Several commentators in the Turkish press express deep concern over the direction of the country. They warn that what they describe as Prime Minister Erdoğan’s polarizing rhetoric and ideological militancy since the Gezi protests is deepening the fault lines in society, not least the sectarian fault line. Special attention is being paid by many commentators to the effects that Turkey’s pro-Sunni regime change policy in Syria is having on the cohesion of society. They point out that the fabric of society is fraying, as the minority Alevis are increasingly displaying signs of being dangerously estranged from the majority Sunnis and from what they perceive as a Sunni conservative state that discriminate against them.
The crisis in Syria is causing alarm among Turkish commentators, many of whom are warning that a military strike by the United States risks setting off a regional conflagration that could also draw in Turkey. The point is also made that Turkey’s call for regime change in Syria in the name of “moral” values rings somewhat hollow in light of the fact that Turkey used to support Bashar al-Assad in the name of “realpolitik”. The radicalization of the AKP and especially of Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to be a cause for puzzlement, with several commentators trying to make sense of the drift of Erdoğan away from the center-right. Murat Belge, a leading liberal intellectual, writes that he has a hard time understanding the strategic rationale of the move from the center right. Taha Akyol, an influential conservative columnist and a longtime supporter of the ruling party, points to the dangers that prime minister is courting, and advises the government to adopt a tolerant, moderate and inclusive stance in order to defuse the political and ethnic polarization that is dangerously building up in society, ultimately putting the governability of the country at risk.
The foreign policy of the Turkish government is subjected to severe criticism by several commentators. The government is accused of having embroiled Turkey in conflicts with just about everyone in the Middle East as well as with its Western allies. Hasan Cemal writes that he cannot recall any other period when Turkey was this isolated and he finds Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt particularly appalling. Ertuğrul Özkök asks who authorized Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to commit Turkey to war against Syria, pointing out that the issue has not yet been the object of any parliamentary deliberation. İhsan Dağı argues that Turkey has lost all leverage since it abandoned its “zero problems with neighbors” policy and instead set out to bring about regime change in other countries, which he points out exposes Turkey to retaliations in a similar vein. Another major topic is the power struggle that now rages in the open between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Fethullah Gülen movement. Ali Bayramoğlu notes that the tripartite alliance that sustained the power of the ruling party has now definitely broken up, and that the Gülen “cemaat” has become an open political challenger.
The Taksim/Gezi Park protests, and their violent dispersal by the police in May-June, continue to cast a deep shadow over the political life in Turkey, and the political commentaries reflect this fact. Notably, the protests and their handling by the AKP government has provided new ammunition in the ongoing power struggle between the ruling AKP and the movement of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, deepening their mutual distrust. Mehmet Baransu in the daily Taraf reports that many in the leadership of the AKP think that the Gülen movement was behind the Gezi protests. Meanwhile, it is noted that the conservative business community in Anatolia, which has been instrumental in bringing the AKP to power, is concerned that the confrontational policies of the government – at home and abroad -- are going to harm the stability and economic development of Turkey. Commenting the verdicts in the Ergenekon trial, Murat Belge, a leading liberal intellectual, expresses doubts that the trial has touched anything but the “tip of the iceberg”, while Fuat Keyman, another liberal commentator, speculates that Prime Minister Erdoğan must in fact be deeply troubled by the verdicts that contribute to the perception abroad that democracy in Turkey is in retreat.
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.