Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:41

Erdogan Loses It

Erdogan Loses It

How the Islamists Forfeited Turkey


The Turkish state changed hands a decade ago, when Islamic conservatives (supported by the liberals) prevailed in elections against the country’s old guard, the rightist nationalists known as Kemalists. It may be about to do so again. The conservative alliance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the movement of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who leads his congregation from self-imposed exile in the United States, has imploded. As it does, the military is gearing up to insert itself into politics once more. 

 

The trouble started in 2011, when Erdogan decided to purge most Gülen supporters from the AKP party list ahead of the general election in June. No longer willing to share power with anyone else, Erdogan also ousted most liberals and supporters of the moderate President Abdullah Gül. Then, a subsequent reform of the public administration served as an excuse to remove many Gülenists from key bureaucratic posts.

The Gülenists’ response came in February 2012, when a prosecutor believed to be affiliated with the movement tried to summon Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization and a close confidant of Erdogan, for questioning over his role in then-secret negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Gülenists had made their opposition to talks with the Kurdish movement known and wanted to derail them by charging Erdogan’s envoy -- and by implication the prime minister himself -- with treason.

Last summer, the rift between the two groups widened as protesters occupied Gezi Park. Gülen-affiliated media criticized Erdogan, comparing him to a “pharaoh.” The government, with its reputation tarnished and Gülenists gaining the upper hand, announced in late 2013 that it would shut down Gülen-operated schools. That would have deprived the movement of its main source of revenue and recruits. Not ready to take the hit lying down, the Gülen movement retaliated by supporting a corruption probe, led by the prosecutor Celal Kara, against relatives of several cabinet ministers and businessmen with close ties to the government. Upping the ante, Erdogan launched a full-scale purge of any suspected Gülen sympathizers from sensitive positions in the bureaucracy, judiciary, and police. 

Coalitions may come and go, but authoritarianism is forever -- or so it seems in Turkey.

Gülen, of course, insists that he does not wield any power over state officials and claims that his only concern is for the public. Yet in an exceptionally fiery sermon last December, Gülen excoriated those “who turn a blind eye to the thief while punishing those who prosecute the thieves,” beseeching God to “consume their homes with fire, destroy their nests, break their accords.” Even Gülenists do not deny the existence of an informal network of devotees within the state. That was the bargain between the AKP and the Gülenists all along: In return for its support -- votes and the endorsement of the AKP by Gülenist media -- the Gülen movement would get to staff the state bureaucracy. In fact, the AKP needed the Gülenists’ well-educated cadres to run Turkey, especially its police and judiciary. And since 2008, Gülenist sympathizers in the police and among prosecutors have helped put hundreds of regime opponents in prison.

Now, with the AKP-Gülenist relationship broken, Erdogan accuses his former allies of having established a parallel state that defies the authority of the elected government and of staging a coup against him. His most recent move against the so-called parallel state was his attempt last month to enact a law that would subordinate the judiciary to the executive, disabling his enemies from launching further probes. That will suit the Erdogan family just fine: A prosecutor tried to detain Erdogan’s son at the end of last year. The police, instructed by the government, refused to carry out the order, and the prosecutor was subsequently reassigned. More than 2,000 police officers and nearly 100 prosecutors have been reassigned since last December. 

The conflict between Erdogan and the Gülen movement might sound quite byzantine. But remember that this is the land that gave us the term. Indeed, the dispute follows a historical pattern. The Ottoman Sultans feared autonomous powers such as religious congregations. Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople, was particularly repressive; he curtailed economic freedoms in a bid to disempower religious fraternities. Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic, was obsessed with pacifying religious congregations, wanting to ensure that they could never rival the state. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu even defended the ongoing purges by pointing to history. Turkish state tradition, he said, includes the practice of “sacrificing sons for the state,” to eliminate potential rivals for the throne.

Now, leading commentators in the AKP’s media inform that the ruling party hopes to forge new alliances -- particularly with the military, its old enemy. But Erdogan should remember that turning to the military to help quash opposition is not risk-free. In 1971, conservative Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel solicited help from the military to quash the left, only to end up out of power. Erdogan has instructed the Ministry of Justice to prepare for a retrial of imprisoned military officers. The generals may very well be acquitted.

It is easy to see how this will play out. After several years of silence, the Turkish General Staff has once again taken to issuing political statements. The military high command has called the judiciary to task after Erdogan’s chief adviser confessed that several military officers had been convicted on trumped-up charges. It has demanded a retrial of the officers and issued sharp condemnations of critics. Many observers fear that the state’s institutional breakdown will invite the generals to intervene and “restore order,” as they have done so many times before. Stoking those fears: In a letter to a newspaper editor last month, Necdet Özel, the chief of the General Staff, wrote that ensuring the functioning of the parliamentary system has been “the basic principle” of the armed forces, stressing that the military is determined to uphold it because “we want peace in our country.” The statement begged the question of what the military will do if there is no peace in the country. Military interventions in the past have always been motivated by an alleged determination to ensure the preservation of democracy.

The return of the old military is not the only risk. There is also a new military to take into account. Since Islamic conservatives won control of the state apparatus and subdued the military in 2007 and 2008, purges from within the military of suspected Islamists -- which used to take place once a year -- have ceased. It may be inferred from this that there are now likely many within the military who sympathize with Gülen. His message, which combines Islam and Turkish patriotism particularly appeals to officers, who generally hail from conservative family backgrounds. And mass imprisonments of top generals, which have depleted the military’s upper ranks, have made it possible for younger officers to rise further and faster than ever. The Gülenist clout within the military might be considerable. Erdogan would hope that the top brass, to whom he now appeals, will succeed in keeping Gülenists among the lower ranks in check. But he must also fear a move against him by younger officers acting outside the chain of command. That was what happened in 1960, when the authoritarian Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was toppled.

Beyond that, the AKP-Gülenist backbiting represents a massive and collective failure of the Islamic conservative movement, from which none of its components may be able to recover. The corruption charges have deprived the AKP of any remaining moral authority. And the turf war has shattered the government’s reputation for managerial competence. The Gülenists have lost moral capital, too. The movement has always taken pains to show itself as standing above petty politics. But revelations of the extent of its power within the state undermine that point. The Gülenists have shaken Erdogan, but they may have also undone themselves. Their maneuvering does not inspire confidence in all of Turkey: According to a recent poll, only six percent of the public supports the Gülenists’ case against the AKP, whereas 28.5 percent supports the ruling party, and 45 percent thinks that both the AKP and the Gülenists are at fault.

Coalitions may come and go, but authoritarianism is forever -- or so it seems in Turkey. The Turkish Islamists’ failure as managers of the state will most likely catapult the traditional custodians of the state, the rightist nationalists in the military and the bureaucracy who enjoy a considerable following in society, back to power. 

Read 8781 times Last modified on Monday, 29 December 2014 15:47

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News

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

    Eurasia

  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

    az-formula-SRSP

    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   




    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018

     

     

     

    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018

     

     

     

    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online

     

    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online

     

     

     

    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:

    BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF AZERBAIJAN’S POST-CONFLICT TERRITORIES

     

  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

    ------------------

    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

    --------------------------------------------

    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.