Wednesday, 10 September 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The question that continues to preoccupy many commentators in the Turkish press is the direction that President Erdoğan is taking Turkey. Baskın Oran, a leading political scientist and pundit, drew a historical parallel to the epochs of Atatürk and the sultan Abdülhamid II, noting that Erdoğan is copying Atatürk in his methods, while copying Abdülhamid II ideologically. Meanwhile, the statement that General Necdet Özel, the Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish military, made during the official state reception on August 30 that the military is held in the dark about the peace negotiations between the government and the Kurdish movement and that the military is going to react if its “red lines” are crossed, was welcomed in a comment in the daily Zaman. It was noted that the words of the military deserves to be listened to and that a solution that lacks the support of the armed forces does not stand any chance of success.



Ergun Babahan on the t24 news site argues that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is poised to be a most pliant partner of U.S. president Barack Obama in his fight against the Islamic State (IS). Erdoğan has lost his standing on the international stage. Erdoğan who once used to be seen as standing for democracy, development and peace has now become synonymous with corruption, repression and violence in Western capitals, starting with Washington.  He is a leader who has met democratic, civilian reactions with a repression that resulted in the deaths of several youth and with several others being blinded; he is a politician who sees every civilian protest as a coup attempt and who seeks to frighten society into submission. Such a leader can have no standing in the Western world. He has said it himself, that the American president Obama has not been answering his phone calls for months. For that reason, he was so extremely happy to be together with the Western leaders from whose company he had been excluded, when he went to the NATO summit in Wales. Every photograph showed a leader who was flying of happiness at being admitted to same table as Obama. Erdoğan is in a difficult spot: if you on the one hand want to side with the West but at the same time are pursuing Sunni Islamist policies in the region; if your country has become the base of terrorists, if the trucks loaded with arms that you have been sending to these groups have been stopped by officials and you’ve been caught committing a crime, then your task is even more difficult.  You’re bound to burn with a desire to return to old days… And there is only one way to do this, and that’s to offer concessions… That’s why Erdoğan right now is the best partner Obama could ask for in Turkey. A politician who is so eager to be re-admitted to the club, who knows what you know about him, is an ideal partner, because he will not let you down, he will do whatever you tell him to do.



Baskın Oran in Agos notes that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has vowed that the “Restoration is going to continue uninterrupted.” This means a “return to the old regime.” But what kind of an old regime is it that is going to be restored? History books in the future are going to describe it as an amalgam, as a combination of two failed experiences: What is being announced is a combination of the authoritarian methods of Kemalism and ideologically the Islamism of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II. We should remember what Karl Marx once noted: Every major historical event and historical personality makes two appearances, first as a tragedy and then as a farce. In his methods, Erdoğan copies Atatürk. But Atatürk represented the authoritarianism of a minority; Erdoğan meanwhile represents the authoritarianism of the majority. And compared to the latter, the former is much less threatening. As to the ideological model that the AKP seeks to copy, comedy is the word that comes to mind. AKP sees Islamism as a glue that’s supposedly going to hold the country together. Have you ever heard of a developed country that’s held together by religion? Religion is the ideological glue of agrarian societies. If the AKP was successful until 2010, it was not because of its Islamism, but because it opposed importing the Kemalism of the 1930s to the 21st century, and military tutelage. The Islamism of Abdülhamid enjoyed two advantages: First, the Kurds were rallied behind it, as they wanted to crush the Armenians, and second, the Muslim refugees from the Caucasus and the Balkans were eager to exact revenge, punishing the Christians in Anatolia for what they had endured at the hands of the Christians in their home countries. Unlike Erdoğan, Abdülhamid didn’t have to impose Islamism from above; there was already a societal acceptance for it. Now however, there are neither any Christians left to purge and loot, nor any call from the Muslims for Islamist policies. In fact, the situation now is the opposite. The Kurds, for one, now have an ethnic consciousness, and with the Armenians gone, there are instead many things that are bound to put them off from Islam, as Islamic terror organizations. Just as the excesses of Kemalism created Erdoğan, so Erdoğan’s excesses will bring democracy. Just as a more democratic Turkey came into being after the conservative, authoritarian Prime Minister Menderes.



Amberin Zaman in Taraf notes that Hakan Fidan, the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) since 2010 has been regularly described as an Iranian agent in the media of the fraternity of Fethullah Gülen, as well as in Israeli and American press. But how can it be that Hakan Fidan is an Iranian agent when he is held to be as one of the chief architects of the Syrian policy of Turkey which has turned Iran and Turkey into enemies? From an ideological viewpoint, we can at most arrive at the conclusion that Fidan is an enemy of Israel. The question that begs for an answer is why there is such an eagerness to explain every sin of the government with its supposed love for Iran. What is this Iranian obsession of the Gülen movement about? Does it have a rational explanation? Is for instance the logic behind it something like this? “In order to expand globally you need to prove that you are not a radical Islamist, to be accepted by America, and this requires that you show that you are not anti-Israeli, indeed that you are pro-Israeli, and the short cut for this is to take up an anti-Iranian position. This is the “benevolent” interpretation. But there is also another possibility: Is the Gülen fraternity in essence driven by enmity toward the Shiites? Or put another way, is the Gülen fraternity acting with sectarian impulses?



Nuriye Akman in Zaman comments on the statements that General Necdet Özel, the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, made during the official August 30 reception regarding the Kurdish issue. Özel noted that the military has not been involved in the peace process with the PKK, and he said that “if our red lines are crossed, we’ll act accordingly.” If these words had not been uttered at a reception, but instead had been posted on the website of the General staff or had been pronounced at a press conference, they would have sent tremors and occasioned comments that military tutelage was being resurrected. Alright, we are not saying that we should return to those days, but neither can the views of the armed forces be ignored. Are we now going to throw ourselves to another extreme, saying the “politicians are always right, ant the military is always wrong?” Is that what they call New Turkey? To expect that a solution to which the army has not acquiesced is going to succeed is nothing but to daydream.




Soner Yalçın in Sözcü questions the assertion of General Necdet Özel that the military knows nothing about the “road map” of the peace process with the Kurds. Two questions come to my mind: One, who is it that leaks the records of the talks at Imrali (the prison island where Abdullah Öcalan is held), and second, is it not the military that guards Öcalan at Imrali? So doesn’t the military listen in on what is said there?

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Research Article Halil Karaveli "Turkey's Authoritarian Legacy"Cairo Review of Global Affairs, January 2, 2018


The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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