Tuesday, 12 June 2018 15:37

Erbakan, Kısakürek, and the Mainstreaming of Extremism in Turkey

By Svante E. Cornell

Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

June 2018

 

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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.

In December 2017, U.S. national security advisor General H. R. McMaster singled out Turkey and Qatar as prime sources of funding for extremist Islamist ideology globally.1 Roughly at the time of McMaster’s pronouncement, his point was unwittingly reinforced by a key mouthpiece of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the editor of the Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, Ibrahim Karagül: “Turkey is emerging as a new power center opposing the United States, the world’s strongest power … the matter is no longer about Jerusalem or about Turkey and Israel. It is a showdown between the United States and Turkey.”2Karagül went on to claim that America’s aim was to occupy Islam’s holy sites, Mecca and Medina.

Either of these pronouncement would have been utterly unthinkable little more than a decade ago. Today, they only raise eyebrows. Indeed, there is a growing consensus that Turkey, aside from becoming increasingly authoritarian, is moving away from the Euro-Atlantic sphere mentally and ideologically. This, most observers realize, has important implications for the regional security of both Europe and the Middle East, not to speak of American interests.

But how deep is this shift, and what lies at its basis? There is more debate regarding these critical questions. A skeptic could observe that President Erdoğan appears to use ideology instrumentally. Indeed, over the past few years his rhetoric, and evolving regime constellation, have cultivated Turkish nationalism as much as Islamism. Further, optimists maintain that Turkish society has developed rapidly in the past two decades, and that its economic strides will counterbalance the danger of radicalization. A parallel argument would hold that the problem is largely the abrasive personality of the Turkish president. Post-Erdoğan, thus, Turkey may revert to the mean and return to its position as a reliable ally.

There is merit to these arguments. In particular, the excessive focus in the West on Erdoğan’s person does hinder deeper analysis of the intricacies of behind-the-scenes Turkish regime politics and masks the very real weaknesses of his position. And there is no question that if Erdoğan is an ideologue, he is a very pragmatic one: His government at first relied on the followers of self-exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen to reduce Turkey’s military and right-wing nationalist establishment to size. But when his relationship with the Gülenists turned sour, he promptly struck up an alliance with those very ultra-nationalist elements and turned against the Kurdish groups he had long cultivated while maximizing Turkish nationalist support.

Still, the ideological underpinnings of Turkish policies are undeniable. Education reforms implemented since 2012 strongly enhanced religious content in the public education system and were accompanied by a boom in religious schools, in many cases involving the forced conversion of secular public schools to religious schools.3 A gigantic and activist state directorate for religious affairs has been built to promote Sunni Islam.4 Simultaneously, especially following the 2011 Arab uprisings, Turkey’s foreign policy was increasingly motivated by a Sunni Islamist agenda.5 The Turkish leadership has also showed a worrisome penchant for conspiracy theories. Following the 2013 Gezi Park riots, government representatives famously blamed the “interest rate lobby” for orchestrating the unrest, and statements that clearly pass the threshold of anti-Semitism have become frequent.

This article will argue that Turkey’s slide in the direction of Islamist ideology is real and goes beyond the personality of Tayyip Erdoğan. To illustrate this point, it will study the ideological worldview of the current Turkish political elite and focus on two key sources. One is the worldview of Necmettin Erbakan, Erdoğan’s predecessor as leader of Turkey’s Islamist movement, which was laid out in a posthumously published memoir. The second is the heritage of the Islamist poet Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, a reference point not just for Erdoğan but for a generation of both Islamist and nationalist elites in Turkey. Their once fringe ideas, far from being arcane, have increasingly become mainstream.

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Read 20875 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2018 20:13

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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.