Democracy, Republicanism and Religious Conservatives in Turkey

In my usual prolix way, I left a very long response to a Facebook post about Turkey.  So I think I should post it on my blog.  I’m responding to an article from The New Yorker, ‘Letter from Turkey: The Deep State, The Prime Minister is revered as a moderate, but how far will he go to stay in power’ by Dexter Filkins (a real New Yorker name).

This is a good article. The one big gap is that they don’t seem to have picked up on the strength of tensions between Gülentists (followers of Fetullah Gülen, who leads the biggest religious community in Turkey, often known just as The Community)and non-Gülentists in the AKP. Also, they left out the ways in which the old ‘Kemalist’ (republican secularists linked to the Army, directly or in sentiments) establishment itself allied with religious conservatives at times. Essentially the article is what I was saying in conversations and in internet forums a few years ago. That is AKP (the governing party in Turkey) is Turkish nationalist and statist at heart, continued a pre-existing reform process, but has no genuine liberalising vision of its own, and is prepared to use unpleasant means to stay in power, and has used a parodic image of Kemalism to get misguided support from liberal opinion inside Turkey, and beyond.. I might seem to be childishly saying ‘I told you so’ (in relation to liberal-left fans of the AKP in general, and both libertarians and some parts of Marxist/Post-Marxist left opinion, yes really they have common ground ), but the fact is I did. There are a few points I would quibble with in the article, Aydınlık (Enlightenment) magazine could more accurately be described as far left with nationalist leanings, than ultranationalist. Some of the reforms attributed to Erdoğan (e.g. Kurdish language rights) took place under the arch-Kemalist predecessor, Bülent Ecevit. The article hints at, but does not make entirely clear the ambiguity in Turkey about who, and is who not, part of prevailing power. The relation of left-Kemalists to the state in the past is the most obvious example. Underlying the AKP/Gülenist take over of the state has been a division of secular democratic forces between Kemalists and anti-Kemalists, both purveying parodic negative views of each other. I hope we can now start to see a more nuanced debate about the negative and positive sides of Turkish republicanism, and new political groups emerging beyond some of the old divisions.

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