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Turkey's Turmoil: A Blessing in Disguise?

By Diba Nigar Goksel

ISTANBUL - It is nearly impossible for anyone to win hearts and minds in Turkey nowadays.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso treaded carefully on Turkey's political minefield during his visit last week, because any of his moves could have caused the country’s delicate and divided political scene to rupture.

In his speech to the Turkish Parliament, he did not mention the ongoing legal case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been accused of anti-secular activity, and he tiptoed around the headscarf debate. Further attempting to show his even-handedness, he spent time with all of the opposition leaders, visiting them personally in their offices.

Despite these efforts, accusations still abound that Barroso and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn timed their visit as a show of support to AKP, coinciding with the Constitutional Court’s consideration of whether the AKP should be banned. Some claimed Barroso and Rehn were disrespecting the Turkish state and the threats it faces: namely, challenges to secularism and territorial integrity.

Turkish support for the EU has been cut almost in half since 2004, dropping from over 70 percent to the low 40s in early 2008. The most widely-quoted reason for this fall from grace is the belief that Europe is leading Turkey on, and will ultimately turn down the country’s membership application regardless of how much progress Turkey makes. This mindset is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: without the conviction that membership is a viable prospect, there is little motivation to carry out large-scale reforms, and the ensuing lack of progress in turn creates grounds for European skepticism.
The AKP remained steadfast in its goal even as support for EU accession dwindled from 2005 onwards. It seemed that Turks were creating alternate visions of Turkey as a regional power, instead of as a Europeanized aspirant. And despite the opposition parties’ rhetoric that played upon these sentiments leading up to the July 2007 parliamentary elections, the AKP was the only political party championing EU integration, albeit with less conviction than in years past.
Interestingly, judicial action against the AKP has increased support for EU accession among AKP voters as of early April. The Europeans have framed the court case as a breach of democracy (a judicial coup), so AKP supporters now regard the EU as a safeguard for the survival of AKP.

Although the party maintains high ratings, the conviction that AKP is committed to genuine democratization and pluralism has been shaken within the same liberal circles that previously gave them the benefit of the doubt. There are still many Turks who genuinely believe that Pandora’s box will be opened if more concessions are made for those who want to give religion more social prominence. In a country with a weak system of checks and balances, AKP has at times appeared drunk on power over the last two years, brushing aside legitimate concerns from liberal circles.

To strike the necessary common ground for stability in the country, a rejuvenated and genuine commitment to the EU integration process is essential. Only to the extent that European social standards and rationalized governance are benchmarked can individuals gain the freedom to find their own way to reconcile the contradictions of modernity with traditions, of emotional or spiritual needs with economic realities, and of insecurities with temptations.

Turkish society must therefore start emphasizing the empowerment of the individual. This shift may not come easily to the conservative AKP.

Socially and economically, few Turks can afford to stand on their own two feet. Economic and political viability still rests for many on belonging to a certain kinship-based social structure or religious sect. Confidence in the existence of meritocracy and the rule of law is lacking, and the weakness of the welfare system further limits the choices of those with fewer economic means, especially women.

As a conservative party, the AKP emphasizes family values at the expense of institutional solutions to problems individuals face in a rapidly urbanizing and modernizing society. But without strong social services provided by politically and ideologically neutral state institutions, large segments of society will continue to lack the ability to make choices for themselves.

It was a wise move for the AKP to put EU integration back on the top of Turkey's agenda after the case for its closure was taken up by the Constitutional Court. Preparations are ongoing to pass a package of reforms that will benefit a wider segment of society than the party’s traditional base. That indicates a realization that differing social interests need to be met simultaneously in order to strike a consensus.

Opportunism or not, democracy is ultimately at work here. If it takes crises for competing camps to acknowledge the limits of their power, then perhaps Turkey's recent turmoil is a blessing in disguise.

Diba Nigar Goksel is a senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative in Turkey and editor-in-chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly. This article was written for Common Ground News Service.

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Comments (27)

Desert Moslem :

Let's suppose that Turks aren't Moslems and they don't have a civilization.

If one looks at the West and how it is attacking Islam by using even their highest religious authority, the pope, and their military might, one would realize that Western civilization is weathering a way.

How could Turks still have faith in such a civilization?

And even if they join the EU, what will they form from this decomposing civilization after 200 years?

The Ottoman Empire was a powerful civilization. Turks, who call themselves modern, hate this civilization and call it backward.

Why would I even have to respect them?!


manastirli:

The Ottomans didn't adopt anything form past cultures or religions which would have influenced their "understanding of Islam" . This is factually very wrong.

Ottomans were pure Sunni Moslems and their empire was ruled by authentic Sharia law. Its treatment of non-Moslems and its policy towards its states were so just that it lasted more than 600 years.

The Islam that the Ottomans practiced cannot be seen even with those who claim that they rule by Sharia today.

The old Sufi traditions which the Ottoman adopted don't exist today. The British colonialists defiled Sufism in India and Turkey. Sufism and its history in Turkey is so marred to the extent that Jalaludin Errumi, known in Turkey as Mevlana, is thought of as a non-Moslem figure by Westerners today. His Islamic heritage is completely wiped out from his legacy!

Those non-Moslems ,especially Jews, who use fake Turkish Sufism- which is based on alcohol, music,..etc – use it to distinguish between what they want to call "Balkan or Turkish Islam" and the militant Arab Islam for their own inhuman and uncivilized agenda.

Other Turkish hypocrites, who cannot tell were Mecca is and who want to give their country some importance to westerners, also use fake Sufism. Slogans like " Europe need us to understand Islam" are all lies…how can a porn-producing country be a bridge to teach Islam!!! By the way, some of these Turkish hypocrites advertise themselves as observant Moslem today and they talk about anti-Semitism more than they talk about Islam and morality!

As PM Erdogan once said: Islam is Islam. It has a sole and a unified understanding of what is allowed and what is forbidden. Moslems, no matter who they are, cannot fornicate or drink alcohol and call this "x" understanding of Islam.

If you apply Islam in your life with out touching the constants and passing the redlines ,then you feel free to say look this is "the true spirit of Islam".

to elyaver:

The Ottomans were staunch Sunni Moslems. Iran was an enemy of the Ottomans. It always collaborated with colonial powers and other enemies of the Ottomans when they congregate against it.

Secular Turks and Islam haters in Turkey always use Iranization as a way to scare modern Turks who drink,…,….etc from Islam and politician with Islamic roots.

The sight of an Iranian woman wearing the black chador will scare the hell off modern Turkish women who hate the headscarf and love bikinis.

You will hear many words like 7 century BC Saudi Arabia, desert Islam, and other Turkish secular journalists saying that they will ride a camel and go to Iran or Saudi Arabia if they see Islamists cleaning the garbage they throw at the society.

The average Turk wouldn't even tell the difference between Shiite and Sunni Islam.

Malisand:

Excellent essay! The author's insightful and well balanced view of the current struggle in Turkey should be commended for it's attempt to draw on the triad of influences currently struggling for dominance in Turkey's post-modern political landscape. While the country still holds large swathes of rural poverty and urban blight, its citizens are currently experiencing a re-birth of sorts, not seen since the early days of the republic.

A staunchly secular state, Turkey is currently testing the limits of what it means to be a pluralistic, democratic, society; with all of the growing pains that it entails. When you add to the mix the promise and pitfalls of membership within the European Union, and the influences and pressures of being one of the few functioning democracies with a majority Muslim population, you can see why, like this board, the spectrum of deeply felt, sometimes irrational and insightfully pluralistic views, co-mingle to form a colorful, young and hopeful mosaic.

I believe it is in everyone's interest, and with sincere hope that this state of give and take, on the borders of Europe and the middle east, end up contributing more and strengthening the viability of its own populace to the benefit of all. Congrats on a good essay, which has brought out the individual, as you called for, in all sectors of Turkish Policy opinion! Indeed.

EB:

Paris's comments misrepresent the present struggle in Turkey between a democratically elected government and "a deep rooted establishment" as a form of "democratic discussion." There is very little democratic about trying to close a party that won 47% of the votes in the last general election using the judiciary that proved their lack of independence only last summer with their "367 decision." The same "establishment" that prevented AKP from choosing the President using a quorum rule that was created just for the occasion last Summer is now using the same court system to subvert the people's will by trying to do away with the Party altogether.

Paris also misrepresents AKP's and the establishment's views towards EU. While AKP has been spearheading Turkey's efforts to join EU, the "deep rooted establishment" that sees a threat to its existence in the changes required by EU, such as the freedom of expression guarantees at the center of much of the controversy surrounding the "turban issue" has been against it. In fact, this establishment represents a closed-minded, nationalistic view that wants Turkey to turn its back both to EU and the US. Interestingly, the indictment of AKP accuses Prime Minister Erdogan of being a co-president of US's "Broader Middle East Project" (Turkish Daily News, April 19, 2008), an absurd charge, but only one of many in the indictment.

Paris:

Congratulations for this well-thought article which proves how Turkey is becoming more and more familiar with the democratic discussion culture: a common value to all EU members.

Turkey is certainly not Muslim state and this should be kept in mind while commentig on this country. It is true that Turkish population is up to 90% Muslim but the understanding of Islam is rather different than the Sunni Arab or Shia Iranian approaches.This may be explained historically by pagan, Jewish and Christian cultural heritages received by Seljukide and Ottoman Turks on the Anatolian soil. This same cultural heritage which ave birth to a mix society with the presence of Sunnis, Alevis, Shiites, Orthodox Christians and Jews explains also the reason why the Republic founded in 1923 has a secular character.

The struggle in today's Turkey is between a governing party and a deep rooted establishment with different perceptions of secularism. As long as the divergences are voiced, and problems are resolved within democratic limits noone should worry about this clash of perceptions.
Turkish people refuse to see the EU as a party in this struggle. With or without AKP Turkey will move in the European direction since the EU means modernization / westernization / democratization, a process that Turks have been in for centuries.

In this respect, one may expect from other Muslim populations neither to understand the way Muslim Turks percieve Islam nor to correctly evaluate the psychological symbol that the membership to EU bears in Turkish minds...

Paris:

Congratulations for this well-thought article which proves how Turkey is becoming more and more familiar with the democratic discussion culture: a common value to all EU members.

Turkey is certainly not Muslim state and this should be kept in mind while commentig on this country. It is true that Turkish population is up to 90% Muslim but the understanding of Islam is rather different than the Sunni Arab or Shia Iranian approaches.This may be explained historically by pagan, Jewish and Christian cultural heritages received by Seljukide and Ottoman Turks on the Anatolian soil. This same cultural heritage which ave birth to a mix society with the presence of Sunnis, Alevis, Shiites, Orthodox Christians and Jews explains also the reason why the Republic founded in 1923 has a secular character.

The struggle in today's Turkey is between a governing party and a deep rooted establishment with different perceptions of secularism. As long as the divergences are voiced, and problems are resolved within democratic limits noone should worry about this clash of perceptions.
Turkish people refuse to see the EU as a party in this struggle. With or without AKP Turkey will move in the European direction since the EU means modernization / westernization / democratization, a process that Turks have been in for centuries.

In this respect, one may expect from other Muslim populations neither to understand the way Muslim Turks percieve Islam nor to correctly evaluate the psychological symbol that the membership to EU bears in Turkish minds...

elyaver:

Iranization????

Does this mean that Turks will convert form Sunni to Shiite Islam

Anonymous:

Turkish journalists use "anti-sematism" as if they live in the US or Europe.

Wake up!! It doesn't fit you!!! Crypto Jews run your country..They run your army...

The fact the anti-sematism thing is used means that the thing about crypto jews is true!

What was your Educational system based on for the past 80 years??? Quran? Hadith?

Islam has being fought in this country for alomst 200 years.

Secularism failed in the worst and most degenrate way in Turkey?

Turks don't live in a democracy...They live in country in which there are those who steel their money,destroy their values and their future

EB:

BIRD,

Those antisemitic comments have no place here or anywhere else. However, you may have noticed that they are about Turkey and Turks but don't appear to be by Turks. They merely detract from the real discussion here, which is about the involvement of the judicial system in an apparent coup-attempt, continuing a long series of crippling military coups since 1960.

Bird:

As seen in some of the comments here, Turkey is full of antisemitic conspiracy theories, reminiscent of Europe before the II.WW.

As long as secular education based on science will not take root the country has no chance to get out of Islamization/Iranization process.

elyaver:

One must give Turks credit for continuing the Ataturk Shabbatian heritage of fighting Islam from the roots. They are doing the best job in this. Even better than the hardest enemies of Islam.

They forbid women from wearing headscarves in schools and universities and force school girls to wear mini skirts in schools. If you go to the Asian side, the one were conservative people live, you would see those mini skirts school girls drinking beer with their boyfriends near the sea and you will also hear the Ezan, the prayer calling at the same time!

If you are a Moslem parent on vacation in Turkey, you would really wonder what sort of family values do Turkish parent have!!!!


Besides, most of the Arab world is watching Turkish series on one of the Saudi owned Sat TV. They are watching Turkish families drinking wine on dinner normally and regularly just like any non-Moslem family. Young men and women watch Turkish boys and girls jump form one lap to the other in their various love adventures.

Again if you are a Moslem parent, you will be insulted when you read this article, especially the paragraph about the family values.

Take it easy, worst stuff may be on the way….

You might end up seeing the pope , who is insulting Islam and Moslems, holding a Christian prayer this time in Aya Sofia with Mr.Bardakoglu and Erdogan present in the crowd!!!!!

osmanli:

Turks have put the words of Allah and His Prophet s.a.s down since 1800s;they will never prosper unless they raise them.

Nice try:

The parties need to be kicked is CHP and the people who should go to Israel are 1.5million crypto Jews who run the country from the underground.

The Kurdish problem in Turkey exist because of the Kemalist policies which started by the Ataturk's attempt to obliterate them in 1925. Add to this, the EU, US and Israeli hand in this issue and the support of PKK.

Also 90% of Turkish journalists need to be trashed in order for the country to be stable and to progress intellectually.

-:

turkey is blind fighting by fighting with each other when the real party they should be against DTP is still in the turkish political system even after been proved that they support the PKK

Nasser:

I think Turks are very abnormal people. If you want a proof, read this article.

Turks believe they have a place in the EU Christian Club while Europeans don't want them in.

Nine Turks were burned alive in their flat in a German city few months ago.

A Turkish infant made it because the infant was thrown out form the window!!!!!

You still have many idiots who believe that their lives will improved if they join the EU.

Turks have no sound culture and s source of inspiration other than "joining Europe"

" Regional Power" Ha Ha!!!! Moslems know that Turks, who are ruled by crypto Jews, are so ashamed of their religion, which is full alcohol and adultery,to the extent that they become beggars in streets of EU

elyaver:

whose fault is it that many Turks are poor?

It is the fault of the Kemalist principles which brought thieves to power.

Turks have been enslaved for more than 80 years. if it isn't the mafias or the shabbatians, it is the world bank or the IMF.

Southeast Anatolia lives in abject poverty. Other parts of Anatolia are not doing better either.

what did Turkish grandparents leave for their children or grandchildren since the Ataturk, the enemy of Islam, wiped out the Ottoman Empire?

Savings,fortunes,experience....???

I don't think so.

Turks have been living in a curse since the Ataurk and his white turks took over.

if Turkish grandparents left anything for their grandchildren, it would be poverty and hatred of Islam.

I bet those who hate the Ottomans, no matter where ever they are, even in their graves, are so happy to see how their ,supposed to be, grandchildren are doing to their land....

May God have mercy on those honorable people

EB:

ANONYMOUS:
APRIL 21, 2008 12:25 PM

Excellent observations!
What we are seeing in Turkey today is another round of a continual power struggle between elected governments and parliament on the one hand, and appointed officials and the military on the other.
Up to now, the latter representing the entrenched interests of the "established order," as you put, have won every round.
Most of the country is hoping now that it is the people's turn to come out on top. If they lose again, especially in a judiciary-led coup d'etat, the fledgling democracy of Turkey may not recover.

Anonymous:

An excellent, insightful article. Turkey's turmoil will be a blessing if it spurs the AKP and its voters into reaffirming their commitment to EU accession, however, it is hard to see it as "democracy at work".

Is Turkey really a country where checks and balances are weak? Perhaps the problem lies in the unique 'checks and balances' by which political parties that threaten the established order are restrained: coups, 'soft' coups, and now party closures.

You rightly call for the empowerment of the individual in Turkish society. Part of that empowerment requires respect for the preferences individuals express by voting. In a fully democratic society it would not be the high court chief prosecutor or the EU who decided whether reforms were too slow, too fast or too dangerous; it would be the voters.

mehtar:

"As a conservative party, the AKP emphasizes family values at the expense of institutional solutions to problems individuals face in a rapidly urbanizing and modernizing society"

What family values is she talking about?!

The Turkish educational system fights family values. The fat Turkish women who set around the tables in the Masonic lodges and the men who set with them run those stupid institutions the writer is taking about.

What can these people do for the young men and women who live in the "Gecekondus". Probably Turn them into sex workers.

The writer doesn't know what she is taking about when she imagined that the corrupt institution she mentioned is an alternative for family values!

EB:

LAWYER brings up some relevant issues. The present constitution that allows for party closures in Turkey for reasons that wouldn't be acceptable in most Western democracies does need a major overhaul. Political landscape is scattered with the remains of over two dozen parties that have been closed for one reason or other since the end of the single-party system in the mid 1950's. This constitution is a left-over from the aftermath of another military coup, and Turkey needs a new, civilian Constitution. Unfortunately, the opposition that has been fighting tooth and nail any progress on this front now sounds rather disingenuous when they accuse AKP of not having made the necessary changes yet. LAWYER also rather shamelessly compares the imperfect democracy in Turkey to the one-man rule in Iraq during Saddam's regime. The present government in Turkey won the last general election with %47 of the votes, and this accomplishment in an election with a dozen participating political parties cannot be compared with Saddam's mock elections where he may have gotten 99%.

Lawyer:

How can we talk about democracy by omitting law. The AKP can annul the part of the constitution, which provides, party-closure. AKP has not done it since 2002. 6 years have passed. In this period, when the Chief Prosecution brought action against DTP, AKP did not do anything. Moreoever, the EU also did not say anything to this party. But, when the case was brought againsy AKP, then everybody with AKP has started to say that it is against the democracy to shut down a party. Excuse me, but, Where were you doing when another case was brought against another party? Does democracy work only if the case is brought against opposition party but not leading party?
Democracy means law. If you do not amend the law even if you can, you have nothing to say. If %50 means democracy, then Saddam Hussein got 99%. Does it mean that Saddam's Iraq had more democracy than Turkey has now because of the fact that there was no case against Saddam ?

Turkish Babu:

"Democracy is ultimately at work here..."

That's so funny. Please don't insult people's intelligence . When we have this "deep state" running the country, you have to forget about democracy.

EB:

The title of the essay seems to suggest the possible existence of a silver lining in the present political turmoil in Turkey. However, if the democratically elected government of Turkey, which according to recent polls may have more than 50% support in upcoming local elections, is overthrown by a judiciary-lead coup d'etat, democracy in Turkey will be irreparably damaged and may not be able to recover. This would follow the five or so military coups since 1960 that have taken place with clock-work regularity and have nearly crippled the growth and evolution of the democratic processes in Turkey. This "post-modern" version, encouraged by the military but undertaken by the courts that have proven their lack of independence in last summer's "367-decision" which stopped the Presidential election in the Parliament invoking an hitherto unknown rule, will be much more damaging than all the previous military versions.

Betsy Goksel:

A very clear,well-thought-out essay.It is obvious that AKP has changed the elite in Turkey, bringing many gifted, more conservative, Islamic leaders into a position of power, However,I feel that the principles upon which the republic was formed under Kemal Ataturk should not be swept aside. Turks are strong, brave, individualist people and should not lose their national identity in order to comply with EU norms. AKP should keep their promise to maintain a secular government or be forced to change their agenda.

SAS:

The crude, clumsy attempt by the anti government elements in Turkish society to close down the AKP are nothing short of outrageous. It is worth mentioning that the AKP is a democratically elected government which won a comfortable majority in the 2007 elections and has a strong economic record. It has done little to undermine Turkey's secular political traditions, even if its sincere attempts to repeal grossly unfair laws that discriminate against scarved women have raised eyebrows. Turkey's functioning democracy should have a chance to flourish without its democratically elected politicians being made victims of Mc Carthy style witch hunts.

MD:

Great article! maybe too optimistic but I like optimistic views because they are rare, especially when it comes to Turkish politics.

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