TODAY IN HISTORY
29 October 1923: Republic of Turkey is founded following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
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Myths 1. The neo-Islamist AKP government party in Turkey began a wave of economic and political reform in Turkey.
Myth 2. The centre-left secularist-republicans have been less reformist than the neo-Islamists.
I was at a seminar today in my university in Istanbul where I work. The paper from a guest speaker referred to developments in political economy in Turkey since 1980. The speaker addressed neo-liberalism and globalisation from a Marxist point of view.
Amongst other things it was pointed out that liberalising-globalising economic reforms began before the AKP government under the arch centre-left secularist republican Bülent Ecevit. This came out of a mixture of the EU adaption process and an economic program adopted after a currency crisis, under the guidance of the fiance minister Kemal Derviş who had been a Vice-President of the World Bank.
I was well aware of the points above. The speaker filled in my knowledge in a very significant way. The Ecevit government had adopted a measure to open up the public sector to competitive award of contracts and all procurement activity. The ‘reformist’ AKP tried to block this measure in power. They found that the weight of pressure from state technocrats and international institutions was too great to resist. However, they found a way around the policy, in order to satisfy their client and cronies in local and medium business. They introduced a minimum amount for procurement contracts to be awarded on the basis of open competition. They then carved up public procurement into chunks below the threshold level so that their friends could continue to benefit.
I have not commented on this since Hrant Dınk was assassinated. I think for one thing, I was rather depressed by the total failure of the the political parties to seize the opportunity for reform. I’m still depressed about it, but I’m used to it. Certainly the economy and society is developing and growing. This process has come about through pragmatic accommodation of reforms which do not originate from within the Turkish political system. There is no real political force on behalf or real reform. The closest thing to that is a mixture of business lobbying, NGO lobbying partly funded by the EU and George Soros, and intellectual-journalistic opinion mongering.
Since Dınk’s murder there has been a general election. I am afraid to say that political reform was not at the centre of the election. This reality has been obscured by a seemingly endless number of western commentators who are able to believe that the AKP, the governing party, is a party of modernising liberalising reform. These commentator also include Turks writing in western publications, but since it’s difficult to meet Turks who believe such a thing and such a view has become less popular the longer the AKP has been in power, it really has to be concluded that they are fitting into a view that westerners need to believe.
The AKP government is certainly a lot better than might be expected given the Sahria law politics background of most of them. An organicist ideology of a pure Muslim-Turkish nation has involve into a developmentalism which implictly accepts change as defined by the European Union, World Bank, associations orientated to international business and the EU, and the more internationally oriented writers and academics. That is certainly not the platform the AKP compaigns on. It bases its appeal on nationalism, Muslim identity and patronage. Reforms are explain on the explicit level in those terms, not in the way westerners would like to understand them. Every political movement needs a bit of demagogy but the AKP’s foundation is in demagogy against the elite and the non-Muslim/Turkic. Despite the western image their plains for political reform do not go beyond a minimalist adaptation to EU harmonisation requirements.
The trouble with the other parties is they are no better. The main opposition which is no better, is the ‘social democratic’ CHP. They are more a party of the secular state and the established middle and upper classes than a social democratic party. The social democratic element is in a statism and protectionism, expressed in opposition to some of the economic liberalisation of the reform process. This allowed them to be painted as more anti-EU than the AKP. I would say that claim has no underlying relation to reality whatsoever, but expect to hear more of it. I don’t beleive the CHP deserve any sympathy. The other thing which has led d western commentators to paint them as less reformist than the AKP is the huge demonstrations for secularism which took place as the possibility approached that the new President of the Republic would be an AKP figure with a wife who wears a Muslim headscarf at all times in public. These demonstrations were seen as expressing an alliance between CHP and the armed forces, well maybe. There was no real chance of a coup, and if they were attmetping to pressure the democratic process they failed miserably. On one level it was all very self-defeating. Demonstrations were dominated by the Turkish flag as secularism was defended with reference to the nation state. The demonstrations looked like demonstrations on behalf of a strong state from a nationalist point of view. The idea that the AKP is any less nationalist or statist is absurd. They are less close to the army, but if they could co-opt the army they would, they are rooted in an Ottomanist ideology in which the state is defined by a father-sultan, sharia law, the Sultan’s bureaucracy and the military which originally had a Jihadist function.
The consequence of this movement and subsequent manouvres at the top is that the President is an AKP man with a headscarved wife, but the President is the affable moderate former foreign minister Abdullah Gül, not the strong man of the AKP, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan who is aggressive and demagogic in manner. This may be bad news for Erdoğan who everyone think longs to be President, but good news for the AKP which keeps its strongest figure at the centre of government and party politics. Whatever the personality of the President, the office inevitably leads to diastance from party politics and most government functions. If AKP lsoes its strongest figure to the Presidency it could well experience political decline, accelerating the disconnection between President and party. As Erdoğan will know have to wait to be President, it is even more likely that his Presidency will coincide with a down turn in the unity and popularity of the AKP. During the manouvres, the AKP managed to look like it had the democratic high ground by declaring it was in favour of the direct election of the President, that idea has disappeared since, maybe it will come back, I’m not expecting it
There is a new constitution being prepared, so that will put the AKP to the test and the CHP. Expect a minimalist adaptation to EU standards, not a big step forward. Things both AKP and CHP have been very quiet about: gay rights, sub-national identity, free speech, limiting executive privilege, university autonomy.
The third party is the ultra-nationalist MHP, who are more of a negative force in Turkish politics. No one expects them to have realistic proposals, they will just create the problem of how to get them to accept changes. The third party in the election was the Democratic Party, whichwas a failed attempt to relaunch the classical Turkish centre-right. Goodbye to them. The fourth party in the election, but the third in the National Assembly is the Kudish autonomy leftist DTP, the most important party in Turkey for many western left-wingers. Contacts with the DTP may, however, not be a successful substitute for interacting with the other 96% of Turkish voters, even including those tiresome ultra-nationalists in the MHP.
Readers who take an interest in Turkish society, politics and economics will be aware that the Armed Forces (English language website) are often linked with statist nationalist economics; and will have noticed that the present governing party AKP (English language website) is often credited with a contrasting spirit of economic openness. However, today I see that Oyak Bank (English language website) is going to be bought by ING. They announced it on their website a few days ago, but I picked up the news today from the print version of Cumhuriyet newspaper. Oyak is the pension fund of the Turkish army (a body of over a million members) and also provides general banking services to the public. The news has yet to be finalised but ING seem very confident and very happy.
This really does refute the idea that from an economic liberal point of view that AKP is good and the Turkish Army is bad. It is true that AKP has privatised and opened up the economy, but that has been the continuation of the policies of the previous government led by the arch statist-nationalist leftist Bülent Ecevit. AKP, like previous government parties, has expanded public employment to give jobs to its supporters.
The symbolism here is very rich. ING is Dutch in origin, tracing its history back to the Eighteenth Century. Therefore it comes from the Dutch commercial-financial-trading tradition, a tradition that goes back to the early years of the independent republic, the United Provinces, an inspiration to Early Modern Republicanism and the pioneer of stock markets and government finance through debt sold to private investors. That tradition strongly influenced British policy, including the development of the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange, particularly after 1688 when William of Orange was invited by Parliament to rescue it from royal absolutism.
While I doubt that you would find many enthusiasts for pıre economic liberal doctrine in the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, no doubt they would explain this in terms of strengthening the nation-state and no doubt political bargaining is part of the background, responsible people in Turkey and internationally can no longer refer to Turkey’s Armed Forces, who continue to be political players in Turkey, of being a barrier to economic liberalisation and internationalisation.
MAN OF PEACE MURDERED BY ULTRA-NATIONALIST FANATICS
REST IN PEACE
REMEMBER HIM BY PRESERVING LIBERTY, DEMOCRACY AND LAW FROM THEIR ENEMIES
MAKE HIS DEATH COUNT
End the Appeasement of Ultra-Nationalism
Repeal Article 301 and all laws which Criminalise Political and Historical Discussion
Push the Ultra-Nationalists into the Political Wilderness
State and Political Leaders must totally Separate themselves from Ultra-Nationalism
The fourth post I wrote for this blog was on the ‘The Nationalist Upsurge in Turkey’
where I emphasised the harassment of Hrant Dink, through the courts and outside court buildings through the despicable campaign of hatred mounted by hysterical ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz. I certainly do not accuse Kerincsiz, or other leaders and manipulators of ultra-nationalist hysteria, of connection with the murder. I do accuse them of creating an atmosphere of hysteria through their harassment in a country where political violence has been all too frequent. In the context in which which extreme political divisions have led to violence, including murder, the possible consequences of Kerincsiz’ hysteria campaign is all too obvious. He is guilty of knowingly, deliberately and calculatingly, creating an atmosphere in which the chances of Dink’s murder was increased.
I emphasised in my earlier post that Kerancsiz’ hysteria campaign was being tolerated by the state and by the mainstream political parties. Kerancsiz is a member of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party; though the party has cleaned up its act in the last 10 years, under the leadership of Devlet Bahceli, after a long period of involvement in political violence, they did nothing to restrain Kerincsiz. Though they did not directly endorse his hysteria campaign, they have clearly benefited from the atmosphere of hatred and tension raising that Kerancsiz has created.
When the AKP (a conservative party rooted in Islamism which now defines itself as Conservative Democrat, on a Christian democratic model) came to power, the new Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by many liberal-left intelligentsia in Turkey, and by many foreign observers, as a great reformer and enemy of the hard core statist-nationalist old guard in Turkey. Where has Erdogan been in opposing Kerancsiz? What was done to stop Kerancsiz from turning the court room and the court steps into a theatre hatred and hysteria? What did Erdogan, Prime Minister and leader of Turkey’s largest party, do against this? Nothing. Does Erdogan wish to repeal article 301 of the Penal Code, criminalising ‘insults against Turkey, which was used against Dink and many others? No. Article 301 gives legal and state sanction to idea that the individual can be punished for criticising the nation. It is fundamental to the hysteria campaign of Kerincsiz who frequently uses it to bring prosecutions. It’s time for Erdogan to behave like a modernist conservative democrat, and not just try to talk like one.
The largest opposition party in Turkey is the Republican People’s Party, a social democratic party which is a member of the Socialist Internationalist. Has it demanded the repeal of 301? No. Have they opposed ultra-nationalist ideology? While many members of the party are consistently opposed to ultra-nationalist hysteria, leading members have endorsed intolerant attitudes, for example on the question of a free discussion about the 1915 deportation and massacre of Armenians. It was Dink’s insistence on claiming that this should labelled ‘genocide’ that started his troubles. I’ve always argued against such an interpretation, but it is a question to be settled by free discussion. The laws, like 301, which criminalise free discussion, have contributed to the atmosphere in which Dink was defined as an enemy of Turkey who deserved to be murdered. When I meet RPP members, they like claim the party is a modernist party based on human rights and political freedom. The time has come to act, not just talk. Has the RPP leader, Deniz Baykal opposed the Nationalist Action Party? No, he is seeking to bring them into a coalition government. Has he condemned Kerincsiz? No. Has he demanded the repeal of 301? No.
ECONOMIC AND STATE CONTEXT
MAKE A DECISION FOR REFORM AND AGAINST BACKWARDNESS
The political and state leadership in Turkey has announced its intention of bringing Turkey up to international standards with regard to political freedoms and human rights. They have failed to do so. They have failed to challenge ultra-nationalism. Leaders must must accept responsibility for the atmosphere in which Dink was murdered. They must atone. Public opinion and leaders of all kind must see this as the moment to make a definitive break with ultra-nationalism and to to make the rule of law, freedom of speech and tolerant democracy supreme.
We shall attempt to raise our national culture above the level of contemporary civilization. Therefore, we think and shall continue to think not according to the lethargic mentality of past centuries, but according to the concepts of speed and action of our century. We shall work harder than in the past.
Kemal Ataturk, Speech on the 10th Anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey
The Reformist Moment
There was a period in which Turkey seemed to be moving, even if slowly, on a road of reform with European Union membership at its end. A mixture of IMF influenced economic adjustment and adaptation of EU standards led to improving the conditions for foreign investors, privatisation, control of the inflation ‘monster’, legalisation of Kurdish (Kurdish in this context is mostly to be taken as short hand for Kurmanji Kurdish, the predominant language of Turkish Kurds) tuition at private schools, television broadcasting in Kurdish, penalties for ‘insulting’ the state were reduced. At the time these were impressive reforms which defied many predictions that Turkey was too stuck in defensive reactive nationalism and state domination to allow such reforms. The present AKP government was greeted by some liberals and reformers of various kinds, though never by me, as a party outside the system rooted in conservative Islamic circles, and therefore likely to reform it.
When did it all go wrong?
The AKP (Justice and Development Party, known as AK Party to fans, AK is pure or clear in Turkish) never struck me as likely reformers given its roots in conservative Islamic circles which favoured a political system based on religious law and a organic community of Muslim Turkishness purified of Western and modernist influences, with the sole exception of technology. Clearly people in AKP have changed, but within limits. They have not seriously challenged the secular system, though some things arouse cause for concern like the apparent downgrading of Darwinian evolution in high school. It is an essentially conservative party, in a quite strong sense of conservative (which in Turkish has a sense akin to ultra-conservative in English anyway). It is conservative in holding to traditional social values, to statism and to nationalism. Its social conservatism can be seen in the high percentage of head scarf wearers amongst female supporters and the wives of mostly male party leaders. They don’t drink alcohol publicly if at all.
They are certainly not imitating the conversion of the British conservatives to gay rights.
The statism and nationalism are linked issues. The AKP exists as a patronage machine,a s do all the political parties in Turkey. Public sector employment has gone up under this government, as under previous governments, to provide jobs for party supporters. this reinforces the view of the state3 as sacred and reinforces nationalism.
All the major parties look very nationalist in Turkey, and are looking more nationalist not less. The historic ultra-nationalist party, MHP (Nationalist Action Party) moderated after the death of its founder leader in 1997, with the effect that centre-right and centre left parties have converged with it. The Social Democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party) is using the accusation of Cyprus sell out to attack the AKP government. The previously centre-right DYP’s (True Path Party) current leader has been close in ideology to the MHP, though he has made gestures away from that. The fact that CHP is attacking AKP over the Cyprus ‘sell out’ does not make AKP less nationalist. The ‘sell out’ has not happened because like the other parties the AKP does not want to go to the electorate with the concessions which are inevitable if there is a settlement, particularly with the return of some land to the Greek Cypriots which is to be expected at some point since Turkish Cypriots have 38% of the land but only 18% of the population. Reluctance to pursue this policy is about reactions from the electorate but also the binding ideology of all the major parties. The binding ideology is that international relations is a zero sum game and that foreign powers are necessarily trying to at least weaken Turkey if not bring about the return of Ottoman capitulations, in which foreign powers had sovereignty over parts of the Ottoman lands and rights of ‘protection’ of Christians, or give Turkish lands away to neighbouring countries as was attempted after the First World War.
It has to be said in the AKP’s favour that they attempted to weaken restrictions on the property rights of minority foundations, but the legislation was vetoed by the President who is close to the CHP in thinking. However, AKP must have expected the veto and may have been motivated by the hope of more freedom for conservative Muslim groups. Turkish Armenian and Greek foundations still cannot invest in property, even in their existing properties. This is accompanied by the ritual statement that ‘the Treaty of Lausanne solved the minority problem’. The Treaty of 1924 established Greeks, Jews and Armenians as recognised minorities with the right to education in their own languages. This solution essentially creates a separate category of citizenship for the defined groups even while the Turkish state has always claimed to favour complete equality and integration within a secular republic. This leaves the situation where Turkish Greeks, Armenians and Jews appear to be in a separate category, even if they have a completely common life with Turkish Muslims.
The consequences of this equivocation can be seen in the antics of ultra-nationalist lawyer, Kemal Kerinçsiz, who has been featured in FactsAndIdeas. In a trial of the editor of a Turkish Armenian newspaper, Kerinçsiz in his normal bullying style demonstrated with his followers outside the court room insulting Hrant Dınk as a ‘Daşnak‘, that is as a member of an Ottoman era Armenian nationalist and socialist movement which used armed violence against Ottoman Muslims. A party of that name exists in Armenia now and pursues a mixture off social democratic and irredentist nationalist ideology. Of course Kerinçsiz is largely a Turkish equivalent of ‘Daşnak‘. he is a member of the MHP which was closely linked with political terror in the 1970s, and with less dramatic but real violence until the death of the party founder Alpaslan Türkeş in 1997. The MHP mixes various kinds of nationalism, including a strong current of Pan-Turkism which favours the unification of Turkish peoples from China to the Balkans. The antics of Kerninçsiz and his supporters in the Nationalist Jurists’ Association are sadly significant. They are behind many recent and current prosecutions of writers for ‘insulting Turkishness‘ and use the court cases as a stage for bullying provocation of hatred against those prosecuted. Fortunately most prosecutions have ended in acquittals, but another purpose has been served. Other antics include emailing instructors at Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University, which is an English medium university of American origin, with insulting messages. This is clearly not behaviour appropriate to an association of legal professionals, but sadly in a harsh and exaggerated way they represent the ideology of many people in the state legal system and in the political parties, left and right. Needless to say Kerançsız can only interpret awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Orhan Pamuk as an insult to Turkey because Pamuk had made remarks appearing to support genocide claims made by Armenians. This attitude appears to be shared by the government and the presidency , in a quieter way. This itself reflects a broad attitude in which debates about Turkish history and current place in the world can only be understood in terms of honour and face; international relations can only be understood as a zero sum game where if someone wins someone else loses; and a similar Mercantilist logic is applied to economics. Fortunately reality in Turkey does not completely follow that model. In the end the main political parties and actors have made pragmatic accommodations with negotiation, compromise and the search for ‘win win’ situations. It’s rather like the attitude of the last Conservative government in Britain to the EU but is much more pervasive.
Is there Hope?
Turkey is developing economically, so that there is a growing middle class urban population which is educated and is part of a complex civil society. More and more Turks go abroad to study. More and more Turks are receiving higher education. More and more Turkish academics publish in internationally recognised places at such a rate that Turkey has been climbing up the rankings of index scholarly articles for decades. More and more foreigners work in Turkey, including British academics, like myself, Balkan labourers and many others. The door is still open to the EU, so there is still an incentive for change. The point may have been reached where foreign inspired change cannot take root, and there is a clearly a nationalist reaction against changes which have been made. Future changes must come from reformers winning arguments within Turkey. The immediate signs are poor but the long term trends suggest an increasingly complex, open, educated, cosmopolitan society. The current increase in foreign workers suggest that Turkey may avoid Japanese style modernisation of an inward looking kind based on very limited immigration and ethnic diversity. However, Turkey could still be a new Italy where power is swapped between political groups dominated by clientalism and corruption, where politics is compromise between interest based factions, and where underlying problems are dealt with very late. In any case, the immediate situation is tough for the liberal minded in politics, but is maybe improving in terms of society, the economy, culture and daily life.
Issues of secularism are a constant in Turkey. The constitution states that Turkey is a secular republic. The founder of the Republic, Kemal Atatürk, was a very determined and radical secularist. His position was one of laicism, in which the state does not simply adopt a neutral attitude towards religion, but actively promotes the non-religious attitude as a basic principle which requires the exclusion of religious symbols from the state along with a social struggle against groups who wish to give religion a political role and use it to dominate the public sphere.
While Britain is a very secular society, that has not arisen from secularism or laicism as a principle. Some people of great influence in British politics and political thought have advocated principled secularism. The most notable example is the Nineteenth Century philosopher and Liberal Member of Parliament, John Stuart Mill. That sort of principled radical secularism had a role in the general evolution in a secular direction, but generally speaking that evolution expressed itself in the gradual weakening of state discrimination in favour of the state church and of discrimination against those outside the Church of England. Britain had a multiplicity of Christian churches from the Sixteenth Century and secularism developed as they learned to live with each other and refrain from attempts at dominating rival churches. Consequently for most in Britain secularism means leaving people alone rather than having an active policy.
However, things are changing in Britain. The main motivation is the threat posed by Al-Quaida style Islamic terrorism. That reality has resulted in a greater drive to integrate immigrants, through a language test and through a citizenship test required for immigrants to become naturalised as British citizens. The role of some Imams in promoting ideology close to terrorism, or even recruiting Muslims for terrorist training, has undermined the old laisser-faire attitude. That in turn is creating a reaction, and not just from Muslims.
The head of the Church of England has become concerned that the state is ‘licensing’ religions rather than leaving them alone. Archbishop Rowan Williams sits in Parliament as a member of the House of Lords,along with other senior members of the Church of England. The monarch of the day is required by long standing law to be a member of the Church of England, and is the ‘governor’ of the Church. There is law that requires Christian based assemblies in schools and Christian based religious education. Rowan Williams has never complained about state intervention on behalf of his church so his complaints about ‘licensing’ are not based on intellectually coherent arguments.
If he does not like the new secularism, he will probably just have to get used to it. Though most British citizens identify themselves as Christian, this is usually Christianity of a very symbolic sort, so that it is often hard to distinguish from agnosticism. The activities of some anti-evolution Christians in promoting creationism in state schools, has created concern for those of mainstream views. The fear of Islamist terror has focused minds on the dangers that the growing sector of Muslim state schools could promote segregation and radicalisation of young Muslims. Mosques are being watched by the security services, radical Imams have been arrested. This new secularism embarrasses Christian conservatives and is opposed by some on the left who think that if Islam is a minority religion in Britain and a Third World religion in general, then no criticism can be made of any expression of Islam which is not racist and colonialist.
Turkey is very very gradually moving from some aspects of state led secularism. This is not a straight forward liberalisation at all. Illiberal measures include: the present moderate Islamist government finding jobs in the public sector for its religious friends, at least one Istanbul district imposing fines for public drinking, the government trying to reduce the autonomy of the highly secularist Higher Education Council. On the more ‘liberal’ side, more private Koran classes have opened. Taking the pressure off radical groups, or merely allowing more use of Muslim symbols in the political and public sphere, could lead to exactly the same problems as Britain is trying to resolve. The lesson is surely that measure which genuinely increase the rights of peaceful people should be encouraged, but not measures that encourage segregation or radicalisation. The private sphere could be more broadly defined in Turkey to include what head dress female students wear at university, but in Britain student unions which play an important role in supporting student groups are becoming more concerned about Christian groups which may discriminate against gays. Such groups have had bank accounts frozen and been banned from student union based activities. The other side of Turkey’s laicist tradition is that politics has been strong influenced by Sunni Muslim brotherhoods, governments have sometimes encouraged religious state schools, and there is an implicit bias to Sunni Muslims so long as they are pro-state.
Some people in Turkey, like many foreign observers, work on the assumption that the radical secularist and laicist tradition of the state, is old fashioned and authoritarian, is tied up with restrictions on political freedom and statist economic structures. A close look at what is going on in Britain should lead them to think again.