By Svante E. Cornell
Current Trends in Islamist Ideology
Turkey continues to function as a member of NATO and nominally aspires to European Union membership, but for all practical purposes, it is positioning itself in opposition to the West. The Turkish leadership’s rhetoric is increasingly similar to that of America’s adversaries and is only rarely that of a partner and ally. What accounts for the gap between Turkey and the West? How deep is it? Though there is a great deal of writing on Erdoğan and Turkish political Islam, we have only scratched the surface of the ideological baggage of Turkey’s current elites. This article proposes to dig deeper to discern the key elements of this baggage and the extent to which Turkish policies today are a reflection of this. It links the rise of Tayyip Erdoğan to his predecessor as leader of Turkish Islamism, Necmettin Erbakan, and the more uncompromising Islamist ideologue, Necip Fazıl Kısakürek. The article concludes that a generation of Turkish Islamists and nationalists has been strongly influenced by a worldview that is deeply anti-Western and anti-Semitic, is based on a warped and highly conspiratorial approach to world affairs, and is increasingly widespread in Turkish society.
The American Interest
MIDDLE EAST AFLAME
The U.S. and Turkey: Past the Point of No Return?
With Ankara and Washington on a collision course in northern Syria, both sides will have to rethink their priorities if they want to salvage an increasingly hollow alliance.
U.S.-Turkish relations have deteriorated for some time. But until recently, no one would have thought that the American and Turkish militaries, closely allied since the 1950s, could end up confronting each other directly. Yet in northern Syria today, that is no longer unthinkable.
In mid-January, to forestall U.S. intentions to build a “Border Security Force” composed mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters, Turkey launched a military operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave in northwestern Syria. On January 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his determination to move beyond Afrin into other parts of northern Syria, mentioning specifically the town of Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed alongside Kurdish YPG troops. Turkish officials warned the United States to sever its ties to the Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers a terrorist group. This led President Donald Trump to tell Erdoğan to “avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”
The collision course Ankara and Washington are on is making any notion of a Turkish-American alliance increasingly hollow. If a point of no return is to be avoided, both sides will have to rethink their priorities, and begin to build trust. That process can begin with an honest appraisal of how we got to this point, with America and Turkey on the verge of coming to blows.
In the United States, much of the blame has naturally been laid at the feet of Erdoğan, the headstrong and authoritarian Turkish President. To American eyes, it is easy to see how Erdoğan’s growing intolerance of dissent goes hand in hand with an increasingly adventurist foreign policy that directly challenges American interests. Yet while Erdogan is part of the problem, its full scope goes far beyond a single individual. The real story of the past several years is how the Syrian and Kurdish issues have interacted with Turkish domestic politics to pull Ankara and Washington apart.
Article, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, May 1, 2017
Halil Karaveli, Turkey's Authoritarian Legacy
It's tempting to blame the country's recent slide into repression on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's thirst for personal power. But did the ruling Islamist party ever really abandon the country's long tradition of state authoritarianism?
Op-Ed, Foreign Affairs, January 3, 2017
Halil M. Karaveli, Assasination in Ankara
On December 19, Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish police officer, assassinated Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. His action was apparently meant as retribution for Russian bombings in eastern Aleppo, and he is the latest in a string of right-wing terrorists in Turkeywhose acts have served to draw Ankara back toward the West. Less than two weeks after the assassination, in the early hours of January 1, a gunman believed to have been affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) killed at least 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub. If such attacks continue, as they very likely will, they could undermine Erdogan's grip on power, which is what the wave of terror is all about, even if the perpetrators differ.
At this stage, it is impossible to know Altintas’ precise intention, whether he was a “lone wolf” or was directed by others, and what consequences the murder will have. But historical patterns offer some clues. First, Turkey has seen a long line of high-level assassinations carried out by the country’s right wing, made up of Sunni Islamists and Turkish nationalists, who have always been aligned in Turkish politics. The killers have typically had connections—a direct one in the case of Altintas, who was a riot police officer—with the country’s security agencies. Second, assassinations have tended to take place in particular geopolitical circumstances, namely whenever Turkey’s long-standing commitment to the Western security alliance has seemed to be in jeopardy. Read more
Essay, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2016 Issue
Halil M. Karaveli, Erdogan's Journey
What happened to Recep Tayyip Erdogan? The Turkish president came to power in 2003 promising economic and political liberalization. But under his rule, Turkey has instead moved in a profoundly illiberal, authoritarian direction—although not toward repressive Islamism, which some feared was Erdogan’s true agenda, given his background in Islamist politics. Rather, Erdogan has become something more akin to a traditional Middle Eastern strongman: consolidating personal power, purging rivals, and suppressing dissent.
Over the summer, it briefly appeared as if Erdogan might have overreached, when a group of military officers attempted to topple him—at the direction, Erdogan has insisted, of his erstwhile ally turned bitter foe Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish cleric based in the United States. But when the plotters struck, Erdogan was able to quickly rally support inside the armed forces and among the broader public and managed to put down the coup attempt with surprising ease. A subsequent crackdown has been swift and merciless: the government has jailed tens of thousands of alleged Gulenists, conducted a sweeping purge of the army and the state bureaucracy, shut down media outlets, and suspended thousands of academics. Erdogan’s response to the coup attempt has demonstrated that the president’s grip on power remains stronger than even many of his fiercest critics had assumed.
No one could have foreseen the coup or its aftermath. But even long before those events, it should have come as no surprise that Erdogan had failed to live up to the expectations of many liberals in Turkey and elsewhere who had initially hailed his ascent as a sign of progress. Erdogan never really aimed to make Turkey an Islamic state, but he also never wanted to liberalize it. Read more