Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What The Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

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.



Cengiz Çandar in Radikal notes that Roger Cohen in the New York Times has written that “in Syria the two inextricable strands of U.S. foreign policy — values and realpolitik — have come together.” That is exactly Turkey’s trouble.  In the name of “values” Turkey embraced the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, abandoning “realpolitik” all together. However, up until one and a half year ago, Turkey was enjoying a “honeymoon” with Bashar al-Assad, who was not any different back then than what he is today, precisely because of “realpolitik” considerations. At a time when the Alawite sectarian dictatorship had the blood of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon on its hands, and was facing the prospect of being isolated by the Western world, the same government that rules Turkey today was coming to his rescue. There is of course nothing wrong with opposing a Syrian regime whose tyranny has cost one hundred thousand lives; that is exactly where “values” should come into play. But if you choose a path that deprives you of every possibility of leveraging the regime, and if on top of that forces associated with the al-Qaeda such as the Nusra Front use Turkey’s territory to fight the regime, then this will adversely affect relations with the U.S., the West as well as with Russia, and Turkey will in consequence matter less on the regional and international stage.



İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that that the war in Syria will have no winners. After this hour, neither Assad nor the opposition can win, and neither can Turkey and other countries that are contemplating an intervention win. And as long as there is no peace in Syria, neither will there be any peace in the Middle East; so, we will have to wait for a long time. Turkey calls for an intervention. It wants to change the Assad regime. Meanwhile, the limited intervention that the United States is preparing for will weaken the Syrian regime in military terms, but it will bolster it in political terms. Iran and Hezbollah are going to appropriate the cause of Syria in even stronger terms. As a consequence, Iran’s new, “moderate” president Rouhani will have surrendered to the radicals from start. And what’s more, an intervention is going to rouse Arab nationalism in reaction. It is not unlikely that the violence of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah is going to reach Turkey as well. Unfortunately, the whole of Turkey and especially its south is open for major terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Only recently, 177 kg of explosives were discovered; and what about the explosives that have gone undiscovered? The possibility of a direct war cannot be discounted either; if Turkey is not satisfied with what a limited international intervention achieves or if it is attacked directly from Syria, it may very well go to war. We all share the responsibility for what has happened and for what is going to happen; everyone, Turkey, Assad, the opposition, the countries in the region and the West should face up to and recognize what mad dreams, strategic games and unprincipled career considerations have brought on – the destruction of a country. We all share the guilt. Not only Syria, but we have all lost.



Murat Belge in Taraf notes that Tayyip Erdoğan has changed after the Gezi protests in June. But it is not correct to say that Erdoğan has changed because of the protests; the Gezi protests were in fact a protest against Erdoğan’s ideological authoritarianism, which preceded them. Since 2002, the AKP has been successful because a lot of people who didn’t agree with every aspect of what the party stood for, nonetheless cast their votes for it. At first with some trepidation, because there was no better alternative, and with time, with increased confidence as the AKP continued to deliver on its promises. The question is if these people – broadly speaking the center-right – agree with what Erdoğan is saying now, and also if they take a benevolent view of the societal polarization that the insistence on this radical stance is giving rise to? From the perspective of the tradition of Turkey’ center-right – whose strongest ideological stance is, I believe, pragmatism – the answer to these questions is surely “no”. In his new outfit, Erdoğan is responding to the demands of the most militant minded, of those segments who want to chant slogans on the streets. I am not privy to the reasons, but I do have great difficulty in understanding this. But this choice can open for dire consequences for not only the AKP but for Turkey as well.



Taha Akyol in Hürriyet notes that increasingly, the question is being asked where the AK Party is headed. In sociological terms, the AK Party, which has received 50 percent of the votes, should be designated as being center right. However, there is now a discussion on whether the policies that it is pursuing point toward a radicalization. The rift that has opened in recent years between the AK Party and the liberals and the “cemaat” (the Fethullah Gülen movement), the allegations of growing authoritarianism, the hard-line bent and anger of the rhetoric of the spokesmen of the party, the problems with the freedom of the press, all these issues fuel the discussion, not only among intellectuals; there is growing tension and polarization in society as well. The percentage of those who state that they would never consider voting for the AK Party had increased from 27 percent in 2011 to 34 percent in February 2013. Meanwhile, 21 percent of the AK Party supporters say that they would consider voting for another party; that percentage is around 8-10 percent. That means that if there were an alternative, the AK Party could make significant losses. Erdoğan has removed that threat by swallowing the Democrat party (DP) and Has Party. I don’t think that the AK Party is going to suffer electorally in the next election. However, the government must recognize that being to govern society is as important as getting votes. And in our country, which is plagued by ethnic and political polarization, the governability of society is seriously at risk. The government needs to take the charges of radicalization and authoritarianism seriously and be tolerant, moderate and inclusive in order to defuse tensions.



Erdem Yörük on the t24 news site notes that after the Gezi protests, the AKP and especially Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has adopted an extremely harsh and uncompromising stance, and writes that this reflects a rational political strategy. By accusing, demeaning, criminalizing and most importantly by depicting the Gezi protesters as an “elite” the AKP has succeeded in consolidating its own political base. The tactic of the AKP is not least to turn the cleavage between its own base and the Gezi protesters into one of class. What the AKP is saying is that the protesters represent an elite, while the AKP’s supporters are the real people. The AKP claims to represent the working class and other poor strata and lower income groups, while the Gezi protesters represent the middle and over classes. Just as the binding glue of the disparate Gezi protesters is the AKP, the common enemy, so what binds the poor masses to the AKP is the image of the affluent classes that protested at Gezi. Even though the AKP is in fact a bourgeois party, it has nonetheless succeeded in portraying itself as the party of the poor and the historically downtrodden, and has in the process succeeded in getting the support of almost all segments of society. It is an undeniable fact that the Gezi protesters hailed from the more educated middle class; 56 percent of those that had gathered in the park held university and higher degrees, a percentage that is 12 percent in the population as a whole.  What the Gezi movement needs to do is to broaden its class base. The protests were in fact not only a middle class phenomenon, as especially Alevis and Kurds from the poor urban suburbs also took part. Now, the fact that Turkish middle classes for the very first time took to the barricades against the government was a democratic dream come true; that represents a huge leap in Turkey’s struggle for democratization. But in order to really accomplish a democratic and egalitarian change in Turkey, workers, peasants and the poor must also be included in what must be transformed into a lasting political movement. Otherwise, we should not be surprised if the AKP despite everything manages to retain its mass support.


Read 5098 times Last modified on Friday, 27 September 2013

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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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