Gözümden kaçmış, The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics'deki AKP maddesini İbrahim Kalın yazmış, aşırı objektif felan. 2023 anırmasıyla bitiyor
The Ak Party in Turkey
The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics
The Ak Party in Turkey
This article discusses the emergence of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi; the AK Party) as a center-right political movement with Islamic and national roots. It examines the AK Party’s political ideology of “conservative democracy” within the context of the new dynamics of twenty-first-century Turkish politics. It evaluates the AK Party’s performance in government since taking office in 2002. Finally, the AK Party’s foreign policy and its struggle to overcome oppositional identities are considered.
Justice and Development Party
I assure you I do not aim at singularity. I give you opinions which have been accepted amongst us, from very early times to this moment, with a continued and general approbation, and which indeed are worked into my mind that I am unable to distinguish what I have learned from others from the results of my own meditation.1
THE rise of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi; mentioned hereafter as the AK Party) into prominence in Turkish society and politics is the result of a complex set of circumstances. The AK Party’s political outlook, performance in government, electoral base, and successive victories at the ballot box require a proper understanding of Turkish culture and politics at the turn of the second millennium. Major changes in Turkey’s surrounding region and the international system since the end of the Cold War have opened up new possibilities for Turkey to assert itself as a major regional power and global player in its foreign policy. Coming to power after a series of economic crises and political stalemate in the late 1990s, the AK Party has been a catalyst of social change and set in motion a new period of reform in Turkish politics. The AK Party’s dominance, however, has also been ensured by its ability to be a conduit of change demanded by the Turkish public in general as well as the European Union (EU) criteria. While redefining the main parameters of Turkish politics, the successive AK Party governments since 2002 have made use of the enduring elements of Turkish culture and society, thus treading a carefully crafted path between tradition and change. Acting with a cosmopolitan spirit, the AK Party leaders have embraced both national values and global trends and sought to create a synthesis—a synthesis that suggests new modes of relation between tradition and modernity on the one hand and Islam and the political order on the other.
The AK Party’s reformist agenda, while gaining support from its electoral base and the outside world, has brought it into confrontation with the prominent elements of the Turkish establishment including the military, judiciary, media, and pro-status quo business circles. Major divisions have arisen over such critical issues as the 1982 constitution written by the military generals of the 1980 military coup, civil rights and liberties, freedom of religion including the headscarf ban at Turkish universities, the Kurdish issue, demands of the Alevi community, non-Muslim minorities, and civilian-military relations. The AK Party has also faced resistance from the old foreign policy circles that criticize the AK Party for allegedly moving Turkey away from its traditional Western vocation and placing it within a more Eastern and Islamic-looking axis. In addition to the opposition of legal political parties, the AK Party governments have survived several coup attempts in 2003 and 2004, the alleged perpetrators of which have been tried in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases.
Under the dynamic and bold leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the successive AK Party governments have had a twofold performance. On the one hand, they have dealt with issues of “high politics” such as democratization, minority rights, secularism, and civilian-military relations and broken many taboos in the country’s recent history. On the other hand, they have implemented effective policies to fix the economy, establish a sound financial system, increase trade and foreign direct investment, and inject a new energy into foreign policy—areas in which they have been extremely successful. Steady economic growth, despite the ill effects of the global financial crisis of 2007, has been the backbone of the AK Party’s reformist politics and assertive foreign policy. These policies have redefined center-periphery relations in Turkey and created new social and economic opportunities for the disfranchised segments of Turkish society.
In this period of deep social change, massive political realignment, and economic growth, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a trailblazer with his charismatic personality, bold political moves, and impressive performance to garner support from among the wide spectrum of Turkish society. Whether confronting the generals, big businesses, media bosses, or Israel, Erdogan has become a powerful voice of the periphery and the marginalized and challenged the establishment in both domestic and international politics. Erdogan has not shied away from taking political risks sometimes at his own peril but has managed to survive several major crises such as the coup attempts of 2003 and 2004 and the closure case against his own party in 2008. Successive electoral victories and increasing popularity have emboldened Erdogan in implementing his reformist agenda and reshaping the main contours of Turkish politics. These elements have brought Erdogan regional and international fame as a regional and global leader watched closely by different constituencies from Europe and the United States to the Balkans and the Middle East. In many ways, Erdogan’s personal story, about which he remains rather shy, has become the story of Turkey and the surrounding region in the first decade of the twenty-first century.2
In what follows, I will discuss the rise of the AK Party as a center-right political movement with Islamic and national roots and analyze its political identity and reformist agenda in the context of the state-centered tradition of Turkish politics. I shall discuss the AK Party’s self-perception as a party of “conservative democracy” within the context of the new dynamics of Turkish politics in the twenty-first century. This will be followed by an evaluation of the AK Party’s performance in government since it took office in 2002 and its efforts to strike a balance between politics of identity and politics of services. Finally, I shall look at the AK Party’s foreign policy and its struggle to overcome oppositional identities in the new global system with multiple centers and emerging powers.
The AK Party’s Political Identity: “Conservative Democracy”
The AK Party’s political ideology formulated as “conservative democracy” has emerged in response to the rigid ideological divisions of Turkish politics in the twentieth century. Taking elements from both the right and the left of the political spectrum, the AK Party founders have sought to create a political identity wide enough to embrace different segments of Turkish society from the religious and conservative to the urban and the liberal. They have also embraced the new opportunities of globalization and sought to reconcile them with the traditional Islamic and national values of Turkey. This critical attitude has added an important dimension of cosmopolitanism to the AK Party’s brand of Islam and political conservatism and enabled it to look East and West at the same time.3Overcoming the fears and threat perceptions of the Cold War era has been one of the hallmarks of the AK Party’s political identity and self-perception. Speaking in 2003, Erdogan articulated this point as follows:
"One observes that, like in the case of socialism, liberalism, and conservatism, all political movements are going through a substantive process of interaction with each other. We now witness not a differentiation and polarization of ideologies with sharp and bold lines of division between them, but the formation of new political courses accompanying the pervasiveness of different ideologies. We have before us, therefore, a more colored and multidimensional picture rather than a sharp black-and-white image.4"
An important component of this “substantive process of interaction” has been the desire to overcome such oppositional identities as religious versus democratic, Islamic versus Western, conservative versus liberal, urban versus rural, and patriotic versus globalist. Such binary oppositions have shaped Turkish culture and politics during the Cold War but can no longer explain the multifaceted realities of the twenty-first century. The new generation of Turkish policy makers, which include many of the AK Party’s founders and key players, witnessed the rapid transformation of Turkish culture and politics under Turgut Ozal in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Ozal years were a period of struggle to integrate Turkey into the global political system after the end of the Cold War, when many policy makers feared that Turkey would lose its strategic significance and relevance for the Western alliance. Acting with a globalist outlook but conservative base, Ozal sought to reform the Turkish political system by opening Turkey up to the new forces of globalization.
The AK Party’s political roots, however, go back not to Ozal but to Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the National Outlook Movement (Milli Gorus). Both Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s current president and a close friend of Erdogan, as well as other founders of the AK Party such as Bulent Arinc have entered politics under Erbakan in the 1970s. Until the founding of the AK Party in 2001, they have defended the core political ideas of Milli Gorus regarding Turkey’s EU membership, cultural policies, and relations with the Muslim world. But after Erdogan and Gul parted their ways with Erbakan and his Virtue Party in the early 2000 and founded the AK Party, they have adopted a radically different perspective and redefined their political ideology. While the AK Party leadership has been accused by its detractors as a continuation of Milli Gorus and thus maintaining its core Islamist stance, the AK Party has forged a new political identity based on cosmopolitan values, conservative politics, liberal economic policies, and a globalist and pro-active foreign policy.5
As the AK Party has positioned itself as a center-right conservative party, it has distinguished itself from the Islamist political parties in the Muslim world. In contrast to Islamist movements that aim to establish a Shari‘ah state, the AK Party embraces pluralism and democracy and supports the Anglo-American definition of secularism, which keeps the state at an equal distance to all faiths and religions. This notion of secularism does not establish religion as a source of legislation; instead, it focuses on freedom of religion and the protection of religion from political manipulation. Thus Erdogan separates religion as a source of moral and social values from religion as a basis of state legislation. Articulating this point in 2004, Erdogan said,
"While attaching importance to religion as a social value, we do not think it is right to conduct politics through religion, to attempt to transform government ideologically by using religion, or to resort to organizational activities based on religious symbols. To make religion an instrument of politics and to adopt exclusive approaches to politics in the name of religion harms not only political pluralism but also religion itself. Religion is a sacred and collective value.6"
Erdogan reiterated this view of secularism in his visit to Egypt in September 2011 in the aftermath of the fall of Hosni Mubarak, causing a lively debate among Egyptian Islamists.
Militant Secularism and Democratization
In order to fully appreciate the AK Party’s fine-tuning of secularism, it would be useful to compare and contrast it with the aggressive and militant versions of Turkish secularism. The aggressive Turkish secularists see secularism not simply as a separation of religious and state affairs but as a comprehensive worldview and complete lifestyle. Following the nineteenth-century concepts of rationalism, positivism, scientism, and individualism, the militant secularists see religion and tradition as an absolute other of secularism, modernity, development, and progress and seek to use state power to impose a secularist worldview in the name of modernization. The oppressive nature of Turkish secularism has thus resulted in the curbing of basic religious rights for both the Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. Not only aggressively antireligious and antitradition programs of social engineering have been turned into a rigid state ideology but also such issues as the banning of headscarves in schools, and universities and public offices have become a deeply divisive issue between secularist-Kamalist elites and mainstream Turkish society. The AK Party’s struggle to soften the rigid versions of secularism has been a constant theme of its rule since 2002.
A typical example of the kind of rigid and militant secularism is the 1998 decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey to ban the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) of which Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul were members. Deciding to close down the ruling Welfare Party at the height of the infamous February 28 process when the Erbakan government was forced out of office by a “postmodern coup,” the Constitutional Court decision stated that secularism is not simply a separation of religion and politics but “separation of religion and worldly affairs....It means separation of social life, education, family, economics, law, manners, dress code, etc. from religion...It is Turkey’s philosophy of life.”7 The Court decision further stated,
"The Turkish Revolution acquired its meaning through secularism. Secularism has separated religiosity and scientific mentality; it accelerated the march toward civilization by preventing the replacement of science by religion. Indeed, [the meaning] of secularism cannot be limited to the separation of religion and the affairs of the state. It is a milieu of civilization, freedom, and modernity, whose dimensions are larger and whose field is broader. It is Turkey’s modernization philosophy, its method of living humanly. It is the ideal of the humanity.8"
This rigid and ideological definition of secularism has created much division and tension between old Republican elites and ordinary citizens. Implementing top-down state secularism as a tool to manage and shape society, the secularist establishment has sought to create a worldview and lifestyle out of a narrow and antireligious definition of secularism.9 The militant Turkish secularists who have grown to be deeply anti-AK Party see secularism as more essential than democracy for the Republic. They also see the curbing of civil liberties and religious freedom as indispensable for maintaining the secular character of the modern Turkish Republic. Much of the battle over the question of secularism and religion in recent years has raged around this narrow and rigid notion of secularism and the AK Party’s struggle to replace “laicism” with an Anglo-American notion of state secularity.10
This struggle has been a part of the story of Turkish modernization. The top-down, Jacobean model of Turkish modernization has collided with the moderate and conservative modernity of the ordinary Turkish people. This has created a deep tension between the elites and the people. According to Şerif Mardin, the top-down analyses of Turkish modernization are marred by their simplistic binaries of religion versus secularism (laicism), tradition versus modernity, empire versus nation, reason versus science, progressive enlightenment versus dogmatism, and so forth. Mardin sees this reductionism as a function of the Kamalist ideology of nation building in the early decades of the twentieth century. But he also links it to the “recent attempts to define a Turkish authenticity” as a replay of secular nationalism and radical scientism à la Comte.11 Attempting to replace Muslim communitarianism with a secular nation-state identity, the founders of the Republic had hoped to change the “superstructure” of Turkish society and create a new “central value system.”12 But they have largely failed in this risky endeavor and instead created artificial and costly divisions across Turkish society.
A New Axis of Center-Periphery Relations
As a result of the process of estrangement and alienation, the center-periphery relations have been a constant theme of social tension and political friction in Turkey. Since coming to power in 2002, the AK Party policies have sought to redefine these relations, allowing more space for the traditionally marginalized members of the periphery. The idea of being a voice for the silent majority and bringing the periphery to the center has been a powerful source of social and political mobilization for the AK Party. Since the AK Party itself comes from the political and economic periphery, it has been able to project itself as an antiestablishment and reformist political movement. Every major confrontation between the AK Party and the establishment has strengthened the AK Party’s electoral base and garnered support from liberal writers, columnists, and opinion leaders. This struggle has led to the redefinition of political center in Turkey.13
While rejecting militant secularism, the AK Party accepts secularism as the separation of religion and politics, on the one hand, and as the protection of religious belief, on the other. But it also supports the idea of giving more freedom and visibility to religious (and other) identities in the public sphere. The AK Party officials see religious freedom including the freedom of wearing headscarf in universities as part of the larger context of civil liberties and freedoms. It is important to note that the defenders of the right of wearing the headscarf at public institutions oppose the ban on the basis of civil liberties and human rights rather than on the basis of a strictly religious argument. This approach is also adopted by the AK Party, which sees religious freedom as part of the larger framework of human rights. This outlook has been part of the AK Party’s political identity and is embraced by the Turkish public, thus giving it a clearly cosmopolitan and globalist outlook in the fiercely patriotic context of Turkish society.
Coming from a political periphery that has long been disenfranchised and disempowered by the state elites, the AK Party leaders emphasize society over the state. They reject secularism as a project of social engineering and instead defend allowing the society in general to develop its own civic identity. Given the largely religious and conservative nature of Turkish society, an organic and free flourishing of the public and civic sphere means that the society at large will maintain its traditional-religious values while embracing such values as democracy, human rights, transparency, accountability, and good governance—values that undergird any civic and democratic regime. Speaking to this point, Erdogan says that “all efforts that impose or order certain principles and aim at a homogeneous society, or are based on social engineering are obstacles to a healthy democratic system....Our identity as conservative democrats makes us oppose all kinds of social and political engineering.”14 Having suffered from the failed projects of radical social engineering during the single-party rule of the Republican Party (1923–1950), most Turks reject state-imposed policies as creating a deep sense of alienation between the state and the people. One of Erdogan’s political virtues has been to fill this gap through social policies based on the traditional values and civic networks of the fairly diverse Turkish society. Erdogan sees not the state but the “people,” as he often says, as the ultimate source of political legitimacy. He notes that “the most effective source to make societies more prosperous, open, and democratic, and thus render regimes stronger and more peaceful, can be found within those societies themselves.”15 While critics label this as a form of naïve populism and idealistic nativism, the AK Party’s multidimensional and complex identity allows for an inclusive cosmopolitan perspective and political program.
Islam and the Redefinition of Political Center
The AK Party’s first major political manifesto Conservative Democracy (2002) written by Prime Minister Erdogan’s political advisor Yalçın Akdoğan, currently a member in the Parliament, and Erdogan’s various statements make it clear that the AK Party does not aim to establish a Shari‘ah state and thus cannot be called an “Islamist political party.” The AK Party’s founding leaders hail from a political tradition that has clear affinities with such Islamic movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world and the Jama‘at-i Islami of the subcontinent of India. There are also causes such as the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation, Afghan war against the Soviets, or the Chechen wars of independence in the 1990s with which the AK Party supporters have identified. But such ideational sympathies and political affinities should not be generalized to assume direct or organic links between the AK Party and the worldwide network of political Islamic movements and organizations. As a ruling political party, the AK Party has developed relations with various political parties and organizations from Greece and Germany to Malaysia and Pakistan.
The AK Party traces its conservatism to the traditional beliefs and practices of the Turkish people as a majority-Muslim society. Erdogan sees Turkey’s traditional values and customs as an asset to sustain a fully functioning and pluralistic democracy in such a diverse and multicultural society as Turkey. For instance, in addressing the Kurdish issue16, Erdogan has appealed to Islam as a unifying bond between Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Bosnians, and other ethnic groups. He does not see any contradiction between conservatism and universalism. As he puts it:
"Universal values that are embodied in the concept of democracy and supported by principles such as human rights, rule of law, good governance are the product of the collected wisdom derived from different civilizations. Historically, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all played a central role in forming this collective wisdom.17"
This globalist outlook plays an important role in the AK Party’s cosmopolitan political identity and government performance. The process of overcoming oppositional identities and rigid dichotomies, which began with Turgut Ozal after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has reached a new level of maturity under Erdogan. He himself has come to symbolize the ability to manage the multilayered texture of Turkish society with its Muslim, non-Muslim, Turkish and non-Turkish elements. The AK Party’s wide appeal with the large parts of Turkish voters stems from its flexible, inclusive, and multilayered political identity. This approach has led to a healthy criticism of the rigid forms of aggressive secularism that have been the hallmark of Turkish modernization since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Erdogan has articulated this point as follows:
"A significant part of the Turkish society desires to adopt a concept of modernity that does not reject tradition, a belief of universalism that accepts localism, an understanding of rationalism that does not disregard the spiritual meaning of life, and a choice for change that is not fundamentalist. The concept of conservative democracy is, in fact, and answers to this desire of the Turkish people.18"
Since the AK Party does not incorporate religion into its political program, comparisons with Christian democrat parties in Europe have their limits. The open references to (Christian) religious and moral values in such political parties as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU-CSU) in Germany, the Popular Republican Movement (Mouvement républicain populaire [MRP]) in France, and the Christian Democracy Party (Democrazia Cristiana [DC]) in Italy are not found in the AK Party’s political proclamations and election campaigns. In contrast to the Christian democrats of Europe, religion is more subdued in the case of the AK Party, presented as an important source of moral principles and social values of Turkish society rather than a source of legislation or political action. In fact, the AK Party officials have generally avoided comparisons with European Christian democrat parties for domestic political reasons and because of the substantial differences between the experiences of conservative parties in Turkey and Christian political organizations in Europe. Speaking shortly after the November 2002 victory of his party, Erdogan said that “some people may think differently. They may look towards such bodies as the Christian democratic parties in Europe. That is their view and their reality. We do not share it.”19
In forging a new political identity, the AK Party has sought to reconcile several trends. This identity can be described as conservative in its understanding of history, tradition, and family values, liberal in its economic policies, advocate of social justice in regards to social policies, and Republican and democratic in its notion of representative democracy. While some critics describe this as incoherent and contradictory, the AK Party has managed to maintain its multilayered political identity, and its electoral base seems to be supportive of this inclusive approach. In many ways, this is now a fact of what is described as multiple modernities.20
Politics as Good Governance
The AK Party’s performance as a ruling party has been a key component of its dominance in Turkish politics since 2002. Maintaining a careful balance between issues of identity and service, the AK Party has outpaced its rivals in successive local and national elections. Several factors have ensured this success for the AK Party. First of all, most Turkish voters, like elsewhere, evaluate a government on its performance in handling the economy and providing services. Coming to power after the disastrous economic crises of 1999 and 2001, the AK Party as a single-party government has performed remarkably well in the economic field, turning Turkey into a major economic power. In 2010, Turkey became the sixth largest economy in Europe and the seventeenth largest in the world, gaining a respectable seat in the G-20. The AK Party’s economic team designed one of the most successful economic programs in recent history and brought about an exponential growth in the Turkish gross domestic product (GDP) to the point of parting ways with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program without an economic or political crisis. Thanks to political stability and a sound financial system, foreign direct investment (FDI) has flown into Turkey despite the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Successive AK Party governments have been largely successful in keeping inflation and unemployment under manageable levels.21
Second, Erdogan’s background as the mayor of Istanbul has played an important role in delivering services to big cities as well as remote areas of the country. An impressive number of service programs have been designed and implemented to close the gap between urban centers and rural areas while big metropolitan cities have maintained their competitive edge in economic growth and social mobility. The visible success of the AK Party municipalities has given Prime Minister Erdogan a major footing in all corners of the country. The AK Party’s socioeconomic policies and programs have maintained a fairly reasonable balance between liberal, free-market policies and the notion of social justice and equal distribution. Providing low-cost social services including free healthcare coverage through green cards for the needy, supplying primary school students with free textbooks, giving monthly stipends for families with children in school, and similar projects have helped low-income families move up the socioeconomic scale. A major housing project undertaken by TOKI, the housing agency under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Erdogan, has built close to half a million apartments for low-income families across the country. All of these policies have paid off in terms of economic and social justice as well as electoral victories for the AK Party.
The balance between identity issues on the one hand, and services and good governance on the other is thus a distinguishing characteristic of the AK Party’s political identity. This is reflected in the two words of the Party’s official name: justice (adalet) and development (kalkınma). While “justice” refers to issues concerning identity, equal representation, democracy, civil liberties, human rights, and religious freedom, “development” denotes Turkey’s aspirations to become an affluent society and a prosperous country. Widening economic opportunities have opened up new opportunity spaces for new social agents and set in motion new modes of social mobility. This has taken place both horizontally and vertically. While the newly emerging socioeconomic agents have moved more freely and in larger numbers from rural to urban areas, those in the big cities have also moved up in the large scale of social and economic opportunities. For instance, the famous “Anatolian Tigers,” composed of medium-size businesses from the central regions and cities of Anatolia, have taken up new opportunities at the national, regional, and global level. Like the other new actors of Turkish modernization, they have embraced globalization in a way that does not negate their religious identities and traditional customs. While the Anatolian Tigers precede the AK Party, they have pushed the social and economic agenda of the Anatolian periphery to the political center.
In regards to social and economic policies, the AK Party has displayed a combination of idealism and pragmatism. Erdogan has refused to follow populist economic policies but also stood up against the IMF’s and the World Bank’s rigid programs for Turkey. By diversifying the manufacturing sector, inviting foreign investment, keeping a close tap on the banking system, and increasing trade with neighboring countries, the AK Party governments have implemented largely successful economic policies and gained the support and confidence of Turkish voters. Good governance, disciplined work, and self-confidence have undergirded these policies, silencing many of the AK Party’s rivals and critics.
Judicial Reforms and Civilian-Military Relations
Introducing judicial reforms to democratize the Turkish judiciary and redefining the military under democratic control has been one of the most pressing challenges that the AK Party governments have faced. The Turkish military has not been shy about interfering with civilian politics as evidenced by the four coups and interventions in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. The military generals have justified these interventions on the basis of their narrow definition of the security of the Republic and the very specific notion of secularism discussed above.22 The 1982 constitution assigns to the military the mission of protecting the Turkish Republic and its core values against “internal and external threats.” Combined with the traditional respect of the Turkish people for the military, army generals have been open about assuming a political and ideological role for the protection of the secular Republic and acted both openly and discretely against what they considered to be threats to the state. Most political parties and governments, fearful of the army’s power and influence, have acquiesced.23
As part of its reformist agenda, the AK Party has come, especially in its early years, into confrontation with the powerful Turkish military that suspects the AK Party and its core leadership of maintaining a hidden Islamist agenda and engaging in political “dissimulation” (takiyye). Given the fact that the army generals had forced the Erbakan government out of power in 1997 through a “postmodern coup”24 and that the AK Party itself has survived several coup attempts in its early tenure in government, the civilian-military relations has been part of the AK Party’s political thinking on democracy and democratic control.25 The AK Party has largely succeeded in redefining the matrix of civilian-military relations to set limits to the military’s involvement in politics and to bring the army under democratic control. Erdogan’s careful handling of the sensitive issue of civilian-military relations has aimed at keeping the powerful Turkish Armed Forces out of politics and changing Turkey’s national security concept while at the same time strengthening the army’s military capabilities and professional organization. The politically influential National Security Council, traditionally a platform for the military to dictate its views upon civilian governments, has been turned into an advisory body with a civilian secretary general. In addition to the army, the powers and responsibilities of police forces have been redefined and a “zero-tolerance to torture policy” has been successfully implemented. These measures have been supported by the Turkish public and hailed as one of the most important steps toward the normalization of Turkish democracy. In tandem with Turkey’s new security outlook, most state institutions have abandoned their old threat perceptions going back to the Cold War period and adopted a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the global political order in the first decade of the twenty-first century.26
In regards to judicial reforms and the new constitution, various antidemocratic and tutelary laws have either been changed or abolished. For instance, state security courts with extra powers have been abolished. The 1982 constitution drafted by the military generals who carried out the 1980 coup have been amended with the most substantial changes coming on September 12, 2010 where the Constitutional Court and the judicial bodies have been restructured. In 2007, the AK Party had attempted to draft a new constitution but failed to garner the support of opposition parties. After the September 12, 2010 referendum, the AK Party has again raised the issue of the new constitution but achieving a national consensus with all the political parties on the right and the left, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and human rights organizations seems as difficult as before. The new constitution is likely to remain a contentious political issue.27
These democratic reforms have been introduced in tandem with Turkey’s EU membership goal—a goal that the AK Party governments have taken to heart especially between 2003 and 2007. While the EU regulations and the Copenhagen Criteria have been an important driving force behind the reforms, the demand for more transparency, accountability, and civilian rule has also provided a suitable political environment for the government to carry on with its reforms. The AK Party acted on this political capital and secured the support of liberal intellectuals and academics. But it also mobilized its conservative and traditionally anti-Western base in support of the EU and sought to redefine Turkey’s relationship with Western culture and civilization based on universal values, equality, and fairness. This has been one of the most dramatic and unforeseen changes in the recent history of Turkish culture: traditionally anti-Western and anti-European segments of Turkish society have changed their view in favor of joining the EU as a full member whereas the pro-Western secularist establishment has turned against the EU because of its suspicion that EU reforms provide a cover for the AK Party’s hidden Islamist agenda.28
While critics express concern over the AK Party’s loss of enthusiasm for the EU, the domestic agenda of democratization has not lost its steam. The bumpy period since 2005 when Turkey began official negotiations for full membership in the EU has sharpened the general sense that Turkey needs EU reforms not only for the sake of membership but also because of the higher standards of democracy, good governance, transparence, accountability, and human rights that the Copenhagen Criteria stipulate. It should be noted, however, that the once highly enthusiastic Turkish public has become rather frustrated and fatigued about Turkey joining the EU because of the opposition of several key EU members including France and Germany to Turkey’s full membership.
The AK Party and Foreign Policy: Turkey Rediscovers the World
Foreign policy is one of the areas in which the AK Party has introduced a new paradigm and changed the strategic thinking of Turkish policy makers. Acting with a mixture of idealism, realism, and pragmatism, the AK Party governments have redefined Turkey’s foreign policy priorities and begun to embrace Turkey’s traditional hinterland extending from the Balkans to the Middle East. Ever since the traumatic loss of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish policy makers have seldom appealed to anything like the American doctrine of “manifest destiny” as the guiding principle of an interventionist and expansionist foreign policy.29 Turkish foreign policy during much of the early Republican period has revolved around Ataturk’s famous phrase “peace at home, peace in the world,” which meant developing good relations with big powers but maintaining a minimum engagement with adjacent neighbors. The Eurocentric thrust of Turkish modernization and its ideological preferences have kept Turkey away from playing a significant role in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world for much of the twentieth century. The geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century, however, are urging Turkey to reclaim its place in the geopolitical areas over much of which the Ottoman Empire had ruled for four centuries.
In its new foreign policy outlook, Turkey is responding to the fundamental changes taking place in the international system and its immediate neighborhood. The current international order is functioning without a center or with multiple centers, which amounts more or less to the same thing. The center(s) of the world are up for grabs, and there are no guaranteed winners on the horizon. The talk about a “post-American world” is increasingly turning into a debate about a post-imperial America, on the one hand, and the “Rise of the Rest,” on the other.30 It remains to be seen how the survival instincts of American power will play out in world politics. Yet it is clear that it is no longer possible to manage the world system from a solely American, European, or Russian point of view. Big contenders such as China and India and emerging powers such as Turkey and Brazil are changing the way international order functions and regional issues are addressed. By becoming an economic powerhouse and a major diplomatic force, Turkey has transformed itself into a regional power and a global actor with ties in both the East and the West.
As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and candidate for the EU, Turkey has maintained a high-level strategic partnership with Europe and the United States. Despite the opposition of France and Germany to Turkey’s EU membership, Turkey has good bilateral relations with most European countries and close to half of its foreign trade is still with Europe. The United States-Turkish relations have maintained their significance and momentum under the AK Party rule despite Turkey’s refusal to support the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In his visit to Turkey in April 2009, his first to any country as US president, Barack Obama used the phrase “model partnership” to describe the broad spectrum of United States-Turkish relations from Iraq and Afghanistan to Lebanon and the Balkans. The concept of model partnership, however, has been tested on several occasions involving the Iranian nuclear program and Turkish-Israeli relations after the Gaza war of 2008.31
While maintaining good relations with the West, the AK Party has also strengthened Turkey’s relationship with its Middle Eastern and Muslim neighbors. The policy of normalization and engagement with neighbors has led to a heavy diplomatic traffic, lifting of visas, the establishment of “high-level strategic councils,” increased trade and tourism, and numerous mediation efforts by Turkey. Turkey’s engagement policy with Syria has ushered in a new period of political and economic relations though things have taken a dramatic turn after the Asad regime’s brutal crackdown on the opposition forces in Syria after the Arab revolutions of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Erdogan has openly supported the Arab revolutions and stood by the legitimate demands of the people of Syria for political reform. This has led to serious tensions between Turkey and Syria especially since the end of 2011. The civil war in Syria has also created divisions between Turkey and the outside supporters of the Baath regime in Syria, i.e., Iran and Russia.
Turkey’s refusal to take part in the US invasion of Iraq has not prevented it from playing an active role in the postinvasion Iraqi politics and regional diplomacy. Turkey has been involved in Lebanon and Palestine, where good relations with all political parties and factions have been maintained. Turkey’s relations with Iran have increased especially in regards to trade as Iran has become Turkey’s second largest gas provider after Russia. Turkey has sought to improve relations with all of its neighbors including Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Armenia. The AK Party governments have succeeded in creating a new sense of confidence with Greece, Turkey’s traditional rival in the Aegean Sea, and started a process of increased relationship between the two countries. In 2009, Turkey signed a protocol with Armenia to normalize relations but the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the Armenian claims to genocide have stalled the process.
This policy of looking East and West at the same time has become a hallmark of the AK Party’s foreign policy vision. An important application of this new outlook is the Alliance of Civilizations Initiative co-sponsored by Prime Minister Erdogan and his Spanish counterpart Zapatero under the UN secretary general. Erdogan has opposed Huntington’s clash of civilizations analysis and proposed the alliance of civilizations as an alternative platform to bring diverse cultures and societies closer to one another. Reflecting a strong sense of cosmopolitanism, the Alliance of Civilizations Initiative has appealed in particular to Muslim and Western societies to overcome their historical differences and reject calls for clash and confrontation.
While Erdogan’s strong political leadership has introduced a new paradigm, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy advisor from 2003 to 2009 and the minister of foreign affairs since 2009, is the main figure to articulate and execute Turkey’s new foreign policy. As a rising scholar of international relations, Davutoğlu had already developed the concept of “strategic depth” in his hefty book Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye’nin Uluslararası Konumu (Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position), where he argued for a new geopolitical outlook for Turkey in the twenty-first century. “Strategic depth” defines the value of a nation on the basis of its geostrategic location in the complex web of international relations. History and geography, the two invariables of a country, can be an asset or burden depending on how one makes use of them. Turkey is perfectly situated across the different geopolitical and civilizational fault lines that unite the Euro-Asian landmass with the Middle East and North Africa. A good part of the current world politics on energy and security, for instance, is shaped in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood and adjacent regions. Turkey’s geostrategic position, Davutoğlu further argued, is reinforced by its historical and cultural ties to the main lands of the Ottoman Empire, pushing Turkey to a natural position of regional leadership.32Also implicit in Davutoğlu’s argument was a shift from the classical model of the nation-state to the new civilizational framework of analysis that includes a new understanding of globalization and regional cooperation.
While the detractors of the AK Party and its new internationalist outlook used such labels as Islamist, neo-Ottomanist, and anti-Western to discredit Turkey’s new foreign policy, the AK Party officials have defined it as a process of normalization and regional cooperation. According to Davutoğlu, the new Turkish foreign policy is based on five principles that position Turkey as a “center-country” in its region. They include a balance between security and democracy, “zero-problem policy with neighbors,” developing relations with neighboring regions and beyond, “multidimensional foreign policy,” and “rhythmic diplomacy.”33 Over the years, these principles, underlying much of the AK Party’s foreign policy portfolio, have matured and yielded important gains for both Turkey and its allies.
In a world of multiple economic powerhouses and emerging regional actors, new forms of geopolitical alliances and regional partnerships have already begun to emerge. Turkey’s geoeconomic and geocultural position allows it to have multidimensional relations with a diverse network of states, societies, and communities.34 This is reflected in Turkey’s increased relations with its Arab and Muslim neighbors as well as in its ability to project itself as a newly emerging soft power. For the Arab world and beyond, for instance, Turkey’s soft power is increasingly becoming a point of interest among politicians, policy makers, academics, journalists, NGOs, and businessmen.35 The interest of the Arab world in Turkey’s EU membership process is another area in which Turkey’s multidimensional geopolitical position has overcome the traditional East-West divisions.36
Turkey’s new foreign policy outlook is a result of the newly emerging geopolitical imagination and the tectonic changes in the global and regional order since the end of the Cold War. This new geographic imagery is seen in the public statements of Turkish officials and their reflections on the future of the region. The Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s following statement sums up this perspective in a vivid language:
"The Middle East, with its natural and human resources and historical, cultural, and economic background, has been the cradle of civilizations. The people of this region have been the guardians of the spiritual values that we all share and have also been the producers and distributors of material richness. Science, literature, and art were at their peak in the Middle East for centuries. The region has thus made fundamental contributions to the advancement of human civilization, and the peoples of this region lived together in peace and harmony during the Ottoman centuries. We are indeed a direct witness to the fact that the peoples of this vital area can live and prosper in peace. The Middle East and its peoples do not deserve the cycle of violence and desperation in which they have been living for a long time. I am convinced that peace, progress, and prosperity can again reign in this region.37"
Combining a mixture of traditional Islamic, national, and cosmopolitan values, the AK Party has transformed the main parameters of Turkish culture and politics in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The AK Party policies have been marked by a desire to reconcile differences and overcome binary oppositions. Whether we talk about Islam and democracy, religion and secularism, national unity and pluralism, security and freedom, Europe and the Middle East, or economic development and ethical norms, the AK Party leaders have sought to craft a multilayered and flexible political identity to move Turkey beyond oppositional identities and create a new set of values. The AK Party’s Islamic credentials and patriotic leanings have not prevented it from developing strong cosmopolitan and globalist approaches and policies. Key to the AK Party’s success has been its ability to dovetail domestic transformation with global trends in its national politics and foreign policy. The policy of reconciling differences and overcoming oppositional identities is likely to continue under the AK Party.
By keeping a balance of identity issues and providing services to the people, the AK Party has been a voice of change in the post-Cold War period. But it has also been an instigator of change and taken many bold steps to challenge the status quo fiercely defended by the Turkish establishment. The AK Party’s reformist political agenda has made Turkey more secure and democratic and redefined the center-periphery relations to allow more space for the new agents of globalization. These new agents include urban and rural actors, religious and conservative entrepreneurs, national and cosmopolitan figures, and local NGOs and institutions with increasing international ties. The AK Party has played a key role in bringing these new actors to the fore and thus diversified the Turkish public sphere in a way that no other political movement has ever done. But it is also this diverse and dynamic public that pushes the AK Party further to implement an agenda of change and reform.
As Turkey continues to become a more democratic and open society, previously suppressed identities such as religious-Islamic, Kurdish, Alevi, or Armenian become more visible and freely expressed. Contrary to the fears of the secular nationalists, the increasing visibility of these identities has not made Turkish society weak or vulnerable. By allowing different identities to express themselves and by empowering the individual and the society against the state, the AK Party governments have sought to close the gap between the state and the public—a gap that has created a deep sense of alienation and disenfranchisement for much of the Republican history. The AK Party’s strong electoral base has led to the emergence of a new notion of political legitimacy without disrupting the state. Furthermore, Turkey under the AK Party has become more self-confident and buoyant in its self-perception and the view of the world. This newfound confidence has invited numerous economic and political opportunities for the fairly diverse members of Turkish society, and turned Turkey into an economic powerhouse and a major political force in the region. As Turkey marches towards the first centennial of the Turkish Republic in 2023, it is likely to continue to shed its old fears and recreate itself as regional actor and global player.
1. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 147.
2. For an analysis of Erdogan’s profile, see Metin Heper and Sule Toktas, “Islam, Modernity, and Democracy in Contemporary Turkey: The Case of Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” The Muslim World 93, no. 2 (April 2003): 157–185. For his biography until he became prime minister, see Huseyin Besli and Omer Ozsoy, Tayyip Erdogan (Istanbul: Meydan Yayinlari, 2010).
3. Islamic actors with a cosmopolitan outlook include groups outside the AK Party, such as the Gulen movement, the so-called Anatolian Tigers, and their major business association MUSIAD and independent intellectuals. For an evaluation of these actors, see Yildiz Atasoy, Turkey, Islamists and Democracy: Transition and Globalization in a Muslim State (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005), 146–176. See also Hakan Yavuz’s more comprehensive survey in his Islamic Political Identity in Turkey(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
4. Quoted in Hakan Yavuz, ed., The Emergence of a New Turkey (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2006), 334.
5. For an assessment of the National View Movement (Milli Gorus), see Ahmet Yıldız, “Politico-Religious Discourse of Political Islam in Turkey: The Parties of National Outlook,” The Muslim World93 (April 2003): 187–209.
6. Quoted in Yavuz, The Emergence of a New Turkey, 336.
7. Quoted in Ergun Ozbudun and William Hale, Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP (London: Routledge, 2010), 22.
8. Anayasa Mahkemesi, Kararlar Dergisi [Constitutional Court Reports], vol. 25, pp 147–148, quoted in Ozbudun and Hale, Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey, p 166.
9. For a comparison and contrast of two types of secularism called “passive” and “assertive,” see Ahmet T. Kuru, “Passive and Assertive Secularism: Historical Conditions, Ideological Struggles, and State Policies toward Religion” World Politics 59 (July 2007): 568–594. See also the article by the same author “Reinterpretation of Secularism in Turkey: The Case of the Justice and Development Party” in Yavuz, The Emergence of a New Turkey, 136–159.
10. For an analysis of the difference between secularism and laicism in the case of Turkey, see Andrew Davison, “Turkey, a ‘Secular’ State? The Challenge of Description,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102, nos. 2/3 (spring/summer, 2003): 333–350.
11. Serif Mardin, Religion, Society, and Modernity in Turkey (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006), 135.
12. Ibid., 230.
13. Cf. Chris Houston, “The Never Ending Dance: Islamism, Kemalism and the Power of Self-institution in Turkey,” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 17, no. 2 (2006): 161–178.
14. International Symposium on Conservatism and Democracy, quoted in Ozbudun and Hale,Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey, 24–25.
15. Yavuz, The Emergence of a New Turkey, 333.
16. At the time of the writing of this chapter, the Kurdish issue entered a new phase in Turkey. After thirty-years of a bloody and costly war against the Turkish State, the Kurdish separatist terror organization PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan made a call on March 21st, on the day of the Nevruz, on the PKK to disarm and leave Turkey. In the moths following the disarmament call, PKK fighters have begun leaving Turkey for northern Iraq and other third countries. This is a historic moment in the modern history of the Turkish Republic. Once completed, this will be Erdogan’s most important and enduring achievement as other political leaders including Turgut Ozal had tried to solve the Kurdish issue through a negotiated settlement. Resolving the Kurdish issue will open up new possibilities for Turkish domestic politics. It will also strengthen Turkey’s position in the region.
17. Ibid., 333–334.
18. Ibid., 335.
19. Interview with Seref Özgencil, The New Europe 1, no. 2 (December 2002): 11, quoted in William Hale, “Christian Democracy and the AKP: Parallels and Contrasts,” Turkish Studies 6, no. 2 (June 2005): 293–310, 293.
20. Nilufer Gole places the emergence of post-Islamist politics within the context of multiple modernities; see her “Snapshots of Islamic Modernities,” Daedalus 129, no. 1 (winter 2000): 91–117. See also Robert W. Hefner, “Multiple Modernities: Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in a Globalizing Age,” Annual Review of Anthropology 27 (1998): 83–104.
21. For an assessment of the AK Party’s economic policies, see Marcie J Patton, “The Economic Policies of Turkey’s AKP Government: Rabbits from a Hat?” The Middle East Journal 60, no. 3 (summer 2006): 513–536.
22. Ümit Cizre, “The Anatomy of the Turkish Military’s Political Autonomy,” Comparative Politics 29, no. 2 (January 1997): 151–166.
23. For the problem of the democratic control of the military in Turkey, see Aylin Güney and Peter Karatekelioğlu, “Turkey’s EU Candidacy and Civil-Military Relations: Challenges and Prospects,”Armed Forces & Society 31, no. 3 (spring 2005): 439–462.
24. Cengiz Çandar, “Postmodern Darbe” [Postmodern Coup], Sabah [Istanbul], June 28, 1997.
25. Metin Heper, “The Justice and Development Party Government and the Military in Turkey,”Turkish Studies 6, no. 2 (June 2005): 215–231.
26. For the political context of civilian-military relations in Turkey, see Umit Cizre, “Problems of Democratic Governance of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey and the European Union Enlargement Zone,” European Journal of Political Research 43 (2004): 107–125.
27. For the constitutional debate and legal amendments under AK Party, see Ergun Özbudun and Ömer F. Gençkaya, Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2009).
28. For the Turkish perceptions of the West as a cultural, religious, and political entity, see Ibrahim Kalin, Bekir Berat Özipek, and Kudret Bülbül, Türkiye’de Toplumun Batı Algısı: Din, Kültür, Siyaset[The Perception of the West in Turkish Society: Religion, Culture, Politics] (Ankara: SETA Yayınları, 2008). For a summary of this study in English, see the same authors, “A Fragmented Vision: Perceptions of the West in Turkish Society,” co-authored with Kudret Bulbul and Bekir Berat Ozipek,Insight Turkey 10, no. 1 (2008): 129–147.
29. See, for instance, Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation: America’s Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (New York: Vintage, 2007), where the author argues that US foreign policy has always been expansionist and interventionist.
30. See, for instance, Alice Amsden’s The Rise of “The Rest”: Challenges to the West from Late-Industrializing Economies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
31. Cf. Ibrahim Kalin, “US-Turkish Relations under Obama: Promise, Challenge and Opportunity in the 21st Century,” The Journal of Balkan and Near East Studies 12, no. 1 (2010): 93–108.
32. For more on “strategic depth” in English, see Alexander Murinson, “The Strategic Depth Doctrine in Turkish Foreign Policy,” Middle Eastern Studies 42, no. 6 (November 2006): 945–964. See also Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007,” Insight Turkey 10, no. 1 (January–March 2008): 77–96.
34. For an assesment of Turkish foreign policy from a new geopolitical point of view, see Ibrahim Kalin, “Turkish Foreign Policy: Framework, Values and Mechanisms,” International Journal LXVII, no. 1 (winter 2011–2012): 7–21.
35. See, for instance, the essays by Bilgin and Elis, Beng, Altunisik, and Altinay in the special soft power issue of Insight Turkey 10, no. 2 (April–June 2008) on Turkey’s soft power. For the Arab interest in new Turkey, see Ibrahim Kalin, “Debating Turkey in the Middle East: The Dawn of a New Geopolitical Imagination,” Insight Turkey 11, no. 1 (winter 2009): 83–96. See also my “Soft Power and Public Diplomacy in Turkey,” Perceptions XVI, no. 3 (Autumn 2011): 5–23.
36. Cf. Elie Podeh, “‘The Final Fall of the Ottoman Empire’: Arab Discourse over Turkey’s Accession to the European Union,” Turkish Studies 8, no. 3 (September 2007): 317–328.
37. Abdullah Gül, “Turkey’s Role in a Changing Middle East Environment,” Mediterranean Quarterly(winter 2004): 4.