Turkey Today - Emerging Ideological Scenario.
Opening Remarks (Khalid Rahman, Director General, IPS)
The historical significance of Turkey in regional and international affairs as well as its key role in the affairs of the Muslim World can hardly be overemphasized. This great country has gone through many different, sometimes conflicting, phases of evolution, and there have been attempts by different quarters within Turkey and outside, deliberately or sometimes unintentionally, to delink the country from its past.
The last two decades have particularly witnessed a thorny, yet steady process of socio-ideological mobilization that became rather noticeable after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Internal sociopolitical changes and the changes in the system of government, shifts in civil-military relations, the struggle among various streams and schools of thought for dominance in the country, and the rise of ideologues are a few important factors that characterize this mobilization.
No doubt, every new phase in a country's evolution has a far-reaching impact upon its social and political approaches, both within and outside. It is, therefore, important to discuss and analyze the basis of the current mobilization in Turkey, the forces responsible for initiating this process, the opportunities for and challenges to the current mobilization from within, the threats to it from outside, and, consequently, the emerging social and political dynamics inside Turkey with reference to ideological mobilization and their implications on Turkish domestic and foreign policies.
Today's roundtable is part of an effort to pursue the course of understanding Turkey from inside. The roundtable has been divided into two parts. In the first part, Dr. Bacik will discuss the social dynamics of the ideological mobilization, followed by a Q&A session. In the second part, Dr. Bacik will throw some light on the political dynamics of the issue at hand, again, followed by a Q&A session. I now request the Chair, Amb. Tanvir Ahmad Khan, to take over the proceedings.
Chair (Amb. Tanvir Ahmad Khan): I will simply begin by requesting Dr. Bacik to make his first presentation.
Social Dimension (Presentation by Dr. Gokhan Bacik)
The social dimension of Turkey is multifaceted owing to its being a huge country with a large population and in a complex geo-political position with regard to multiple perspectives present in the country. But some basic social dimensions that are responsible for transforming Turkey can be underscored.
The first important dimension is that, unlike modern European states, which are the product of market-based actors such as the middle class bourgeoisie, as put forth by Charles Tilly, Turkey, to a large extent, was created by civil and military powers-it is a product of civil servants. Interestingly, it was not a choice made freely by the founding fathers of Turkey; it was a consequence of necessity. The fundamental factor of a state being created by military and civil forces is the fear of ideological forces. There is a joke that an American prosecutor will ask if you have some troubles in taxation, but a Turkish prosecutor would like to know if his client is communist or the follower of shari'a.
So, in the Turkish state tradition, the threat is always perceived from the ideological perspective, and for that reason, during the Cold War era, the main state enemies were either communist or religious or traditional people. This is a very important factor that shaped the political atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s. So, in order to understand the transformation of Turkey, it needs to be underscored that the market elites did not play any major role in the creation of modern Turkey. However, with the inclusion of modern Islamists and market actors, a new social contract in Turkey is in the offing.
The second aspect, also from the historical background of the Turkish state, are the three phases of modernization. In the beginning, Turkish elites followed the French understanding of modernization. Then, with the Truman Doctrine of the late 1940s, Turkey started taking the American way of modernization. Since the late 1990s, the Turkish elite are trying to shape the country's social landscape on the basis of the West European model. These models are different. For example, in French modernization, the primary issue of concern is religion and how to deal with the religious factor in the society. A part of French modernization followed the street demand of accepting people from its own native culture, ethnic, and religious background. The Ataturk revolution of Turkey can be seen as an effort to sustain this aspect of modernization.
After the rise of the Democrat Party in the 1950s, the rules of modernization changed and the American lifestyle was introduced. The American way of life introduced democratic parties and democratic elections in the late 1940s.
Finally, since the late 1990s, the rise of the European Union as a model has most likely changed Turkish sociopolitical thought. In particular, the military intervention in 1997 changed the mindset of the new Islamic elites about the West. Before 1997, to a large extent, democracy had been criticized by the Islamists. A number of books published in that era stated that democracy was not compatible with Islam; it was, rather, contradictory to the Islamic perspective. By and large, Europe was considered a threat to Islamic identity. Mainstream Islamic scholars criticized the European system. It would be pertinent to mention in this context a famous speech of the current president, Abdulluh Gul, in the Turkish Parliament in the early 1990s that criticized the European Union for being a Christian club and a threat to Turkish ideological values.
But the intellectual paradigm shifted in the late 1990s because the Muslim elites began to realize that the European style of Westernization was very much compatible with their values and that the effects of that modernization were beneficial in protecting themselves against fundamental secularism.
So, in a political perspective, the social contract in Turkey has transformed in three major phases since the 1930s, and this is very important to understand today's Turkey. The first phase was related to creating a multiethnic or multination national identity. It should be kept in mind that Turkey was a post-Imperial society in which different ethnic groups existed and there was a need to develop a social contract that could include all ethnic groups. The second phase consisted of the policies adopted during the Cold War era. Turkey, for many reasons, failed to create a national market that would be functional in all parts of the country. The map of the Turkish national economy focused mainly on the western side. A major problem with these Cold War foreign policies was that Turkey failed to create a functional language for Turkish foreign policy to deal with non-Western or non-capitalist countries.
It would be significant to note here the criticism coming from the Turkish army of the country's presence in the first meeting of the OIC Organisation of Islamic Conference], which had highlighted the dilemma involved in dealing with foreign policy issues regarding Islam and the Muslims, such as the Palestinian issue.
The third phase, initiated in the post-military intervention period, witnessed several changes in the Turkish social dimension. The first was the new urbanization, and the second, the rise of the middle class. To elaborate this point, consider the example of the Gaziantep province, which is engaged in trade worth about $500 million a year with eastern neighboring countries. This means that the small middle class, most probably conservative or religious bourgeoisie, would be pushing the government to look for new markets, as the European market is quite difficult for them; and the government would do that because these middle class entrepreneurs are its social constituencies. This would not be the case with the bourgeoisie in Istanbul because they are in relatively better conditions and their relationship with the AKP, the ruling party in Turkey, is quite different. Putting it in another way, there is a kind of dynamic relationship between the lean middle class and the ruling Islamic elites.
Therefore, the presence of Turkey in Africa or Syria, for example, where almost 80 percent of the trade is being carried out by small or middle class bourgeoisie, needs to be seen in this perspective.
This is also transformative in terms of the Islamic movement. During the Cold War era, the agents of the Islamic movement were students. An important aspect of having students as the prime movers of a movement is that if today's students are financed, they will be future professionals, engineers, or teachers, making them a very powerful agency or instrument for the transformation of a society. Coupled with the rising middle class as agents of the Islamic movement in Turkey, the scheme seems to have worked as a rational organization, though not without challenges.
The emerging scenario is that Anatolian bourgeoisie with their ideological background and Islamic values on the one hand, and their connection with the global market on the other, do not have the complete freedom to follow the most idealistic aspirations of their ideological framework because they have to care about the increased level of interdependence of external markets. For instance, most of the businessmen in Armenia, close to Turkey, are in favor of opening the border with Turkey, and their Turkish counterparts, in return, favor opening the border with Armenia. The market factor is one of the major factors that is shaping Turkish relations.
In short, while market actors did not play any major role in the creation of modern Turkey, they are critical in transforming the present sociopolitical scenario. The understanding of security and identity is now being redefined according to market-based factors. That is the basic mechanism of the social side in Turkey's current policies towards Africa and the Arab world, etc. Therefore, it is not the ideological imperatives that are bringing Turkey closer to the Middle East; it is rather the need to satisfy the concerns of market actors that is fast becoming the driving factor in this regard.
Chair: It was a very illuminating and challenging expose, rooted in a great deal of direct observation, and the presentation ended on a certain conclusion which would be of great interest for all gathered here. Now, I invite questions and comments from the audience.
Comments and Questions
Prof. Khurshid Ahmad: Besides the economic factors and market forces that Dr. Bacik mentioned, there have been very important historical, cultural, and domestic factors that the emerging ideological forces have had to cope with. The system has been superficially democratic but actually autocratic-managed, controlled, and manipulated by the army as well as the bureaucracy in the judiciary, administration, and education, because these are the four pillars on which the secular power was based. The interaction among these internal dynamics is important to analyze the Turkish evolution.
The idea that the Islamic movement emerged primarily from the student leadership is only partially correct, as there have been some other forces, such as the intelligentsia force with the popular religion like the Nursi movement. These forces and the tension between them played a very important grassroots level role.
Along with that, the search for the historical identity, the suppressed faith, and sense of dignity are also important elements of the very complex phenomenon of ideological mobilization in Turkey. From one party to another, different arrangements were made, and when they were destroyed, a new arrangement came. Therefore, one would find many combinations of permutation. Finally, the emergence of the Justice and Development Party is also an effort along the same lines. This does not merely represent a strategic compromise but a very pragmatic effort made by ideological forces to reassert themselves subject to the domestic and international constraints in which they are operating. I would like you to comment on this.
Dr. Bacik: In theory, Turkey is said to be a democracy, but it has been an authoritarian regime. Practically, there was a balance between state elite and political elite. State elite refers to the military, high judiciary, and bureaucracy, while political elite refers to the elected people. In this system, political elites were never allowed to be the real players in the country. If they violated the limit, the veto power of Turkish military would play its role from 1960s to late 1990s. However, the rise of all the factors mentioned earlier is challenging these traditional gambits between the political elite and state elite. It can be said that, with the rise of the ruling party, AKP, the political elites are trying to capture the state machinery as a monopoly power for the first.
Moreover, in terms of shaping of the Islamic movement in Turkey, the students have surely played an important role: most of those students are now in the military, in high judiciary, in the economy, and politics. But the rise of the bourgeoisie has revolutionized the people. Individually, they are religious, but in politics they are living in a free market economy. The ruling party is the champion of privatization in Turkey and good relations with European Union, which shows that, after ten years, the instruments and methods have transformed the Islamic groups.
Q: I have never been able to understand why, after a glorious 758-year past and an impressive history as a nation, a need was felt by Turkey to cut itself off from the past and undertake such a massive change.
Dr. Bacik: It is true that while there is a continuation, Turkey needed to adapt itself to the changing internal and external realities. Ten years ago, there were 80 universities in Turkey, and now the number is around 150. This shows the kind of change Turkey is going through and this is by no means a radical change. However, Turkey has new actors, new markets, new values, and new understanding. For example, there is a new ruling party in Turkey which is not Islamist, even though it is a fact that its (AKP) members have sought their social relations only in an Islamic environment. In that sense, their understanding has to be different. These are the facts that are now part of the Turkish culture of politics. So, 'change' refers to the rise of these factors and not to a radical shift.
Q: My question basically is about Erbakan. He started something revolutionary, his ideas were revolutionary, and he wanted to recharge the Muslims everywhere: in Africa, in Asia. The purpose was to bid farewell to the cultural pluralism of the West. However, it seems that the revolutionary spirit could not be sustained for various reasons. How would you explain this?
Dr. Bacik: Talking about Necmettin Erbakan is always difficult. Anyhow, one should credit Mr. Erbakan's role because his party or movement in the nation's opinion is the bedrock of the Islamic movement. In terms of initiating other Islamist or conservative parties, he played an important role. However, the second generation of political leaders of Islamic movements in 1997 started the mission by criticizing Erbakan. The rise of Islamic elite forces is the product of the criticism of Mr. Erbakan and his methodology. Comparing it with Erbakan, they never repeated the typical Islamic discourses. Instead, for example, one of the Turkish ministers once said that as a minister he was ready to market his country.
In that sense, they are not Islamists. They can be compared with the rise of the Christian Democratic Party in the West, as explained by Stathis N. Kalyvas: to face the secular and liberal threat, the Church initiated the creation of different conservative parties, but these parties became independent of the Church and started affecting the beliefs of ordinary Christians. The case of AKP is very similar. The parties do not seem to be under the influence of earlier ideas and have overcome the legacy of Erbakan.
Q: I believe that the AKP era is related to the European model which is the driving force in Turkey but the effect of French moderanization has not totally disappeared. One element or aspect that still exists, though it may be declining, is the 'anti-religion' secularist element. Would you please comment on this?
Dr. Bacik: This is correct, especially in terms of the model of Turkish secularism. Second is the state structure. For example, if a political party comes up and say 'let's create a new political system which is more federal instead of federalism, the people would reject it. That means in terms of infrastructure of secularism and infrastructure of state model, Turkey is still following the French model. However, in terms of headscarf problem or the appearance of religious streams in public, it can be compared with the US rather than France. On the other hand, one should not forget that one group cannot dominate Turkey which is a post-Imperial, multiethnic country. There are big secular groups such as the arch secular party, Republican Peoples Party which gets around twenty percent votes in each election particularly in the Western part of Turkey. One needs to take this diversity into consideration while formulating the contract.
Looking it from another angle, the transition is not smooth. There are serious problems. There are serious discussions going on regarding it. Turkey spent about two-three years on the question of how to elect the president. In the same way, headscarf is a simple question, but very symbolic. The political elite have to be very careful while dealing with these issues. In short, there is a process of transition but in terms of the structure of federalism and the role of the central government, the presence of French model is quite strong in Turkish politics.
Q: The Turkish people are said to be undergoing some ideological transition. My question is where exactly are they heading? The secularism is restricted to the government structure as Turkey is a multiethnic country and one group cannot dominate, so what kind of ideological evolution is in the process in Turkey?
Dr. Bacik: This question mainly refers to the Islamic Ummah, but there are structural differences in the interpretation of what is "Islamic." Back in the early Saljooq era, there was no question in Turkey whether it should be labeled as Islamic. For example, the Ottoman State was not an Islamic state. In the Turkish understanding, religious scholars never interpreted Islam in that way. In the Turkish tradition, people can be Islamic but the state, entrepreneurs, TV channels, resource centers, etc., are not Islamic. So, the transformation is not heading towards creating an Islamic ideological country, but people want to express their beliefs freely. Comparatively, probably the Turkish elite want to create a model in Turkey which resembles the American model where religions are free, but state is also free.
State respects religion. There are such debates in America as well. It is an endless debate everywhere. Regardless of such debates, in terms of a model, Turkish people are following a liberal model where the state's role in the national economy is minimal and where people are allowed to express their religious beliefs. In that sense, it is not an ideological transition.
Q: Is it correct that because of Turkey's attempt to get EU membership, the Islamic past of Turkey has been brought to the surface, not by the Turkish people but by the outsiders?
Dr. Bacik: Some Turkish political groups and Islamist groups know that the European Union process is in their favor, because the American type of modernization is not against the role of army, but the Copenhagen criteria limit that role. The reforms as a part of European Union membership process enhanced the role of religious people. In general, this originated from domestic dynamics. There is no reason to say that the European Union is transforming Turkey into a more religious state.
Chair: This ends the first discussion session of today's meeting. Now I would request Dr. Bacik to enlighten us with his scholarly views on the political dimensions of the issue at hand.
Political Dimension (Presentation by Dr. Gokhan Bacik)
To understand the political scenario in Turkey, it would be pertinent to discuss major political actors, their position in domestic politics, and the impact of their ideas on the foreign policy.
Turkey is a multi-party democracy but there are four major political actors in the country. To start with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), this party can be compared with the Christian Democrat Party in Europe. Because of the sensitivities involved in Turkey, it does not pronounce itself as Muslim democrat; rather the party likes to be called conservative democrat, meaning that their members are Muslims in person but the party upholds the free market based liberal agenda. AKP is the champion of privatization, creating better conditions for foreign and domestic investment, increasing the role of the economy, liberal values, and so forth. AKP's policy with regard to the Kurdish issue also reflects its liberal spirit. So far, Turkey has tried to cope with the Kurdish problem by non-political methods: using the army, especially in the early 1990s, but it realizes that military means have failed so far. Hence, AKP is supporting a political method to cope with this problem.
Three years ago, the Kurdish initiative (Kurt acilimi) was commenced to speak with the Kurdish political elite and to make some efforts to solve the problem in a peaceful or in a political manner, which was harshly criticized by other political parties.
AKP's foreign policy towards the Middle East appears to be an Islamic oriented and ideologically motivated posture, but it is not correct. In fact, the main mission of AKP is to enlarge its zone of interest, rather than zone of influence. There was a general Middle East policy drawn by Shaban Talash that envisages economic interactions with other neighboring countries, including Pakistan.
The second actor in Turkish domestic politics is the Republican Peoples Party, the traditional secular Kemalist Party, albeit with variance from some of the ideals of Kemal Ataturk. There are different ways of interpreting Ataturk's ideology. The Kemalists' interpretation is not shaped by conservatives: it is the product of the second Turkish president, Ismet Inonu. Currently, Kemalism is in a deep intellectual crisis, mainly because it offers no clear policy towards emerging challenges such as issues regarding Turkey's European Union membership, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran, etc. The main problem with this version of Kemalism is its policy of continuing political efforts through the elite in the higher judiciary or bureaucracy and military, which is becoming a hurdle for it in persuading people.
This aspect is reflected by the fact that AKP, the ruling party, has at least one deputy in 80 provinces out of the total 81 provinces in Turkey. Even in southeastern Turkey, which is a Kurdish majority area, only AKP and the Kurdish Party have their representatives but the Republican People's Party cannot even organize a political meeting there. In that sense, the Republican Party has failed to create a new generation to reflect on Kemalism and the international system, and it lacks the intellectual capacity to cope with or overcome the contemporary problems. If AKP wins the elections in June 2011, which might happen as AKP has won almost all elections in the last eight years, it will have a catastrophic effect on the Kemalist elite.
The third mainstream player is the National Action Party, a typical traditional nationalist party in Turkey. During the Cold War era, the National Action Party used to be a transitional party, dealing mainly with the problems of Central Asian Turks. But after the end of the Cold War, it replaced the Kemalist or the Kurdish PKK and now it is obsessed with the Kurdish problem. Its percentage in the elections remained 10 percent or 11 percent. This party has confined itself to a few cities which are known for nationalist tendencies. In terms of ideology, the National Action Party is very critical of the European Union and the lacking focus on Central Asia in foreign policy, etc.
The fourth political actor is the Kurdish Movement, which is quite important for Turkey. The Kurdish Movement so far could not create an independent political action, mainly because of the structure of PKK, a "terrorist organization." Kurdish politics is dominated by the PKK. Interestingly, Kurds are very religious people, but PKK is a Marxist group for many reasons; one of the reasons comprises of the radical secular forces of state, which act as a layer to protect the Marxist aspect of PKK vis-a-vis conservative Kurdish people. On the other hand, the Kurdish Movement was never allowed to develop an independent Kurdish political elite, which makes the case for Turkish state very difficult. One would hardly find any interlocutor to speak through the Kurdish people. There are some signs of change but, in general, the PKK still holds the ground.
Therefore, it is quite difficult to understand Kurdish demands as some Kurdish elite call for a federal structure; some others talk only about policy reforms by the government, and some are said to look towards the AKP. Recently, the Kurdish initiative was launched with an approach to solve Kurdish issue through political means.
These are some important aspects of the Turkish domestic politics that affect the course of foreign policy formulations. For instance, since the National Party fails, many people from nationalist and secular constituencies are now voting for AKP. This might be a critical problem for AKP in the foreign policy, because having the support of these nationalist groups may bring some problems in formulating pro-Middle Eastern or pro-EU policies, or formulating a liberal agenda for the Kurdish issue. This shows the dynamism of Turkish domestic politics. A political party, which won majority seats in the elections in the early 1990s, won only one percent of the votes in the next election. So, the people's active participation in the national political process and domestic constituencies is very dynamic.
With regard to foreign policy, it seems AKP is the monopole in Turkey. As it has been mentioned earlier, Islam is not an important factor in Turkish policy formulation. It is true that people are socialized in an Islamic environment, but Turkey's approach to the Middle East or Arab countries is basically motivated by economic concerns. Turkey is a developing country and it is facing some serious conflicting issues. For instance, considering the general Turkey-US political and strategic relations, their trade volume is around US$16 billion, which is very small in comparison with the Turkey-Russia US$25-billion trade volume. There are serious problems in trade with Western countries, excluding some European countries such as Germany. The trade volume between Turkey and Israel is very small (around US$2 billion).
Another factor is that the current Turkish political elite want to increase Turkey's independence in terms of formulating a foreign policy in the Middle East. Moreover, Turkey wants to emerge as a regional actor, which means that Turkey has its regional vision. Some may think it is difficult to make it a reality. For instance, there is a problem with regard to Israel. It is also difficult to say for sure what the US thinks about this regional vision, because there are contradictory signs in the American perspective. The case of the relationship between Iran and Turkey is another point in that direction. On the one hand, Turkey and Iran have some kind of historical contacts, but on the other hand, historically speaking, Iran has its own regional vision just like Turkey, which may create friction between the two. So, in Central Asia, Armenia, Lebanon, etc., one of the real competitors to Turkey's regional interests is Iran.
Summing up, the critical question is whether AKP will be ruling Turkey after the June elections. Although the recent polls suggest support for AKP sways around 45 percent, Turkey's politics is quite dynamic and nothing is definite. Unless there is a change in the government, however, a dramatic shift in Turkish foreign policy is not expected, as AKP has been ruling Turkey for more than eight years and it has developed some kind of fixed understanding and perspective towards the Middle East or Arab countries, and the regional conflicts.
Chair: As expected from a person of Dr. Bacik's caliber, it was another very bright presentation, full of intriguing and thought provoking analyses. Now, we begin the second Q&A session.
Comments and Questions
Q: I would like to know how Turkish people see the process of EU membership in general. Is there any dissension between secularist and Islamist forces?
Dr. Bacik: Probably 55 percent people support the process of European Union membership. Yet, the trend is changing fast. For example, there were two groups ten years ago: one for it and the other against it. Now, there is a third group that expresses disenchantment with the European Union mainly due to the fact that the process has been going on since the 1950s and is becoming boring for people. In this context, it might be difficult for the government to find the pressure group behind its endeavor in that direction. Although this third voice, a combination of religious, secular, and liberal streams, is weak in Turkey at the moment, it is likely to play a critical role in the future mainly because of the fact that no nation could wait for 30 or 40 years in expectation of something that seems unattainable.
Q: Will you please enlighten us regarding the state of civil-military relations in Turkey?
Dr. Bacik: Probably Pakistan is the best place to explain this issue, as Turkish civil-military relations can be compared with those of Pakistan. In general terms, the civilians in Turkey are becoming capable of ruling the state rationally. For instance, several meetings were held between the government and the army regarding the appointment of military generals and officers in August 2010. The government vetoed some of the appointments and the military had to respect the decisions of the civilian regime. This shows that civilians are assuming more powers in the Turkish political system in comparison with the past. However, as it is said, social transition takes time: the army is learning, so is Turkish civil society. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that if Turkey wants to play a key role at the regional and global level, it needs to enhance its democratic character.
Q: Will this trend continue even if there is a change in government?
Dr. Bacik: It would be wrong to say that Turkish government cares too much about the military now. Of course, the bureaucracy is important in terms of its ideas, situational analyses and advice, but the Turkish government is fully capable of ruling the state rationally. On the other hand, the army has lost several contests with the government in the last two years and it is not in a position to make any dramatic shift in AKP policies in specific areas.
Q: There are two interrelated questions. In the early 1990s, there was a Hizmet movement in Turkey that established schools where the Qur'an was taught in about 76 provinces out of the 81. Interestingly, these 76 provinces were the major suppliers of recruits for the army. No doubt their understanding of Qur'an and Islam was different from the Kemalist approach, and it would likely influence the military thinking. That is most probably the impact of Necmettin Erbakan and his movement. It seems important to understand whether the AKP still bases its movement on the concepts of Erbakan, and whether the present Islamist movement is a continuation of it or not?
Dr. Bacik: Just to clarify a historical point, it should be noted that Recep Tayyip Erdogan left Necmettin Erbakan in 1990s; so did the constituencies of Erbakan. Erbakan remained out of politics for legal reasons and he appointed a politician, Numan Kurtulmus, to lead his movement. Later, he also left Erbakan, created a new party People's Voice Party (Halkin Sesi Partisi), and further weakened his position. It will be difficult for Erbakan to get even one percent of votes in the June 2011 elections. Some would call his party as the party of Erbakan lovers. Furthermore, he is very old now and spends much of his time in hospital. In this context, it seems his role in the Turkish politics will be minimal, if any.
Q: I also have two questions to ask. The first is with regard to civil-military relations. A paradigm shift has been observed in recent years under the AKP government. Many examples can be cited in this regard but recently two rather visible benchmarks appeared, namely, the reconstitution of the National Security Council and the September 2010 referendum for changes in the constitution. Both the initiatives curtailed the direct role of the military, bureaucracy and judiciary in national politics. Is this because of the booming economy, public opinion, or support for AKP's policies? My second question is with regard to Israel, which is a very important issue because Israel has strategic importance for Turkey and vice versa. Was the exchange of statements between Ankara and Tel Aviv in the aftermath of Israel's aggression on Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla incident an expression of Islamic sentiment or there are some other factors behind the changing trend?
Dr. Bacik: First of all, AKP is an important player but there are some other political parties as well that struggled for amendments in the constitution and a minimal role of the army in politics. A question, however, arises: Why is there no coup d'etat against AKP? The reason is not that the military officers have become more democratic. It is rather because of the rising demand for the control of civilian instruments on domestic politics, ensuing from the free market economy, rise of the middle class, new intellectuals and universities. If the Turkish cities are prospering through the export of the country's products and bringing billions of dollars of foreign exchange, no one would want to risk this stability. If the generals violate these rules of domestic politics, they know that Turkey will lose a lot in terms of economic interests, intellectual interests and societal interests.
So, the main factor is not ideology but the civilian actors motivated by economic gains who are criticizing the role of the army in politics. It is important to understand this trend. In this context, AKP is not the only party that gets the credit. However, it is the first political party in the government which can mobilize and employ the civilian and economic instruments against the army.
With regard to the recent hype between Turkey and Israel, it is a complex situation. Both the countries have played a kind of role that should be criticized. Turkey has the instrument of soft power in terms of its communication between the East and the West. If it is correct, Turkey should not lose any country, including Israel, which is a key player in the region. On the other hand, there is a serious issue of political stability in Israel. The nearer the country gets to a new election, the more radicalized its domestic politics gets, which in turn creates instability in the region. In the context of Turkish security thinking, Israel is creating threats for Ankara indirectly.
Secondly, Israel has some problems in understanding Turkey's vision in the region vis-a-vis Syria. It should be remembered that Syria used to be an ideological state fifteen years ago and Turkey made an effort to bring it back to the international system. Losing such Turkish initiative will not benefit Israel.
Thirdly, it is the basic theory of international relations that domestic and international politics should not be confused with each other. It seems Israel believes that the future of its interests in Turkey is strictly linked with the Kemalist understanding of the Turkish state. It needs to realize that societies are in a continuous process of evolution and things change in due course. Nevertheless, both the countries would not want to preserve the status quo because they know that it would be counterproductive for them.
Lastly, the exchange of statements between the two neighbors does not seem to be motivated by ideological factors. From the Turkish point of view, it might have wanted to increase its leverage in the Middle East and strengthen its public image in the region.
Q: My question is also related to Israel, but in a different context. The common perception in the Muslim world is that Israel is the fifty-third state of the United States of America. On the other hand, Turkey-US relations are of strategic importance for both parties. In response to the recent developments, has there been any reaction from the United States on the change or shift in Turkish policy towards Israel, and what is the public opinion in Turkey about this shift?
Dr. Bacik: Besides the issue of Turkish membership in the European Union, the Turkey-Israel relationship is of great importance for the United States. However, all the actors seem to be waiting for the June 2011 elections. Probably, the United States and Israel know that creating emotional hype near the elections would be monitored by the opposition that might change the future dynamics. After the elections, the Turkish government may try to take some concrete steps. The general realization among the three is that the status quo is not the final solution. The American academics are of the opinion that Israel is the key actor in American Middle East policy and, from the American perspective, it would be very difficult for the United States to keep a balance between Turkey and Israel if they have problems with each other.
Yet, the main difficulty will be for Turkey and Israel, because the exchange of strong words and criticism of each other can impact their relationship immensely. If this trend continues, it will become difficult for them to devise a policy towards each other.
Q: The Ottoman Empire had a great significance for the Muslim world. In fact, the Muslims are proud of its Islamic role and character in the past. With the rise of Islamist party to power in Turkey, is there a chance that it would spur on Muslim revivalism?
Dr. Bacik: Of course, Islam is very important in Turkey and the people are proud of their religion and practicing it, but it is looked at in a different way as compared with the way it is perceived in Pakistan. Even during the Ottoman rule, there were a few traditional laws but the final decision regarding the interpretation of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) was not carried out by the Sheikh ul Islam but by the head of the Ottoman Empire.
Another important point is that AKP is not Islamist. The term "Islamist" is used by means of necessity in the Western countries, and the same term is blindly applied by the Muslims as well. It is a typical Western label that creates problems in understanding Muslim societies. The reality is that there is no institution in Turkey which can be called Islamic. There are groups that draw inspiration from Islamic ideology but the people in general, as a legacy of the Ottoman Turkic traditions, believe that Islam is a faith about human being; it is not about corporate identity. That means the social interaction is shaped by the religion in Turkey, but it is not the basis of political identity.
Chair: I would request Prof. Khurshid Ahmad to give his valuable opinion on the points that have emerged in today's discussion before we move on to conclude the meeting.
Prof. Khurshid Ahmad: I think it was a very intellectual, stimulating and challenging presentation. There are a few points that I would like to share. In the Turkish Ottoman past, customs and traditions had a role but the overall framework remained Islamic particularly in the whole field of civil law and criminal law. Contemporary Turkey can be regarded as a great experiment in rediscovering Islam's role, historical tradition, and the method to adapt and adjust it to face contemporary challenges. Therefore, if Kemalism was the thesis, Erbakan represented the antithesis, and AKP, somehow, represents the synthesis. Dr. Erbakan, Abdullah Gul, and Ahmet Davutoglu are different colors of the same movement: the Islamic tradition and ethos are very much in their blood.
Erbakan has played the role of a catalyst but it is also correct that he is now becoming more and more irrelevant because of certain mistakes he made. Yet, AKP could be regarded as the continuation of the same with a difference: it has realized the major constraints and how to move keeping them in view. For Turkey and the Muslim World, it is not wrong to say that democratization and Islamization are two sides of the same coin-more democracy would lead towards Islam. In the 2006 survey by John Esposito titled "Who Speaks for Muslims," 86 percent of the Turkish people have expressed that religion is an important part of their daily lives while in other Muslim countries, this percentage is 80 to 90 percent. This thinking of the people cannot be ignored.
Finally, even in the American model, there is a need to look into the new work of Samuel Huntington, "Who Are We," in which he emphasizes that whatever may be the official relationship between religion and state, American identity should be based on not only Christianity but Evangelical Protestantism. This is a ground reality which cannot be just wished away.
Therefore, while examining the mobilization in the Muslim world, it is important that the analysis should be comprehensive, drawing upon political, sociological, and economic factors. More importantly, the historical, cultural and ideological realities must also be an integral part of the analysis for forming a balanced picture.
Concluding Remarks (Chair)
The vibrant response and participation from the audience following both the presentations indicates to me an unprecedented interest in Pakistan in Turkey. Turkey is a very important player for many reasons and the discourse launched by Dr. Bacik was brilliant in the sense that it provoked a good discussion. One does not have to agree entirely with the speaker but the great value of the discourse is that the ideas were presented with complete intellectual honesty. The discussion by the participants shows that there is an unprecedented interest in Pakistan in understanding the internal dynamics of Turkey.
A point came in the discussion that the Turks cut off their linkages from the past. It is very important that one should contextualize the developments. What actually happened in the last days of the Ottoman Empire was that a declining empire weakened by the wars faced a tremendous hostile Laurence of Arabia-led Arab revolt. The Turkish army stood in danger of being trapped in a large number of pockets from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Ottoman Empire. A struggle for the complete destruction of Turkey was also put up by "the old friend," Greece, and backed by the militaries of the UK and other powers. At that time, Mustafa Kemal, a brilliant Turkish general, decided that the survival of the homeland depended on a successful extrication of the beleaguered Turkish forces from all over the Middle East. That was the physical separation and disconnect of Turkey from its past.
In his leadership, the Turks defeated the heinous strategy heroically, with tremendous courage and great sacrifices. By 1922, the situation was stabilized and then the project of nation building and constitution building began. With these traumatic experiences, it is not difficult to see the mode of the time. The fastest route to survival and development was considered to be a military-led rule of bureaucracy, and a successful model, France, UK, America, or any other Western power]. In fact, Turkey did not follow a single model and adopted an eclectic approach. An important part of the process of building the nation-state was disconnecting from the Ottoman past.
The price has been heavy because Turkey had to go through some fundamental changes. Consider, for example, the change of script. One consequence of this shift was that one of the greatest intellectual and literary heritages, spread over eight hundred years, became unavailable to the new Turkish scholars. Even today, while a lot of effort has been made to transcribe this heritage, one has to depend on specialists who can read the script, and who know Arabic and Persian. One estimate is that only 10 percent of that heritage is now available. This consequence was partly indigenous and partly from outside; a period of consolidation in which, on the ideological side, there was an effort towards the destruction of memory.
It is important to underscore here because one of the major objectives of today's Western strategies is to make the Muslim societies forget about and to lose their collective memory. But it never really happens. The reference can be made to France, the French revolution, the Jacobean terror, the Jacobean suppression of the Church: all this happened but a number of very scholarly books in Europe suggest that Christianity never gave up or died. The religious emotions and ethos survived and still have their influence even on political issues. When the people of the European Union recoil or oppose the idea of Turkey's joining the European Union, part of this is certainly due to economics, jobs, and the issue of immigrants, but one does not have to be a rocket scientist to see that EU countries do not know how they would assimilate such a large population with a different cultural background into a Christian world.
There are certain voices in Europe that say, "We are Christians and we have to protect our Christian heritage." The fact of the matter is that Islam has never really died in Turkey as well. The social life in Turkey was organized in terms of silsilas and tareeqat (different denominations of Sufism/mysticism) and people continued to go to them. Even Turkish engagement with the countries that were part of Ottoman Empire in the past is seen as an effort by Turkey to revive its imperial project, backed by a strong economy and foreign policy.
The eminent scholar, Dr. Bacik, has rightly pointed out that, besides the ideological framework, a big change was the mass urbanization that caused a great economic miracle in Turkey, but the economic development, devoid of ideology, also created a new identity crisis. There were the Westernized elite on the one hand and Anatolian workers on the other, who came and became a new proletariat, and brought with them a huge cultural baggage, which has its impact. Turkish society could have gone either way and this struggle has been quite noticeable in Turkey. The ideological streams, particularly the efforts of Erbakan, showed remarkable capacity for survival through a series of mutations: one party was banned, another party would come off. It is not to say that Erdogan was a direct pupil or inheritor of the Erbakan tradition but there is a continuity of ideas.
As Dr. Bacik has explained very well, AKP does not want to put a specific label on its struggle and it prefers to talk in terms of market economy and market forces, but religion is really inseparable from these intricate dynamics. Yet, it does not mean that the present government is engaged in tactical maneuverism. It is a natural, organic growth of ideas that gradually continue to move forward. It is very difficult to predict at this point in time what the final shape of things will be, but there is no denying the fact that some very exciting things happened at the level of ideas. The Turkish experience is successful. While it is said that there is a mercantile, market-oriented urge which makes Turkey look towards the East, it is not entirely separated from the Islamic impulse which lies in the subconscious layer. The acceptance of Turkey by the Muslim world itself is a subconscious layer.
Turkey is seen as a country that can be trusted and this is most likely the reason behind the Iranian inclination to trust Turkey more than any other country.
There are a few religious streams in Pakistan that want the Turkish leadership to follow literal meanings of the religion in legislative decisions, but it does not seem necessary. What is important is the dynamic, forward process and if it continues, the democracy will also flourish. In this context, the direction of the Turkish leadership is absolutely clear and the policies are well thought out. This is the reason that election after election, the Turkish electorate comes back with a very clear verdict and reading the developments on these lines urges one to predict that the elections in June 2011 will not produce very different results. The ideological streams around the Muslim world, particularly in Pakistan, need to learn from Turkish successes and see how they can benefit from the modern political history of Turkey.
The following is an edited transcript of a seminar convened at the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, on January 29, 2011. The main speaker was Dr. Gokhan Bacik, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Zirve University, Gaziantep, Turkey, while Amb. Tanvir Ahmad Khan, Chairman and Director-General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, presided over the session.] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).
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|Date:||Jun 30, 2011|
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