HomeExpertsRadicalization Problem of Turkish Society as Domestic and Foreign Policy Makers

Radicalization Problem of Turkish Society as Domestic and Foreign Policy Makers

Turkey virtually drifted away from NATO. In essence, this is not related to security identity. On the contrary, it is about the changing perception of interests. The sociological and domestic policy changes in Turkey ignited a new self-identity recognition. Every self-identity is built on the “other”. The Turks determined their own self-identities based on nationality at the beginning of the 20th century.

They were partly forced to do this because of realpolitik reasons. Because, the Islamic ummah (religious community) concept which was the milestone of the Ottoman identity had virtually ended, and the non-Turkish people from the Muslim communities of the empire had already been into the separation process. And a new supra-identity project, which was built on the Ottoman citizenship, would unite the Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman elements together, but it ended up being a failure. And a new identity came to existence based on Turkishness. The “others” of this identity were all the elements which revolted against the territorial integrity of the Ottomans.

The early republic period took over a pathologic inheritance based on Armenian and Kurdish elements. And the “backstabbing Arab” image of the Arabs, which expanded even more after they collaborated with the English during World War I, turned the Arabs into the “others” just like the Armenians and Kurdish others. And the Greeks, who were the clear enemies during the War of Independence, would be perceived obviously as the “others”. As to the internal “other”, it would be the Ottoman Empire itself.

Therefore, the Turkish identity of the 20th century was born with reference to these others together with the official historiography. However, the West and the Westerners never had been the “others” of this identity. The Islamists, Turkists, and the Communists tried to “otherize” the West at a later stage after the multi-party system and suggested this as an anti-thesis of the Turkish identity. Nevertheless, the approach of these groups was quite marginal. In other words, while the center-right and center-left groups, which form the essential mainstream, proceeded with the perception of a Westerner Turkey by leading to a synthesis through the Westernization ideal of the NATO membership and Ataturk, they never acknowledged the West as an opposing bloc. The relationships between the same players, just like between the other NATO members, were also the dominating approach in Turkey.

However, the Marxist-Leninists; over the left anti-imperialists and anti-Americanist rhetoric, the Ulkucu (idealists) nationalists; through an understanding close to the idealism of Omer Seyfettin that mythologizes the history of the Ottomans, and the Islamists; over the Islam-Christianity race just like it was seen with the Arabs of the 20th century, maintained an anti-Western attitude and “otherized” the West. According to this, these three approaches had the following in common: “rejecting the bad West”, and developing a “national” reflex against “its moves towards splitting Turkey into parts”. Therefore, all three ideologic trends potentially had a common ground on being anti-Western. 

Turkey, as never before, came close to a regime of democracy and human rights which was in compliance with Western standards during the European Union membership process. Although particularly the bureaucracy of Republic and the high state officials, who adopted the Western allegiance and the Western ideal of Ataturk (as a modernization approach), gradually started questioning to be in the Western club because of their concerns about the minority rights partaking in the Western norms, they handled the situation by hiding behind the “we are under special conditions” argument until the end of the 1990s.

However, when Turkey became a candidate for membership in the EU process, the matter of fulfilling the criteria of Kopenhag became a reality. Especially after the 28 February process, because of this huge uneasiness and fear rising from the separatist Kurdish movement in the 1980s, the Turkish bureaucracy, particularly TSK (Turkish Armed Forces), adopted an opposing attitude towards the EU orientation. The concern towards Islamists spoiling the secularism during the EU membership process was added on top of this. And finally after the fear towards liberal democratic values eliminating the military domination system appeared above all, the conception settled about EU and West integration not being beneficial for Turkey.

During the EU reform process, democrat elements in Turkey prosecuted the TSK elements, which had an obdurate stance, by uncovering their plans towards staging a coup. Their plans such as Ergenekon, Balyoz, and Ayisigi were revealed, and most of the soldiers who made these plans were convicted after the trials. During this process, AKP (Justice and Development Party) and Erdogan provided political support in order to confront these elements of bureaucratic guardianship which blacklisted them as Islamists.

However, when the process of 17 December started, which suggested that they were mixed up with crime and corruption, the possibility of AKP and Erdogan losing the power and being tried before the Supreme Court became real. At this point, they chose to defend their power by abandoning law. However, they needed to be authoritarian and get out of the constitutional system in order to do this. They realized that they would not be able to manage this all by themselves and decided to collaborate with the deep state, which had substantially lost its power.

Although the deep state lost its power, it was still effective in bureaucracy and jurisdiction. Moreover, CHP (Republican People’s Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) had important associations with the deep state which were crossing with each other. Pro-democratization liberalists compromised advancing on the Gulen Jamaat and separatist Kurds in order to make an agreement with the deep structure. And the demounting process of democracy started. This process was impossible to advance forward together with the Western norms, while the state of law existed. For this reason, they created justifications which were needed in order to stop the EU membership process completely. The refugee agreement with the EU provided a very important instrument into their hands. Because, it was a crucial priority for the EU to have the Syrian and other refugees remain inside Turkey and not to enter their own borders. 

Turkey created a new identity in order to legitimize this new orientation. And the “other” (bad guy) of this identity happened to be the US-NATO and EU (West!). The US, which was cooperating with the Kurdish in the field against ISIS, was introduced to the public opinion as a bad “imperialist” and “anti-Turkey” power. A propaganda campaign was started based on the allegations that the US had planned the July 15th coup attempt, and the US intelligence supported the Gulen Movement which was allegedly behind this coup attempt, and the West was displaying a destructive attitude to Turkey. And the dominant identity in Turkey was converted.

The new identity created a Western-hating new public opinion. Since the Turkish community is polarized, different circles were targeted with the appropriate discourse in order to sell them Western hostility. While the Islamists were being radicalized with a discourse focusing on the Christian West, the US being the collaborator and protector of the Zionists, MHP was influenced by this discourse quite easily and slid into a different identity together with some nationalist sauce and Ottoman context. And the left-Kemalist and nationalist circles in CHP imbued its base with the Western hostility through a more “internationalist” acknowledgment together with the Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Therefore, the Turkish people, who are polarized and separated, reunited under anti-Western grounds. The adhesive of this reuniting was obviously the hybrid ideology of nationalism-Islamism. A very serious flight from reality process started together with a perception of Turkey that blesses the state and fights against the common “enemy”.  

All of the rhetoric instruments such as 15 July, “FETO”, “disrupters”, “Armenians”, “Greeks”, “Pontus”, and the dichotomy of “local-national elements and others” which form the main discourse of today’s regime, rises through this Western hostility as a common ground. If abandoning the law forms one side of this paradigm, the other side is formed by the Western hostility.

Likewise, just as it is impossible for the regime to return back to the law, it is impossible to form a relationship of allegiance with the West and adopt the Western norms again! In order to understand the new security identity of Turkey, it is of great importance to analyze and correctly interpret this identity transformation. It is impossible to put them in the same context and correctly interpret them without comprehending the dynamics of domestic politics, which lie behind domestic politics identity policies, and foreign policy maneuvers such as buying S-400 from Russia, having Russia build nuclear power plants, taking action in Syria with Kremlin’s strategy, and taking the US and NATO on.

Moreover, it is impossible to explain how AKP, MHP, CHP, and other parties manage to reach a consensus about leaving the US-NATO allegiance without considering the identity policies I have tried to analyze above. Domestic and foreign politics in Turkish history, especially concerning the relationship with the West, has always been in an interacting and intricate relationship.

Since the Tanzimat Reform Era, the normative measures of the West and the extent of security and domestic politics have always been related to each other. Within this context, it is impossible to make progress towards democratization or the matter of regime, and return back to the rational reasoning in security politics without developing domestic and foreign policy strategies which will prevent Turkey of going into Russia’s orbit. I do not believe that the course of events will change without the coalition, which decides the domestic and foreign politics of this regime, falls apart, and especially without the Eurasianist wing is separated from TSK and the state. I believe that a great responsibility awaits the Western allies on this matter.  

The Turkish version of this article appeared at TR724.com

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PROF. MEHMET EFE CAMAN
PROF. MEHMET EFE CAMAN
Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.
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