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Regime Change in Contemporary TurkeyPolitics, Rights, Mimesis$

Necati Polat

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474416962

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474416962.001.0001

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Run-up to Change

Run-up to Change

(p.75) 2 Run-up to Change
Regime Change in Contemporary Turkey

Necati Polat

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter describes the fascinating realignment in Turkish politics with the rise of the AKP into power from late 2002, distancing itself from the Islamist politics (‘Islamo-nationalism’, Millî Görüş) of most of its founders, and drawing on ‘Westernisation’ through strengthened ties with the European Union. The usual cast of local identity politics that relied on rather cynical exploitations of various identity demands—the secularist republicanism (Kemalism), Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms, and Islamo-nationalism—seemed significantly to recede in society in the spell between 2002 and 2007 in favour of a set of civic, non-divisive political gestures around the reintroduced goal of integration with Europe. The projected ‘European’ identity would prove to be a unique leverage in bringing about the coming change. It would expand the electoral compass of the ruling AKP beyond the former identity alignments, ensuring widening reach, and, equally importantly, prompt ambivalence in the bureaucracy, considerably breaking its resistance.

Keywords:   AKP, bureaucracy, European Union, identity politics, Islamism, Kemalism, Kurds, military-civilian relations, Turkish politics, Westernisation

What enabled the regime change? How exactly did the drive for change gather the steam it needed by 2007, when, following roughly the first five years of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in power, the turnabout would finally be put in motion? Of all the factors that should be taken on board in rehearsing a possible answer, the interim shift in the patterns of the long enduring identity politics should perhaps be accorded the greatest weight. The republican Turkey was set up in 1923 as a centralising body politic with a fixed and increasingly assertive identity vision, seeking to create a new, ‘European’ nation out of the bulky and sharply fragmented Ottoman polity. The aim was thus to modernise not only the administration but also society, chiefly through an instrumental concept of reason that was largely indifferent to the diversity that prevailed in the periphery of the political centre. In addition to a major concern about a new civic culture cleansed as much as possible from the local patriarchy, chiefly religion, building a homogeneous nation state out of the leftover Ottoman public also required the suppression of what was ethnically ‘outlying’. The liberal–populist rule for about a decade from 1950, which was loyal on the whole to the earlier vision, would nevertheless be overthrown by the bureaucracy for having ‘betrayed’ the original republican notion of identity in its somewhat loosened approach to domestic diversity.

The identity politics safeguarded by the bureaucracy in the run-up to (p.76) the regime change was still largely defined by a steadfast dedication to this original project, which this book has referred to as ‘republicanism’, following the strong emphasis that the term ‘republic’ would start receiving in opposition circles under the AKP rule, and, no less significantly perhaps, in acknowledgement of the apparent affinity of this ideology with the more fully developed discourse of republicanism in France.1 The overall catechism communicated in this creed invoked a sharp distinction of the private and public spheres in society, with the traces of the peripheral identities, religious or ethnic, greatly to be purged from the latter. Left solid among the past communal bonds would solely be a non-pious, almost ‘nominal’ Sunni Muslim identity, and a purportedly non-ethnic nationality. The realm of ethnic and cultural belonging as the site of political confrontation would come to brand the whole domestic political scene as soon as some pluralism was in place, reflected in two principal binaries by the 1990s: the seculars and the reactionaries (mürteci, later gerici) on one side, and an allegedly non-ethnic Turkish patriotism and an ethnic Kurdish separatism, on the other.2 More confusing still would be the fact that the dichotomies at work could be seen to intersect in places in day-to-day politics.

Emerging out of the local Islamo-nationalist politics (Millî Görüş)3 to be in power from November 2002, the AKP would deftly distance itself from the settled matrix of identity claims,4 until at least the regime change under its rule by 2011. This fresh political initiative would thereby acquire an extensive reach in its voter base, comparable perhaps to that fleetingly achieved by Turgut Özal in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup. Now calling themselves ‘conservatives’, the former Islamo-nationalists would achieve this dilation in electoral ambit greatly by a shift from the sectarian claims of identity that marred the domestic political landscape, in favour of a genuinely civic ‘European’ identity. The following is about this – what looked in hindsight – equivocation in the posture of the AKP that challenged the routine identity politics, to prompt considerable irresolution and ambivalence in the bureaucracy, leading in the immediate term to provisional, dithering and mostly absurd new alignments in politics beyond the former identity splits.

(p.77) Contraction in Identity Politics

The Islamo-nationalist literati had for some time been in the habit of pointing out some of the glaring inconsistencies in the local practice of democracy when those touched the pious and practising Muslims, yet evincing little genuine interest in democratic values beyond a not altogether convincing formal allegiance to democracy in party politics. Often, plain illustrations would be put forward in public debates to show how the usual grievances encountered by the Muslims at home were practically non-existent in more evolved democracies. Let alone the devout Muslims, even the vocal Islamists hardly experienced in Europe and in North America any of the obstacles that the Muslims typically suffered in the country. Not entirely felicitous with this apparent admiration of ‘the West’, a perception of the Muslims as perennial victims of persecution by the same ‘West’ at once defined Islamo-nationalism. A mentor, Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1904–83) would famously use in a poem the Turkified version of the word ‘pariah’ to describe the Muslims as outcasts – parya.5 This profound sense of mistreatment drew on the colonial intrusion historically, combined with the relative disenfranchisement of the Muslims under the republican administration, considered as little more than a mere proxy of the colonial rule. Finally, a populist – rather than simply misconceived or defective – understanding of that which was ‘native’ (millî or yerli) drove the Islamo-nationalists towards an organic notion of society, offering a vague nativist template, which was no less artificial than the early republican conceptualisation of national identity. The non-pious, accordingly, were not strictly part of the indigenous whole, having somehow been alienated from it at least in part, even if they were not outright cronies of a lingering, ever-present and all-powerful colonialism. This conviction readily took root in the fertile ground of the republican oppression, with the Islamic hijab, a strong token, remaining an issue at universities and in public employment even under the AKP rule, embarrassingly enough, until the regime change.6

The Islamo-nationalist feelings of a perpetual ‘martyrdom’ in the republican era gravely left out a couple of critical facts, though: (1) The overplayed sense of persecution consistently ignored the severe acts of inclusion and exclusion by the officialdom that equally suppressed, if not more, various heterogeneous identities outside the devout Muslims, such as the Alevis (see (p.78) Chapter 9). Under a different light, it might indeed be possible to describe the same republican Turkey as an ‘Islamist’ state on the whole, albeit not up to the strict Islamist standards. As noted in the preceding chapter, the Ottoman millet system that had made religion intrinsic to national identity in the empire persisted in the republican period very much intact. If this linkage with the erstwhile Ottoman wont did not seem to be sufficiently visible under the avowedly ‘secularist’ republican rule, that could be because the continuity at work was simply too close and too deeply ingrained to be felt. Non-Muslims would be robbed of wealth in the early republican era through policies that sought to pauperise and banish them. As late as in the 1970s, some high court judgements would refer to non-Muslim Turkish nationals as ‘aliens’ (yabancı). For a vivid illustration from some decades later, even the naturalised football players from Brazil, whose newly-acquired Turkish nationality would remain only on paper, had to adopt Muslim names to be considered fully ‘Turkish’ – in effect a ritual conversion to Islam, if only symbolic. On top of all this, the last military junta of 1980–83 had made the strengthening of Islamic education a priority nationwide, with religious classes in the Sunni faith made compulsory in schools for the first time, and with a spread of religious educational institutions – practices ostensibly in line with the ‘Second Cold War’ of the late 1970s, with the Soviet military in Afghanistan, which had prompted an alarmed Euro-Atlantic community towards new strategies of Soviet containment.

The profound sense of persecution on the part of the Islamo-nationalists would nevertheless endure and assert itself even during the strong, unadulterated AKP rule from 2011. (2) Moreover, some of the prejudices and limitations that did exist about an assertive Muslim identity, including the hijab perhaps, might have to be placed in the context of a unique identity play locally, which the Islamo-nationalists failed to consider. The identity claims articulated in the Islamo-nationalist circles had implications not only for the pious and practising Muslims, but also for virtually all in the land, including some of the most diehard secularists. The Islamo-nationalist discourse appeared to be an effective ‘monopolising’ of Muslim identity, in turn debarring, or with insinuations for, others in the larger social milieu, where Islam meant something to almost everyone.7 The Islamo-nationalist labouring in engaging in a separate, group-based ‘Muslim’ identity, not shy of sharply defining it in places, were (p.79) thus bound to encounter some popular distrust. Needless to say, a similar play involving Muslim identity was rarely the case in Europe and in North America, hence the relative tolerance in such contexts for particularly bold forms of that identity – a fact little understood in the markedly decontextualised discourse of the local Islamo-nationalist ideologues. (3) Last but by no means least, beyond the question of sheer identity, Islamo-nationalist politics in the absence of strong cultural safeguards towards building mutual confidence in society seriously daunted two broad social sections; the heterogeneous Muslim groups, principally the Alevis, and those somewhat indifferent to religion, namely the agnostics, atheists and such. These social groups constantly feared possible oppression by the pious Sunni majority eying political power, quite justifiably so in retrospect, given the increasingly intimidating discourses, if not practices, that would follow in the aftermath of the old regime from 2011.

A turning point for Islamo-nationalism, enabling it to move beyond a one-sided take on the recent history and ‘indigenousness’, and beyond selective references to democracy and basic rights, at least at the level of rhetoric, would prove to be the ‘light’ military intervention of February 1997. The Islamo-nationalist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP) led by Necmettin Erbakan would finish the parliamentary elections ahead of the rest in December 1995, with over 21 per cent of the votes.8 A known master of euphemisms and catchwords, as reflected in the ingenious term Millî Görüş,9 Erbakan had put the new party line adil düzen (just order) – again, a thinly disguised reference to Islamic political ideals – to hugely successful use, capturing the attention of masses exasperated in the face of the manifest ineptitude of the mainstream politics in tackling acute social issues. The Islamo-nationalist politics had looked promising also through skills and diligence, on display for some time, of its elected politicians running a good number of local administrations. A military ‘fine-tuning’ in February 1997 would suddenly end the coalition government headed by the RP, with this political party to be wholly disbanded in January 1998. In April of the same year, the mayor of Istanbul with the RP, Tayyip Erdoğan, would be convicted and put behind bars for having recited at a public rally an old war poem, urging people towards righteous belligerence. Appropriated for the present-day political backdrop, this poem purportedly dating from 1912 was an effective call to arms: ‘Minarets are bayonets, domes are helmets/Mosques are barracks, believers are troops.’10

(p.80) The period following the dissolution of the RP would seem to mark a transition, notably facilitated by a number of liberal intellectuals, both right and left, also shunned, censured and repressed under the February 1997 intervention, who would come in close contact and solidarity with the Islamo-nationalist intellectuals. A discourse for a fully-fledged democracy that would ‘normalise’ the political order for all regardless of the specific leanings would in turn gradually come to subdue from the late 1990s the rather sceptical view of ‘the West’ formerly held by the Islamo-nationalists. On guard to keep the settled identity politics at arm’s length for a wider reach, despite most of its elite long reared in Islamo-nationalist politics, the AKP set up in 2001 would put to work a rather astute scheme. In staging a head-on confrontation with the republican identity politics, having already distanced itself from that of Islamo-nationalism, the AKP would adopt what was simply another identity term that was, again, locally rooted. ‘To undo a nail’, a Turkish proverb instructs, ‘one simply needs another’. That is, one fights fire with fire. The idea of Europeanisation (not necessarily in overlap with the better-known uses of this concept in Europe) that would come to be championed by the AKP was some such fire. A so-called state policy since the nineteenth century, and endorsed virtually by all stakeholders in the domestic political theatre, with the exception of the Islamo-nationalists, this identity goal for society, now shrewdly reasserted, would provide this political party with a tremendously effective edge in the following period against the settled hubs of identity politics. As a result, the old divides lurking in the background would come within a rather short span to be superseded by a new dichotomy – one between the pro-Europeans that sought to integrate with the wider world and the Euro-sceptics that chose to remain hidebound and inward-looking. The new cleavage, in full view by 2004, and highlighted by the key public relations work of the liberal intellectuals supportive of the ruling AKP, would convince the European Union (EU) policy-makers that it would be in the interest of all to strengthen the local pro-Europeans by starting accession talks with Turkey.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the republican ideologues would feel rather betrayed by Europe ostensibly in petty, strategic calculations, and prepared to leave the local republican project that ‘fully’ embraced the European ideals and the ‘original’ European modernity out in the cold. In a line of argument not (p.81) wholly consistent with the cherished European values, and, more strikingly, in mimetic kinship with that of the Islamo-nationalists on ‘the West’, the republican ideologues would find the only rational explanation for the formal offer made to Turkey of a possible future in Europe in the age-old colonial intrigue.11 The aim was ultimately to tear apart or weaken Turkey: the EU never seriously considered admitting Turkey, imposing on it a set of political criteria that only served the short-term European power political interests.12 Or, in a milder variant shared also by some European commentators who seemed to empathise, the local Euro-sceptics would urge the European policy-makers to show greater sensitivity and let Turkey be less democratic in order to control or avoid a fuelling of the threats of ethnic separatism and religious fundamentalism that were symptomatic of the greater region.13 According to this more conciliatory take on Turkey’s European prospects, the EU member states that had acted so decisively in 2000 on the threat formed by the far right Freedom Party to Austrian democracy could try to understand the constraints on Turkey’s democracy brought about by the geography and the unique dynamics. Yet, genuine security concerns as grounds for limiting democracy was a view already fading locally, and was now voiced only by a shrinking faction of Euro-sceptics. Overall, both Islamo-nationalism and the ethnic Kurdish nationalism seemed to be on the wane, a fact that barely served the need for the usual securitising approach in the matter.

That Islamism and Kurdish separatism, as major security threats, placed ‘natural’ constraints on the local democracy, simply ‘forcing’ it to act on an impulse for survival, arguably confused the effect with the cause. It would become rather apparent with the early political reforms under the EU accession process that, as long suggested by the liberal critics of the old regime, an advance in the protection of the basic rights, or even the mere prospect of change for the better, could have quite the reverse effect. That is, a more inclusive democracy could prompt a decline in the sectarian identity claims. Already under way before the AKP came into power in November 2002, the reforms speeded up would soon lead, among other things, to some tangible ebb in the popular support for political parties that relied almost solely on forms of ‘identity clientelism’,14 namely the somewhat cynical exploitation of identity demands by political parties. In the nationwide local elections in March 2004, the Islamo-nationalist Party of Bliss (or Felicity Party, Saadet Partisi (p.82) , SP) representing the settled Islamist outlook in politics for some time, from which the AKP had departed abandoning its identity discourse for a wider slant, would sink to 4 per cent. A coalition of the Social Democratic Popular Party (Sosyaldemokrat Halkçı Parti, SHP) and the Kurdish nationalist Popular Democratic Party (Demokratik Halk Partisi) would lose the Kurdish political movement four of the municipalities which the Party for People’s Democracy (Halkın Demokrasi Partisi), an earlier Kurdish political party, had alone won in the local elections in 1999. The coalition with the SHP, formed in order to put the nationalist Kurdish votes to good use in places not predominantly inhabited by the Kurds, would acquire a mere 5 per cent of the overall votes nationwide. Consistent perhaps with this ostensible slump in support for political parties engaged in identity politics, both the devout Muslims and the ethnic Kurds seemed to have adequate representation within the ruling AKP. Most of those who previously rallied behind the Islamo-nationalist political parties were already within the ranks of the AKP, constituting its kernel. As for the Kurds, according to a survey of the members of parliament in early 2004, close to 15 per cent of AKP deputies had indicated Kurdish as their mother tongue,15 which was about the estimated percentage of the ethnic Kurds in the country. These Kurds, some with eminent positions within the ruling AKP, notably owned up to their Kurdish identity, rather than obscure it, as had long been the case with the Kurds prominent in either the mainstream politics or in the administration, serving as premiers, cabinet ministers and speakers of parliament.

Ambivalence in Bureaucracy

The start of the accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005 would go some way to aborting the Euro-sceptic claim that denied the European policy-makers a bona fide interest in admitting Turkey.16 The outstanding issue of a full implementation of the reforms newly adopted towards fulfilling the Copenhagen political criteria for membership in the EU, a major source of consternation at the time, would appear about to be remedied, with the bureaucracy expected soon to fall in line. The military takeover of 1960, ostensibly engineered between the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy of the justice system and the universities, had signalled a historic and enduring bloc. Having ended the liberal–populist rule of a decade, the coup had (p.83) in turn practically institutionalised the bureaucratic control of politics. A heated debate in the first quarter of 2004 on a likely settlement of the protracted Cyprus conflict on the basis of a new United Nations (UN) plan, cautiously favoured by the government to clear the way for Turkey’s prospects in Europe, would test that bloc. Did the strict concord between the military and civilian bureaucracy established in 1960 continue? If so, was the military still the mainspring in the informal compact, as suggested over the years by most observers of Turkish politics?17 To the surprise and protestations of the Euro-sceptics, who advocated the preservation of the status quo in Cyprus, not least in order to keep the government in shackles in its efforts to obtain a date for the start of negotiations with the EU, the military would extend to the UN initiative its blessing, through words of no less a figure than the chief of staff himself in a detailed statement, showing careful deliberation.18 Later, the deputy chief of staff would venture further into hitherto uncharted waters, stating: ‘Turkey, as a candidate country [for membership in the EU], needs to sort out its problems in the Aegean with Greece within the existing EU acqui, or accept to submit the problems still unresolved to international settlement mechanisms, including the International Court of Justice.’19 The boldly declared openness of the military to path-breaking revisions in foreign policy would be in stark contrast to the position of the civilian bureaucracy, formed chiefly by the republican elite at high courts and at the higher education system.

Disclosing the opinion of the military on Cyprus, the chief of staff would at once reveal his unease at what he would term the ‘provocations’ from circles in society calling on the military to be somewhat bullish and issue warnings, curtailing the government mandate. Such appeals to the military, either directly or indirectly, were long part of the routine republican politics. Some among the elite hardly felt the need to refrain publicly from an openly militaristic discourse, especially those at the higher education system. The then president of Istanbul University, an outspoken Euro-sceptic who would be one of the prominent suspects in the future political trials discussed below (Chapter 3), would declare for instance that the government in negotiations over Cyprus ‘could not possibly cede an inch of Cyprus territory’, and that Turks should not hesitate to sacrifice a hundred thousand casualties if necessary to ‘take, not only [the entire] Cyprus, but also Greece’.20 On (p.84) 3 March 2004, at a major organisation commemorating the abolition of caliphate in 1924, some of the highest-ranking commanders of the military would get together with university presidents for an unusual display of commitment against the foreign policy manoeuvrings of the government. In a thunderous standing ovation, those present would applaud one academic, a spokesperson of the then cropping up ‘neo-nationalism’ (ulusalcılık), who would end his words with a call for an immediate break-up of relations with the EU and the United States, suggesting cooperation with Iran, Russia and China instead,21 countries that would presumably make little issue of Turkey’s self-styled democracy in place. The presence of the military in the event did indicate a lingering irresolution within the military itself,22 to be largely, if not entirely, cleared away in the following month through the speech of the chief of staff, noted above, in patent support of the government on Cyprus and on integration with Europe.

Scepticism among the elite of the higher education system would prove to be more persistent. According to the results of a survey on the political outlook of the teaching staff at universities, conducted in a year from October 2003, the most trusted institution appeared to be the military, embraced by 45 per cent of the respondents. The confidence in the elected government, by contrast, was less than a tenth of this, at a mere 4 per cent. Furthermore, the academics turned out to be overwhelmingly Euro-sceptical, with only 6 per cent expressing trust in the EU.23 The higher education elite, who had considerable influence in domestic politics from at least the late 1950s, actively supporting and justifying the coup in 1960, as noted above, would have an all-out confrontation with the government in May 2004 in response to an effort by the government to end the discrimination introduced in the aftermath of the February 1997 coup against high schools with additional religious education, originally designed as vocational educational institutions for personnel of mosques (İmam Hatip schools). Academics, led by university presidents, would take to the streets all over the country, and a sudden tension would break out.24 The Office of the Chief of Staff would also join the debate, having possibly been ‘forced’ to, as per the cue above, about three weeks after the endorsement of the government position on Cyprus, issuing a written statement in support of the protesters. Hurriedly passed in the parliament dominated by the ruling AKP, the draft bill would receive the veto of the president, (p.85) a former high-court judge, who would send it back to the parliament for a second deliberation. Reading this interception as a warning on the ‘untimely’ nature of the initiative, the government would decide to shelve the bill.

The elite on high court benches in the justice system were not nearly as outspoken in the process leading to the regime change as those in higher education, but were known to be behind some formidable resistance by shrinking from a full, unhesitating implementation of the political reforms on basic rights and by turning the economic privatisation steps of the government into a debacle. More daringly, in 2008, with the regime change already under way, the Constitutional Court would fail only by a hair’s breadth to dissolve the ruling AKP for being a ‘centre of activities undermining secularism’. The charge had been levelled at a political party that had close to 47 per cent electoral support behind it at the time. What exactly was motivating this doggedness of the judiciary, risking basic credibility given the flimsy particulars of the case, in the short period immediately before the end of the old regime? A possible answer to this question is rehearsed below (Chapter 4), arguing for the presence of some perversely ‘moral’ drive underlying it all – a liberation theology. The results in a public opinion survey on the perceptions of the judiciary on rights shortly after the AKP would come into power were revealing.25 While 73 per cent of the public seemed to be of the opinion that the violations of human rights in the country were widespread, only 48 per cent of the respondents in the judiciary shared this view. Again, 89 per cent in society believed that ideas, not transformed into action, should not be penalised under any circumstances. This figure was down by 16 per cent with those from the judiciary. In keeping with these findings, the judiciary was slow and reluctant, if not in outright refusal, to adapt to the legal overhaul urged by the EU and be guided on the protection of rights by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

More subtly, the judiciary would appear to resist the change by relentlessly hampering the economic privatisation programme of the government, until at least 2007. The economic restructuring policies in the country, centred on privatisation, went as far back as 1980, to the time when Özal was in the driving seat of the economy, but were long subjected to a series of legal setbacks. Administrative courts would not hesitate in issuing controversial judgements, blatantly inconsistent in reasoning, suspending key state sell-offs (p.86) on grounds that the tenders concluded were in breach of a vague and politically charged notion of ‘public interest’. A tender blocked by the judiciary in June 2004, a partial sale of the largest single economic enterprise locally,26 would prompt comments linking the disruptive rulings of the judiciary on privatisation to the political divide in the country on Europe. On this view, spurning foreign investment through judgements that undermined the credibility of the government and that caused significant losses of revenue, the judiciary was actively participating in the ongoing tussle between the pro-European and Euro-sceptical camps in politics.27

Odd Bedfellows

A more surprising development during this period would be the Islamo-nationalists, from among which the ruling AKP had shortly before emerged, dabbling in the Euro-sceptical discourse alongside the republicans, otherwise the foes. In a rally in Ankara in March 2004 in protest of the UN plan on Cyprus, the Islamo-nationalist SP would join the ranks of the longstanding Euro-sceptics against the government.28 In return, some of the most prominent spokespersons of Euro-scepticism, otherwise known champions of a strict form of secularism, would voice unheard-of support for Erbakan’s brand of politics against the ruling AKP,29 such as the neo-nationalist academic noted above, receiving a standing ovation, and the chief prosecutor at the Court of Cassation (Yargıtay) who had initiated the closure of two earlier Islamo-nationalist political parties, the RP (closed in 1998) and Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi, closed in 2001). Himself forced out of the government following the military memo of February 1997, Erbakan would go on a bewildering spree of public agitation and call on the military to exert more pressure on the government run by his former protégés, principally in relation to the Cyprus issue.30

Alongside the republicans and the Islamo-nationalists, Kurdish nationalism would also seem to lend a hand to this laboured coalition. In June 2004, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK) would end the ‘unilateral’ ceasefire to which it had adhered after the leader of the organisation, Abdullah Öcalan, had been captured in 1999, serving a prison term since. Reportedly, prior to the resumption of the armed campaign, Öcalan had issued a communication to the guerrillas, stating: ‘Kemalism is under threat.’ (p.87) The threat, he had claimed, was the Nakşıbendis, an Islamic sect, to whom the government had purportedly handed over political power. ‘We need to counter that threat’, he had declared.31 Why was a Kurdish leader in captivity concerned about the fate of Kemalism, the republican ideology? Öcalan was also known to have bafflingly remarked during the debate on the UN plan for Cyprus, supported by the government: ‘We are losing Cyprus.’32 Absurd as all this may sound, historically the Kurdish political movement came forth out of the republican grassroots. Some of the still active and leading Kurdish politicians had served in prominent positions with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), with masses in the Kurdish populated south-east voting consistently for this political party, until the watershed formed by the military response to the Kurdish issue during and immediately after the coup in 1980. The remarks by Öcalan, anxious of the rising intrepidity of the government against the old regime, would seem to testify to the amazing resilience of this political streak among the Kurdish nationalist elect. Still, the timing of the renewed violent campaign, only months before the European Council decision on a possible date for the start of accession negotiations with Turkey, might have to be understood more as an indication of the obvious desperation perhaps, to which Kurdish politics had been pushed at the time, rather than a spin-off of some hard-wearing republican trait that survived among the Kurdish elite. In an interview in June 2004, the acting head of the PKK would not mince his words when asked what the renewed violence might mean for EU–Turkey relations, stating: ‘We know we may disrupt Turkey’s EU process.’33 The PKK had fought close to two decades of war with the military. Interestingly, in the declaration to end the ceasefire, the PKK in apparent throes of a desolate realpolitik would attempt to ‘feel’ for the military against the government. Accordingly, the government had ‘provoked’ the PKK to the resumed violence, with a view to debilitating the military through a confrontation with the guerrilla forces.34 It was not clear why the PKK, aware of this dark design on the part of the government, were obliging rather than thwarting it by going into war.

EU Reforms

The period in Turkey’s relations with Europe between 2000 and 2007 would produce greater and further-reaching results domestically than the preceding (p.88) forty or so years. From February 2002 (that is, before the AKP would ascend to power in November of the same year) to July 2004, the parliament would adopt a total of eight legislative packages, making adjustments to the normative framework on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as required by the Copenhagen political criteria.35 In addition to a basic screening of the existing domestic legislation in these new instruments, the parliament would also adopt a series of ground laws, including a new Civil Code and a new Penal Code, bringing the domestic legal structure more fully into line with Europe in terms of formal institutions and regulations. But there was, of course, the increasingly embarrassing issue of implementation, which the annual progress reports by the European Commission, following the reforms, kept indicating as greatly outstanding. The first three reform bundles had been adopted by a coalition government of the nationalist left and the nationalist right, the Party for Democratic Left (Demokratik Sol Parti) and the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), respectively, with the economic liberals, the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi), as junior partners. The coalition government, which ruled until November 2002, had been formed by a cabinet largely sceptical of the EU political criteria though, and there had been little political will overall to enforce the amendments effectively. With the AKP in power from November 2002 the issue of implementation could no longer be attributed to a lack of resolve.

The soaring enthusiasm in the public opinion for the EU, with over 70 per cent support in 2004, behind only Luxembourg in terms of the popularity of the organisation, and equalled only by Ireland and Greece,36 would be one factor to enable the government to get bolder under its European agenda towards breaking the continuing resistance by the bureaucracy. One other factor would be the growing confidence in the government with a newly achieved stability in the economy, to a degree unmatched in recent history, especially after the economic crisis of 2001, which, from the following year, had paved the way for the AKP rule. The comprehensive economic recovery programme initiated by the coalition government before this mandate, and the measures exerted and monitored by the International Monetary Fund between 2001 and 2007, revealingly overlapping with the period of political reforms, greatly contributed to the overall confidence in the government. The symbolism of the policy that boldly redenominated the local currency by (p.89) removing six zeros from it in January 2005, long a source of bitter humour, promoted further trust.

What appeared to be strong pro-European leanings in society were often attributed by the observers to direct economic gains counted on in the aftermath of the 2001 crisis, with the masses aiming either ‘generous’ EU funds to be channelled to the country or unhindered circulation of labour in Europe, feared most by the Europeans. More importantly perhaps, the idea of integration responded to the domestic political need to circumvent the established centres of power by transforming Europe into a formidable external leverage towards sweeping reforms in the country, political and economic. That is, one of the expected benefits, at least as projected by some of the liberal intellectuals in the pro-Europe camp in the process leading to the regime change, was to bypass the settled elite, chiefly the bureaucracy but also the mainstream politics largely in cahoots with the former, now increasingly recognised as incompetent at best or otherwise as cynics with vested interest in the preservation of the status quo. The liberal intellectuals behind the government successfully sold the idea of Europe to the wider public, reckoning, in the first place, on a more predictable economic environment and, secondly, complementary to it, on enduring communal peace to be achieved within a ‘normalised’, unfettered democracy, based on universal principles and free of bickering – both to be ‘quickly’ attained within Europe. The later, Islamo-nationalist phase of the ruling AKP from 2011, with the old regime having vanished, and yet the age-old oppression being greatly reproduced in new forms, would thus signify the home truth, more for the liberal intellectuals than ordinary voters whose expectations were arguably more modest, that there would be no such quick way. Yet the general buoyancy generated in the pro-Europe camp in this short stretch immediately before the regime change was remarkable. Accordingly, once the local objectives of structural transformation were accomplished, which was what the accession phase was all about, an empowered Turkey could actually surprise the EU halfway through and decide to opt out. On this account, a fully reformed Turkey might reasonably decide to remain outside the EU, choosing to be a more autonomous actor with an energetic and enterprising population in an economically interesting international milieu, rather than submit to what some perceived to be an EU straitjacket in economic terms. This was at least what (p.90) some pro-European public opinion leaders thought of the future. The overall aim, in short, was to reform the country for all, with Europe providing the requisite formal anchorage. The gist of the political ‘battle’ thus appeared on the eve of the regime change to be centred on the European model of growth, prosperity and peace, if not an actual ‘place’ in Europe.


With the notion of a European model or even a future in Europe more probable than ever, the critics appeared almost overnight to have stopped squabbling among themselves, forming a united front against Europe. The vanguard of the Euro-sceptical camp, leading this fantastic coalition, seemed to be the civilian bureaucracy, which was perversely in charge of implementing political reforms required for the transformation, rather than the army. A full implementation of the reforms would never come under the old regime, and only to be swept aside by the ruling AKP from 2011 ostensibly as devoid of further function, with the old regime having been defeated. Soon it would be clear that a hard-core element of the sceptics, resisting change, would not simply lie down and die. Right after the opening of the accession talks with the EU, the country would begin to be stirred by a number of curious and increasingly disturbing incidents, staged, as it would appear, with the aim of discrediting the government and undermining the transformation in the country at length. In November 2005 a bookstore owned by a Kurdish activist would be bombed in Şemdinli, a small town along the border with Iran and Iraq, triggering riots in the region.37 The locals would catch two army members and a PKK informant red-handed on the scene. The suspects, subsequently charged, would be found equipped with an area plan showing the target and in possession of various weapons and explosives. In a long indictment that would spark off a debate lasting for months to come, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation would claim that the incident was an act of provocation towards undermining the country’s heightened democratic bid.38 Again, in the following May, in 2006, a newspaper known for its republican outlook would receive three successive bomb attacks against its headquarters in Istanbul,39 allegedly by Islamists who, as it would be suggested, had become exceptionally daring in the new climate created by the government. Within days, a gunman would raid the State Council (Danıştay), the supreme (p.91) administrative court seated in Ankara, killing one judge and wounding four others.40 Immediately detained by the police, the gunman would claim to be a solitary actor out to avenge a recent State Council ruling that had restricted the wearing of the hijab for public employees, a decision of which the government had also been critical. The shooting, quickly dubbed the ‘September 11 of the Republic’,41 would initiate possibly the greatest civil unrest in the country in recent memory, leading to strong protests against the government. The protests, which threatened to turn into the physical abuse of members of the cabinet at the funeral of the victim, would be notably egged on by leading figures in both the civilian and military bureaucracy.42

It would unfold briefly, however, that the gunman, who had had accomplices – all small-time criminals who had simply been promised money and who would subsequently speak – had not only masterminded the earlier bombings in Istanbul, but was also more a ‘nationalist’ fanatic than an Islamist, with ties to anti-government, anti-Europe paramilitary groups.43 The idea of a possible nationalist motive behind the attack against the supreme administrative court, itself a stronghold of the nationalist, republican tradition, would do nothing less than shock the nation. With the overall frustration caused by this event still intact, an alleged ‘gang’, formed by three members of the armed forces and a civilian, would be unearthed in Ankara in less than a fortnight, in May 2006, through what looked like more and more ‘determined’ security work conducted by the police, with hitherto unobserved diligence.44 The gang, which had purportedly possessed a mass of weapons and ammunition, would be revealed to have planned bomb attacks and assassinations, apparently including one against Erdoğan. Moreover, bombs used in the attacks on the Istanbul newspaper and those ‘found’ with the ‘gang’ would be claimed as ‘embezzled’ from military stocks. The incidents would be attributed to the so-called ‘deep state’, or the state within the state: a shorthand for the nationalist, paramilitary groups that, motivated ostensibly by an assumed urgency of ‘national survival’, and with illicit connections in the ranks of the civilian and military bureaucracy, violently opposed the transformation in the country. This alleged backlash as Turkey ‘neared’ Europe, which apparently formed only the tip of the iceberg, would lead to huge anti-coup investigations from mid-2007, detailed in the next chapter, and serve decisively to clear the way for the coming regime change.


(1.) For the French republicanism, with special reference to the peripheral identities, see Daniel Béland, ‘Identity Politics and French Republicanism’, Society (Vol. 40, No. 5, 2003), pp. 66–71; Edwige Lefebvre, ‘Republicanism and Universalism: Factors of Inclusion or Exclusion in the French Concept of Citizenship’, Citizenship Studies (Vol. 7, No. 1, 2003), pp. 15–36.

(2.) For assessments of these apparent fault lines just before and during the early AKP rule, see M. Hakan Yavuz, ‘Turkey’s Imagined Enemies: Kurds and Islamists’, The World Today (April 1996), pp. 98–103; Ömer Taşpınar, Kurdish Nationalism and Political Islam in Turkey: Kemalist Identity in Transition (London: Routledge, 2004).

(3.) Millî Görüş, the strain of politics inaugurated by Necmettin Erbakan from the late 1960s, is often translated into English as ‘National View’, which is barely reflective of the now archaic notion of millet central to it. Erbakan used the qualifier millî almost undoubtedly with this old notion in mind, which was lost to most modern Turkish speakers, surviving only in the historical term Ottoman millet system, namely ethnicity as inseparable from religion. Since Erbakan also aimed at a nativist populism by the term, a more apt translation of Millî Görüş could perhaps be ‘Islamo-nativism’. The term used in this book to refer to this local Islamist tradition is Islamo-nationalism.

(4.) On the ‘conservative democracy’ espoused by the early AKP, see Ahmet İnsel, ‘The AKP and Normalizing Democracy in Turkey’, South Atlantic Quarterly (Vol. 102, Nos 2/3, 2003), pp. 293–308; Metin Heper and Şule Toktaş, ‘Islam, Modernity, and Democracy in Contemporary Turkey: The Case of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’, Muslim World (Vol. 93, No. 2, 2003), pp. 157–85; Gareth Jenkins, ‘Muslim Democrats in Turkey’, Survival (Vol. 46, No. 1, 2004), pp. 45–66.

(5.) ‘A stranger in your own hearth, a pariah in own patria’ (Öz yurdunda garipsin, öz vatanında parya).

(6.) For the debate on the hijab and on the local strand of secularism, see Talip Küçükcan, ‘State, Islam, and Religious Liberty in Modern Turkey: Reconfiguration of Religion in the Public Sphere’, Brigham Young University Law Review (No. 2, 2003), pp. 475–506; Ahmet T. Kuru, Secularism and State Policies towards Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(p.352) (7.) On issues of modernity, identity and the local Islam, see Sibel Bozdoğan and Reşat Kasaba (eds), Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997); Michael E. Meeker, A Nation of Empire: The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Jenny B. White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003); Brian Silverstein, ‘Islam and Modernity in Turkey: Power, Tradition and Historicity in the European Provinces of the Muslim World’, Anthropological Quarterly (Vol. 76, No. 3, 2003), pp. 497–517; M. Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Ibrahim Kaya, Social Theory and Later Modernities: The Turkish Experience (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004); Alev Çınar, Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places, and Time (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); Soner Çağaptay, Islam, Secularism and Nationalism: Who is a Turk? (London: Routledge, 2006); Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

(8.) For the Welfare Party, see M. Hakan Yavuz, ‘Political Islam and the Welfare (Refah) Party in Turkey’, Comparative Politics (Vol. 30, No. 1, 1997), pp. 63–82; Ziya Öniş, ‘The Political Economy of Islamic Resurgence in Turkey: The Rise of the Welfare Party in Perspective’, Third World Quarterly (Vol. 18, No. 4, 1997), pp. 743–66; Haldun Gülalp, ‘Political Islam in Turkey: The Rise and Fall of the Welfare Party’, The Muslim World (Vol. 89, No. 1, 1999), pp. 22–41.

(9.) See note 3 above.

(10.) Erdoğan attributed the poem to Ziya Gökalp (1876–1924), a seminal political–literary figure from the Kurdish regional centre Diyarbakır, yet the ideologue of Turkish nationalism in the late Ottoman era; used here by an Islamist politician – an illustration, among countless others, of the entangled nature of the local identity claims. On Gökalp, see Uriel Heyd, Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gökalp (London: Harvill Press, 1950).

(11.) See, for example, Suat İlhan, Avrupa Birliği’ne Neden Hayır [Why No to the EU], two vols (Istanbul: Ötüken Yayınları, 2000–2002); Erol Manisalı, İçyüzü ve Perde Arkasıyla Avrupa Çıkmazı: Türkiye-Avrupa Birliği İlişkileri [European Impasse, the Inside Story and Behind the Scenes: Turkey and the EU Relations] (Istanbul: Otopsi, 2001).

(13.) See, for example, Bruce Kuniholm, ‘Turkey’s Accession to the European Union: (p.353) Differences in European and US Attitudes, and Challenges for Turkey’, Turkish Studies (Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001), pp. 25–53.

(14.) The term comes from Myriam Charbit, ‘Shas between Identity Construction and Clientelist Dynamics: The Creation of an “Identity Clientelism”’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics (Vol. 9, No. 3, 2003), pp. 102–28.

(15.) ‘AKP Milletvekilleri Hakkında Bilmek İstediğiniz Herşey [Everything You Wanted to Know about AKP Deputies]’, Hürriyet, 14 November 2004.

(16.) The decision to open the negotiations was adopted at Brussels European Council, 16–17 December 2004, Conclusions, para. 22. A Negotiating Framework document would be adopted on 3 October 2005, with the actual negotiations to start on 12 June 2006.

(17.) On the role of the military before the regime change, see William Hale, Turkish Politics and the Military (London: Routledge, 1994); Metin Heper and Aylin Guney, ‘The Military and Democracy in the Third Turkish Republic’, Armed Forces and Society (Vol. 22, No. 4, 1996), pp. 619–42; Tim Jacoby, ‘For the People, of the People and by the Military: The Regime Structure of Modern Turkey’, Political Studies (Vol. 51, No. 4, 2003), pp. 669–85; Ümit Cizre, ‘Problems of Democratic Governance of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey and the European Union Enlargement Zone’, European Journal of Political Research (Vol. 43, No. 1, 2004), pp. 107–25; Frédéric Misrahi, ‘The EU and the Civil Democratic Control of Armed Forces: An Analysis of Recent Developments in Turkey’, Perspectives: Central European Review of International Affairs (Vol. 22, Summer 2004), pp. 22–42; Gareth Jenkins, Context and Circumstance: the Turkish Military and Politics (London: Routledge Adelphi series, 2005).

(18.) ‘Özkök: Son Söz Halkındır [Chief of Staff Özkök: Last Word is People’s]’, Radikal, 14 April 2004.

(19.) ‘İtici Güç Laiklik [Secularism is Driving Force]’, Hürriyet, 28 May 2004.

(20.) ‘Alemdaroğlu: Kıbrıs’ı da Alırız Yunanistan’ı da [Alemdaroğlu: Will Take Not Only Cyprus but Also Greece]’, Hürriyet, 26 March 2004.

(21.) Murat Yetkin, ‘Ankara’da Bakın Neler Oluyor [See What is Going on in Ankara]’, Radikal, 4 March 2004.

(22.) An effective split on Cyprus within the top-ranking military was apparently the case. See Murat Yetkin, ‘Denktaş mı Yanlış Yerde? [Is it Denktas Who is in Wrong Place?]’, Radikal, 13 April 2004.

(23.) ‘Hocalar Askere Güveniyor [Academics Trust Military]’, Radikal, 16 November 2004.

(24.) Milliyet, 5 May 2004, and subsequent editions.

(p.354) (25.) İhsan Dağı and Metin Toprak, ‘Freedom of Expression in Turkey’, paper presented at the Symposium on Freedom of Expression, organised by the Association for Liberal Thinking, Ankara, 8 June 2003.

(26.) The partial sale (14.76 per cent) of the state enterprise in question, the oil refiner Tüpraş, would be tendered for a second time in September of the following year, yet the sale would once again be blocked by an administrative court in May 2006 for breaching the principles of openness and competition and for not benefiting the ‘public good’. ‘Tüpraş’ın İMKB’deki Satışı İptal [Tüpraş Sale at İMKB Cancelled]’, Hürriyet, 24 May 2006.

(27.) See Eser Karakaş, ‘Ak Parti’yi Kamu Borcu ile Devirmek İstiyorlar [They Want to Finish Off AKP through Public Debt]’, Zaman, 4 June 2004; Taha Akyol, ‘Özelleştirme ve Kamu Yararı [Privatisation and Public Interest]’, Milliyet, 4 June 2004.

(28.) ‘Denktaş’a Ankara’da Miting Gibi Karşılama [Denktaş Arrival in Ankara Turns into Rally]’, Hürriyet, 4 March 2004.

(29.) Millî Gazete, the main Islamo-nationalist daily outlet, 14 March 2004, interviewing Vural Savaş, the former chief prosecutor. See also the report in Millî Gazete, 12 March 2004, on Anıl Çeçen on a TV interview. Çeçen is the academic who called for a severing of relations with Europe and the United States in the gathering commemorating the abolition of caliphate only days earlier in March 2004. See note 21 above.

(30.) Murat Çelikkan, ‘Erbakan’a Pes! [This by Erbakan Beats All!]’, Radikal, 24 March 2004.

(31.) Cengiz Çandar, ‘Koma Halindeki PKK ve “Savaş Çağrısı” [Comatose PKK and “Call to War”]’, Dünden Bugüne Tercüman, 4 June 2004.

(32.) Statement by Abdullah Öcalan to his lawyers on 19 April 2004, reported by the Kurdish news network Rojname.

(33.) ‘AB Sürecine Engel Olacağımızı Biliyoruz [We Know We May Disrupt EU Process]’, interview with Zübeyir Aydar, Yeni Şafak, 4 June 2004.

(34.) Quoted by Alev Er, ‘Saflaşmaya Dikkat [Beware of Line of Confrontation]’, 14 June 2004, at gazetem.net, online news analyses by independent journalists.

(35.) The first three packages had been adopted prior to the AKP mandate, between February and August 2002. See Parliamentary Act No. 4744, 6 February 2002, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 24676, 19 February 2002; Parliamentary Act No. 4748, 26 March 2002, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 24721, 9 April 2002; Parliamentary Act No. 4771, 3 August 2002, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 24841, 9 August 2002. The following packages from January 2003 (p.355) were as follows: Parliamentary Act No. 4778, 2 January 2003, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 24990, 11 January 2003; Parliamentary Act No. 4793, 23 January 2003, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 25014, 4 February 2003; Parliamentary Act No. 4928, 15 July 2003, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 25173, 19 July 2003; Parliamentary Act No. 4963, 30 July 2003, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 25192, 7 August 2003; Parliamentary Act No. 5218, 14 July 2004, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 25529, 21 July 2004.

(36.) Eurobarometer, May 2004.

(37.) Milliyet, 10–11 November 2005.

(38.) Milliyet, 7 March 2006. Also alleging in the indictment the possible involvement of the commander of the Land Forces in the activities of the suspects, the prosecutor in charge would subsequently be disbarred by the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors (Hakimler ve Savcılar Yüksek Kurulu) for making the allegation without sufficient proof and for overstepping authority, though the indictment on the whole would go through and form the basis of the legal proceedings over the bombing incident. Milliyet, 21 April 2006.

(39.) Milliyet, 12 May 2006.

(40.) Milliyet, 18 May 2006.

(41.) Ertuğrul Özkök, ‘Cumhuriyet’in 11 Eylül’ü [September 11 of Republic]’, Hürriyet, 18 May 2006.

(42.) Milliyet, 19 May 2006.

(43.) Radikal, 21, 22 and 23 May 2006.

(44.) Radikal, 1–2 June 2006.