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Erdoğan and His Surroundings

Murat Belge*

I do not believe that a political movement, anywhere in the world, that has adopted any religious ideology as its foundation and shaped its politics to achieve the goals indicated by that ideology, can be successful. It might have been possible during the time of Hammurabi; it is no longer possible now. Such a style of politics is ultimately doomed to become anti-democratic, sooner rather than later (“sooner rather than later” does not always hold, but often does). World history is full of examples of this; however, there is no example of the opposite (we certainly won’t count Iran; but Shinto was not successful either).

In Turkey, Westernization, starting from the late Ottoman period, created widespread reaction. The movement was initiated and carried forward by the dominant classes. Therefore, this reaction was able to generate a popular base. For this reason, Turkey encountered unique situations in the process it entered (for instance, some Marxists could argue that the “right to vote for everyone” was “counter-revolutionary”).

Without dragging on, the political entity that primarily represents this reaction today is the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which achieved success and came to power unlike any other party that occupies its political spectrum. I did not expect this party to perform in a way that would negate my generalization about parties based on religion. What happened was much worse than I expected, and the AKP, in particular, declared war on the left.

After making and announcing this decision, we all watched the line it pursued with the support of MHP; we experienced the results. As I said, I did not expect it to be successful, but I did not expect it to be this unsuccessful either.

The AKP and the movement it emerged from had a “popular” base, as I mentioned above. The party’s behavior towards this base was especially reckless. Even the most “elitist” capitalist parties in a system where governments can change through democratic elections would not act so harshly towards the poor. The AKP continues to implement policies that enrich the already rich segment at the expense of crushing the poor.

And there are some signals that it is starting to lose that base.

Tender policies, nepotism, and favoritism towards “our own” by turning a blind eye have reached unprecedented levels, and in these areas, Turkey’s record was never bright. The partisan appointments of all kinds of offices to incompetent individuals are especially evident in various accidents.

I would not have expected them to proceed so recklessly in harming nature. I thought the religious ideology would have a restraining effect in this area. It did not.

We did not anticipate becoming a society where various gangs run rampant, but it happened.

The developments in the legal field were the developments that concerned me. They met all my concerns in this area. Perhaps they performed better than expected here, but in the end, I cannot say that their actions were very surprising.

As expected, they are active in education. The tangible result of this activity is the frightening decline in quality that prevails in this area. Erdoğan has given statements showing that he is not pleased with the results obtained in the culture war he opened. But I don’t think there is a need to despair because of this: it was impossible to reach a different place today with the destinations he aimed to reach and the cadres he would mobilize. The cultural defeat of his enemies was not possible. He could achieve equality by banning culture; he did that too.

I haven’t talked about the economy. There is a particular transparency here. Interest policies, assessments above “nass” and so on took place in front of everyone. Erdoğan, who calls himself an “economist,” was also in the leading role in this chaos.

Institutions became dysfunctional. Even if this power changes, it is anyone’s guess how long it will take for all the mechanisms they have disrupted to become operational again.

This is the ground we have come to, and it seems we will stand here for quite some time. Even the word “stand” sounds optimistic because there is a path that leads further into negativity. A power that turns everything it touches into failure cannot remain calm under these conditions; in fact, it can particularly do rash, desperate things. Currently, I do not see a style or approach in the words or actions of the forces that make up the power side that inspires confidence.

There is a one-man show. His party clearly recognizes some discomforts; it’s evident that things are not going well. When I say “things,” there is not a “thing” that Tayyip Erdoğan has not touched. In the astonishment created by the last election, Tayyip Erdoğan also says that those responsible will be removed from “work,” but if not “him,” then who? It seems his surroundings do not think so because no criticism directed at Tayyip Erdoğan from his surroundings is observed. On the contrary, the environment tightens around the leader, “tightening the ranks.”

This is a situation we often see in populist political movements. Those who operate in the field of religious ideology do not change much in their structure either.

However, we will experience much more. We can say, “We have a lot to endure.” We will probably mature through these experiences and get out of this situation. But we have a lot to endure until we do.

*Prof. Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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