TURKEY'S POLITICAL TWISTS AND TURNS

Progress Online
March 31 2010
UK

As the forces of liberalism and openness vie with competing currents
of nationalism and mild Islamism, where will the intricate history
of Turkey lead next?

Seeking to understand what is happening in Turkey is to enter a
seemingly impenetrable labyrinth. You must seek to see the wood
for the trees in an environment of smoke and mirrors. Take recent
events: A raid on a café in the eastern province of Erzincan in
the seemingly neverending search for conspirators associated with the
ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, or with the army as part
of the Engenekon Case; the announcement that women who have fertility
treatment abroad, which is illegal in Turkey, face a three year prison
sentence; the statement by a leading minister that homosexuals suffer
from an illness and should be treated for a medical condition. What
exactly was behind the seizure of an army lorry containing grenades
by the police being taken to the capital Ankara? Prime minister
Erdogan's proposal that the thousands of Armenians working in Turkey
without permits should be deported back to Armenia announced after the
American House of Representatives vote appears to escalate the whole
Armenian situation. These are just some of the panorama of events that
must be interpreted in order to comprehend what is happening in Turkey.

Some sort of understanding might be achieved by establishing who
and what the central figure in all of this, prime minister Erdogan,
actually is. Is he seeking to achieve some form of Islamacist
dictatorship or is he a concerned democrat? I suspect the answer lies
somewhere in the murky middle between the two seemingly competing
ideologies. His roots were in the vast suburbs of Istanbul and the
macho politics associated with these districts. This produces a
politician who is pragmatic but also confrontational. He can be seen
to have an emotional affinity to leaders of other Muslim countries
that runs contrary to an acceptable foreign policy. An example of
this is a white washing of the Sudanese Government over Darfur. He
has not been immune from the old fashioned Turkish attitudes to the
operation of power structures within the Turkish state which still
traps Turkey into authoritarian illiberal behaviour and prevents
it becoming open minded about its very real shortcomings. With all
this there is now within the AKP itself a movement to question the
traditional Turkish nationalist attitudes to issues such as what
happened to the Armenians in 1915. Are there are indications that the
Erdogan and the AKP are evolving into a liberal Muslim conservative
party committed to EU entry?

In the middle of this political turmoil Europe's new enlargement
commissioner has arrived to be greeted with the headline "New Man In
EU, Same Old Message." He welcomes Turkey's policy of "zero problems
with neighbours" and Erdogan's pivotal role in the affairs of the
region. Turkey has just shown the door to the IMF, a reflection of
how well it has weathered the current economic storm in comparison
with other major economies. The AKP are about to privatise the
country's energy companies, indicating a movement along the road
towards Islamic capitalism.

However, his government's major challenge is to loosen the hand of
the military not only on the judiciary but the whole cultural and
social life of the country. The criticism of Erdogan is not that he
is seeking to make constitutional changes in order to achieve this,
but that he has waited so long to present measures preventing the
army from interfering in Turkey's fragile democracy. The opposition
CHP are concerned that some aspects of the constitutional changes now
being proposed have elements of the authoritarian structures they
seek to replace. Significantly, Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president,
is discussing with the opposition a compromise on crucial changes
to Turkey's judicial structure that do not include the army. As Gul
talks to CHP leader Baykal am I being optimistic in saying that a
military coup is unlikely?

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