspects have been in jail for years without charge, raising concerns about the emergence of civil authoritarianism and the ‘Putinisation’ of Turkey.

One of the latest issues that has further polarised relations between the government and the opposition is the resignation of 10 senior politicians of the Turkish nationalist party, the MHP, as a result of the release of videos portraying them engaging in extramarital affairs.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

According to the opposition, this alleged smear campaign and illegal tapings required long-term planning and sophisticated surveillance that could only have been orchestrated by the government’s security and intelligence services.

The leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahceli, pointed the finger at the religious Gulen movement, whose followers support the AKP government and are believed to dominate the police forces.

According to recent polls, the MHP’s share of the vote is around 13 per cent. The impact of the sex scandal could therefore be decisive on June 12 if the party slips below the 10 per cent threshold for a party to enter parliament – the highest in Europe.

In that eventuality, the MHP would find itself out of parliament and most of its 72 seats would be absorbed by the AKP. That would allow Erdogan to form the super-majority required to change the constitution and transform the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential republic.

Last year, the leader of the main opposition party, Deniz Baykal, also resigned after a video was released showing him in an affair with a female member of parliament from his party. That sex scandal brought Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was born in the reclusive eastern Anatolian city of Tunceli, populated by Kurds and Alevis, into the leadership of the secularist and nationalist CHP, which was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

During the past year, Kilicdaroglu purged hardline Kemalists from the party and moved the CHP from a reactionary political line defending secularism against the “growing Islamic threat” of the AKP to a more liberal stance. Kilicdaroglu promised to end the suppression of the press and grant more political and cultural rights to the Kurds.

Moreover, by pledging a family insurance scheme that would distribute $350 per month to low income families, the CHP aimed to increase its electoral appeal. The CHP’s election slogan of “Turkey will breathe freely” reflects the fundamental change introduced by Kilicdaroglu’s leadership. The CHP is expected to win 30 per cent of the votes, signalling almost a 50 per cent increase on its 21 per cent share of the vote in 2007.

The fourth important political actor is the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The BDP has declared its support for 61 candidates – each standing as an independent to circumvent the 10 per cent party threshold – and is expecting to have at least 30 of them elected to parliament.

The opening of Turkey’s first state-run Kurdish television and mushrooming private Kurdish television and radio reveal a more relaxed environment for Kurds compared to the repressive years of the 1990s. However, there are still numerous thorny issues such as the demand to move PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in custody since 1999, from prison to house arrest, the question of greater autonomy for the Kurdish region, and education in the Kurdish language.

Turkish politics will be probably more polarised and divisions between political parties will deepen in the run-up to Sunday’s vote. This confrontational political environment could be the major obstacle in forming the consensus needed in order to establish a new constitution after the election that would address the central issues of minority rights, freedom of the press, religious reforms, and civil-military relations.

Kurds could revolt if grievances aren’t fixed (Al Jazeera)

Turkey’s leaders must face up to Kurdish concerns, or risk provoking Middle East-inspired civil unrest.

In 1923, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey from the ashes of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire, there were two significant groups that opposed the formation of a secular nation state: Islamists and Kurds.

Whereas Islamists supported the continuation of sharia law and the sultanate and were against the westernisation of society and politics, Kurds realised that there was no place for their ethnic and cultural rights in the newly established Turkish nation state.

Kemal’s right-hand man, Ismet Inonu, made a speech in 1925 in which he summarised the Turkification campaign aimed at other ethnic groups: “As Turks are in the majority, other groups do not have any power. Our mission is to Turkify non-Turkish groups in the Turkish homeland. We are going to eradicate groups who oppose Turks and Turkishness.”

Indeed, Turkish nationalism prompted the reaction of Kurds, who revolted numerous times during the early republican period against the assimilation campaign and each time were harshly suppressed by the Turkish military.

Language banned

Until the 1980s, Turkey’s political establishment had refused to recognise the existence of Kurds and instead used the derogatory term “mountain Turks”. The Kurdish language was banned in education, media and in parliament.

However, this policy of ignoring the existence of a distinct Kurdish identity started to be challenged by the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), founded by Abdullah Ocalan in the late 1970s.

The PKK, classified as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, waged an armed campaign against the Turkish state in southeast Turkey that aimed at independence for the Kurds. Compared with ETA in Spain and the IRA in Northern Ireland, whose armed campaigns killed hundreds respectively, the PKK’s armed insurgency was bloodier and the death toll has reached more than 40,000 people since 1984.

The intensity of the conflict decreased significantly after 1999, when Ocalan was captured. He has since been serving a life term. Since then the PKK leader has prioritised the political struggle rather than the armed one, renounced separatism, and announced that the Kurdish problem would only be solved through the autonomy of Kurds in “a democratic republic”.

However the Turkish political establishment, mainly the military and judiciary, considered the recognition of Kurdish rights as a first step that would lead to the collapse of Turkey and ultimately independence of the Kurds. In the last two decades the Constitutional Court banned four Kurdish parties because of links with the PKK.

Enter Erdogan

The deadlock between the PKK and the Turkish state continued until the rise to power of Erdogan – an outsider to Turkey’s ruling elite – in 2002. This changed the political balance significantly. The AKP (Justice and Development Party), having originated in the Islamist movement, was accused by the secular-nationalist establishment of pursuing a secret Islamic agenda.

The clash between the two camps peaked in 2008 when the AKP narrowly escaped being banned by the constitutional court for alleged anti-secular activity.

Erdogan’s distance from the Kemalist establishment has made the AKP acceptable to many Kurds.  He became the first Turkish prime minister who recognised the Kurdish problem as a problem of ethnic identity rather than economic backwardness.

In 2005, in a ground-breaking way, Erdogan acknowledged that “the state made mistakes about the Kurdish issue”. The AKP’s reformist approach had a deep impact on Kurds in the 2007 general election. In the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern part of Turkey, the AKP surpassed the Kurdish Party and doubled its vote from 26 per cent to 53 per cent.

Indeed, with its Islamist-conservative discourse, the AKP succeeded in overcoming the conflict between Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms and became the party of all people in Turkey from different ethnic backgrounds.

In 2009, in an effort to find a lasting settlement, Erdogan launched “the Kurdish opening”: improving cultural rights for Kurds, launching the first state television channel in Kurdish language, and encouraging PKK fighters to lay down their arms and return from the mountains.

‘Treacherous project’

When 34 PKK members returned to Turkey from the mountains of northern Iraq dressed in guerrilla outfits and joined “victory celebrations” at mass rallies in October 2009, the two main opposition parties, the secularist CHP (Republican People’s Party) and nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), branded the “Kurdish opening” a “treacherous project”, declared that AKP was negotiating with the “enemy” and would pay the price for its “treason”.

Soon the rapprochement with the Kurdish side stopped and the PKK resumed fighting. Erdogan’s biggest concern was the upcoming general elections and the possible loss of votes from those inflamed by the nationalist campaign of the opposition.

To appease the growing Turkish nationalist reaction, the government arrested hundreds of Kurds, including politicians, and accused them of being the urban wing of the PKK.

The most crucial issue after the general election will be the writing of the first civil constitution that will mark a clear break from military tutelage, since the current constitution is a product of the military regime which came to power after the coup of September 1980.

During that process, the cultural and political rights of the Kurds will be fiercely debated by Kurdish and Turkish nationalists, secularists and conservatives. According to recent polls Erdogan is expected to form a majority government and he has showed signs of stepping back from his previous reformist stance on the Kurdish problem.

During the election campaign, Erdogan put forward the socio-economic development of southeast Turkey and did not discuss the political reforms for Kurds. He said “there is no Kurdish issue but problems of the Kurdish people”.

Nevertheless, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) emphasised that the new constitution should recognise autonomy for Kurds and education in the Kurdish language. Moreover, Abdullah Ocalan, who retains his power over the Kurdish movement even from his jail cell, warned that “all hell will break loose” if fully-fledged negotiations for a settlement between himself and the Turkish government do not commence after the elections.

Erdogan’s nationalist tone in the election campaign aims to lure voters away from the opposition parties, and presumably will change after the election as the AKP will need the support of the Kurdish MPs to write a new constitution.

However, many Kurds consider Erdogan’s stance as a strategy to stall reforms demanded by Ocalan. If a new constitution fails to address Kurdish concerns, the PKK might renew its struggle, not only through an armed campaign, as happened in the last two decades, but also through a campaign of civil disobedience, which has become very popular in the Middle East in the recent months.

The end of an era in Turkish politics (Al Jazeera)

Recent resignations by Turkish military generals may mark a change in the military’s historic role in politics.

Anyone reading about the politics and history of Turkey is likely to be struck by the role played by the Turkish military. The Republic was established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other soldier-statesmen. Since then the military establishment has positioned itself above civilians and acted as the guardian of the newly created Turkish state.

Until the end of the 1980s, six of the first seven presidents of Turkey were generals that had allowed the military to supervise politicians and intervene in politics whenever it was “necessary”. The military had staged four coups – in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 – imposing its rule by overthrowing elected governments and devised constitutions in order to guide politics. The Turkish military elite legitimised its privileged status in politics by basing the duty of the military on two crucial premises: Westernisation and defending the republic against external and internal “enemies”.

The military has been the staunchest supporter of Ataturk’s ideal: a modern, secular and advanced nation-state. The aim of the Kemalist Revolution was to elevate the Turkish society to the level of advanced Western civilisation, and ambitious reforms transformed traditional cultural, legal, and educational institutions. This was revolutionary in that the nation was disassociated from Islam and God as the community of believers and was anchored to the Turkish state and homeland. The military was committed to guard these top-down reforms and the secular nation-state, and any opposition attempt against them had been eliminated.

Protection against communisim

After the Second World War, establishing a democratic system became an indispensable part of this ideal since Turkey dedicated itself to enter into the “Free World” against the communist bloc. Under the pressure of the West, Turkey’s political regime was changed to a multi-party system with implementation of free and fair elections. Nevertheless, the military-bureaucratic establishment argued that European democracies cannot set the example for Ankara.

Turkey, facing the “communist threat” and “Soviet expansionism”, should be a “special democracy.” According to this rationale, the country is located in a vulnerable region surrounded by internal and external “enemies” next to the Soviet Union, and therefore the military should have a very special role defined by the Turkey’s unique geopolitics. This rationale was internalised by civilians and significantly justified the military’s authoritarian political supremacy and its refusal to reform Turkey’s “special democracy.”

In line with other Mediterranean countries in the Western bloc including Spain, Portugal, and Greece, the Cold War’s dichotomous international structure allowed Turkish generals to contain the competition over politics by restricting comprehensive democratic participation. Left-wing opposition and intellectuals, demanding a more egalitarian political and economic system, were accused of working as the fifth column of communism in Turkey and were labelled as traitors.

Towards the end of the Cold War, whereas the above-mentioned Mediterranean countries ended the military tutelage over politics and restored the liberal parliamentary democracy, the Turkish military stalled further democratisation and preserved its hegemony even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

During the 1990s political Islam and Kurdish separatism replaced the “communist danger” and were identified as the main threats for the country’s security. The military, the self-appointed “guardian of the republic”, considered the fight against the PKK and political Islam as necessary duties to defend Turkish nationalism and secularism, the two main pillars of Kemalism.

Recent times

In the past decade, the civil-military balance has changed dramatically as a result of economic and political liberalisation, reinforced by the developing relations between Turkey and the European Union, which, in 1999, opened Ankara’s long path towards full membership. The disagreement between pro-EU actors and parties, and the military elite crystallised over the adoption of international societal norms, such as cultural pluralism and linguistic rights for ethnic groups, as well as the rejection of the traditional national security state. AKP’s rise to power in 2002 started the process of de-politicisation of the military that was required for Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The recent resignations of Turkey’s Chief of General Staff, as well as the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air force at the protest of the jailing of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against the ruling AKP, revealed the end of the privileged position of the military in Turkish politics. For the first time in Turkish history, top military commanders decided to quit their positions rather than seizing power and deposing the elected government. This unprecedented development symbolises the end of the military’s supremacy and the beginning of a new era, in which Ataturk’s famous motto written on the wall of the Turkish parliament is truly cemented 88 years after the establishment of the republic; “sovereignty belongs without reservation or condition to the nation”.

Europeanisation of the Balkans? (Al Jazeera)

The historic Europeanisation of the Balkans has resulted in the development of a renewed political landscape.

Leon Trotsky, the most prominent figure of the Russian Revolution of 1917 after Lenin, was sent to cover the Balkan War as a war correspondent by the Russian newspaper Kievskaya Misl. In the Fall of 1912, Trotsky entered the areas populated by Muslims after the retreat of the Ottoman armies and was shocked by the massacres:

“[T]he komitadjis (Bulgarian/Serbian rebels) began their work the moment the sky grew dark. They broke into Turkish and Albanian homes and did the same thing, time and again: Stole and slaughtered. Skopje has 60,000 inhabitants, half of whom are Albanians and Turks. Some of them had fled, but most of there were still there. And they were now victims to the nightly bloodbaths.”

While Trotsky had expected to report the victories of the Slav armies, after seeing the brutal massacres he decided to return to Russia: “I had no strength to endure the atmosphere any longer; I couldn’t breathe. My political interest and enormous moral curiosity to see what was going on was gone, vanished. All that remained was the wish to get away as fast as possible.”

The forgotten frontier: The Balkans

The tragedy and sufferings experienced by the Muslims during the Balkan Wars was not an exception in the last two centuries. In the course of the century between the Greek War of Independence and World War I (1821-1918), 5.5 million Ottoman Muslims lost their lives and another 5 million became refugees.

Although this tragedy was Europe’s largest loss of life and emigration since the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, it has been largely disregarded by European press and intellectuals.

In European orientalist literature, the Balkans were regarded as the irrational and violent “other” under Ottoman rule, and often contrasted with the peaceful and democratic West. Orientalists invented the term Balkanisation to describe the division of a state into smaller states that are hostile towards each other.

Balkanisation is also used pejoratively as a synonym of the primitive, the backwards and the barbarian. During the last two decades, the flowing number of immigrants and the multicultural environment in European metropolises have been labeled as the ‘Balkanisation’ of Europe.

On the other hand, another process, the Europeanisation of the Balkans generated great human tragedies for Balkan societies. What happened during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire was the replacement of the imperial paradigm that encouraged cultural heterogeneity and tolerance with the new European paradigm of the nation-state.

Indeed, the importation of European type of nationalism to the Balkans necessitated the transformation of the heterogeneous imperial space inhabited different ethnic and religious groups into a homogenous national homeland and therefore the ethnic-cleansing of “unwanted” minorities.

As a result of this Europeanisation of the Balkans, the percentage of Muslims in the region decreased from 43 per cent to 12 per cent during the past 150 years. Although some of the 8 million Muslims in the Balkans live in their independent states in Bosnia, Albania and Kosova today, Muslim minorities in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia still face discriminatory policies and persecution.

The Balkan nation-states have considered their Muslim minorities as the ‘backward’ and ‘uncivilised’ legacies of the despised Ottoman past. Hence, ruling elites have sought to either assimilate these ‘alien’ and ‘dangerous’ elements, or to get rid of them by forcing a mass exodus to Turkey.

Muslims of Bulgaria: The other or one of us?

Muslims in Bulgaria, composed of Turks, Pomaks (Bulgarian speaking Muslims) and Muslim Romanies (Muslim Gypsies) have been subjected to an assimilation campaign in the past five decades which has been termed as a modernising “regenerative process” by the Bulgarian state. During the 1980s, the communist regime forced Muslims to abandon their religion, traditions, language, and even their names.

With the collapse of communism and the emergence of democracy, Muslims gained their cultural, political and education rights. They were represented by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which is the third largest party in the Parliament, holding 37 seats out of 240. Especially in the 2000s, the MRF became a coalition partner in different governments and played an important role in the reconciliation of different ethnic and religious groups.

In recent years however, Bulgaria experienced the rise chauvinistic nationalism of ATAKA (‘attack’) Party, similar to such groups in Austria and France which employ offensive stances against minorities.

ATAKA’s leader Volen Siderov, who gained popularity on account of his television talk show, announced that his party’s nationalism was aimed at ‘the Turkification of Bulgaria’. Moreover, Siderov criticised the coalition governments including the MRF and emphasised that ATAKA “would not allow the Prime Minister to put fezzes (Ottoman hat) back on Bulgarian heads.”

Recently, a traffic accident in a small Bulgarian town where Bulgarians and Roma live together caused violent protests in major cities that targeted minorities. Protesters said that “we are marching against all parasite communities”, and carried banners of “Gypsy terror: How long will it take, how long we will be quiet!”

ATAKA’s leader, Siderov, who is running in the presidential elections scheduled for October 23, participated in the protests rallies and called the dismantlement of “Gypsy ghettos” and the formation of militias. The recent events revealed that the manipulation of the fragile political balance could have disastrous results for Bulgaria.

Bulgaria and the EU should not let the chauvinist parties like ATAKA free to incite ethnic and religious hatred that would be harmful for minorities.