Turkey Analyst, 12 March 2008
NEWS DIGEST, February 19-March 9, 2008
SECTION I: DOMESTIC POLITICS
Summary:The domestic scene was dominated by the continuing controversy over the constitutional amendment to abolish the Islamic headscarf in universities. While President Gül signed the amendment into law, the opposition applied to the constitutional court for its anullment. The pro-AKP head of the Higher Education Council said the Islamic headscarf can now be worn in universities; but the influential industrialists' union said the episode had hurt Turkey's stability. Meanwhile, the traditional alignment between the nationalist parties and the military was weakened by an unexpected row over the reasons for the withdrawal from Iraq, which nationalists claimed had been forced by the US.
SAHIN: A NEW IDEOLOGICAL HEGEMONY IS BEING ESTABLISHED
Prof. Dr. Haluk Sahin published a book titled “Otekiler” (The Others), which consists of interviews with Devrim Sevimay. Sahin in the book excludes himself from the three ideological groups dominating Turkey’s intellectual life: nationalists, Islamists and liberals. Instead, he identifies himself as an “other” which inspired the choice of the book’s title. The book begins by examining the new intellectual class that emerged during the transformation of the Turkish media in the 1980s, and continues to discuss the liberals that currently support the AKP government. According to Mr. Sahin, they followed the glory of power and became AKP supporters, adding that this coalition is attempting to establish an ideological hegemony. Mr. Sahin claims that the February 28 process [in 1997, when the first Islamist-led government was toppled] caused liberals to enter an alliance with the Islamists. Considering the AKPs diverging reformist line in comparison to the traditional Islamist Refah party, this alliance developed into a power bloc moving toward seizing the government. Mr. Sahin stated that the liberals’ ability and willingness to criticize the government was reduced by their close affiliation with the government.
In his book, Mr. Sahin claims that Turkey is on the brink of a new ideological transformation. Referring to Gramscian theory, he argues that the AKP and its coalition are the representatives of this transformation, which is attempting to change the old ideological hegemony, namely positivist, Westernist, classical republican thinking. He argues that what liberals choose to do at this point is of crucial importance, because with their intellectual capacities, they are both constituting the front line vis-à-vis the old hegemony, and representing a valuable element that the government can display. Mr. Sahin concludes by articulating that the “others” should organize themselves and emerge as a unified bloc during this transformation, and that this movement should be a synthesis of the modern social democratic thinking and the consciousness of the greens. (Radikal)
ERDOGAN DISCUSSES ECONOMY, NOT HEADSCARF
Prime Minister Erdogan did not address the Islamic Headscarf issue during the AKP group meeting. Mr. Erdogan stated that the AKP rejected policies based on ideological disputes that had exhausted the people and harmed the peace, and instead discussed the economic development and democratic reforms. The Turkish economy has changed, improved and sustained a structure that is incomparable to the past 50 years, Mr. Erdogan said, adding that higher the expectations, the higher the outcome. Mr. Erdogan also mentioned Kosovo in his speech. He celebrated the independence of Kosovo and offered his best wishes to the new Republic for sustaining peace in the Balkans, where Turkey has strong cultural and historical ties. (Radikal)
WEARING OF ISLAMIC HEADSCARF IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR WOULD “BRING CHAOS”
The Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertugrul Gunay, said that “if the Islamic headscarf also enters the public sector, there will be chaos. As a minister of the AKP, I insist that no such thing is on the agenda”. In light of the ongoing discussions about the Islamic headscarf issue, Mr. Gunay stated that he regarded those making critical statements merely a vocal minority. While claiming the AKP to be a public movement, he stated that it is the second party in the country’s history to be elected to power for a second term with an increased number of votes. (Vatan)
SURVEY OF POLITICAL PARTIES’ SUPPORT
Turkey’s highly regarded SONAR Research Company published the results of their survey on “Political Tendencies”. In the survey, the question “Which party would you vote for if general elections were held this Sunday?” was asked. 9.31 percent were “undecided”. The remainder of the subjects responded as follows: AKP 39.41 percent, CHP 22.61 percent, MHP 16.19 percent, DTP 4.28 percent. When these results are compared to the July 22 general elections, it appears that the AKP lost 7 percent of its votes while the opposition parties CHP (Republican People’s Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) increased their number of votes. The July 22 results were as follows: AKP 46.52 percent, CHP 20.90 percent, MHP 14.27 percent. (Milliyet)
GüL RATIFIED THE ISLAMIC HEADSCARF AMENDMENT
President Abdullah Gül ratified the constitutional amendment that includes the abolishment of the ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities. Mr. Gül stated that the amendment is not incompatible with the principles of the republic, and added that some regulations must be undertaken in order to calm the concerns of the people. The declaration stating the reasons for the decision noted the support of a majority of votes in parliament, as well as a widespread public acceptance. It is also stated that during the eleven days prior to ratification, Mr. Gül consulted with experts and demanded research to be conducted. Moreover, Mr. Gül waited for the possibility of the “problem” to be solved with the agreement of all parties during this period. He maintained that although the concerns of some people should be understood, the importance of introducing regulations would calm them. The crucial importance of changing the 17th clause of the Higher Education Board’s (YOK) code with the consent of all parties was also emphasized. (Milliyet)
HIGHER EDUCATION BOARD: ISLAMIC HEADSCARF ALLOWED IN UNIVERSITIES
Radikal reported that a situation of chaos was expected in the universities today, following the President Gül’s amendment ratification. The President of the Higher Education Board (YOK), Prof. Dr. Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, declared that wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities is henceforth permitted. This was affirmed despite the rectors’ declaration emphasizing that the current change in the constitution is not sufficient to abolish the ban, and that further measures must be taken in the code of the YOK in order to enforce the decision on the Islamic headscarf.
The uncertainty over the implementation of the constitutional amendment divided rectors. While 14 university rectors clearly state that the amendment itself is not enough without changing the 17th clause of the YOK code, a group of universities including Bilkent, Bosphorus, Sabanci universities embrace the abolishment of the ban. (Radikal)
CHP APPEALS TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER HEADSCARF
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) appealed to the constitutional court in order to cancel the constitutional amendment and to stop its implementation. 112 deputies in the parliament signed the application. The petition emphasized that no proposal offering to change the constitution’s second and third clauses’, and/or aiming to directly or indirectly change the aforementioned clauses’ principles, can be accepted. It added that the jurisdictional bodies could not enforce laws that contradict the constitutional courts’ decisions. The sponsors of the application also stated that the the constitutional court is in a position to examine the amendment both on the basis of its form and substance. The petition stressed that the amendment contradicts the principle of laicism (secularism), mentioned in the second clause of the constitution, and would devoid it of content. Lastly, it was put forward that the amendment opposes the spirit of the constitution. (Milliyet)
TÜSİAD CHAIRMAN: POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT IN TURKEY DAMAGED
TÜSİAD Chairman Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ stated that the positive environment sustained by the government’s economic and democratic policies has been damaged. Mr. Yalçındağ said that it was the result of the constitutional amendment to abolish the ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities, in addition to disputes in the Higher Educational Board (YOK). Mr. Yalçındağ claims that the Islamic headscarf issue, which significantly affects women, has evolved into a crisis dividing the country. He further stressed that this issue could be solved smoothly in the context of the rules of higher education. Mr. Yalçındağ underlined the significance of this regulation not spreading into lower levels of education and the public sector, and called for the authorities to take ample measures. He concluded by emphasizing that the government’s policies and the rivalry between the political parties should be based on development policies, international competition, the EU process and the future of our children. (Radikal)
NEW POLITICS, NEW RULES?
The recent heated exchanges between the Office of the Chief of General Staff and the opposition parties has introduced a new set of rules in Turkish politics, where traditionally secularist and right-wing parties have otherwise unwaveringly backed the military against conservative governments. The General Staff raged at the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP), who condemned the abrupt end to the eight-day military operation on the outlawed PKK lairs in Northern Iraq. “The Turkish military considers this rhetoric an unjust and lowly attack against an institution that fights terrorists and loses martyrs in the name of the country,” the General Staff said in a statement late Tuesday.
The CHP and the MHP raised the question of American influence on the military's decision to withdraw from Northern Iraq and claimed that the operation was terminated prematurely. Chief of Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanit challenged the opposition leaders to prove their claims. “I will take off my uniform if they prove it,” Turkey's top general said.
“It is my duty to interrogate this. I have my signature under the motion that gave the military the mandate for that operation. I do not believe that the Turkish army is incapable of carrying the operation beyond eight days.” CHP leader Deniz Baykal said. The leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahçeli, joined him and argued that the report of the General Staff on the outcome of the operations was susceptible of giving a warring party status to the PKK. “These declarations may give the PKK undeserved prestige and image,” Bahçeli said. (Turkish Daily News)
DEMIREL: ISLAMIC HEADSCARF IS A TOOL FOR THOSE DESIRING SHARIA IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Former President Süleyman Demirel stressed that the Islamic headscarf is not an innocent symbol that could be interpreted in terms of liberties, and added that it is a tool for those who desire Sharia in other countries. Mr. Demirel asserted that the decision of the Constitutional Court would not end the disputes over the Islamic headscarf and added that “this discussion may lead to a point where women’s position in society will be questioned”. Mr. Demirel emphasized that some groups will disapprove of the decision of the constitutional court, regardless of its decision. He stated, “I witnessed days when people could not go to school. I witnessed days when my country was divided into two as right and left. I do not wish those days to come again. I do not want my people to behave to each other as they did years ago.” (ANKA News Agency)
The Turkey Analyst
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 is published weekly, and includes a topical analysis, as well as translations and summaries of selected Turkish news reports. It is edited and compiled under the supervision of Svante E. Cornell, Halil M. Karaveli, and M. K. Kaya.
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