Torn Country: Turkey Between Secularism and Islamism
by Zeyno Baran
This is a good book to get basic knowledge about this issue, it reaches till Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. I have only quote some parts which should clear show the position of turkeys current government. I think there is a need for it.
You can download the book here: http://www.hoover.org/publications/books/36871The AKP’s Rise and Victory
The key founders of the AKP, former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former Welfare Party spokesman and minister Abdullah Gül, and former parliamentarian Bülent Arınc had all shaped their political identities and careers within Erbakan’s Milli Görüs movement and his political parties. The AKP was more a broad movement than a unified party. Erdoğan, Gül, and Arınc¸ each represented separate currents within Erbakan’s wing. Erdoğan had the support of the Naqshibandis as well as connections to international movements like the Muslim Brotherhood; Gül represented the moderate wing of the Welfare Party, which sought coexistence with Turkey’s secular authorities; Arınc had deep connections with the Gülen movement, and represented more aggressively anti Kemalist elements among Erbakan’s followers.
Erdog˘an (born in 1954) was perhaps the most prominent of these three future leaders of the AKP. Elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 on a Welfare ticket, he catapulted into the national spotlight as the head of Turkey’s commercial and cultural center, a city of 11 million inhabitants. His charisma and Islamist messages attracted the concern of Kemalist authorities in Ankara. While mayor, Erdoğan famously said,
‘‘Democracyis like a streetcar. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, and then you step off,’’ and
‘‘We believe that democracy can never be the objective; it’s only a tool.’’
Supporting the return of sharia, he also said,
‘‘The statement that sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the people is a huge lie. Sovereignty unconditionally belongs to Allah.’’
Erdoğan further declared,
‘‘Praise to God; we are all for sharia,’’ and
‘‘One cannot be secular and a Muslim at the same time. You will either be a Muslim or a secularist.’’
Erdoğan made his most significant statement in December 1997, at a rally in the southeastern town of Siirt, where he quoted the following passage from a poem:
‘‘The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our bayonets, and the faithful are our soldiers.’’
That got Erdoğan convicted of subversion for ‘‘praising fundamentalism and violating a law that bans ‘provoking enmity and hatred among the people.’ ’’ The conviction followed the Welfare Party’s ban earlier in 1998. In 1999, Erdoğan began serving a tenmonth term in jail; freed after four, he remained banned from politics.
Erdog˘an’s imprisonment and banning shocked the new generation of Islamist leaders. As they looked to the future, they recognized the need for a more patient approach and a political movement that would build support for a greater political role for Islam within the structure of Turkey’s secular democracy.
The AKP’s founders thus decided to break with Erbakan’s confrontational approach. They set out to build a center-right political party that could attract both pragmatic Islamists who were willing to work within the democratic system and liberal democrats who sought greater social, political, and economic freedoms. They were inspired by the outlook and political approach of Turgut Özal, whose Motherland Party united the business community, liberal democrats, the previously mentioned ‘‘second republicans,’’ and tariqas into
a big, diffuse party.
To broaden their appeal beyond conservative Islamic voters, AKP leaders reframed their language, restraining Islamist slogans and stressing democracy, rule of law, and justice as universal values. They incorporated Turkey’s EU accession into their platform and pledged to continue Turkey’s cooperation with the IMF, marking additional breaks with the Islamist parties of the past. The AKP also stressed the centrality of NATO and partnership with the United States and Israel to Turkey’s national security. In short, the AKP was trying to define itself as a conservative democratic party, akin to Europe’s Christian Democrats.
As the party’s leaders looked ahead to parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2002, they carried the abovemessages to voters through personal engagement with secular business leaders, intense media efforts, and grassroots outreach to the poor. To Turkey’s elite business leaders, many of whom had centered their commercial empires in media holding companies and banking, the AKP made the case that they sought to expand Turkey’s economy (as Özal had done) and strengthen democracy. AKP leaders claimed that they had evolved from the Islamism of Erbakan’s Milli Go¨ru¨s¸ and his Welfare Party, and now posed no threat to the lifestyles of Turkey’s business elite.
At the same time, the party began creating its own media outlets, drawing initially on the Gülen movement’s newspapers and television network. As the Welfare Party had done in the previous elections, the AKP also reached out to poor voters, whom existing secular parties had largely ignored, promised to clean up the corruption that characterized the political elite, and offered financial assistance—even free food and coal—to needy families. Again, following the footsteps of the Welfare Party, the AKP cultivated Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds, and even some of the Alevis, by promising new openings in democratic and cultural rights.
Meanwhile, the secular political parties were losing support. Their credibility had suffered a severe blow back in 1996, before the formation of the AKP, when a senior national police official, a drug smuggler/murder suspect, and a pro-government vigilante were found in an automobile that crashed near the town of Susurluk in western Turkey. The investigation of this ‘‘Susurluk incident’’ uncovered an alleged
conspiracy among the car crash victims, under government orders, to plot political assassinations. The probe expanded into alleged links between government security agencies, right-wing death squads, and criminal gangs that extended back to the early 1990s, dealing a serious blow to the established secular parties.
Throughout the ’90s, the secular political leaders continued their bickering and fomented political instability against the backdrop of economic difficulty that had characterized Turkish politics for decades. Turkey endured ten coalition governments between 1991 and 2002, with each lasting at most two years. Allegations of massive corruption forced Mesut Yılmaz to resign as prime minister in 1998. The coalition governments proved dysfunctional and incapable of managing the growing economic problems. These economic tensions grew into a full-blown financial crisis in February 2001, when President Ahmet Necdet Sezer threw a copy of the Turkish constitution at Prime Minister Bu¨lent Ecevit at a cabinet meeting,
accusing the government of failing to advance reforms and combat corruption in the banking system.
Such political theatrics had a devastating financial impact. The value of the Turkish lira plunged by nearly 50 percent, consumer prices skyrocketed, and hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Inflation almost doubled from 39 percent the previous year to 68 percent in 2001. Economic growth dropped from 6 percent the previous year to -7.4 percent. The corrupt banking system, which had led to the ousting of Prime Minister
Yılmaz, collapsed. Turkey’s financial system and economy were in freefall, and its political leaders were unable to resolve the crisis.
In spring, the IMF stepped in, with strong U.S. support, to help avert an economic catastrophe. The IMF offered a $12 billion loan program, on top of its existing $10-billion loan, which would make Turkey’s overall program the largest in the IMF’s portfolio. To secure these funds, Turkey would have to design and implement a sweeping reform of its banking system and entire economy. Conceding that his government was unable to develop such a reform program, Prime Minister Ecevit called for outside help, tapping a Turkish economist and vice president of the World Bank, Kemal Dervis. He made dramatic reforms, and they worked: by late 2001, the Turkish nation’s financial system and economy were beginning to recover.
Dervis¸ was hailed as the savior of the economy. He grew enormously popular among secularists, who viewed him as a potential national leader and counterweight to the Islamist alternative of the AKP. In the summer of 2002, Dervis¸ tried to form a new liberal party with a full-blown commitment to a secularist agenda. His effort ultimately failed, leaving the center-right and center-left without alternatives to the leaders
who had discredited themselves through years of corruption, economic mismanagement, and a near-fatal financial malaise.
Turkey’s 2001 financial crisis spawned a popular yearning for an entirely new generation of political leaders. This ‘‘throw-the-bums-out’’ mentality won the AKP additional support, even among many secular voters, who believed the party would sustain the Dervis¸ reforms, curtail corruption, and thus restore economic stability. While some among the secular supporters of the AKP were concerned about a possible
Islamist ‘‘hidden agenda,’’ they were willing to give the party a chance. They reasoned that the democratic process itself—or the military if need be—would rein in leaders who tried to institute unacceptable policies.
It was clearly the AKP’s moment. The party was even able to capitalize on its nickname, ‘‘AK,’’ which means ‘‘white’’ or ‘‘clean’’ in Turkish. The new voters it had attracted complemented a solid base throughout Anatolia of conservative voters, especially emerging Islamic business leaders, who had felt slighted for decades by the secular magnates of the economic mainstream.
On November 3, 2002, the AKP won a dramatic victory in parliamentary elections. Its 34.3 percent of the vote translated into a majority of the seats in parliament, given that only one other party crossed the 10 percent threshold. The AKP was thus able to form the first single-party government in Turkey since 1987, giving millions of Turks across the political spectrum hope for a return to political and economic stability.
The AKP owed Erbakan a deep debt of gratitude for its electoral victory. During the course of three decades, he had laid the ideological and operational foundation for the party’s eventual political success. Throughout that period, Erbakan had been relentless. When one party he headed was banned,
he returned with another one bearing a different name. It could be said of him that he saw the promised land of an Islamist Turkey, but was not fated to enter it.
A younger generation of Islamists would pick up his torch. They learned from his errors and stepped forth to claim political power in their own right. They were keen to let the political process play out, proclaiming enough fidelity to the guiding principles of the Turkish republic, as they kept their gaze fixed on their own political model: a workable alternative to the
secularism of the preceding eight decades.
As the AKP prepared to capitalize on its landslide victory in the 2002 parliamentary election, it proceeded with
care. The party’s leadership remained in a complicated position with its chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an, still banned from politics. Initially, the government was headed by Abdullah
Gu¨l as prime minister. During its first few months in power, the party’s parliamentary majority voted to nullify the political ban against Erdog˘an. In March 2003, he won a seat in a by-election in Siirt (his wife’s hometown and, ironically, the city where he read aloud from the poem that led to his imprisonment). He then became prime minister, with Gu¨l shifting to foreign minister.
A few European officials echoed growing concern withinTurkey about the AKP’s apparent attempts to divert reforms in the name of EU accession from democratization to private social matters. As the EU debated the acceptability of public displays of religiosity within Europe’s secular democracies, members of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) broke with the European mainstream and expressed greater understanding of Turkey’s restrictions on wearing the headscarf. In November 2005, the ECHR upheld Istanbul University’s
1998 decision to forbid it there. The court judged the ban legitimate in the Turkish context because of the effect that ‘‘wearing such a symbol, which was presented or perceived as a compulsory religious duty, may have on those who chose not to wear it.’’ The court noted the importance of protecting secularism and equality, two principles that ‘‘reinforce and complement each other,’’ as well as the Turkish constitution’s
emphasis on safeguarding the rights of women.
The ECHR’s ruling shocked the AKP and dampened enthusiasm for membership in the European Union. Prime Minister Erdog˘an declared, ‘‘This court cannot reach such a decision. They should ask religious people, the ulema [Muslim theologians].’’2 In the months following the ruling, AKP leaders stepped up efforts to soften the constitution’s strict protections of secularism. On April 23, 2006, the anniversary of the founding of the secular parliament, Speaker Bu¨lent Arınc¸ told his legislative colleagues that the constitutional principle of secularism should be redefined to maintain separation of mosque and state without stifling public expressions of private piety. He added that the practice of ‘‘intense secularism’’ should not turn society into a ‘‘prison.’’3 Arınc¸’s speech was interpreted as a call for constitutional reforms to lift the headscarf ban and clear the ay for the general return of Islamic norms to mainstream society.
Meanwhile, the AKP was shoring up its power throughout society. It placed its followers in positions in all the civilian bureaucracies, including the courts. Many of these appointees were the party’s most conservative advocates for the return of Islam into public life (for example, the graduates of Imam Hatip schools—see Chapter 4). The AKP also supported the growth of the Islamic business elite. State contracts were
channeled to its supporters, many of whom belonged to the Naqshibandi orders and the Gu¨len network. Small and medium businesses that began moving from the Anatolian periphery to urban centers underO¨ zal had given birth to a new elite in Istanbul.Presidential and Court Victories Embolden the AKP
With Gu¨l’s election, leaders of a single political party with an Islamist past secured Turkey’s three key offices (president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament) for the first time since the foundation of the republic. Turkey’s supporters in the West (once again) hoped the AKP government would use its strengthened political capital to re-energize democratizing reforms required for EU accession. Instead, Prime Minister
Erdog˘an quickly pressed for a constitutional amendment to lift the headscarf ban.
The headscarf issue continues to carry tremendous political and social significance in Turkey. Although many Turkish women from conservative backgrounds embrace the scarf as a religious requirement and an instrument of partial liberation from being treated as sexual objects, many others fear that
social and political pressure to don the scarf will undermine their personal freedoms and gender equality. Conflicting tensions over the scarf are embodied in the wives of the prime minister and president, Emine Erdog˘an and Hayru¨nnisa Gu¨l, whose families compelled them to wear it.
In January 2008, the AKP scored a crucial political and legal victory by securing a parliamentary approval of the constitutional amendments required to overturn the ban on headscarf in universities. The party’s opponents counterattacked.
In March 2008, the chief prosecutor of the High Appeals Court, Abdurrahman Yalc¸inkaya, a staunch Kemalist, brought a case to the Constitutional Court charging the AKP and its leaders with being ‘‘a focal point of efforts to change the secular nature of the Republic.’’ He argued that the AKP should be disbanded and 71 of its leaders (including President Gu¨l and Prime Minister Erdog˘an) banned from politics.
The court deliberated this landmark case for several months. In June 2008, before deciding the AKP’s fate, the judges ended the headscarf debate—at least for the time being—by ruling that the amendments allowing university women to wear the scarf on university property violated the constitutional principle of secularism.
That decision was a serious defeat for the AKP. It fueled public perceptions that a subsequent court ruling would close down the party and end its leaders’ participation in politics. The AKP and its supporters responded with a public campaign portraying the Constitutional Court heading toward a ‘‘judicial coup.’’ Such accusations resonated in the EU and United States, where officials and analysts believed that the
banning of the country’s most popular political party would weaken Turkish democracy.
At the same time, the AKP administration launched an investigation into alleged plots by a group of retired generals and other Kemalist allies in and out of government in what became known as the ‘‘Ergenekon’’ case (see Chapter 4). Societal tension increased, and pressure built on the judges from all directions. Even some of the AKP’s opponents worried that, if banned from politics, the party’s leaders would return even stronger; that had happened with Erbakan and Erdog˘an. Others feared that shuttering the AKP itself would prompt political instability that could undermine the economy and fuel a new financial crisis.
The Constitutional Court reached its historic decision in July 2008, ruling against closing the AKP by only a seven to six margin. But the court, terming the AKP a ‘‘hub of antisecular activities,’’ also reduced its state subsidy. The chairman of the court characterized this decision as ‘‘a serious warning,’’ saying the AKP should ‘‘draw its own conclusions’’ about the consequences of violating secular principles. As newspaper columnist Soli O¨ zel, put it, ‘‘The AKP is on probation. . . . The court clearly said it sees the party as a focal institution for Islamizing the country.’’
But the AKP saw the outcome differently—as it was the first time a Turkish Islamist party had survived a concerted effort by the Kemalist establishment to shut it down. The AKP thus felt emboldened to pursue a more aggressive agenda to restore a broader Islamic role in Turkish society and determination of Turkish Identity.
The central, enduring tension between secularism and democracy had again been laid bare, and there was no use trying to finesse or conceal it. The Kemalists were believers in modernism, as they reckoned it. The newly empowered Islamists pinned their hopes on the democratic process. The old facile assumption that democracy and secularism were inseparable twins was overtaken by the political changes that had settled
In retrospect, the stewardship of TurgutO¨ zal (first as prime minister, then president, from 1983 until his death a decade later) may well have presented a rare chance to bridge Turkey’s secularist-religious divide. He was both a man of Turkey’s conservative heartland and a worldly politician who sought for the nation’s membership in the European Union and who did much to bring the Kurds into the mainstream of political life.
His brand of Islam was moderate, at its core the kind of faith with which most Turks feel at ease.
Özal had made his way around the Kemalist inheritance, amending and updating it without triggering a backlash from its adherents. His premature death robbed his country of the chance to reconcile the two camps competing for its direction and identity. In the decade that followed him, the country would witness greater polarization. Where O¨ zal smothered differences, the Islamists and their secularist rivals would
sharpen them with increasing force and conviction.