Politurco is a new and rapidly growing online platform focused primarily on Turkish politics, the Middle East and the Muslim world. Our commitment to providing topical information in accordance with the highest standards of journalistic and academic ethics and integrity has attracted not only a range of new expert contributors, but also praise from readers. The following is a review of the best recent Politurco articles in June 2018, on political, economic and social developments in Turkey.
The June 21 article that I wrote on “Erdogan’s Ambition for the Caliphate and the Failure of Turkish Democracy” examines the historical and systemic obstacles to democracy in Turkey, including the resilience of Kemalist institutions and the dichotomy between the traditionally strong Turkish state and the weak society. Thus, despite initial hopes that the AKP would advance democracy in Turkey, these obstacles, together with the AKP’s tendency to instrumentalize democracy for its own ends, have led to the creation of a more authoritarian system. I argue that Erdogan’s charismatic personality and leadership style have also played a crucial role in the transformation of the political system in Turkey. The idealization of the 2023 target and visions of a resurrected caliphate have further damaged democratic institutions in Turkey and led to radical shifts in both domestic and foreign policy.
“A Theological Examination of the Hadith, “War is Deception”, by Professor Zeki Saritoprak, published on June 12, observes that this hadith has circulated among some political Islamist groups as a justification for lying, stealing, or not fulfilling agreements. The article explains that this interpretation is a distortion of the hadith and should not be a blanket justification for this un-Islamic behavior. It emphasizes that honesty and trustworthiness are core principles of Islam and sets out the various prohibitions on misuse of trust, lying and treachery. The author also explains the Prophet’s strong personal commitment to tell the truth. Although there are limited circumstances in which it is permissible to choose words carefully (tawriyya) or even to lie for the welfare of something else (maslaha), it is restricted to very specific words or actions that do not violate the spirit of the general prohibition of lying.
The author of the June 19 article, Doctoral researcher Abdulmelik Alkan, on “How Martin Luther King Jr.’s Inspiring Words Resonate with a Speech from the Edirne Prison in Turkey” highlights similarities between some of King’s most famous speeches with the speech of Kurdish Opposition Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas. Demirtas, a presidential candidate in the June 24 elections, emphasized elections as a moral way in which to overcome the crisis in Turkey, echoing King’s call for non-violent resistance to oppression. Both greet their followers from jail, innocent but nevertheless imprisoned due to the injustice that they have faced. Both believe that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” with Demirtas warning of the consequences of Erdogan’s attempts at polarization and calling on people to ensure a better future for the country by not voting for the AKP.
“Turkey’s Economic Bubble,” by Professor David L. Phillips, published June 12, argues that, like Slobodan Milosevic, Erdogan is trying to solve one problem—a faltering economy—by creating a bigger one—provoking confrontation with Greece and launching attacks on the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. The article details current Turkish economic problems and notes that Erdogan is creating a security crisis in order to distract voters. Given the history of conflict, both Greece and the PKK are convenient, if risky, scapegoats. A conflict with Greece could lead to a further deterioration of Turkish relations with NATO, while the incursion in Iraq is a big military challenge that could test Turkey’s alliances and backfire with voters. Either way, the article argues that an Erdogan victory on June 24 will have serious negative consequences for Turkey, and the region as a whole.
The May 30 article by Dr. Bulent Kenes, on “Instrumentalization of Islam: Hayrettin Karaman’s Role in Erdogan’s Despotism” argues that Karaman shares responsibility with Erdogan for the ongoing process of authoritarianism in Turkey. Karaman, a theologian and author, has misused his religious authority and influence over Erdogan, and has in effect instrumentalized Islam to support and justify the AKP’s increasing authoritarianism and its oppression and persecution of political opponents. The article details ways in which Karaman has distorted Islamic principles, to the point that he nearly equates the deeds forbidden by religion (haram) with religious duty (farz). In this way, Karaman and like-minded theologians have opened the door for the state to commit crimes against humanity.
“The Rise of Islamophobia and Political Islam” by Dr. Mahmut Akpinar, from May 30 explores the recent increase in the extreme right-wing in Western Europe, which has led in parallel to an increase in racist rhetoric and hostility towards foreigners, especially Muslim immigrants. The article says that the September 11, 2001 attacks provided NATO and the West with an enemy, namely “Muslims” and “Islam.” Further terrorist attacks legitimized intervention in the Middle East in the eyes of the West, while alienating and angering Muslim youth. Radicalization of some elements contributed to what has now become a cycle of violence, where occupation generates support for extremism and terror, which in turn feed Islamophobia. The article shows the role played by Western media in this process, as well as the negative effects of misplaced blame over economic decline in the West. Another reason for the increase in Islamophobia is the failure of Muslim religious scholars and leaders to forcefully and decisively reject terrorism, helped to link “Islam” and “terror” in the minds of many in the West. The lack of integration of Muslim immigrants is another factor feeding Islamophobia.
World Refugee Day, June 21, was the inspiration behind the article “An Extraordinary Migration Story.” Doctoral researcher Deniz Zengin tells the story of two young refugees from Syria, Mouaz Al Balkhi and Shadi Omar Kataf, whose bodies washed up on the shores of Norway and the Netherlands in early 2015. The article details Mouaz’s life, his arduous journey to a migrant camp in Calais and his ultimately fatal attempt, together with his friend Shadi, to make it to the UK. Their story is emblematic of the difficulties faced by many of the approximately 1.5 million refugees that have fled to Europe over the Mediterranean route. Escape from war has not meant the end of their suffering; they face significant hardships on the way and even once they arrive in Europe. The author calls on the West to provide these refugees with the chance to rebuild their lives in safety and peace.
The June 21 article entitled, “Is this the end of Erdogan’s exploitation of religion?” by investigative journalist Faruk Mercan considers whether Erdogan’s attempts to use religion for political purposes will have the same success as in the past. Erdogan has been known to resort to religious quotes or images to shore up his image in difficult political circumstances. The article argues that this tactic no longer works against candidates like Muharrem İnce and Selahattin Demirtaş. Similarly, Erdogan’s reliance on “The People” and his image as the “People’s Man” are undermined by the significant challenge that the opposition “people’s alliance” poses to AKP rule.
The article “Turkey at A Crossroads Again, But This Time: Between Old and Young…” published May 31 by Professor Elvan Aktas discusses how demographics shaped and supported economic growth in Turkey for decades, and how a shift in demographics towards an older population will likely hurt the economy. Not only are there fewer young people, a traditional engine of growth in Turkey, but an older population and rising life expectancy mean a huge increase in social costs—making the Turkish economic model unsustainable. Nevertheless, Turkey is well placed, both geographically and demographically, to be an important player in regional trade and stability, which is one of the most important determinants of future economic success and welfare. For this reason, demographic changes need to be managed carefully. This also has implications for dealing with the nearly four million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The June 1 article, “Turkey at a Crossroad,” by Professor Richard Penaskovic explores the background and aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup, disputing the allegation that Fethullah Gülen was behind the coup. The article faults the EU for delaying Turkey’s EU membership, which it posits could have triggered Erdogan’s authoritarian impulses. Erdogan has used the coup attempt as grounds to imprison or fire thousands of military and civil service personnel, journalists, judges and prosecutors, often without due process, and to close down 158 media outlets. Women also suffer under a culture of violence. In parallel, Erdogan has waged war on the Kurds—despite the fact that Syrian Kurds were the strongest allies against Daesh or ISIS. He has strengthened his own power and position, turning Turkey into a kleptocracy rather than a democracy. The June 24 elections represent a crossroad. Will Erdogan win? And if he does, will potential allegations of fraud lead to protest? What role will Turkey’s increasingly precarious economic situation play in the election?
The development and status of Alevis in Turkey is the focus of the June 5 article that I wrote entitled, “Are the Alevis and Sunnis equal in Turkey?” Regardless of whether it is defined as a religious ideology, a cult, a sect, a culture, or a political formation, following its awakening in the 1980s and 1990s, Alevism is most definitely a real presence in Turkey. Although governments have a duty to treat all citizens equally, Alevi freedom of religion is not respected under AKP rule. The AKP has done nothing to implement its past electoral promises to provide a legal status for the Alevi places of worship (Djemevi), despite an ECHR ruling on the official recognition of the Djemevi as a sanctuary in Turkey. The article notes that Alevis are likely to be among those Turks seeking to emigrate to democratic countries that will better protect their human rights.
“Turkey’s Friends and Enemies: What Does Public Perception Tell Us?” published May 28 by Doctoral researcher Abdulmelik Alkan, examines the results of several polls conducted in 2017 across Turkey. One survey, focused on questions about Turkey and Turkish foreign policy, showed a shift in Turkish foreign policy in accordance with the Turkish government’s political and economic relationships with other countries. Mistrust of the U.S. and the EU has soared, while trust in Russia—despite several negative developments—has increased significantly. While Turkey has a long history of anti-Americanism, this mistrust of the EU is relatively new; in fact, the EU was seen as the most important long-term partner for Turkey in a 2004 survey. Another 2017 survey revealed that support for NATO is decreasing, although a majority of respondents still support Turkey’s EU membership. The article concludes that these changing perceptions are a reflection of the Turkish leadership’s expressions of resentment towards EU countries for blocking Turkish political rallies or refusing to hand over suspected coup supporters, and their praise for rapprochement with Russia. Public perceptions are also highly negative on Turkey’s involvement in Syria and the presence of huge numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The June 10 article on “Illegal Immigration and Syrian Refugees” by Doctoral researcher Deniz Zengin provides an overview of recent trends and developments in this area. It notes that the number of refugees has more than doubled in the past 20 years, with more than 10 million forced to flee their home in 2016 alone. The International Organization for Migration estimates that around 4,000 refugees die every year while trying to get to the EU. An estimated 13 million Syrians have been displaced due to the ongoing civil war. Slightly more than half fled, resettling in neighboring countries like Turkey (3.5 mil.), Lebanon (1 mil.), and Jordan (660,000); approximately one million fled to Europe. Frontex estimates that at least 1.8 million refugees illegally entered the EU in 2015, the highest number recorded thus far. Over the past three years, more than one million refugees entered the EU via the maritime route through Turkey to Greece—despite a readmission agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in 2016. The article criticizes the lack of safe, legal options for seeking asylum in Europe, arguing that the current policies drive desperate refugees into the hands of human traffickers.
“The nameless victims of an insane era,” published June 8, by investigative journalist Ahmet Donmez criticizes the cruel and seemingly arbitrary persecution of many Turks for doing things that most would consider normal—reading the newspaper, sending their kids to school, donating to a charity, or even downloading an app. None of these activities are in and of themselves illegal; in fact, many of the ruling elite do the same things without being accused of being “terrorists.” The article recalls the concept of “criminals without a crime” which debuted in Soviet Russia. On the basis of this concept, it is easy to fabricate “crimes” supposedly committed by targeted individuals or groups, and to punish them and their families. Conversely, those who are not “on the list” are protected. In this way, whole groups may become suspect, such as what happened with the judiciary in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. According to the article, the government’s actions since 2013 amount to a witch hunt, with dire consequences for tens of thousands of Turkish citizens and hundreds of private institutions and businesses.
According to “A Possible Scenario: Erdogan’s Macro Plan” of June 12, by investigative journalist Kamil Maman, Erdogan seeks to legitimize his dictatorship in the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections. It is the culmination of years of planning and concerted action to secure absolute power for Erdogan. The December 2013 corruption investigation was a turning point for Turkey; Erdogan thwarted his prosecution by punishing those he saw as threats to his continued rule and took control over the legislative, law enforcement and judicial systems, as well as restricting the media. The article details many of the steps taking by Erdogan towards construction of an authoritarian system, which ensures that Turkey will be governed from a single center. In such a situation, it is impossible to expect that the June 24 elections could be free or fair. He is a dictator who has invested great effort in eliminating opposition to his rule; this will likely continued if he wins the election, with devastating effects for Turkey.
A June 12 article by veteran journalist Veysel Ayhan asks the question, “Is Erdogan mentally stable?” It notes the concern about Erdogan’s mental health expressed by a number of doctors in Turkey, citing a number of examples of blatantly false statements made by Erdogan as indications of his poor mental state. In the run-up to the elections, not only Erdogan’s but also many of the AKP leadership’s statements appear to be completely divorced from reality.
“Energy Policies of Turkey During the Erdogan Era: Facts and Lies,” published June 9, summarizes the recent book with this title written by prominent scholar Dr. Tugce Varol. The book observes that Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule and his unclear energy policies have had a negative impact on Turkey’s energy security. The book examines Turkey’s relations and energy cooperation with a range of countries, including Russia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, and Syria. It notes that Iran is one of the most significant players in the Turkish energy sector, a relationship that is threatened by the “Zarrab” case. The book reveals the failures of Erdogan’s energy policies over the past decade. He has narrowly focused on construction of pipelines, using companies with connections to his family, rather than on measures to ensure uninterrupted, affordable, and reliable energy resources for the country.
The June 14 article on “Erdogan’s “Trojan Horse” In Macedonia” by Professor Alon Ben-Meir and investigative journalist Arbana Xharra, laments that Macedonia’s leaders have embraced Turkish patronage of the country without considering the potential long-term ramifications of this policy. Turkish propaganda and investments over the past decade have succeeded in convincing a majority of the ethnic-Albanian population that Erdogan is the only leader they can trust; those who aren’t convinced are too afraid of retribution to speak up.
Erdogan has instrumentalized the very real historical ethnic and political problems between Macedonians and Albanians in order to position himself as a religious and cultural benefactor and defender of the Albanians. Meanwhile, Turkey’s investment and trade efforts are largely directed at the Macedonian side. Together, these policies have made the Turkish government an important influence in the country, where it also serves as a role model for political parties and politicians, spreading Erdogan’s Islamist agenda among Albanians. The article argues that this approach amounts to a Trojan Horse, designed to dominate and shape Macedonia from within, in accordance with Turkey’s wishes.