Turkey’s permanent state of crisis


Date posted: December 21, 2016

Soner Cagaptay

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most powerful person in Turkey in almost a century, rivaled only by Ataturk — the secular founder of the republic. Erdogan first assumed power as prime minister in 2003, and in 2014 he won elections to become president. After already having controlled Turkey for almost 14 years, Erdogan now wants to amend the Turkish constitution so that he can become head of state, head of government and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), amassing as much power as Ataturk once held.

Ataturk, who liberated Turkey at the end of World War I and then established a republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, ran Turkey with an iron grip between 1923 and 1938. A Jacobin politician, Ataturk shaped Turkey in his image as a secular Western society. Importantly, Ataturk did not eliminate religion. Rather, he created a secularist system that essentially controlled religion and marginalized citizens who defined their identity first and foremost through religion.

Erdogan has dismantled Ataturk’s secularism in just over a decade and has done so with little mercy for his opponents. He has flooded the country’s political and education systems with rigidly conservative Islam. Following changes to Turkey’s secular education system, a growing number of pupils have been forced to study in publicly funded Islamic high schools. No one is spared — not even the grandson of Turkey’s chief rabbi. Students’ placements in Islamic schools are no longer by choice, but rather by state mandate.


By providing economic growth and bringing Turkish incomes within reach of Europe’s, Erdogan has come closer to Ataturk’s dream than any other Turkish leader. If he can temper his political agenda, Erdogan will go down in history as one of Turkey’s most memorable and influential leaders. If not, he will be remembered as the Turkish leader who drove his country into the ground. The choice is Erdogan’s to make.


Put in simple terms, just as Ataturk engineered Turkey’s sociopolitical landscape, Erdogan, too, wants to transform Turkey top-down, but as a deeply Muslim society. The end product is that Turkey discriminates against citizens who do not affix their identity to the conservative Sunni Islam that Erdogan practices.

However, Erdogan has a problem: Whereas Ataturk came to power as a military general, Erdogan has a democratic mandate to govern. Ataturk’s Turkey was rural and only 10 percent of the country was literate at the time, with most educated people supporting his agenda. Erdogan’s Turkey is 80 percent urban and nearly 100 percent literate, and many well-educated Turks oppose his agenda.

Even more important, whereas half of the country adores Erdogan, the other half loathes him. Erdogan has repeatedly won democratic elections through the AKP, but meanwhile has also built a cult of personality as an authoritarian underdog, portraying himself as a victim who is forced to crack down harshly on those whose “conspiracies” undermine his authority.

Erdogan has intimidated the media and the business community through politically motivated tax audits and by jailing dissidents, scholars and journalists, and his police have made a habit of cracking down on peaceful opposition rallies. Erdogan’s electoral strategy has escalated polarization in Turkey. His conservative base, constituting nearly half of the country, has zealously banded around him in his defense, but the other half of the country — including leftists, social democrats, liberals, secularists, Alevis (who are liberal Muslims) and Kurds — holds a profound resentment for him. Increasingly, there is little common ground between these constituencies.

Herein lies the permanent crisis into which Erdogan’s agenda has thrown Turkey. As Erdogan moves forward to make himself executive-style president, half of the country will never embrace his agenda. Even more worrisome in this crisis, the country is torn, with the pro- and anti-Erdogan blocs’ hatred for each other overshadowing their fear of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Each new PKK and Islamic State attack drives a wedge deeper into Turkish society. When the PKK attacks, the pro-government bloc blames the opposition; when the Islamic State attacks, the opposition blames the government. For instance, after a PKK attack on off-duty soldiers, which killed 14 people in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri, pro-government mobs firebombed branches of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) all over the country. Similarly, in the wake of the July 2015 Islamic State attack in Suruc, which killed 32 people, protesters blamed the government for failing to stop it. The Islamic State and the PKK, whose affiliate Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for the twin bombing in Istanbul on Dec. 10 that killed at least 29 people, will only further exploit this crisis.

The war in Syria will spill into Turkey, as evidenced by the politically charged assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey on Monday by an off-duty police officer who screamed “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” The country faces a toxic cocktail of political polarization and threats of violence that could erupt into a catastrophe. I have generally been an optimist about Turkey, but these days, I’m worried.

I believe that Erdogan wants to make Turkey a great power. Ataturk’s answer to loss of Ottoman greatness was authoritarian secularism: He made Turkey more European than Europe itself in order to cast his country as a resilient nation. Erdogan’s answer has been to use Islam and authoritarianism, a strategy that threatens to break modern Turkey.

Nevertheless, by providing economic growth and bringing Turkish incomes within reach of Europe’s, Erdogan has come closer to Ataturk’s dream than any other Turkish leader. If he can temper his political agenda, Erdogan will go down in history as one of Turkey’s most memorable and influential leaders. If not, he will be remembered as the Turkish leader who drove his country into the ground. The choice is Erdogan’s to make.


Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Follow @SonerCagaptay

Source: Washington Post , December 20, 2016


Related News

Gülen’s lawyers refute justice minister’s statement likening Gülen to Iran’s Khomeini

Lawyers for Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have said via Twitter that Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ should have provided proof to back up his statement that Gülen planned to return from the US to Turkey in a similar way to Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Erdoğan and AK Party deputies split over hate speech against Hizmet

Apparently, not every Justice and Development Party (AK Party) member and minister is on board with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s hateful and insulting rhetoric against the Hizmet movement and Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and his followers.

A destructive option for Turkey takes shape

It is a “parallel state,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims, and the movement gets help from its die-hard loyal media, as well as some leftist-secular circles and even from abroad. Such diversion on this issue helps him buy time, water down the content of accusations and divert attention.

Opposition lashes out at terror investigation against Kimse Yok Mu

Opposition deputies have shown strong reactions to a shocking investigation being conducted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against prominent charity organization Kimse Yok Mu on charges of terrorism, defining the probe as an “oddity of law.”

Islamic scholar Gülen sues interior minister over coup accusation

“Making efforts to set people up against one another and stir hostility by expressing those words is a behavior morally unacceptable,” lawyer Nurullah Albayrak said.

Gov’t effort to bring down bank would have international repercussions

Directing his criticism at the government, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy and parliamentary Justice Commission member Murat Başesgioğlu voiced out “If you attempt to bring down the bank, you will have negative repercussions in the international arena,” adding “No one will take you [government] serious in the international arena, if you attempt to bring down a bank.”

Latest News

Crimes Against Humanity in Erdogan’s Turkey

Exiled journalist warns of a genocide in the making in newly released book

Vague terrorism charge used to target supporters of the Gülen movement: UN special rapporteurs

ECtHR urges Albania not to deport Gülen follower to Turkey

Woman detained over links to Gülen movement after giving birth

Formerly Gülen-linked schools in Albania face growing gov’t pressure

Exclusive: Turkey, Kosovo violated fundamental rights of expelled teachers, UN body says

Sacked policeman’s grim death sparks debate on COVID-19 data in Turkish prisons

Dissidents of the Turkish government are living in fear in Canada

In Case You Missed It

US Professor Carter: Gülen struggles for peace against poverty and terrorism

Newly-released journo offers insider view at victims of Turkey Purge

Corruption or spies?

Developing Ghana; the role of Tudec and Galaxy İnt’l School

‘I like the vitality of the participation and the vitality of hospitality within the Hizmet Movement’

Turkey’s teachers, police officers join unskilled labor force after coup purge

Turkish miner, Lonmin to explore for gold, silver in Ireland

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News