The wave of protest sweeping Turkey, which was triggered by events in Istanbul around Taksim Square and Gezi Park, where the authorities decided to build a shopping center, a mosque and rebuild the Ottoman Empire barracks, was a great and very unpleasant surprise for many inside and outside the country .
The largest performances of the people in recent years have forced the country's leadership to take the situation seriously, since the protection of the trees in the park from the beginning has instantly become acute political and determined the essence of the recent opposition in Turkey.
Democracy and power vertical
The main driving force behind popular demonstrations in almost 70 Turkish cities and towns has become, as is already evident, discontent with Erdogan’s policies. Against the current premier, a motley crowd of Kemalists and communists, Kurds and Turkish nationalists, football fans and students, intellectuals and entrepreneurs, students and hipsters, women and representatives of sexual minorities united. They fear that the government is intensifying Islamization trends, ignoring public sentiment on a number of fundamental issues - from plans for the reconstruction of recreation areas in tourist areas to the rights and freedoms of citizens.
In fact, certain circles of Turkish society oppose the fact that the authorities are trying to interfere in their private life, while Erdogan is concentrating in his hands the reins of the country. Someone, such as the well-known religious leader Fethullah Gulen, calls this “arrogance” of Erdogan. Others declare the prime minister an "Ottoman sultan" or "dictator" and paint on his portraits a Hitlerite mustache and a Nazi swastika.
Many dissatisfied today with the policy of the Turkish government are annoyed by the fact that Erdogan allowed to sell alcohol only in strictly limited time, which limits their freedom. The liberal part of society is outraged by Erdogan’s attempt to regulate family life. He, for example, insists that the residents of the country give birth to at least three children, and also opposes abortion and the spread of contraceptives.
According to a survey conducted in Turkey, which published on its website the Russian Institute of the Middle East, 90 percent. Turks took to the streets of cities in June in protest against the violation of democratic rights and authoritarian methods of Erdogan’s rule. Georgy Mirsky, Chief Researcher at IMEMO RAN, writes in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” that “the two main reasons for“ Turkish anger ”were anxiety about the fate of Ataturk’s heritage and the accumulated dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister’s behavior, which many people simply tired of their excessive activity, arrogance and unwillingness to reckon with opinion people. "
In turn, Erdogan rejects the very idea that he rules the state and society in an authoritarian style, declaring, like many charismatic leaders of the past, that "he will protect his people from internal and external enemies."
The paradox is that in the matter of liberalizing the economic and social and political life of Turkey, Erdogan has really advanced much further than most of his predecessors. Having set itself the task of achieving full membership of the state in the European Union, the government of the Justice and Development Party carried out decisive changes in the economic sphere. As a result, medium and small businesses have become stronger in the country, inflation has decreased, the economy grew by 5 – 8 percent. multibillion-dollar foreign investments appeared annually.
Few people doubt that the religious AKP, which has come to power in the wake of the most severe economic crisis, has formed a government that has become the most effective history of the state. Even despite the global financial crisis, Erdogan’s team managed to overcome many difficulties and get out of economic shocks with minimal losses. This is clearly visible against the background of difficulties in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal or Eastern European countries. This circumstance even stops those who want to integrate the state into the EU as soon as possible, because in this case, in their opinion, Ankara will have to pay for the mistakes of Europeans and save the economy of Greece itself, with which Turkey has difficult relations.
During the rule of the AKP, Turkey almost completely paid its debts to the International Monetary Fund, which is highly valued within the state. Beyond it, we are pleased to note the changes in the process of democratization and bringing democratic standards to European standards. Thus, the hallmark of the social and political modernization of Erdogan was the shift of the center of political dominance in the country from the army to civilian institutions. The Prime Minister not only took over the generals, he destroyed his monopoly on power, reducing to the maximum the political and economic role of the army in the state.
Naturally, such a state of affairs could not suit all of society as a whole. However, the parliamentary elections in June 2011, at which the AKP received 50 percent. votes, not only split the Turkish society in half, but also strengthened the position of the prime minister as an influential political leader. Interestingly, the parliament under his control immediately adopted a law on the wearing of the hijab, based on the interests of believers. In addition, for the first time since Ataturk’s death, the clergy were allowed to administer government through a local representation. This situation became possible only because the army ceased to play the role of the main guarantor of the preservation of the secularism of the Turkish state. You can remember another fact. For example, when the bill on education was promulgated, it turned out that it was not the Ministry of Education of Turkey that was preparing it, but an alliance of several religious schools. At the same time, Erdogan promised to raise a "new religious generation."
The next blow to the secular Kemalists struck the head of the government, announcing the transition of the country's political system from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one. In the summer of 2014, the first nationwide presidential elections are scheduled to take place, which Erdogan intends to win.
The position of the Turkish Prime Minister is clear. His moderate religious party played a big role in turning Turkey into one of the leading economies in the world. The financial situation of its citizens has stabilized noticeably, and this is reflected in the outcome of the vote for the Erdogan party in parliamentary elections. Half of the Turkish voters support the ruling party, which won parliamentary elections three times, and Erdogan began to represent a new kind of Turkish leader, who, being flexible and pragmatic, can solve difficult economic and socio-political problems.
This partly explains why the moderate Islamist was able to unite around himself not only conservatives and supporters of the religious path of development of the state and society. In the middle of 2000-s, liberals and social democrats, representatives of the left and right wing of the political spectrum of Turkey, stretched behind Erdogan. In fact, the AKP has become a national party, and its leader was able to synthesize Islam and Ataturk’s main political concepts with due regard for the demands of modern times.
The problem lies in the fact that one of the serious consequences of political transformations in Turkey is an increase in the power of the president of the country, to the place of which Erdogan aimed. His opponents are sure that, having headed the state, the prime minister will be able to act more rigidly and tighten the screws at his own discretion, because he removed the necessary counterweights, which traditionally were played by a powerful army.
The case of the attempted coup d'état, which became known as Ergenekon, is very significant in this sense. After Abdullah Gul, the second number in the AKP, became the president of Turkey, the military and their supporters, who advocated the preservation and continuation of secular traditions from Ataturk, began to be seriously worried about the future of the country. Their attitude was often manifested in the demonstration of open hostility towards the first persons of the country. In particular, for several years the generals and leaders of secular parties boycotted government receptions in the presidential palace of Cankaya because of the permission of Gul to attend women in women’s head-dresses. In turn, the army arranged its own holidays on the occasion of Republic Day, which irritated the civil authorities.
The conflict escalated in 2008, when the Constitutional Court, where the influence of the military was still felt, almost dismissed the ruling AKP on the grounds that it had passed a law in parliament repealing the ban on wearing the hijab in Turkish universities. It was regarded as an encroachment on the secular character of Turkey.
Since the main trump card of the military has always been to maintain control over important political institutions of the country and higher courts, thanks to which, even being in opposition, they could influence the solution of key issues, Erdogan decided to get rid of influential rivals in the struggle for power. First, he achieved cuts in the authority of the National Security Council, reducing them to the provision of recommendations on defense policy. Then the Turkish authorities initiated a high-profile case on the preparation of a coup d'état. As part of the investigation of the Ergenekon case, several dozen people were detained, among whom were former and current high-ranking officers, journalists, scientists and public figures. Over the past five years, specific charges have not been filed due to the lack of evidence. However, the scandal with the attempted coup d'état became one of the main arguments of Erdogan when he proposed to hold a referendum on changing the country's constitution in order to lower the status of the army.
Thanks to the 2010 referendum, the Turkish army lost its privileged position in the country, in addition, the reform of the judicial system began. In practice, this meant that civilian authorities were able to seek the necessary political decisions without regard to the powerful military lobby. From the point of view of democratic procedures, this, of course, was a serious step forward, which could not but be noted in the West. But for Turkey it was a real revolution, in which Erdogan outplayed his rivals. According to some observers, “the strong-willed and resolute leadership style of Erdogan led to the fact that over the past ten years not a single alternative figure has emerged on the political horizon of the country”.
Erdogan actively enjoyed public support in order not only to reform the country, but also to change its usual image in the international arena. Under him, the concept of Turkey’s foreign policy began to view the republic as a force of a worldwide scale, because geopolitical ambitions were confirmed by the rapid growth of the economy and a strong modern army. The foreign policy doctrine outlined in the National Security Strategy as amended by 2010 – 2011 shows that Turkey is a self-sufficient, strong and responsible state that does not need economic or political care from the allies.
It is possible that in order to show its independence on the world stage, Ankara, to the apparent displeasure of Washington, did not support the UN sanctions lobbied by the UN against Iran because of its nuclear program, and then completely mediated the conflict between the West and Tehran. Perhaps, for the same reason, Russia and Iran were excluded from the list of states that pose an external threat to Turkey’s security, although the Iranian nuclear program had previously occupied one of the first places in this list.
At the same time, Erdogan quarreled with Israel, his important military-strategic ally in the region. Ankara accused Tel Aviv of "genocide of the Palestinian people" and took part in the organization "Flotillas Freedom ”in May 2010, when six humanitarian ships tried to break through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Today, Erdogan threatens the “serious consequences” of Syria if the regime of Bashar al-Assad does not make concessions to the armed opposition and the West.
The policy of the Turkish authorities in the spirit of "neo-Ottomanism", however, does not please everyone Not surprisingly, the decision to reconstruct the artillery barracks, which are a visible symbol of the Ottoman Empire, caused such bitterness.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s plan at Gezi Park may have been deeper and more strategic than it seems at first glance. Therefore, it is noteworthy that the building of the restored Ottoman barracks was to accommodate a shopping center, and next to it was an imposing mosque and, according to some sources, a museum dedicated to the history of Istanbul. Thus, the prime minister gave an unequivocal signal to the entire spectrum of his supporters. The urban population, mainly represented by the intelligentsia, small and medium businesses, and rural residents from the conservative and religious belt received a kind of new symbols of modern Turkey, led by the moderate religious Justice and Development Party.
Hence the question arises, why, in fact, did Erdogan need to get involved in the adventure with Gezi Park and offer the Turkish society to reconsider the state symbols significant for him? Why during the whole confrontation he did not make concessions to the protesters, moreover, having promised to solve the problem peacefully, he threw 16 June against the activists to the police? And finally, why did Erdogan’s supporters take to the streets only after his numerous requests and after the AKP headquarters were attacked in many large cities of the country - in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir? The latter generally looks very strange, because in theory, the energetic supporters of the prime minister should be no less than opponents. As the experience of Middle Eastern countries shows, the electorate of religious parties always has a high degree of mobilization and good organization. That is what allows them to triumph over secular parties. It is enough to look at present-day Egypt or Tunisia, where exactly religious parties in parliamentary elections significantly pushed the organizations of secular and liberal orientation, moreover, they easily take to the street demonstrations of their members and all those who sympathize with them.
Apparently, Erdogan began a political game on the eve of the presidential and local elections, and he immediately inflated the stakes in it, as he did not doubt public support. Undoubtedly, he understood that his actions would cause a certain resistance among the secular part of the population, but he hoped to break it.
In this regard, the Prime Minister is surprisingly strongly reminiscent of his main opponent, Ataturk. Almost a hundred years ago, the founder of the Turkish Republic often acted on the brink of a foul, eliminating the Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire and its legacy. He forcibly brought, in his opinion, civilization to a “backward and ignorant” country. Many of his decisions were unpopular, and the means and methods were seriously doubted then and now. Suffice it to recall the attacks on religion and mosques, the desire to dress everyone in European clothes, to force Kurds and representatives of other nationalities to change their identity, forget the language, traditions, customs and be called Turks, etc.
But it was precisely the determination of Ataturk and his entourage, inner deep conviction, rather, even the belief in the rightness and correctness of the chosen path, reliance on like-minded people from the army and the state apparatus, and many other reasons ensured the emergence of the Turkey we know today. Therefore, Atatürk is considered not only one of the prominent politicians of his time, but also the "father of the Turks" who played the most significant role in the life of the Turkish state and its society in modern times.
However, circumstances change. What was characteristic of the domestic and foreign policy of Turkey at the beginning of the last century does not have the same meaning today. And vice versa, the peculiarities of Kemalist modernization with its specific political system, the role of power structures in politics and economics, apparently, predetermined the limits of development of Turkey in its previous form. Perhaps, therefore, the Turks as a whole agreed to change the country's constitution, although this undermines the foundations laid by Ataturk. They support many initiatives of Erdogan, seeing in them an alternative to the usual vector of socio-political and state modernization.
Consequently, Turkish society is not alien to experiments, but he is greatly embarrassed by the line of conduct of Erdogan, who apparently sees himself as a savior of the nation, the only one who knows what is right and what is not. This is categorical in views and makes him related to Atatürk. Apparently, like his great predecessor, Erdogan sincerely wishes to make Turkey a strong and prosperous state. The problem for him is that the prime minister achieves this without looking back at the opinions of others and without acknowledging his possible mistakes.
Erdogan's voluntarism in making political and socio-economic decisions, harshness in defending his position, unwillingness to enter into discussions on various issues, perhaps even key to the state and society, willingness to resist even the closest comrades, as happened around the Taksim problem, everything this, together, allows his opponents to speak of him as an authoritarian policy. We should not forget his penchant for populism and demagogy, as well as the ability to transform from a flexible pragmatist into an obstinate politician who easily turns former allies into enemies. So, after the United States declared Turkey under the AKP’s rule as a role model for the entire Islamic world, Erdogan, in an effort to increase his popularity on Arab street, defiantly fell out with Israel. This fact tarnished the reputation of Turkey, because its leader in the West was no longer perceived as a responsible, predictable and serious politician.
Erdogan could close his eyes to the deterioration of relations with Israel, especially since it was compensated for by deepening political and economic cooperation with Arab countries. However, the loss of important allies within the state could cost Erdogan very expensive. The point is this. It is believed that the AKP is based on the conservative and religious hinterland of Turkey, as well as the poor population of large cities, for whom Erdogan, who was born in a poor family, is the personification of the Turkish dream. With the advent of the religious party to power, the Islamists defeated the supporters of the secular path of development, and this ensured the leading role of the Justice and Development Party in the political field, since the Turkish believers are undoubtedly its main social base.
With all the heat of the struggle between Turkish Muslims who want to strengthen the Islamization of society, and Kemalists, who are upholding the secular nature of the state, it would be logical to expect that the AKP will find support among deeply religious groups. However, in reality this does not happen. Moreover, Erdogan has managed to set up against himself the leaders of influential Turkish jamaats, such as Suleimandzhylar and Ismailaga. According to the Umma news agency, the head of Suleimandzhylar Ahmet Deniz accused Erdogan of trying to split the jamaat. Be that as it may, in the last parliamentary elections, representatives of this religious order did not vote for the AKP, but for the opposition and led it to third place.
Jubbeli Ahmet, the head of the Ismailo Jamaat, is generally one of the toughest critics of Erdogan, calling him "a friend of Christians and Jews." Interestingly, when Ahmet was arrested on suspicion of having links with the mafia, his supporters considered this a revenge for his attitude to the Prime Minister.
Thus, the major Islamic Jamaats of the country, who voted for the AKP and provided it with a victory in the parliamentary elections at the beginning of 2000, do not support Erdogan today. At the same time, it is quite popular among the Jamat Menzyl, the most common branch of the Naqshbandi tariff.
But the main support of Erdogan was previously made by the followers of the most numerous order - the jamaat of Fethullah Gulen, who was closely associated with the tariqat "Nurcular". Therefore, when Ahmet Deniz and his Suleimandzhylar, considered to be the second largest supporter after the organization of Gulen and possessing large financial resources, turned away from Erdogan, he focused on relations with Gulen.
Evil tongues claim that it was Gülen who pushed the AKP leader to hold a referendum on limiting the role of the army in the country, and in exchange for electoral support, he demanded that the jamaat’s representatives should have easier access to power structures.
Erdogan quickly appreciated the benefits of working with Gülen. At the disposal of the religious and public figure were powerful financial and media resources. According to the estimates of Turkish experts, only in Turkey Gullenists have a total capital of 50 billion dollars. They control 200 private lyceums and more than 500 various enterprises, produce in the country 14 periodical magazines and the popular newspaper Zaman, own local TV channels and radio stations.
Meanwhile, the same advantages that were necessary for candidate Erdogan in order to win votes, later became a serious problem for Prime Minister Erdogan. He even quarreled with Gulen. In the winter of 2012, the Ergenekon case was followed by the discovery of a new conspiracy, in which Gülen’s supporters were already targeted in the police and judicial system. This led to a serious conflict between the Prime Minister and Gülen living in the United States.
In the summer of the same year, Erdogan called Gülen to return home, but a year later, in connection with the events in Taksim Square, he called the Turkish Prime Minister “arrogant,” and the Zaman newspaper almost openly offered President Gul to take control of the situation and press premier on the board of state and party.
Thus, at the moment Erdogan was in a very delicate situation. Obviously, he did not want to allow the conflict to escalate around Gezi Park, especially since the problem seemed insignificant to him. It is also clear why he spoke all the time about external forces capable of swinging the boat, and why he decided to force a solution of the 16 June issue.
Erdogan wanted to show that despite the complexity of the situation, he remains the sole master of the situation. But all of a sudden it turned out that, given the confidence in the political future, his positions are not that strong. With his intentions to Islamize Turkish society, he pushed away from himself a part of the secular and liberal population, who admired his pragmatism, economic achievements and centrist positions in the middle of the 2000-s. At the same time, for radical Islamists like the representatives of the Ismaila Jamaat, who wear a beard and dress their wives in a veil, the prime minister looks too secular. For Gülen and his supporters, Erdogan looks like a man unpredictable, incompetent and ready to go to extremes. In addition, they are disappointed that he provides preferences in politics and economics exclusively to his closest allies and relatives. In Turkey, they generally speak about the so-called "clan capitalism".
The protests on Taksim Square were able to drive a wedge even between close associates of Erdogan. First of all, we are talking about President Gul. In his support and against the policy of the prime minister, the inhabitants of the native city of Gul Kayseri, considered the AKP stronghold, came out.
For Erdogan, all of this together becomes one overwhelming problem. Broad electoral support associated with the success of the government in the economy is melting before our eyes, especially against the background of manifested economic difficulties and rising unemployment. Serious players, both inside the country and outside, are putting pressure on him, who are betting on Turkey in their alignments for the Greater Middle East.
In general, it can be said that not only Erdogan, but the whole of Turkey today came to a certain turning point in their history. Public speaking in June is an attempt to answer the question in which direction should the Turkish state and its society develop, what role should religion play in the public and political life of the country and what niche should modern Turkey occupy in the regional and world arena.
Where does Emir Erdogan lead Turkey?
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