Tag Archives: Istanbul

Başbakan Erdoğan’ın Komplo Teorilerindeki Çelişki

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

18 Haziran 2013

Eğer Başbakan Erdoğan’a inanacak olursak, protestoların arkasındaki isimler “faiz lobisi,” “yabancı güçler,” ve Türkiye içindeki “işbirlikçiler.” Başbakan’ı destekleyenlerin elinde daha da ilginç isimler var: olayları güya kışkırtan Amerika, Britanya, Fransa, İran, İsrail, Rusya, ve Suriye ajanları.

Bu kadar farklı çıkarları ve öncelikleri olan ülkeler Türkiye’yi bu kadar çabuk ve kolayca karıştırmak üzere nasıl anlaştılar, bunu bilmiyoruz.

Ancak Başbakan Erdoğan’ın komplo teorilerine sarılması çok garip bir çelişki içeriyor: 2002’de iktidara geldiğinden beri Başbakan’ın en önemli önceliği Türkiye’nin küresel yatırımcılarla ve yabancı ülkelerle ilişkilerini düzeltmek olmuştu.

[Makalenin tamamını Al-Monitor’de okuyabilirsiniz.]

Turkish PM Erdogan’s Conspiracy Theories Contain a Paradox

[Guest column for Al-Monitor]

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

18 June 2013

If we are to believe Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the culprits for the mass protests that have rocked his country for over two weeks are “the interest rate lobby,” foreign hands,” and their domestic “collaborators.” Some of his supporters have even better ones: the intelligence agents of Britain, France, Iran, Israel, Russia, Syria, and the United States.

How spies from such a diverse group of countries agreed to, and succeeded in, destabilizing Turkey so easily and so quickly, we do not know.

But Prime Minister Erdoğan’s turn to conspiracy theories bears a strange paradox: since he came to power over ten years ago, his top priority has been to improve relations with both global investors and foreign nations. 

To continue reading, click here.

The Turkish Protests and Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Plan

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

13 June 2013

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın]

Intentionally Pouring Fuel Over Fire

Since a small sit-in in Istanbul turned into mass protests throughout Turkey two weeks ago, many commentators have criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inflammatory rhetoric against the demonstrators. But unlike what observers think, the Turkish prime minister is not increasing tensions – calling the protestors “looters” and organizing flash rallies where he threatens to unleash his supporters because he is desperate or because he is blinded by rage or because he has lost touch with reality. Although Mr. Erdoğan seems like he’s unwittingly pouring fuel over fire, everything he does is meant to serve a political objective.

That objective is Çankaya, the district in the capital Ankara where Turkish presidents reside. The term of the current president, Abdullah Gül, ends next year. It is no secret that Mr. Erdoğan wants to expand the powers of the presidency and succeed Mr. Gül as president.

But how does Mr. Erdoğan’s inflammatory rhetoric serve his aspirations? Although the prime minister has been saying offensive things for a long time, it was around 2007-2008 that he began to use a more divisive discourse. In April 2007, the Turkish military, unwilling to see Mr. Gül become president because his wife wears the Islamic headscarf, issued a memorandum on its website threatening to overthrow the Erdoğan government (Mr. Gül was foreign minister at the time). Had the military succeeded, it would have been the fifth coup in republican Turkey. The episode coincided with the “republican rallies” (Cumhuriyet mitingleri) against Mr. Gül’s candidacy. Then, the country’s secular establishment fought another battle against Mr. Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) by threatening to close down the party at the Constitutional Court.

In this context, Prime Minister Erdoğan learned a simple lesson: he would not be able to appeal to diverse segments of Turkish society anymore. As a result, he came to rely on more conservative social groups who shared his worldview. In other words, Mr. Erdoğan began to pursue his agenda not through pluralism but through establishing majorities with those conservatives who would not otherwise vote for an AKP with a diverse social base. That’s precisely why the prime minister is still making assertions about the protestors that are proven to be false: that they “attacked the police” and “drank beer inside a mosque.” These allegations are sure to galvanize not only AKP supporters but also the country’s religious and nationalist majority. The prime minister is aware that popular anger against the protestors would turn into votes for him in next year’s presidential election.

Burning Turkey for Çankaya

Mr. Erdoğan, however, faces a dilemma: his tactic in escalating tensions, which served him quite well until now, could backfire. If the protests, which have remained generally non-violent so far (except for instances of police brutality), get out of control, the prime minister’s chances in the presidential election could be jeopardized. After all, Mr. Erdoğan would not be able to capitalize on his image of “man of order and economic growth” if Turkey experiences large-scale violence.

Here’s why: because the presidential election will be contested in a popular vote for the first time in Turkish history, Mr. Erdoğan’s electoral strategy would be to take more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. A second round, which would pit Mr. Erdoğan against another popular candidate, would be too risky. If the opposition parties CHP and MHP do not nominate an ideological, combative, and divisive candidate but someone who could appeal to broad segments of society (a popular bureaucrat, artist, or even a retired general who does not have the “coup-maker” stain), it is possible that voters could choose such a candidate over Mr. Erdoğan. In that respect, it is also sensible for CHP and MHP to nominate President Gül, who is eligible for reelection and is more widely respected than the prime minister.

The Turkish PM needs to stop and think.
The Turkish PM needs to stop and think.

At this point, Prime Minister Erdoğan has to ask himself these two questions: is Turkey worth burning for the sake of Çankaya? More important, would a burnt Turkey award him with Çankaya?

Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia and is a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

The Many Ironies of the Turkish Protests

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

7 June 2013

It started off as a sit-in of merely 100 people in Gezi Park, a quiet corner of Istanbul’s bustling Taksim Square. Then came the brutal police crackdown that turned the sit-in into something big and unprecedented. A week, three deaths, and thousands of injured and arrested later, the mass protests in Turkey reveal many ironies about that country and its role in the Middle East.

The activists’ resentment seems to be directed primarily at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. In a survey carried out by two academics with a sample group of 3,000 people, 92.4 percent of the protestors said they took to the streets because of Mr. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. (A broader discussion of the survey is available in Turkish.)

It is ironic for Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since 2002, to animate so many people. Under Mr. Erdoğan, Turkey’s per capita income increased threefold, foreign trade more than quadrupled, and political and judicial reforms improved governance. The AKP’s initial zeal to lead Turkey into the European Union raised the standards of free speech and democratic expression. Furthermore, by ending civilian subordination to the country’s once all-powerful military, Mr. Erdoğan put a stop to one of the most stifling aspects of Turkish politics.

Despite these accomplishments, however, Mr. Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies cannot be overlooked. According to Reporters Without Borders, under the AKP, Turkey has become the “world’s biggest prison for journalists” and it is at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index. Any journalist who rides roughshod with the prime minister is sure to lose her job or worse.

To be sure, Turkey is not Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya and certainly not Syria. Mr. Erdoğan – whatever his shortcomings (and he has many) – is no Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, or Muammar Qaddafi and certainly no Bashar al-Assad. He was reelected with close to 50 percent of the votes in the last election and he still enjoys popular support. That hardly makes him a dictator.

But neither are the protestors a handful of “looters and extremists” as Mr. Erdoğan and his allies claim. In fact, according to the survey mentioned earlier, the people participating in the protests are very much a product of the reforms that the AKP enacted. Close to two-thirds of the protestors are below the age of 30. 53.7 percent are taking to the streets for the first time in their lives. Only 15.3 percent have any partisan affiliation. 91 percent resent the government’s disregard for democracy and freedom. To make their case, the protestors point out how major news outlets in Turkey still remain silent on the protests lest they incur Mr. Erdoğan’s wrath. The demonstrators see an overbearing prime minister and a cowered media as an obstacle to their hopes for a more democratic and liberal Turkey. They worry that, if the prime minister becomes president next year with greatly expanded powers, he will become even more authoritarian.

Yet despite their qualms about Mr. Erdoğan, and unlike what AKP supporters claim, the protestors do not want the prime minister to be toppled in a military coup. Less than ten percent of the respondents believe that another coup would benefit Turkey. That’s a good sign: the country has experienced four of them since 1960 and military intervention in politics has always been a self-defeating game. Unlike Egypt, where people welcomed the military as a guardian against Mubarak in 2011, Turkish protestors want their soldiers to stay in their barracks. It seems that Mr. Erdoğan has really put the beast of coups d’état to sleep forever.

Another ironic element of the Turkish protests is that, although a majority of their participants do not identify as AKP supporters or conservative, nearly 10 percent of them apparently voted for the AKP. An even larger group of conservative Muslims (especially girls who wear the Islamic headscarf but do not identify with the AKP) are among the protestors.

In fact, images from the protests show how participants cut across every social, economic, and political divide in modern Turkey. Until the troubles, fights between the supporters of the country’s three largest sports clubs were the most serious public safety concern. Now, these fans march and resist the police together. Leftists and nationalists stand should-to-shoulder. The protestors – rich and poor, Turk and Kurd, straight and LGBT, women who wear headscarves and those who do not – reflect the richness of Turkey’s social fabric. For building such a diverse coalition of opponents, Mr. Erdoğan deserves much of the credit.

One protestor looks on as religious protestors perform the Friday prayers at Taksim Square
A protestor looks on as religious protestor perform the Friday prayers at Taksim Square

The way that the protests have played out so far – predominantly peaceful, politically pluralistic, and socially diverse – shows that a new generation of Turks is rising up against the tried and tired authoritarianism of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If the protestors can continue to frame their demands in terms that would appeal to broader segments of Turkish society without antagonizing AKP supporters (which they seem to be doing), there is reason to hope that the new wine in Turkish politics will manage to change the old and crumbling bottle that contains it.

That would be the greatest irony of the current tumult in Turkey. Although the country has failed to offer a meaningful example to its region since the Arab Spring began, if the protests do succeed in expanding rights and liberties for the individual and in helping to consolidate a secular democracy with a free market economy in a Muslim-majority country, Turkey could truly become a model for the region.

Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia and he is a visiting fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. You can follow him from www.barinkayaoglu.com, on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

What Caused the Mass Protests in Turkey?

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

2 June 2013

Nobody expected the mass demonstrations in Turkey. Nobody saw them coming.

And for good reason: since the ascendancy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) in 2002, Turkey’s economic and political fortunes have improved considerably. Per capita income has increased threefold while foreign trade has more than quadrupled. Ankara is becoming a crucial player on the international stage. It no longer looks like the sick man of Europe. In fact, Turkey’s democratic and secular political system in a Muslim-majority country is being hailed as a likely model for other Muslim countries to follow for quite some time.

In short, Turkey isn’t Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya and certainly not Syria. Mr. Erdoğan – whatever his shortcomings (and he has many) – is no Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, or Muammar Qaddafi. And he’s certainly no Bashar al-Assad.

So, why did the protests in Turkey flare up so unexpectedly and spread so quickly? Simply put, the initial shock at police brutality against a small band of peaceful protestors in Taksim Square in Istanbul turned into something very big and something very angry.

Mr. Erdoğan’s words and deeds since he came to power over a decade ago helped to build a lot of that anger. To say that Mr. Erdoğan has a confrontational personality would be an understatement. He is boisterous and short-tempered, a fact he takes great pride in. He likes to raise a ruckus and to offend his detractors, which created a lot of animosity among different segments of Turkish society. The following episodes (and there are many more like them) give a good idea of how the Turkish prime minister provided fuel to the current fire in Turkey:

– In February 2006, when confronted by a bankrupt farmer who complained that his “mother was crying” (a figure of speech in Turkish to describe one’s great distress), Mr. Erdoğan suggested that the man “take [his] mother and go away.” The prime minister’s disturbing statement came as a not-so-subtle “f*** off” to the poor man. Plus, “your mama” jokes are a taboo in Turkish society – not even close friends go there – but Mr. Erdoğan did not think much of it.

– In September 2006, in the face of renewed terror attacks in southeast Turkey, Mr. Erdoğan faced criticism for the government’s perceived weakness. To one citizen who expressed frustration at the sight of fallen soldiers and military funerals, Prime Minister Erdoğan responded with a very strange statement: “the army is no place for slacking.” It almost sounded as if Mr. Erdoğan thought service-members deserved to die.

– In May 2010, Prime Minister Erdoğan compared Turkey’s second president and war hero İsmet İnönü to Hitler. İnönü holds a dear place in many people’s hearts. Under Atatürk’s command, he led armies against occupation forces during Turkey’s war for independence after World War I. As president, İnönü kept Turkey out of World War II. In the late 1940s, he oversaw Turkey’s transition to democracy and sowed the seeds of its alliance with the West. İnönü certainly deserved a different type of acknowledgement from Mr. Erdoğan.

– In April 2012, the prime minister declared that he wanted to raise “a generation of pious youth.” Faith is a personal matter, especially in a secular country. Prime Minister Erdoğan frequently forgets that he’s the leader of a secular republic. Many of his fellow Turks don’t.

– In May 2012, the prime minister renewed his calls for every Turkish family to have at least three children. To ensure that outcome, he attempted to ban all abortions and still managed to pass a law from parliament that restricted women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

– In November 2012, Mr. Erdoğan issued a veiled threat to execute the imprisoned leader of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the militant Kurdish group PKK. The fight between Turkish government forces and the PKK has claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 people since 1984. Mr. Erdoğan’s inflammatory words could have reignited hostilities and preempted the PKK’s more recent decision to withdraw and possibly lay down its arms, which now presents a chance for real peace in Turkey.

– In February 2013, to Turkey’s Alevis, a minority of heterodox Muslims, Mr. Erdoğan offered this gem of wisdom: “cemevis are not places of worship.” Alevis prefer to congregate in what they call “cemevi” (houses of assembly) rather than mosques. Many of their rituals that are not recognized as worship by mainstream Sunnis. But that’s not the business of the prime minister of a secular country. Another moment when Mr. Erdoğan forgot what his job entails.

– In March 2013, Mr. Erdoğan called into question the “morality” of a lesbian couple in the Netherlands who had adopted a Turkish boy. Netherlands is known for its rigorous adoption regulations and there are few if any documented incidents where adopted children come to harm from LBGT couples who adopt them. For the Turkish prime minister to think that this Dutch couple would harass the young Turkish boy because of their sexual orientation is disturbing on many levels.

– Last month, when his party passed a bill from parliament to restrict the sale and consumption of alcohol, instead of framing the issue as a public health concern, Mr. Erdoğan preferred to fall back on religious symbols. He called the law “a dictate” of Islam and questioned why people respected laws passed by “two drunkards.” Whether the prime minister meant Atatürk and İnönü as those two “drunkards” is still uncertain.

As I write this post, Mr. Erdoğan called the opposition and the protestors “plunderers” and called for the construction of a mosque in Taksim Square in Istanbul, where the protests had originally started.

It won’t be unrealistic to expect the protests in Turkey to continue for a while.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia and a predoctoral fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).