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HomeHeadlineWho Is Responsible for the Regime in Turkey?

Who Is Responsible for the Regime in Turkey?

Erdoğan came to power alone. However, this was not enough to establish the regime. Moreover, I am not sure if he wanted to bring the regime to these points from the very beginning; I am not entirely certain. Even if he wanted, he couldn’t achieve it, and he was aware of that. Politically, they wouldn’t have allowed him to do so if he had attempted it. Therefore, there is no continuity between 2002 and 2023. On his first day as Prime Minister, he had not envisioned his position and power in 2023, and he couldn’t (assuming he is a rational actor). Hence, it is not possible to claim that everything happened as part of a rational plan from 2002 to 2023. There may be desires, preferences, weaknesses, ambitions, coincidences, and reactions, but there is no comprehensive, well-calculated, consistent, and persistent rational plan.

The establishment, consolidation, and constant reproduction of this regime cannot be solely explained by Erdogan. He is not a cunning planner, the sole responsible figure behind all the evils that we can reduce and embody. Erdogan and his team are indeed one of the main pillars of this regime, and I do not overlook that when I say these things. Without Erdogan and the conditions that led to the emergence of the AKP, such a regime might not have been possible. Turkey has seen many charismatic and powerful politicians, faced military decision-makers capable of using hard power in numerous military coups, and approached the brink of such shifts in its axis through various domestic and international factors, but none of them could detach Turkey from the rule of law and democracy to this extent. Not even in the extraordinary and powerful interim regime of the 1980 military coup, the law was not trampled upon to this extent. Furthermore, the officers of September 12 [1980 coup], despite their immense power, could not construct a mechanism through the judiciary to ensure the continuity of their rule. They couldn’t even attempt it! Because even in their weakest moments, power balances existed in the political arena in Turkey. Moreover, they had to consider the reaction of voters, or more precisely, citizens. An excessive concentration of power was not possible.

Sometimes moments come when everything goes wrong. In an imperfect social reality, even probabilities that would not occur according to probability calculations can become part of the equation. Even the slightest probability carries the potential to become reality. The simultaneous occurrence of different small probabilities negatively affects the likelihood of each one coming true.

Apart from Erdogan and the AKP, there were other important conditions that paved the way for the change in the regime in Turkey. Especially the dramatic decrease in Turkey’s importance in European security after the end of the Cold War is crucial. In connection with this, the identity and belonging crisis experienced in Turkey also played an important role. In this context, while the Kurdish issue led Turkey into an identity crisis, instead of seeking a civic new identity on geographical foundations, ethnic-racist Unionist and early Kemalist foundations were employed. After the post-Soviet Turkic republics were presented as the “Turkic world” and a sense of belonging to a world extending “from the Adriatic to the Great Wall of China,” Turkey’s main orientation problem turned into a kind of identity adventure. This further marginalized the Kurds domestically and accelerated and facilitated the process of attaining and strengthening national consciousness. On the other hand, it eroded and sharpened the identity based on Turkish superiority and ethnic Turkism in Turkey. With the absurdity called the Turkish history thesis, while Western nations were transforming their states with globalization in the 1990s, Turkey missed the train, became more introverted, and fell victim to more complexes. The worst part is that in this environment, generations were indoctrinated with this poison for the last 30 years. A society emerged that was detached from the world and, worse, mentally unfit. All these factors brought Turkey closer to its current socio-political situation.

Another external determinant, in connection with what I summarized above, was the EU’s decision not to integrate Turkey. If Turkey had been given a full membership date in 2005, the EU process could have provided an opportunity for an Anatolian democratization akin to Mediterranean or Eastern European democratizations. Europe acted rationally from its perspective. By adopting a position to deepen financial, cultural, and geopolitical integration into the EU, they effectively rendered Turkey isolated by the 2010s.

The Arab Spring, as a third external factor, hastened the inevitable outcome. While Islamists were dreaming of Friday prayers at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, they turned their heads the other way when the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq became radicalized, and they chose to politically exploit this Sunni radicalism. This destabilized Turkey’s southern neighborhood and triggered a process pregnant with serious demographic impacts.

The Turkish Armed Forces, bureaucracy, academia, foreign affairs, and finance, all those entrenched cadres were quite uncomfortable with this process. But the reforms during the EU process disproportionately strengthened the politics and allowed an unchecked political power. These forces were influential nonetheless. Especially in the Turkish Armed Forces! On December 17, 2013, the Islamist kleptocratic elite, who were caught red-handed, made a decision to form a coalition with the deep structures they had previously collaborated with the Gülen Movement to save themselves. With the pretext of conspiracy against the Turkish Armed Forces, all coup defendants were released. The Gülen Movement was declared the Parallel State Structure, and they were targeted. Erdogan seized the judiciary and dismantled the constitutional state architecture built on the principle of separation of powers. He couldn’t have done this alone, but the new political coalition formed through deep state elements and the MHP provided him with this opportunity. Consequently, they orchestrated the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and irrevocably eradicated the remnants of the old regime in the Turkish Armed Forces. An unprecedented purge operation was conducted worldwide. The state was divided between the Erdoganists and the Ergenekonists. While the deep state controlled hard power, the soft power on display was handed over to Erdogan and his followers. They spread the purges to the entire bureaucracy through decrees (KHK). Especially the judiciary and academia were completely crushed.

Inevitably, this regime change would have serious consequences. And indeed, it did. While an authoritarian regime detached from law, justice, and human rights emerged internally, externally, the NATO-EU oriented foreign policy gave way to a new foreign policy directed towards Russia, Iran, and China. As Turkey’s institutional relations were reduced to formality, in practice, there was a complete shift in Turkey’s foreign policy. In this way, the pressure of the EU process on law and democracy was nullified internally. When millions resulting from the Syria adventure flocked to Turkey’s borders to move to Europe, Erdogan found another blackmail tool. Thus, the EU, which already lacked a well-defined strategic will to transform Turkey, became further incapacitated. This created quite advantageous conditions for Erdogan and his Eurasian partners to achieve the regime transformation they desired.

During this process, Turkish democracy died completely. The makeup that gave the political system the image of democracy was an electoral process. They kept alive the impression that it was possible to get rid of this regime

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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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