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HomeExpertsErdogan’s Sharp Transformation from a Conservative Democrat to an Autocrat

Erdogan’s Sharp Transformation from a Conservative Democrat to an Autocrat

Experts in Turkey are looking for an answer to a sharp question: Did Erdogan have a secret agenda from the very beginning, or was Erdogan poisoned by the power he had gained?

Both ideas have very assertive supporters. Some say Erdogan tricked everybody by stating “I’ve changed, I no longer support the political Islamist ideas” and suspended his tactical promises in terms of democracy after he obtained the state power, and started to be a dictator progressively.

While the others say that Erdogan had really intended to change, made an effort, took concrete steps towards a democratic change, but after obtaining the state power altogether, he couldn’t resist the charm and decided to be the one man. Meanwhile, he decided to remove the separation of powers in order to run away from the democratic inspection after his, his family’s, and his ministers’ names were included inside the tangible evidences during the 2013 corruption cases.


Actually, there are two types of Erdogan.

First one is the leader of the democratic change which had started in 2002. The other is the political leader who do not recognize any law, which had started back in 2010.

During the first term, Erdogan describes himself as “conservative democrat”, and takes concrete steps towards joining the European Union.

The second Erdogan started to show in 2010, and portrayed himself as proud, arrogant, and patronizing, who was besotted with being the one man with a motive that wants to control everything.

First Erdogan received support from everybody, who favored democracy, with reformist legislations in the parliament. Turkey was becoming more independent, more democrat, and more transparent thanks to the legislations he had pushed through, and there were promises made about the EU criteria on the way of this objective. This development was being recorded to history together with the EU progress reports. Because of this progressivism-democrat look, Turkey basically had become a model country for the Islam world. Turkey was both protecting its Islamic identification, and fulfilling the requirements of modern democracy by making progress towards matters such as human rights, rule of law, and separation of powers. During the first term, there were even brave steps taken towards the Kurdish problem which had been ongoing for years, torture was reduced to zero, and the concepts such as rights, equality, and justice were all kept alive.

The starting date of the second Erdogan story is controversial.

Some say the reforms had already stopped in the beginning of 2010, Turkey had become introverted, and attribute the downfall to this fact. While the others attribute the u turn of Erdogan to the Gezi Park Protests in May 2013. They think that Erdogan, who had forged a link between the Gezi Park Protests and the Arab Spring, was seized with fear, and even panicked. Without a doubt, the most clear and significant steps towards despotism had started on 17 December 2013.

The exposed documents on 17 December about corruption and bribes caused four ministers to resign from duty, however, Erdogan defended himself that all of the claims were actually a coup attempt against him.


“Erdogan was always the same; he had a secret agenda, and displayed himself as if he was a democrat. Right after he found the opportunity, he was unmasked.” The people who think like this have a lot of evidences. However, most of the defended opinions are based on many conspiracy theories. Some, who believe that Erdogan had a secret agenda, see him as a man of some other power. Erdogan’s role in such assertion, where he becomes a project man, is nothing but a walk-on. Besides, in all of the assertions, where Erdogan is thought to be somebody working for secret powers, Turkey is divided, split, and crisis break out until some kind of civil war starts and so forth. These are very big allegations, which are also very serious, but the masses love such conspiracy theories, because they unlock the complicated events just like a locksmith. Even though some of them were backed up by correct information, Erdogan is a man who cannot be stopped in this theory. There is only one way to stop him according to the ones who believe this conspiracy; the end of his term. Once that is over, he will be casted aside.

According to some, Erdogan had really tried to be a democrat, but he was not strong enough. According to his own statement, Erdogan, who never reads a book, listened the summaries of the books from the bureaucrats, tried democracy, but he failed. His capacity was not enough, and also, it did not sit his book. Especially the documents about corruption, accusations such as providing weapons and manpower to the war in Syria, forced him to run away both from the domestic and international justice. The reason he runs away from EU, NATO and IMF is the fear of an inspection.

Invalidating the parliament, neutralizing the audit office, and attributing the jurisdiction to himself only are actions taken by him because of the fact that he wants to get rid of every opponent in the media, and the fear of being called to account.


Political scientists, and the historians will say and write many things about Erdogan’s significant change. As a matter of fact, they already are. It is obvious that the opinions produced are illuminating. I will share two short memories of mine in this article, so Erdogan’s change will be understood better. As a matter of fact, in order to welcome the theoretical information and interpretations in a better way, the people, who witnessed the change, must tell about their experiences. Today, Erdogan is feared dearly. That is why nobody tells about their experiences, which they had witnessed. Once the objective and right-minded memories are revealed, everybody will understand in a batter way how an elected leader turned into a dictator.

I suppose this memory, which reveals both types of Erdogan, will be illuminating.

I found out that AKP (Justice and Development Party) was facing a closure case (14 March 2008) while I was in Senegal. I was shocked. Not only me, but also President Abdullah Gul, who had invited me and the other two journalists to Senegal, was shocked too. Gul had talked about democracy to the leaders of the Islamic countries, and exemplified Turkey just one day ago. Those shiny words stated in the Islamic Conference were suddenly thrown into the garbage. Erdogan’s party, which had been elected by the people and taken democratic steps towards EU, was facing a closure, and Gul was amongst the defendants. We were embarrassed in front of the Islamic world…


I asked for an appointment from Erdogan right after I returned back to Turkey. And I obtained it quite shortly. I found him tired, sad, and also exhausted. I wanted to console him, and I remember saying something like “I believe your party will not be closed”. He responded hopelessly, “They will close it. Don’t you see?” And I told Erdogan that it should not be closed, just like the way I insisted in my column. The reason was quite simple: if a political party known for its Islamic identity, which was elected and came to power in a democratic way , gets closed, it would only rise up better than ever and would state “As everybody can see clearly, democracy is a trick, what really matters is the armed struggle.” This was a dangerous discourse, and preventing this was a requirement towards believing democracy.

Erdogan reproached interestingly to be and said: “What should I do now, millions of people are protesting me in the streets, and should I also tell all of my supporters to hit the streets?”

I loved that sentence. “Citizens are not be confronted by other citizens.” A greedy politician who thinks otherwise would drag the country into a civil war. However, Erdogan, who had millions of supporters behind him, was acting responsible, and trying to find a solution in legal grounds.


Gezi Protests started in May, 2013. Pursuant to a new planning in Taksim, Istanbul, the trees were being cut. Since the protesting youth, who were responded with violence by the state authorities, the incident got out of hands, only to spread even more and got bigger. 10 days after these incidents, we made an appointment to see Erdogan together with two fellow journalists. He was very angry. Once he said “I spoke with the prime minister of Algeria. There were also incidents just like Gezi Protests. They sent out the police, it was useless, then soldiers, again nothing. Then they decided to send their own paramilitary supporters towards the protestors, and the problem went away. I couldn’t believe what I’ve heard.”

Erdogan, who wanted to fight responsibly, patient, and with justice when his party was facing closure, had disappeared, and instead a new man arrived who had intended to crush his opponents with his paramilitary supporters. This was terrifying. I couldn’t hold myself anymore and told my insurrection to his face. Should he hearkens the prime minister of Algeria and chooses an oppressive way, this would suspend democracy, and would lead Turkey into a dead end.

Unfortunately, it was already all over, and Erdogan had already turned into a different man. Or, because of the power he had thought that he gained, he did not need the democrat mask anymore.

It is a fact that Erdogan is changed, transformed, lost himself, and he is an arrogance of power. Everybody is trying to understand this tight transformation, which is the main reason for such assertions are being made. Which one is more persuasive? I cannot clearly tell. Theoretical comparisons in order to understand this terrifying transformation could end up insufficient. The people, who witnessed history, must leave their fears behind and pull through the oppression in order to share their experiences. When a more independent environment is formed one day, I believe you will be able to reach further information which will surprise everyone.

Exrem Dumanli is an author, journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of Turkish Daily Zaman.

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Ekrem Dumanlı is a journalist, author and the former Editor-in-Chief of Turkish Daily Zaman.

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