Coup and Counter Coup VI: Presidential Authoritarianism in Turkey

The last post in my series on the political situation in Turkey for the group blog Notes On Liberty. However, there will be an appendix on political thought related to the Ottomans, Atatürk and so on.

Notes On Liberty

(Previous posts here, here, here, here and here). The state of emergency proclaimed by President Erdoğan in Turkey on 20th July last year, in response to the coup attempt of five days before, is not a situation that will come to an end in a return to normality. It is the model for the presidential system that Erdoğan has been pushing for since 2007, when he was still admired by many liberal minded people inside Turkey (though not me) and abroad. One of the key provisions of the state of emergency is that the President can issue decrees with the force of law. There are doubts about the constitutionality of this form of ‘law making’ but two members of the Constitutional Court were arrested after the coup attempt and the chances of the court starting up to executive power are now extremely remote. Judges and prosecutors…

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Coup and Counter Coup IV The Kurdish issue in Turkey

A bit out of sequence, thoughts on the current situation in Turkey from a series I am posting at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

Previous parts here, here and here. As mentioned in the last post, in the immediate post coup atmosphere President Erdoğan appeared to have the support of some significant part of Kemalist (as in Kemal Atatürk who shaped the Turkish republic with reference to secularism, modernisation, national sovereignty and statism) opinion, the more hard core part, seeing shared enemies in both violent Kurdish separatists and Gülenist (members of a religious community, see previous posts) infiltrators into the state apparatus. The return of PKK (the Kurdish acronym for Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) violence against state forces and civilians (the latter largely undertaken by the Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan, TAK in the Kurdish acronym, a product of the PKK) in the summer of 2015 already placed the AKP, hardcore Kemalists, and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, rooted in a ‘Grey Wolf’ or ‘Idealist’ ideology of absolutist state nationalism and Pan-Turkism)…

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Coup and Counter Coup V: Jacobins and Grey Wolves in Turkey

Go to Notes on Liberty for the full text of my latest thoughts oın the situation in Turkey

Notes On Liberty

Previous posts here, here, here and here. The post coup atmosphere created the impression of an invincible block of the AKP and the MHP, backed by some parts of Kemalist (Jacobinism alla turca) opinion, which would provide a massive majority for the Presidential republic desired by Erdoğan. The MHP did provide the votes in the National Assembly, for the super majority necessary to trigger a constitutional referendum. This was a complete turn about from the MHP’s previous position.

The background to this turn is partly in the state-PKK polarisation, but also in an internal female challenge to the MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli from Meral Aksaner. She is very popular with the Grey Wolf community and would have probably won a leadership election if a special party congress had been called. This became an issue in the courts, which did not in the end force the…

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Coup and Counter Coup III (Gülenists and Kemalists)

My thoughts on Turkish politics, part of a continuing series. Re-posted from the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

My last post established the party structure in Turkey. The flow of events since the attempted coup of fifteenth July and the emergency regime instituted on twentieth July is that of a government assault on opposition. Democracy as liberal democracy continues to give way to illiberal majoritarianism. Liberal democracy has never existed in its purest form in Turkey, but there was more of it ten years ago and it looks like becoming further diluted. Initial indications that the state of emergency would be three months only, rather than the constitutionally allowed maximum of six months have been undermined by constant renewal with no debate and no indication of when the renewals will end.

When the AKP first came to power its campaign materials included claims that it would end the use of the state of emergency as a tool of government. A long period of emergency rule in the southeast…

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A Memory of Derek Parfit

Derek Parfit, an influential moral philosopher died on January 1st this year. He was evidently an extraordinary individual, both very self-absorbed and very generous,  as well as a philosopher of considerable talent. His importance goes beyond ethics into metaphysical and philosophy of mind questions of personal identity, questions of social welfare and justice, questions of rational choice and maybe some other things I have overlooked.. A few stories have come out in obituaries and comments since his death. Here is a memory passed onto me on condition of strict anonymity.

Parfit told me that I should pursue manual labor, a joking reference to Wittgenstein’s advice to his students which I actually did not find funny. Later he actually read something I wrote and changed his mind.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an extreme character as well as a extremely creative figure in philosophy, liked to tell students he did not think had genius to do manual work.

Parfit is most famous for his book Reasons and Persons (1984), which I have read myself and I can recommend even though it is a bit outside my normal range of reference, that is to say I believe it to be a distinguihed work of philosophy with wide appeal. Enthusiasts for Parfit regard his later book, On What Matters (3 volumes, 2013-2017) as a master work which towers over other works of ethics for over a century. My brief encounters with the text do not support this view and Reasons and Persons appears to be still much more influential. It is at least worth noting the enthusiasm that does exist for Parfit’s later book and acknowledging the possibility that it will surpass Reasons and Persons in influence.

I cannot see it overtaking Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy or Morals, Emmnuel Lévinas’ Totality and Infinity, G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, Charles L. Stevenson’s Ethics and Language, W.D. Ross’s The Right and the Good, Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Henri Bergson’s Two Sources of Morality and Religion, R.M Hare’s The Language of Morals, and other major works of various schools in its influence, but there are intelligent well informed people who have claimed otherwise.

Coup and Counter Coup in Turkey II (Immediately after the coup and party politics)

Continuing from here President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan proclaimed a state of emergency on the evening of twentieth July 2016. He preceded that announcement by asking his audience, the Council of Ministers, for a round of applause for the opposition parties in the National Assembly, because they had opposed the coup. On the night of the coup (fifteenth to sixteenth July), deputies from all parties sheltering in a basement of the National Assembly, while it was under attack from fighter jets, drew up an anti-coup proclamation. Erdoğan also dropped a large number of cases for ‘insulting the President’ as a good will gesture. This generosity to the opposition did not last long, though there appears to have been at least one further disingenuous conversation. Apparently Erdoğan told the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, about this time that he was unaware that the opposition received a fraction of the coverage on state television of that enjoyed by the government party and thought this should change. Of course the situation has not changed and the government has intensified its efforts to weaken opposition in every way. Prosecutions for insulting the President have continued and often lead to imprisonment, even for legal juveniles.

An account of the political parties in Turkey, along, with some political history, is advisable here so that readers can follow political events. The governing party is the AKP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Justice and Development Party. It has centre right, religious conservative, Ottomanist, and nationalist components. The first component has evidently declined over the years and the hardcore was always driven by the three other components. At one time it presented itself as more liberal, pro-EU and sympathetic to Kurdish rights than the other parties. It now clearly occupies contrary positions.

The leading opposition party is the CHP standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Republican People’s Party. It was founded by Kemal Atatürk in 1919 (though at one point as the People’s Party) and is Turkey’s oldest party. It has social democratic, left nationalist/sovereigntist and secularist components. As the party of Atatürk it is associated with the elites (Kemalist elites referring to Atatürk’s first name Kemal, which was his second name, but not family name until he instituted family names for Muslims) and maintained it as a secularist nation state until the AKP came to power in 2002. However, the CHP was only in government for ten years after 1950, so is associated more with a permanent ‘Kemalist’ state elite rather than government.

The third party in the National Assembly is the HDP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of People’s Democratic Party. It is itself an umbrella party for an alliance of the BDP (Democratic Regions Party), which is based in the Kurdish southeast, with a number of small Turkish leftist parties and activist groups. It is very socialist and socially liberal in orientation though some of its base is non-leftist Kurds, including major land owning families who support BDP-HDP as a Kurdish party rather than a socialist or socially liberal party.

The fourth party in the National Assembly is the MHP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Nationalist Action (or Movement) Party. It goes back to the sixties and is largely what its name suggests, an ultranationalist party which has a an aggressive and even violent hard core base of support. It’s nationalism mixes ethnic Pan-Turkism (referring to Turkish peoples in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia), Ottomanism, and Atatürkism (which on the whole bases nationalism on identity and culture rather than ethnic origin). Religious identity plays a role, but the MHP defines itself as following secularist republicanism. This is interesting tension with the party symbol, which is an Ottoman grouping of three red crescent moons, but that is in the nature of the MHP.

Both the AKP and MHP have a base in Turkish nationalism and Sunni Islam. The AKP has had Kurdish support but has largely lost this as it emphasises nationalism along with state action against Kurdish radicals more. The Sunni identity is partly promoted in contrast with the Alevi population. Alevis are the largest religious minority in Turkey. Defining Alevism is itself contentious, but it can be said to be either a branch of, or related to, Shia Islam, the main alternative to Sunnism within Islam as a whole. It maybe resembles Ismaili Islam, as in the community led by the Aga Khan. Christian and Jewish groups constitute no more than 0.2% of the population. At least since the sixties it has been identified with the left and with secularism, reinforcing traditional Sunni suspicions amongst religious conservatives of supposed heresy and deviant practices of various forms. The CHP core vote includes Alevis, who are otherwise likely to support HDP. The AKP and MHP support is concentrated in the central areas of Anatolia (the main land mass of Turkey), those parts of Istanbul where there has been most immigration from Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast. The CHP is geographically concentrated in Thrace (the Balkan part of Turkey) and the Aegean coast. These geographical distinctions, which of course conceal a great deal of detailed mixture at the local level, coincide with the political distinctions in which the AKP and MHP represent the most Turkish traditional and Muslim parts of heartland Turkey, while the HDP represents the Kurdish population of the southeast, and the CHP represents the more western and European oriented parts of Turkey.

The electoral threshold to enter the National Assembly is ten percent and all parties other than the four above get some mere fraction of one percent. The only party with some kind of classical liberal or libertarian foundation is the Liberal Democrat Party, which gets a small fraction of one percent.

I have tried to be concise in this summary of party politics in Turkey, but have still taken up the space of a reasonably sized post. I will return very soon to recent and current political events very soon, to be followed by some deeper history.

(also posted at the group blog Notes On Liberty)

Coup and Counter Coup in Turkey (first of a series of posts on Turkey since 15th July 2016 and background topics)

(Also posted at Notes On Liberty) On July 15th 2016, a group of army officers up to at least the Brigadier General (one star general) level attempted to seize control of the Turkish state. On the morning of the 16th it was evident that the coup had collapsed though the government, along with its allies in the media, social media, think tanks and so on was eager to promote the idea of an unended coup which might spring back into life, like the villain in a horror film, at any moment over a long indefinite period of time. No follow-up coup materialised. The most that can be said for that unending coup mentality was that it is difficult to know how much of the army would have gone over if the coup organisation had captured or killed President Erdoğan. What the never-ending coup claims achieved was to legitimise and mobilise paranoia, intolerance, and authoritarian state reactions with regard to anyone who might be in opposition to the Erdogan/Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The overwhelming feeling among government supporters and opponents on the 21st was that the coup was instigated by followers of Fetullah Gülen, a religious leader who went into exile before the AKP came to power in 2002. His followers control an international network of businesses, banks, schools, and media organisations. They carefully targeted the most sensitive areas of state employment in Turkey with the goal of creating a Gülenist dominated state and were aided in this enterprise by the AKP governments who wanted a network to rival the ‘Kemalists’, relatively secular people in the state, business, media, and educational sectors. Their relationship broke down in 2013 for reasons which are inevitably obscure at present, but appear to arise from the conflicting extreme ambitions for absolute power on both sides.

The coup may have been joined by Kemalists and the coup organisers gestured towards this position when a television announcement proclaimed that the coup council name referred to a well-known slogan of Kemal Atatürk, ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. Kemalism of course refers to the ideology of secularist nationalist republicanism endorsed by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. I will return to this topic in a later post, but in brief Kemalism of some kind – and there are many kinds and many grey areas – was the dominant influence in the army and allied parts of the state until recently. It is roughly analogous to the Jacobin tradition in France and in the same way has referred both to popular sovereignty and vanguardism. There are some who promoted the idea in the past that Kemalism was the problem and the AKP was the solution, and they are having difficulty in not seeing the 15th July Coup attempt as at least a Gülenist-Kemalist partnership. However, there is no evidence that Kemalists participated in any more than an individual ad hoc basis. Indeed after the 15th, retired generals associated with Kemalism were called back into service, in a process which now seems to have ended Kemalist sympathy for Erdoğan as a bulwark against the Gülenists and the PKK (socialist-Kurdish autonomy guerrilla/terrorist group), which intensified its activities in the summer of 2015.

Vast waves of arrest began after the coup attempt, which, unlike the coup itself, have not ended. For the first wave of arrests it was just about possible to believe they were genuine attempts to find coup plotters, but it quickly became apparent that the scope of arrests was much wider. President Erdoğan announced soon after the coup attempt that it was a gift of God and showed how he wanted to use this gift on July 20th, when he proclaimed a state of emergency. The state of emergency has become the means for Erdoğan to purge and punish tens of thousands who have no connection with the coup. The AKP supporters who obsessed about the follow-up coup were right, but the follow-up coup came from their own side. The state of emergency is the real coup, though it is also just a moment in the process of the creation of an AKP-Erdoğanist state, designed to facilitate what appears to be Erdoğan’s final goal (though maybe there will be others later): the creation of an extreme version of the presidential political system in which the head of state is more an elected dictator than the head of a system of checks and balances under law. More soon.