Friday, 30 October 2015 16:45

Turkey Transformed: The Origins and Evolution of Authoritarianism and Islamization under the AKP

1510BPC-picTurkey Transformed: The Origins and Evolution of Authoritarianism and Islamization Under the AKP

This study’s excavation of the ideological and political origins of the AKP sheds light both on Turkey’s current situation and its future trajectory. In the process, however, it also yields insights about some of the myopic or unwarranted assumptions underlying policy thinking about Turkey that have implications for policymakers going forward.

1510BPC-coverThursday, October 29, 2015

On June 7, 2015, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in parliament, which it had maintained for 12 years. But, as is increasingly clear, losing an election did not mean losing power. From the presidential palace, the AKP’s de facto leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has ensured that no other political force is given a chance to govern. Instead, Erdoğan has called early elections and relaunched the war against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a rather transparent attempt to rally the Turkish nationalist vote.

Should Erdoğan and the AKP prove successful in this gambit, they will likely seek to transform Turkey. “Today is the day that Turkey rises from its ashes,” Erdoğan said upon ascending the presidency in August 2014. “It’s the day the process to build the new Turkey gains strength.” However, during the AKP’s tenure, Turkey has already been transformed, though perhaps not in the way that Western observers expected.

When the AKP was created in 2000, it cast itself as a “post-Islamist” party leaving behind the ideological baggage of previous, failed attempts at governance arising out of Turkey’s Islamist tradition and representing a democratic movement bent on weakening the hold of entrenched elites on the Turkish state. With this mission, it quickly captured the goodwill of the West as well as Turkish liberals.

Fifteen years later, the behavior of the AKP has forced a reconsideration of this assumption. Erdoğan’s “new Turkey” has come to mean something other than the consolidated democracy the AKP promised. Instead, in the domestic realm,Turkish government policies have grown strongly authoritarian and repressive, while increasingly tinged with Islamic rhetoric. In the area of foreign affairs, Turkish policies are less and less aligned with those of Turkey’s Western allies and increasingly anti-Western and sectarian in nature. The “new Turkey” espoused by the AKP appears to have more in common with the Milli Görüş movement it sprung from than with the reformist, democratizing party it claimed to be.

Determining which of these is the real AKP—the post-Islamist party of liberal hope or the autocrats of a New Turkey—is crucial to understanding both the Turkey of today and its plausible future trajectory. What went wrong? Did the AKP project get derailed by Western alienation or, as some would argue, the excesses of its increasingly narcissistic leader? Or is the problem, rather, that Western and Turkish observers alike misread the AKP from the start and saw only what they wanted to see? Was the AKP’s early liberal democratic platform a façade and a tactical ploy, its real objectives all along the autocratic and Islamist ones it espouses today?

These questions cannot be answered without knowing the AKP’s relationship and attitudes toward the ideological tradition from which it emerged and the reasons for its apparent split with its political forbearers. This calls for the investigation of two particular questions, which have so far received only limited scholarly attention. The first is the ideological origins of the Milli Görüş movement, the ideological forefather of Turkey’s modern Islamists. The second issue is the split that occurred in the Islamist movement between 1998 and 2000, when the AKP began to rise from the ashes after the Virtue Party had been closed down and Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan removed from power by the Turkish military. Knowing this will allow a more informed analysis of the AKP’s 12 years in power and its current political agenda, illuminating the ideological ambitions driving its pursuit of a “New Turkey.”

What emerges is a picture of remarkable continuity: The leading figures of Turkish political Islam have all been steeped in an anti-imperialist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western worldview. And, while the AKP rose to power by declaring a break from that tradition, its leaders transformed the movement’s political tactics while preserving its ideological objectives and ambitions.

Turkey and the AKP appear to enjoy a certain uniformity of opinion among Washington observers. In 2003, the hope for a new, more democratic chapter in Turkish politics was shared widely, and not just in Washington. By early 2014, opinion began to shift and, by the time of the June 2015 parliamentary election, a new consensus had recognized the increasingly authoritarian direction the country had taken. But such unanimity hides a certain analytical superficiality; observers have rarely engaged in a deeper reflection of what the failure of the AKP to live up to the potential originally ascribed to it means for our understanding of Turkey and the AKP itself.

This study’s excavation of the ideological and political origins of the AKP sheds light both on Turkey’s current situation and its future trajectory. In the process, however, it also yields insights about some of the myopic or unwarranted assumptions underlying policy thinking about Turkey that have implications for policymakers going forward.

Read 18802 times Last modified on Friday, 30 October 2015 16:57





  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...

  • CACI director Svante Cornell's interviewed on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election
    Friday, 19 May 2023 00:00

    Listen to CACI director Svante Cornell's recent interview on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election. Click here!

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53