Turkish Paradox: Progressive Islamists versus Reactionary Secularists

Turkish Paradox: Progressive Islamists versus Reactionary Secularists


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (d. 1938) founded the modern Republic of Turkey as a secular republic in 1923.1 Since that time, his followers, the Kemalists, and the military have successfully maintained that a secular Turkey is the only road to progress, reform, and modernization; today, to be modern is seen by many Turks as membership in the EU. The Kemalists have always painted Islamists as reactionary impediments to their vision of a modern progressive Turkey. Nevertheless, it has not been easy for Kemalists to dismiss lightly the nation”s Islamic heritage.2 Since the beginnings of multiparty democracy in the elections of 1950, Turkey”s Islamic roots have proven important and even decisive in the evolution of Turkish politics. Both the ruling Democrat Party of Adnan Menderes in the 1950s and the Justice Party of Süleyman Demirel in the 1960s and 1970s depended on latent Islamic support. What is more, the various Islamic parties headed by Necmettin Erbakan beginning in the 1960s boldly espoused an Islamic agenda.
In 1996, Erbakan”s Refah Partisi (RP or Welfare Party) briefly even came to power until it was forced to resign as a result of military pressure in 1997.3 Both the Refah Party and its successor, Fazilet (Virtue), subsequently were banned by Turkey”s Constitutional Court. However, from the roots of this Islamic debacle, Recep Tayyip Erdoan founded a new moderate successor Adalet ve Kalknma Partisi (AKP or Justice and Development Party) in August 2001, and this party won a majority of seats in Turkey”s parliament in November 2002, enabling it to form Turkey”s first majority government since the 1980s.4 After a brief interlude, Erdoan became Prime Minister in 2003. These developments set the stage for a paradoxical switching of roles: progressive Islamists versus Reactionary Secularists.

Erdoan”s AKP committed itself to pursuing Turkish membership in the EU. This policy, of course, entailed liberal political and economic reforms that challenged the privileged position of the Kemalist secularists and the military. The inherent struggle came to a head in April 2007 when the AKP nominated one of its own, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, to be the new President of Turkey.
Since the AKP possessed the necessary majority in the parliament to elect him, Gül”s victory seemed a foregone conclusion. The secular opposition, however, seized upon this moment to block what it saw as the loss of one of its last bastions of power. On 13 April, General Yaar Büyükant, the Turkish military”s Chief of Staff, called a rare press conference in which he declared that he hoped that the next president would not simply pay lip service to Turkey”s secular constitution but genuinely respect it.5 Then just before midnight on 27 April, the military posted on its web site, a so-called e- memorandum (e-muhtra) warning against the threat posed by some groups aiming to destroy Turkey”s secular system under the cover of religion.6 Outgoing secularist President Ahmet Necdet Sezer had already claimed that “since the foundation of the Republic, Turkey”s political regime has never been under this much threat” and that “both domestic and foreign forces seek Turkey to become a conservative Islamic model.”7

At the same time, massive public protests against the AKP had begun in Turkey”s major cities of Ankara on 14 April, Istanbul on 29 April, and Izmir on 13 May; each attracted over one million participants. Smaller but still impressive anti-AKP protests of over 100,000 each also occurred in Canakkale, Denizli, Marmaris, and Manisa. Pro-secular associations, with memberships comprised of many retired military officers, helped to organize these protests and brandished slogans against the AKP, EU, and globalization. Secular women”s groups were also prominent. The secularist opposition in the parliament then managed to block Gül”s election simply by boycotting sessions and thus denying that body the necessary two-thirds quorum, a questionable tactic whose constitutionality, however, was quickly upheld by the secularist-controlled Constitutional Court.8 Erdoan was thus forced to call early parliamentary elections in an attempt to break the deadlock.
In an apparent effort to influence the voting against the AK, the military urged a “reflex action en masse against these terrorist acts” in a June web site message.9

Embodiment of New Turkey: Erdoan

Recep Tayyip Erdoan was born on 26 February 1954 in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, but spent his childhood in the Black Sea town of Rize, less than 200 miles from his family”s ancestral homeland in Georgia.
When he was 13, his family returned to Istanbul and, as a teenager, Erdoan sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul to help his family. He was educated at an Imam Hatip school, an Islamic clerical training institute ironically made available by the Turkish military after its coup in 1980 in an attempt to preempt leftist and separatist movements.10 Erdoan graduated with a degree in management from Marmara University”s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, where he first met Erbakan. In his spare time, he played semi-professional soccer for 16 years. On 4 July 1978, he married Emine Gülbaran who was born in Siirt (Turkey”s Kurdish area) but is of Arabic ancestry.11 They have two sons and two daughters. Because his wife wears the traditional Islamic headscarf, secularists have heaped negative comment upon him.

During the late 1970s, Erdoan worked for the IETT, Istanbul”s municipal transport company, and became active in Erbakan”s Milli Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party or NSP).
After the military coup in September 1980, the NSP was banned and Erdoan himself briefly brought before a military court. He also served his mandatory military service in 1982 as a commissioned officer. Erdoan reentered politics, when Erbakan founded the Refah Party (RP) in 1983. According to Yavuz, the nature of Turkish Islamic politics was already beginning to reflect modern imperatives:

The Islamism of the 1980s differed from the Islamic movements of the 1960s and 1970s in its social basis, nature, and impact.  For example, the RP-led Islamic movement shifted from being an anti- global, market-oriented, small merchant, and farmer”s party to one that demands full integration into the global market and seeks to reduce role for the state in the economy.12
During the local elections of 1985, Erdoan became the chair of the RP branch in Istanbul province and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of the Beyolu district. He was elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991 when the RP finally managed to cross the 10 percent barrier, but was disqualified by the High Electoral Committee due to technical voting rules. During the elections of 27 March 1994, however, the RP became the largest party in Turkey and Erdoan was elected mayor of Greater Istanbul. It is in this position that he first drew national attention as a populist and effective administrator for helping to reconstruct the city”s infrastructure and transportation network without being tainted by corruption.

Erdoan gave fuel to his secularist opponents when he declared that New Year”s celebrations were a habit practiced by secularists and not a legitimate cause for him to mark. He also said that he shook hands only with the opposite sex so as not to upset and damage discussions but afterward he prayed to God for forgiveness. Then on 12 December 1997, Erdoan ran afoul of the article in the Turkish penal code that banned “incitement to religious hatred” when he publicly read a poem originally written by the Turkish nationalist theoretician, Ziya G?kalp: “Turkey”s mosques will be our barracks, the minarets our bayonets, the domes our helmets, and the faithful our soldiers.” For this transgression, he was banned from politics and sentenced to 10 months in prison, four of which he actually served. It was this criminal conviction that prevented him from immediately becoming prime minister following the victory of his AKP on 3 November 2002.

Erdoan became the leader of the AKP when it was established on 14 August 2001, by the more moderate members of the former RP, while the conservatives of the now banned RP created the Saadet Partisi (SP) or Felicity Party. Having apparently learned a lesson from his earlier political experiences, Erdoan specifically declared that the AKP did not have a religious agenda and would work within the secular democratic framework.13 Increasingly, the AKP has assumed a position as a center-right party, rather than an Islamic one. Some analysts have seen an analogy between the AKP and Europe”s post- World War II progressive conservative Christian Democratic parties as well as the modern West”s catchall parties.
Erdoan repeatedly has stressed that the AKP is committed to democracy and Turkey”s secular identity.14 In power, he has established a can-do reputation of clean government instituting democratic reforms necessary to achieve eventual EU membership. He successfully endeavored to market Turkey abroad, attract foreign capital, pursue privatization and a liberal market economy, provide necessary services, and initiate a host of political reforms to harmonize Turkish and EU law. Under Erdoan, Turkey has enjoyed an average of 7.5 percent in annual growth, $20 billion in direct foreign investment, annual export volumes of almost $100 billion, an inflation rate below 10 percent, and a record 50,000-plus point high on the Istanbul Stock Exchange.15 Such stunning economic achievements can be expected to benefit the masses in terms of higher employment opportunities, greater tax revenues, more social spending, and improved educational opportunities, among
others. Even his opponents admit that Turkey”s economy has done very well under Erdoan. In August 2005, Erdoan addressed the long-taboo subject of the country”s ethnic Kurdish minority, stating publicly that Turkey had a “Kurdish problem” and needed more democracy to solve it.16 Many analysts would agree that further democratization of the Turkish political system is essential not only to help resolve the ethnic issue but also to further the goal of Turkey”s integration with the EU. Erdoan”s policies demonstrate that he understands the necessity for openness, tolerance, and transparency in government and for Turkey”s future. In this respect, one may argue that secularists owe a huge debt of gratitude to Erdoan and the AKP for their reforms that actually have bolstered secularism within the context of Turkey”s cultural heritage.

To appreciate how far Erdoan has transformed his original Islamic position, it would be useful to compare it with what Erbakan, the longtime Islamic leader and Erdoan”s earlier mentor, still is saying. Unlike Erdoan, Erbakan continues to give speeches about Western and Zionist conspiracies against Islam. Secularists, who tend to view all religious persons as backward, are unable to distinguish the differences in ideology and tone between Erdoan and Erbakan. For that reason, they try to associate Erdoan and his current associates with Erbakan and question the reasons why they left Erbakan”s party to form the AKP. Accordingly, many secularists are unable to comprehend that the AKP program has transcended its Islamic roots and is committed to pursuing Turkey”s destiny in the EU. Indeed, the AKP”s democratic and economic reforms have made it all but impossible to establish an Islamic state in Turkey. Even history may judge Erdoan to be modern Turkey”s most successful leader only after Atatürk himself and the late Turgut ?zal.

Who then would be the Islamists if the AKP members are not? Turkey”s Islamists do not constitute a cohesive movement but rather are comprised of diverse groups. Sufi orders such as the Naqshbandis and Qadiris, for example, constitute more traditional Islamists,17 while the Nur movement of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1876-1960)18 and its neo- Nur offshoot headed by Fethullah Gülen19 represent more modern, scientifically inclined Islamic movements. In addition, the SP represents the more conservative elements of Erbakan”s now defunct Refah Party (banned in 1998). According to Erdoan”s secular opponents, he maintains close relations with these openly Islamic groups and has a secret Islamic agenda for Turkey. In particular, they accuse Fethullah Gülen”s movement of establishing an international reach that includes hundreds of schools indoctrinating youths with intensive Islamist training in keeping with the teachings of Nursi and also creating a hierarchy of activists in
municipalities and businesses. Although pretending to be moderate and apolitical, secularists say that Gülen was indicted in 1999 for his activities, documented with film in which he allegedly reveals his aspirations for an Islamist Turkey ruled by the sharia and calls for clandestine means to achieve such a goal. Secularists cite also a statement of Gülen as evidence:

You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers  until the conditions are ripe.  You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power.20

Secularists prone to believe in conspiracy theories found further evidence of a presumed Erdoan-Gülen alliance in May 2006, when the AKP government modified the criminal code provisions pertaining to public speech (in response to EU pressures for Turkey to democratize its legal system), and consequently Gülen was acquitted. Later, in the 2007 elections, the Gülen movement”s media outlets (daily Zaman, Bugün, and TV stations) all supported the AKP government and adopted a hostile attitude toward the opposition parties, as well as toward the military.21


Like the Islamists, Turkey”s secularists have also evolved in terms of their attitudes and political positions. Historically, Turkish secularism has been synonymous with Kemalism, an often flexible ideology named for modern Turkey”s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Kemalism consists of six principles: republicanism, populism, secularism, revolution, nationalism, and statism. Revealingly, democracy is not one of these essential principles. Since the establishment of the republic, Kemalists have pursued two of these principles with ideological fervor: secularism, i.e., the control of Islam by the state and the disestablishment of religion from the public sphere; and nationalism, i.e., creating a nation state out of diverse ethnic groups. Secularism opposed any sort of Islamic orientation, while nationalism came to view any sort of Kurdish identity as a mortal threat to Turkey”s survival.22 Despite legislative reforms to allow the usage of the Kurdish language, Turkey”s highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled in June 2007 to dismiss Abdullah Demirbas, the mayor of the Sur district of Diyarbakir province, because he had voted to provide public services in languages other than Turkish (an official survey had found that 72 percent of Sur”s population spoke Kurdish while only 24 percent spoke Turkish).

Accommodating Kurdish culture, especially linguistically, is necessary for Turkey to pursue its application for membership in the EU. Secular nationalists, however, tend to equate any expression of Kurdish ethnic identity with separatism and thus a threat to Turkey”s territorial integrity. Pressures from the EU for Turkey to be more accommodative of its Kurdish minority have thus prompted some secularists to question the goal of EU membership. For example, General Yaar Büyükant, the military”s outspoken Chief of Staff, has implicitly opposed Turkey”s EU candidacy on the grounds that it is “creating minorities in Turkey.”23 He also implied that the United States was part of the problem because of its support for the autonomy of Iraqi Kurds; the latter, according to Turkey, refuse to expel members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a Turkish Kurdish guerrilla group – that has bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.24 Büyükant”s views are relevant because the Turkish military thinks of itself not just as the ultimate guardian of the Turkish state but also as the ultimate interpreter of what is Kemalism.25 Indeed, the military has intervened to remove civilian governments four times (1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997) and seriously considered yet another coup in 2004.26

This attitude has historical roots going back to Atatürk, who based his original and ultimate power on his role as the supreme military commander in Turkey”s epic War of Independence during the early 1920s. The military”s insistence on its unique role in interpreting and defending Kemalism not only contradicts democratic ideals but also presents serious problems for Turkey”s EU candidacy.

During the initial years of the AKP”s government, Turkey”s “EU- phoria” disinclined the military from confronting its policies. Once skepticism about EU membership had set in, however, the military felt emboldened. The AKP attempt to nominate Gül as President would have removed one of the last bastions of political power from the control of Kemalists, and this prospect alarmed the military. Thus, the current struggle for ultimate power in Turkey may be seen as more between the AKP and the military, rather than between Islamists and secularists. For example, organizations such as the Türkiye Emekli Subaylar Dernei (Society of Retired Officers or TESUD), headed by retired Major-General Riza Kucukoglu, and the Atatürkcü Düünce Dernei (Society for Kemalist thought or ADD), headed by retired General ener Eruygur, the former commander of the Gendarmerie, played an important role in galvanizing the popular demonstrations against the AKP in April and May.

Although understanding the role of the military is important, it is essential to appreciate that even the military is being influenced by the economic and social changes that have been occurring in Turkey since the early 1990s. The country”s phenomenal economic growth has created a new socially conservative Anatolian middle class of urban migrants with strong Islamic roots who have become entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and politicians. Industry, represented by the Türk Sanayici ve adamlar Dernei (Turkish Association of Industrialists and Businessmen or T?SAD), which is dominated by large holding companies such as Koc, Sabanc, and Eczacbas, is part of this new mix. This new middle class is represented by the AKP and challenges the long existing privileges of the older Kemalist middle class that largely consists of bureaucrats. Politically, this older Kemalist middle class has been represented by the party Atatürk himself founded back in 1923, the Republican Peoples Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi or CHP). Since the beginning of multiparty politics in Turkey in 1950, the CHP has largely been on the defensive, and despite occasional revivals, slowly losing support.
CHP head Deniz Baykal has come to see his party”s future as closely tied to that of the military rather than to its supposed social democratic ideology. During the AKP”s sweep to power in the election of November 2002, the CHP was the only other party that managed to pass the 10 percent threshold and enter parliament, albeit with less than 20 percent of the overall vote. Although this was actually an improvement over its previous showing (in 1999) when the CHP failed to get enough votes to enter parliament, between 2002 and 2007, it proved to be largely an ineffective opposition to the AKP, with the exception of blocking the election of an AKP as president in April 2007.

In its 2007 election manifesto, the CHP questioned Turkey”s negotiations with the EU because it knew that it would be impossible to maintain a Kemalist state if Turkey joined the EU.27 Almost desperately, Baykal declared that “Erdoan speaks with the language of terrorists and supports the view of (Iraqi Kurdish leader) Barzani.”28 These references were an attempt to paint the AKP as weak on the national security issue because it was unwilling to authorize a large-scale military intervention against the PKK in northern Iraq. Such a position, of course, offered the disaffected Kurdish population little in the way of democratic promise.
Furthermore, the CHP established a tacit alliance with its theoretical rival, the openly nationalist Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (National Movement Party or MHP). The latter also sees the national security issue as its own special domain. Presently, Devlet Bahçeli, a former economics professor, leads the MHP. Frustrated by Turkey”s EU candidacy, which it sees as a conspiracy against the very independence of the state, the MHP also sees the Kurdish issue as one of terrorism and economic marginalization, rather than a struggle for legitimate democratic rights. The CHP and MHP embrace a xenophobic, antiglobalization rhetoric that accuses the AKP of submitting to the United States and the European Union, as well as having a secret Islamic agenda.

Despite the secularists” verbal attacks, the AKP has clearly benefited from the incompetence and corruption of the other political parties. Almost by default, it is the only mainline party that plausibly has something positive to offer toward dealing intelligently with the economy and minority problems.29

The July 2007 Elections

The national elections held on 22 July 2007 are likely to have a major impact on the future of Turkey. Four parties – the AKP, CHP, MHP, and the pro-Kurdish DTP – achieved representation in the parliament. The ruling AKP emerged the strongest party. After receiving 34.4 percent of the vote in the November 2002 elections, it increased its total to 46.5 percent in the July 2007 elections. This was an increase of 12 percent for its second term. This total would give the AKP 341 seats in the 550-member parliament. The secularist CHP and the nationalist MHP won an estimated 112 and 71 seats, respectively. Up to 25 seats will go to independent candidates, including 20 Kurdish representatives who are expected to merge under the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi or Democratic Society Party.
That the AKP emerged as the number one party in the 2007 elections is not a surprise. Most political analysts expected it to win enough seats to form the government. However, very few, including the AKP itself, expected such a landslide victory. This victory is a vote for the policies of the AKP and a vote against the crisis created by the secular-military establishment over the presidency. The AKP is the only party with dense social networks in every corner of the country, and, along with municipal governments, all these networks were mobilized for the party”s victory. Due to the role of dominant religious networks in the Kurdish regions, the AKP also received a major victory in these provinces. One could argue that the only chance for ending the relentless and destructive Kurdish insurgency will come from the AKP since it is the only Turkish party that appeals to voters in Kurdish regions. For the national integration of Turkey, this offers great hope.

There are two key reasons for the AKP”s landslide electoral victory:
economic and political. According to the public surveys, the most important factor that determined people”s decision to vote for the AKP was the economic situation. As already noted, during the previous five years, Turkey achieved a 7.5 percent average annual growth, record foreign investments jumped from $1.2 to $20 billion, and the inflation rate declined. The AKP-led social welfare networks also played an important role in terms of reducing the negative consequences of the market economy. Moreover, the Turkish currency was replaced with a new one that has maintained its value. The party also used municipalities to provide food, coal, and especially health care through new reforms to millions of people. Under the new health-care reform, people have access to private health care with the government”s support. In other words, privatization of health care improved the situation at least in the short run. The AKP government also expanded the bureaucracy through new bureaucratic hires. In short, people cared about their daily lives more than any supposed long-term ideological threat from the AKP. Thus, neither identity nor ideology but rather services and improvements in living standards determined how people voted.

As far as political factors are concerned, the most crucial one was Erdoan”s charisma as the populist leader of the conservative masses.
He always has been viewed as one of them in terms of his body language, the model he presents, and his overall life style. In addition, Gül became as significant as Erdoan in the 2007 elections because the AKP election platform was built largely around the Kemalist campaign against his presidency. The impact of the presidential election worked in favor of the AKP, whose election platform was very much based on the “mazlum” (wronged one) and the exclusion of pious people from the public sphere by the “white Turks.” The Kemalist establishment was framed as “white Turks” and the supporters of the AKP as the “blacks Turks” who have been marginalized by the system. This “framing” of the crisis was very successful among the ordinary Turks. The framing mobilized Islamic networks, especially the Gülen community, which has an ongoing conflict with the military, in favor of the AKP. The AKP organized more meetings and carried its message to every corner of the country.30 For instance, the AKP organized mass rallies in 58 provinces, whereas the CHP had them in only 20 provinces.

Even though the AKP government did not propose any political solution to the Kurdish issue or put forward a regional economic development program, the Kurds voted for it. There are three reasons for this situation. Many Kurds regard the AKP as an anti-Kemalist and antisystemic party that has been “suppressed” by the same enemy as they have. The e-memorandum of the military created a sense of unity among the Kurds and the AKP that they all confront the same oppressive military and the Kemalist state. Moreover, many people liked the counter memorandum of the AKP leadership against the military. When terrorist attacks increased two months before the elections, the AKP presented this through its “local rumor channels,” such as the coffeehouses, as the work of the “hawks” within the military to militarize the region and even to intervene in northern Iraq. Many religious Kurds believe that the AKP has a “hidden agenda” to transform the Kemalist state through a new civic constitution. Moreover, the AKP deputies in the Kurdish region carried out a vocal campaign against the military threat to intervene in the affairs of northern Iraq. The AKP had a Kurdish- first election platform in the region, and the people regarded it as a way of de-Kemalizing the state and reconstructing a binational state with decentralization of the power under a new “civic constitution” that the AKP promised to create.

Is this the beginning of a new Kurdish politics in terms of supporting a center-right party rather than only a Kurdish-based party? Does this represent a change in the political landscape of Kurdish politics? Did many Kurds vote for the continuation of the AKP policies or did they vote with the expectations of a new policy? The DTP was certainly taken aback by the AKP”s strength in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Indeed, the AKP victory was a response against those who had an identity-based election platform and sought to separate Kurds from Turks further.

Within the Kurdish political landscape, different voices are emerging. Ayel Tuluk (the cochair along with Ahmet Turk of the DTP) is calling upon the Kurds to understand the fear among Turks of the 1919 Treaty of Sevres (that had provided for a division of Anatolia but subsequently was abrogated in 1923) and embrace a new reconciliation,31 whereas Leyla Zana called for the division of Turkey along new federal lines.32 One may inquire whether the vote for the AKP in the Kurdish region is a vote for the current AKP policies on the Kurdish question or a vote on expectation that the AKP will deliver a new republic along the lines of a new civic constitution that might get rid of Kemalism and also open the door for a binational state solution. It is believed, for example, that the AKP is not comfortable with the Kemalist state ideology and wants to transform it without openly saying so. The “unspoken project” of the AKP is to transform Turkey from a rigid nation-state into a new community of ethnic identities held together by their Muslim identity. Thus, the party supports ethnic and cultural rights for the Kurds and other minorities within the framework of conservative (religious) values. In short, the AKP does not accept the Kemalist solution of homogenization (nation-building) to diversity but rather seeks to recognize diversity. Its different notion of political community is similar to that of the pre- Republican Ottoman millet system. The smallest party to enter the parliament is the pro-Kurdish DTP.
It was created by Kurdish politicians with the goal of addressing the Kurdish issue in Turkey. It has close ties with Abdullah ?calan, the former PKK leader who has been in jail since 1999, but who has renounced violence as the way to resolve Kurdish grievances. In order to get around the 10 percent (of total national votes) threshold for a political party to gain parliamentary representation, DTP decided to run its candidates as independents. These pro-DTP independents received a slightly smaller percentage of the popular vote than did their Demokratik Halkin Partisi (DEHAP) predecessors in the 2002 election. Through this maneuver, the DTP candidates were not subject to the 10 percent threshold and managed to win seats in the parliament while the DEHAP was subject to the threshold and, falling short, did not win any seats.

Although the independent DTP candidates did well in the Kurdish regions, a majority of Kurds actually voted for the AKP due to three key reasons. First, the DTP has no economic policy to give hope to the youth or emerging Kurdish bourgeoisie. Thus, it has no policy for the regional development or distribution of the growing national “pie” of Turkey. Yet Kurds do not vote only on the basis of identity politics but also consider economic conditions. Second, the DTP rhetoric about the brotherhood of people, freedom, and peace are concepts too abstract in the face of the immediate needs of the region. None of the candidates explained to the Kurds how these concepts would improve their daily lives. Third, there is very little bridge between the secular Kurdish leadership of the DTP and the conservative religious masses of the Kurds. Indeed, most DTP supporters are closer to the leadership of the AKP in terms of their moral values and piety.

The CHP remains the largest opposition party in the parliament.
After merging with the Democratic Leftist Party (DSP), they received 20.9 percent of the vote and got 112 seats in the parliament. The CHP failed to translate the momentum of the pro-secular mass rallies into voter support. The main problem of the CHP is that it represents the “old order” and is very much out of touch with the current socio-economic realities of the country. Indeed, the CHP”s election platform was based on fear of Islam. Its aggressive leadership asked people to vote for the CHP as a vote for the reforms of Atatürk. Its leader, Deniz Baykal, a political science professor and a former foreign minister, is a divisive personality whose goal of remaining head of CHP is stronger than becoming prime minister. Furthermore, Baykal”s party failed to build bridges with the new emerging actors in the society. Its election platform was built on fear and the supposed threat to secularism. The result, however, was a vote against the military”s interference in politics and, especially, the politics of fear  was manipulated by the generals. Thus, the military received a rejection from the nation over its self-declared guardianship. The people preferred that the army withdraw to its barracks in accordance with the EU standards, as many Turks do not see the country at risk or in danger of fragmentation.

By receiving 14.28 percent of the vote, the MHP is the third party to enter parliament with 71 seats. Although many people expected the MHP to receive around 18 percent of the vote, it had to compete with the AKP in Anatolia. It remains the main Turkish nationalist party, although it has shifted from ethnic to civic Turkish nationalism. Its leader, Devlet Bahceli, an economist and a former Deputy Prime Minister, is skeptical about Turkey”s EU bid, accuses the AKP government of being too soft on separatist Kurdish guerrillas, and supports a military incursion into northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish rebels based there. Interestingly, the MHP also has distanced itself from the military agenda and does not support military interference in politics.


On 22 July 2007, the AKP cruised to a landslide victory, securing an unparalleled 46.5 percent of the vote. It was the first time in more than a half-century that an incumbent government actually had increased its share of the national vote. The Turkish people had obviously opted for democratic and market economy reforms as well as for continuing their EU candidacy.33 They also had voted against inward-looking nationalism, military interference in politics, and ultra-secular fears of a secret Islamic agenda – all characteristics of what many have termed Turkey”s “Deep State.”34 Gracious as well as prudent in victory, Erdoan assured his opponents that “there will be no concession on the basic (secular) characteristics of the republic.”35 He also promised to “press ahead with reforms and the economic development that we have been following so far” and to “continue to work with determination to achieve our EU goal.”36 Although he vowed to continue the fight against the PKK, it seemed possible to pursue a political solution to the Kurdish problem and oppose an invasion of northern Iraq.37 Indeed, the AKP further surprised analysts by winning 52 percent of the vote in Turkey”s ethnic Kurdish areas of the southeast.

Despite its impressive victory, the AKP fell short winning of the two-thirds parliamentary majority to force through its presidential choice. Indeed, the AKP”s seats in the parliament actually declined slightly because both the CHP and MHP passed the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament. This denied the AKP the extra seats it had taken in the election of 2002. In addition, 24 members of the DTP were able to circumvent the 10 percent threshold by winning as independents (Table 1).

Table 1.  
Turkish Parliamentary Elections Results, 2002 and 2007
Party Votes Percent Seats Percent
AKP 2007 15,641,382 46.49 340 61.45
AKP 2002 10,804,458 34.41 365 66.36
CHP 2007 6,974,598 20.90 112 20.18
CHP 2002 6,096,488 19.42 177 32.18
MHP 2007 4,842,024 14.28 71 13.45
DTP/Independent 1,713,769 5.7 27 4.91

The Turkish President is important because he can hold up parliamentary legislation, choose members of the high courts and board of higher education, and must approve all the highest military appointments. Given its tremendous electoral victory and the resulting need to satisfy its constituency, the AKP decided to resubmit Abdullah Gul”s presidential candidacy to the new parliament. On 28 August 2007, Gul was finally elected on the third ballot. Although it remains to be seen what the future holds now for Turkey, hopefully the electoral crisis of 2007 will result in a maturation of the Turkish political system and an increased respect for the democratic process on the part of all parties.

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11. Sozen, E. (Yavuz, M. Hakan ed.) (2007) Gender politics of the JDP. The Emergence of a New Turkey and the AK Parti University of Utah Press , Salt Lake City
12. Turam, B. (2007) Between Islam and State: The Politics of Engagement Stanford University Press , Stanford
13. Yavuz, M. H. (2003) Islamic Political Identity in Turkey Oxford University Press , New York
14. (Yavuz, M. Hakan ed.) (2006) The Emergence of a New Turkey:Democracy and the AK Parti The University of Utah Press , Salt Lake City
15. Zurcher, E. (1997) Turkey: A Modern History 2nd ed, I.B. Tauris , London Notes
1 A good introductory history is Eric Zurcher, Turkey: A Modern History, 2nd ed. (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997).

2 See further Serif Mardin, Religion, Society, and Modernity in Turkey (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2006); and Jenny B. White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002).

3 See further Michael M. Gunter, “The silent coup: the secularist- Islamist struggle in Turkey,” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, 21 (Spring 1998), pp. 1-12.

4 See further M. Hakan Yavuz, Ed., The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2006). AK not only is the acronym for the party, but also the adjective ak in Turkish means white, clean, or honest.

5 “Strong warning to Erdoan by secular establishment,” Briefing (Ankara), 16 April 2007, p. 2.

6 See the Turkish military”s web site: http://www.tsk.mil.tr

7 “Sezer”s farewell speech: the republican regime has never been under this much threat,” Briefing, 16 April 2007, p. 3.

8 Sabrina Tavernise, “Turkish court blocks Islamist candidate,” International Herald Tribune, 2 May 2007.

9 “The text of the general staff press release,” Briefing, 11 June 2007, p. 14.

10 M. Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 122-128.

11 On Emine Erdoan, see Edibe S?zen, “Gender politics of the JDP,” in: M. Hakan Yavuz, (Ed.) The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2006), pp. 268-270.

12 M. H. Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity, p. 213.

13 For background, see Berna Turam, Between Islam and State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), esp. pp. 134-150; Muammer Kaylan, The Kemalists: Islamic Revival and the Fate of Secular Turkey (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), pp. 410, 412, and 438; and Yavuz, (Ed.) The Emergence of a New Turkey.

14 “Das Sakulare Gesicht der Turkei Bewahren,” Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Zurich), 18 May 2007.

15 Ihsan Dagi, “The roots of the AK party”s strength,” Today”s Zaman, 12 July 2007.

16 “The sun also rises in the south east,” Briefing, 15 August 2005, pp. 1-2.

17 On the Naqshbandis, see Hamid Algar, “The Naksibendi order: a preliminary survey of its history and significance,” Studia Islamica 44 (1976), pp. 123-152; idem, “The Naksibendi order in Republican Turkey,” Islamic World Report 1, 3 (1996), pp. 51-67; and on both the Qadiris and Naqshbandis, see Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State: The Social and Political Structure of Kurdistan (London: Zed Books, 1992), pp. 216-265.

18 On Said Nursi, see Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, pp. 151-178.

19 On Fethullah Gulen, see ibid, pp. 179-205.

20 Cited in Omer Erbil, “Sects, religious communities, and the 22 July [Elections],” Milliyet (Istanbul), 10-14 July 2007.

21 Cited in Rod Dreher, “For Turkey, a clash of civilizations,” Dallas News, 15 July 2007.

22 The Kurdish problem in Turkey is beyond the scope of this article. For overviews of continuing problems involving the usage of the Kurdish language, see Scott Peterson, “Why Turkey”s Kurds are ever more edgy,” Christian Science Monitor, 29 June 2007; and Joost Lagendijk (Cochair of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission), “Kurdish: a different language,” Zaman (Istanbul), 28 June 2007.

23 See Ihsan Da, “Is the military in favor of EU accession?” Today”s Zaman (Istanbul), 19 April 2007.

24 See Ihsan Da, “Ready for an anti-western coup?” Today”s Zaman, 17 May 2007.

25 For background, see William Hale, Turkish Politics and the Military (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).

26 See the detailed analysis in Walter Posch, “Crisis in Turkey: just another bump on the road to Europe?” Occasional Paper No. 67 (Paris: Institute for Security Studies, 2007), p. 18ff. The prominent Turkish journal Nokta was forced to close down in April 2007 after publishing apparent details of the attempted coup.

27 Ihsan Dagi, “The CHP and MHP: a joint nationalist foreign policy front,” Today”s Zaman, 28 June 2007.

28 Cited in “Election campaigns take a start,” Briefing, 18 June 2007, p. 4. Also see Ihsan Da, “The CHP and the military: what are they up to?” Today”s Zaman, 14 June 2007.

29 On Turkey”s minorities and the EU, see Suat Kolukrk and Sule Tokta, “Turkey”s Roma: political participation and organization,” Middle Eastern Studies, 43(5) (September 2007), pp. 761-777.

30 On the mobilization of the Gülen networks in Kurdish provinces, see Altan Tan”s interview in Milliyet, 30 July 2007.

31 Aysel Tuluk, “Sevr Travmas ve Kürtlerin Empatisi,” Radikal, 14 June 2007.

32 “Pro-Kurdish politician Zana: time to divide Turkey into states,” Today”s Zaman, 21 July 2007.

33 On the ups and downs of Turkey”s EU candidacy, see Michael M. Gunter, “Turkey”s floundering EU candidacy and its Kurdish problem,” Middle East Policy, 14 (Spring 2007), pp. 117-123.

34 For an analysis of this concept, see Michael M. Gunter, “Deep state: the arcane parallel state in Turkey,” Orient, 43(3) (2006), pp. 334-348.

35 Cited in “AK party wins big despite all odds,” Today”s Zaman, 24 July 2007.

36 Cited in “Turkish PM vows to pursue reform,” BBC, 23 July 2007.

37 Ian Traynor, “Turkey raises hopes of peace with Kurds,” Guardian (UK), 25 July 2007.