Wednesday, 06 November 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The electrifying speech that CHP deputy Şafak Pavey delivered on the day that female deputies wearing the Islamic headscarf for the first time took their seats in the Turkish parliament was praised by several commentators. Hasan Cemal wrote that Pavey, while expressing her concern over the future of secularism in Turkey nonetheless did not question the right to wear the headscarf; that, Cemal wrote, demonstrated how the CHP should argue in order to broaden its electoral appeal and become an alternative to govern Turkey. The way that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu handled the issue, avoiding to create the crisis over the entrance of the headscarf in parliament that the AKP was expecting it would do, has similarly been praised by liberal commentators. As the Turkish republic celebrated its 90th anniversary on October 29, the defeat of the Kemalist project of social engineering at the hands of conservatism was held up as an instructive lesson that shows that the AKP’s project of social engineering  does not stand a chance to succeed, either. Yetvart Danzikyan in Agos pointed out that Turkey is in the grip of two faces of modernization: the authoritarian, cultural modernization that was engineered by the cadres of the republic and the religious/capitalist tradition of the right that devastates nature in the name of “civilization” and development.



Hasan Cemal on the t24 news site writes that the speech that CHP deputy Şafak Pavey gave in the parliament about the deputies that wear the headscarf was noterworthy and important for several reasons.  First of all, she was pleasant; she was very calm; she spoke without raising her voice; she did not insult and denigrate. In these respects, Şafak Pavey differed from the  spokesmen of the old, classical People’s Party. And neither was her speech a typical People’s Party speech about how secularism is being lost. Şafak Pavey did not object to the headscarf or to the headscarf-wearing deputies in the parliament, but at the same time she held the mentality that has brought the headscarf to the parliament to account regarding democracy and freedoms. If the CHP really aspires to come to government, and is prepared to get rid of the old and renew itself, broadening its electoral appeal, then the CHP strategists may find important clues in the speech of Şafak Pavey.



Deniz Zeyrek in Radikal writes that the wise stance that party leader Kılıçdaroğlu adopted with regard to a solution of the headscarf problem in spite of the resistance of the extreme secularist elements within the CHP was appreciated in many quarters, and at the same time deprived the AK Party of an important asset that the party has used before against the CHP in election rallies and that it was getting ready to put to use again. Those who were expecting the CHP to create a crisis over the headscarf unexpectedly found themselves in the wrong corner. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the U.S. has become very annoyed by the attitude of the AK Party government that states that “We are a regional power, and if need be we will challenge the U.S. as well”, and that the United States has increased the dialogue with the CHP. And lastly, we must note that Kılıçdaroğlu has handled the return of Mustafa Sarıgül, who was expelled from the CHP under spectacular forms, in a very professional manner. But the main problem that inflicts the CHP is still the tradition of factionalism. Sarıgül can be expected to become the target of the faction of former party leader Deniz Baykal and of deputy party leader Gürsel Tekin, who is Sarıgül’s rival for the candidacy for the mayorship of Istanbul. As the CHP leadership works hard to normalize the party despite big divisions in the party and the general polarization in Turkey, the tradition of factionalism remains the main obstacle for the party that will hinder from attaining its electoral goals.


Ergun Babahan on the t24 news site writes that the AK Party envisions a Turkey where more than half of the university graduates come from imam schools, where if possible all women cover their heads, and where alcohol has been banished from societal life. Yet, the story of the Republic itself is a story of the failure of social engineering. The founding ideology of the Republic was defeated by the conservatism that it saw as the biggest enemy. That defeat is another example that shows that the AK Party cannot possibly succeed with its project of social engineering. Of course, the Republic has had many flaws and faults. But at least we are not experiencing any of the ills that inflict the Islamic world today. That is its major accomplishment. Its major flaw, meanwhile, is that whoever rises to power assumes that he can govern at will, that he can remold conservatives, urban seculars, university students, all depending on ideological inclination; and everyone takes for granted that they can remold the Kurds as they wish. Life teaches us that none of this is possible.



Yetvart Danzikyan in Agos observes that settling accounts with the modernizing tradition of the republic is the foundation of the ideology of the AKP. Erdoğan and his party regularly take aim at the republican attempt to change the culture of the country. But there is something missing in this analysis. Modernity cannot be reduced to cultural hegemony, to cultural/political initiatives; the oppression exerted by authority does not manifest itself exclusively in this respect. Modernity also has an economic aspect.It is possible to apply a similar definition to economic/developmental modernism. That version of modernism is just as much above criticism, oppressive and hegemonic. What we see is an interesting particularity of Turkey’s modern history: While the engine of the political/cultural modernization has been the cadres of the Republic and its ideology, the force behind economic/developmental modernization is the religious-conservative current that has been represented by DP-AP-ANAP-AKP-line, the ruling conservative parties from the 1950 until today. It is this modernization mentality that we see at work at the devastation of forests, at the construction of the third bridge over the Bosphorus, that is probably going to lay waste to the environment building the third airport in Istanbul, that was planning the carnage of trees that ignited the Gezi protests, and most importantly, that presents itself with the Istanbul Channel project that expresses the will to rule over nature and that will cause irreparable damage to nature.One of the main priorities of the new era is going to be to counter this mentality, which as Erdoğan has put it, does not refrain from “demolishing mosques in order to build roads”, and which presents this as “civilization”. It is a difficult task that awaits concerned citizens: to fight against both modernization’s political/cultural face that still has the potential to be oppressive, and with its economic/developmental face that finds its expression in religious/capitalist conservatism.



Emre Uslu in Taraf notes that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been formed, and he writes that the party has been founded on the initiative of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan has always nourished the plan to widen the appeal of his movement to all of Turkey; it is with this project in mind that he years ago entertained intensive contacts with the Turkish left. As Öcalan sees it, the “Kurdish problem” cannot be solved unless it is adopted by Turkey as a whole and unless it is explained to the Turks. Öcalan has always seen the Alevis as a bridge to reach Turkish society. To achieve this, he has made countless efforts. But the PKK never found the support among the Alevis that it expected, even though [Kurdish] Alevis predominate among its leadership. Knowing this, Öcalan now wants to reach the Alevis through HDP, using the Alevis’ sympathy for socialist parties. Even though HDP presents itself as a socialist party for all oppressed groups, its principal societal target is the Alevis; it is with this in mind that not only a woman, but a woman who is an Alevi, was elected party chairman. Öcalan’s emphasis on Islamic brotherhood in his Newroz speech earlier this year has seriously annoyed the Alevi community. Now, the HDP is busy trying to repair this damage and is trying to win the hearts of the Alevi base.

Read 4546 times Last modified on Friday, 08 November 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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