July 15, 2013

Turkish Summer after Arab Spring. Part I

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.

 

Note that an authors’ point of view
can disagree with the editor’s one

Oleksiy Volovych

The author of the material that we are offering to our readers is a former military serviceman, a graduate of the Faculty of Oriental Languages ​​of the Moscow Military Institute of Foreign Languages. At one time he served as a military translator in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, the UN Forces of peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNPROFOR).Is engaged in scientific activity, Candidate of Historical Sciences. For some time he worked at the Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon as Secretary for Political Affairs. Now Oleksiy Volovych is a leading researcher of the Odessa branch of the National Institute for Strategic Studies. He speaks English, Arabic and its dialects.

Turkish Summer after Arab Spring

Part I

The beginning of massive anti-government demonstrations in the late May this year in Taksim Square in Istanbul proved to be a surprise not only to the Turkish authorities, but also to international community, as against the background of the “Arab Revolutions”, Turkey was considered not only an island of stability, but also an example to follow for new Islamist regimes that came to power in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and struggling for power in Syria using rebels for over two and a half years now.

Peaceful protests of environmentalists against the authorities' decision to cut down trees in a small park Gezi in Taksim Square in Istanbul, quickly escalated into protests across the country against the policy of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling since 2002 “Justice and Development Party” (JDP). The fact that the Police responded to the actions of the protesters with excessive force, use of water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas, exacerbated the situation to the limit. Manifestations embraced Ankara, Izmir and other Turkish cities, and practically have been continuing with greater or lesser degrees of intensity to this day. With each passing day increases the impression that these actions will last for a long time and most likely will become part of the election campaign of 2014.

From the very beginning of the events in Taksim Square and up to now, Prime Minister Erdogan has been holding an uncompromising position in relation to the protesters, calling them vandals, looters and robbers. R. Erdogan claims that their manifestations are backed by some external and internal political forces trying to undermine political stability and economy in the country. During the six weeks of demonstrations, in clashes with Police six demonstrators and one police officer died, about 5,000 people were injured and about two thousand were arrested, but soon released for the most part. During the riots, hundreds of shops, Police and private vehicles, including more than 10 offices of JDP were destroyed and burned. Anti-government protests have caused a property damage of more than $ 40 million US dollars. Obviously, such destructive demonstrations can’t be called “peaceful”.

Who are the protesters and what do they want?

The vast majority of the protesters are young people aged 20 to 30 years, opposing the "authoritarian Erdogan" excessive police brutality and violations of democratic rights and freedoms in the country. In their composition the protesters represent different social groups — Muslims, Christians, students, small and medium entrepreneurs, workers, fans of football clubs. At this, 70% of participants of the demonstrations are not members of any political party.

Most of the protesters are nationalists and secularists, left and right, lumpens and wealthy citizens who are united by one thing— opposition to the JDP from the beginning of its stay in power and opposition to the authoritarian style of its leader— Erdogan. Among the protesters have been seen groups that appeal to the Army, as well as provocateurs, who had been pelting stones at Police, burning cars and destroying shops and offices of the JDP. Hatred of these social groups to those in power had been accumulating for a long time and events in the Gezi Square became the detonator of a social explosion.

The park Gezi
Gezi Park
http://ru.wikipedia.org/

The driving force of the current protest movement in Turkey is predominantly representatives of the middle-class, for the most part focused on the so-called “Western democratic values”. The main demands of the protesters are as follows: to stop reconstruction of the park Gezi, to limit the arbitrariness of the police, to moderate authoritarianism of Prime Minister Erdogan and his attempts to regulate private lives of Turkish citizens. The well-known columnist of the newspaper "Hürriyet" (Freedom) Ahmet Hakan pretty hard and pointedly formulated the essence of the claims of protesters to R. Erdogan: “Neither with respect, nor in peremptory manner tell me how I should sit, how to behave on the subway, how I should live, talk, dress, think, drink and eat. One person cannot be a genius architect, a philosopher, a moralist, a city planner, a conqueror of the Middle East, a champion by definition, a religious preacher, a healthcare professional, a historian, a guru for 75 million people and a television commentator at the same time.”

Many citizens do not accept the so-called "creeping Islamisation" of the Turkish society, which, in their opinion, is being carried out by the ruling party. Over the past 10 years, around 7500 mosques have been built. In Istanbul, they are planning to build the largest mosque in the world. Religious education was made compulsory, not only in the secular, but also in military schools. Girls and women are allowed to wear 'hijab' in schools, universities and public institutions. Actually protesters do not put forward any major political and economic demands on crucial problems of Turkish society and foreign policy.

In my opinion, the main reason for the protests of mostly westernized and secular parts of Turkish society is non-perception of increasing authoritarianism in politics and behavior of Erdogan, who, after 10 years of Premiership still wants to have a 10-year Presidency. The above mentioned part of the community does not want to have a new Sultan, although authoritarianism is a genetically inherited trait in the activities of all Presidents of Turkey, from the "father of the nation" K. Ataturk. But many Turks do not want a new "father of the nation" and prefer Premiers and residents to remain salaried officials, and not leaders and the Messiahs, to whom everybody has to listen and obey without question for decades.

Taksim Square and Tahrir: similarities and distinctions

Since the beginning of demonstrations in Istanbul and other Turkish cities, many observers began to liken together the "Arab Spring” and the "Turkish Summer" by finding some similarities, such as: mass demonstrations of representatives of different strata of society against the autocratic governance; democratic slogans; the use of social networking to coordinate actions of demonstrators; support for demonstrators' demands from Western countries. As a result of the "revolution" in 2011 in Egypt came to power Sunni Islamists, close in the ideology to the ruling in Turkey JDP, which has led to the creation of a Sunni axis Ankara — Cairo. However, here similar elements between the "Arab Spring" and the "Turkish Summer" are almost running out.

Cairo, Egypt, July 1. Thousands of demonstrators took to Tahrir Square calling for the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi
Cairo, Egypt, July 1. Thousands of demonstrators took to Tahrir Square calling for the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi
Foto: MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images http://www.epochtimes.com.ua/

There are much more differences between the demonstrations in the Turkish Taksim Square and the Egyptian Tahrir Square. First of all, it should be noted that in Arab countries a crucial role in the protests played Islamists of various stripes. As a result— in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya Islamist parties came to power, and today they are striving for power in Syria. In Turkey, the situation is just the opposite: the protesters are against the Islamists in power for more than 10 years. If in Egypt the main demand of demonstrators was holding of free, transparent and fair elections, the current government in Turkey was elected as a result of just such an election.

In Egypt the removal from power (at the beginning of July) of the President Mahmoud Morsi and "Muslim Brotherhood" movement by the intervention of the Egyptian Armed Forces, made some political scientists draw new parallels between the events in Egypt (Tahrir -2) and Turkey, believing that the situation in Turkey can develop according to the Egyptian scenario. Today in Egypt in the confrontation are the forces (Islamists and Secularists) that two and a half years ago were together against President Hosni Mubarak. A common feature of protests in Egypt and in Turkey is the lack of clearly defined leader or group of leaders and the significant role of social networks.

The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
http://lbe.wikipedia.org/

While the Egyptian Army during the revolutionary upheavals and short reign of President Mahmoud Morsi maintained its independence from political forces who came to power, and even acts as a referee between the warring factions, the Turkish Army today is almost entirely controlled by the government. However, despite the significant weakening of the political role of the Army in the Turkish society over the past 10 years, as shown by opinion polls, many Turkish citizens still see the Army and military elite as the main defenders of the ideological legacy of the founder of the Turkish Republic Kemal Ataturk and support the idea of ​​military revolution “to defend Turkey from the JDP’s dictatorship”. And although in recent years, in the Turkish Army officers-Islamists have formed an influential stratum, there is no reason to exclude completely the Army’s intervention in the political processes in Turkey. That is why the top Turkish leadership rather sharply condemned the military coup in Egypt and demanded the restoration of the powers of the legitimately elected President Mahmoud Morsi.

Hopefully the era of military coups in Turkey has passed and the change of power in Turkey will take place in a free, transparent and fair elections…

Anti-government protesters in Turkey are in the minority, accounting for no more than 10% of the population, while the current Turkish regime continues to enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the people. Unlike the Arab countries, especially Libya, where there was not only a change of government, but was radically changed the political system, in Turkey, no one is calling for a change of the existing state institutions, and the demands of the opposition don’t go further than to change the current government’s autocratic style of behaviour.

Although the westernized part of the Turkish population is a minority, however, it is more politically active than pro-Islamic conservative majority, and in the coming years, this ratio is unlikely to change in favor of the Kemalists and "Westerners". Moreover, the current predominantly natural and emotional manifestations of the Turkish opposition are likely to strengthen positions of the current government among its traditional electorate, which will show the presidential election in 2014, if nothing extraordinary happens and they do take place. In case of Erdogan and his party’s victory in this election, the epoch of Kemalism will finally go into the past and to its 100th anniversary in 2023, the Turkish Republic will appear absolutely different to the one, the foundations of which Kemal Ataturk had been laying.

"Silent standing" did not last long

"Silent standing strikes"
"Silent standing strikes"
http://vk.com/

Apparently having realized that aggressive actions do not contribute to a positive image of anti-government demonstrations, since the 18th of June, protesters in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya and many other cities of the country have moved to a new form of protest —"silent standing strikes". Protestants gathered in groups, usually in the evenings, in central squares of cities and in silence, stood motionless for a few hours — much as they could. From time to time, some would go and their place was taken by others. Some of them were reading books. Sometimes to raise the spirit of protesters, dancing couples would perform in front of them…

As the protesters did not violate public order, the police did not disperse them, though at the beginning of "standing actions" some of their participants were arrested. In Istanbul's Taksim Square up to one thousand people participated in such actions. The protesters asked their supporters not to provoke unrest and to boycott pro-government companies, media, banks, large shops and service industries.

In general, the situation in Turkey in mid-June returned to normal. Virtually violent confrontation between demonstrators and police stopped. In Ankara and many other cities in there was actually no Police in the streets.

However, the "silent standing" did not last long. Shortly after a brief lull, a new wave of protests swept across Turkey, during which there were new clashes between Police and demonstrators. On the night of June 23, demonstrations took place simultaneously in all 80 provinces. According to the opposition press, more than three million people took to the streets calling for resignation of the government. Several thousand people came to Istanbul's Taksim Square to honor the memory of those killed in previous protests. Law enforcement agencies again dispersed the demonstrators with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters again were throwing stones at the Police. According to the newspaper Hurriyet, criminal cases have been initiated against about 900 civil activists.

On June 29, a many-thousand protest against the brutal actions of the government against the opposition, took place in the center of Istanbul. In particular, demonstrators were protesting against the actions of the Police, due to which during the action on Friday, 28 June in Lice, in southeastern Turkey, one of its participants was killed, and 10 were injured. In Lice, with predominantly Kurdish population, demonstrators were protesting against the construction of a new Army checkpoint.

After the incident, the entire country held meetings in support of Kurdish demands for cultural autonomy, agreement on which was reached in March of this year, after long negotiations with the government. Kurdish organizations declared their readiness to lay down their arms in exchange for Kurdish cultural autonomy. The implementation of this agreement would allow the current Turkish leadership to strengthen its position before the upcoming (in 2014) local and presidential elections. But having thrown all their forces to suppress demonstrations R. Erdogan suspended the dialogue with the Kurds and the implementation of the agreements was called into question. Moreover, he accused the Kurds themselves of disrupting the peace process. In response, the Kurds began to participate in actions of demonstrators demanding resignation of R. Erdogan.

6 and 8 July, after a week's break, demonstrators again took to the Taksim Square, this time demanding freedom of assembly and resignation of R. Erdogan’s government. Again, there were clashes between demonstrators and the Police used tear gas and water cannons and arrested about 80 people, including 12 journalists and several doctors.

A charismatic leader and his party

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (born 26 February 1954) - Turkish politician and statesman. Turkey's Prime Minister (since 2003), leader of the Islamist Party of Justice and development
Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
(born 26 February 1954) - Turkish politician and statesman. Turkey's Prime Minister (since 2003), leader of the Islamist Party of Justice and
Development
http://middleeastprogress.org/

R. Erdogan comes from a needy Turkish family. He graduated from High Islamic School and Economic Faculty of Istanbul “Marmara" University. As a student, he became friends with the leader of the pro-Islamic party "Refah" (Prosperity) Necmettin Erbakan. Until the early 1990's, Erdogan had been in high posts in the party. In 1994, R. Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul, and due to his successful activity he gained great popularity in the post. Despite this, in 1999 he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for "incitement to religious hatred", which was manifested in his recitation of a pro-Islamic poem.

After the military in 1998 expelled N. Erbakan from politics and banned his party "Refah", and its legal successor "Fazilet" (Virtue), in 2001, Erdogan and his close associate Abdullah Gul (now the President of the Turkish Republic) founded Justice and Development Party. However, in 2002 the Constitutional Court ruled that his pro-Islamist convictions did not give him the right to be a member of the party and to be elected to the Parliament. In the Parliamentary elections in November 2002, the JDP won 32% of the vote and got 363 Parliamentary seats out of 550.

The President of Turkey Abdullah Gul
The President of Turkey
Abdullah Gul
http://www.kemerinfo.ru/

In the first years after coming to power, R. Erdogan tried to formally distance himself from his Islamist views and was positioning himself as a pro-Western conservative. However, as the party's position in Turkish society was getting stronger, the Islamist style of Erdogan’s activity increasingly intensified, causing dull irritation and suspicion among Secularists, Orthodox Kemalists, generals and pro-Western parties. These forces are closely watching every R. Erdogan’s step, being in readiness to strike him if he crosses the "red line." It seems that today, R. Erdogan if has not passed that line, then has approached it very closely.

Over a decade in power, R. Erdogan has become one of the most influential and charismatic Turkish leaders after the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. At present, in terms of popularity, apart from the current President Abdullah Gul, he has no equal among the Turkish political elite.

Four years ago, R. Erdogan was included by Georgetown University of the USA onto the list of the greatest contemporary Muslims for his “focus on the values of the European Union”. However, in recent years there has been quite a noticeable transformation of R. Erdogan’s leadership style from democratic and liberal in 2002-2007 to the current authoritarian one. Of course, R. Erdogan’s "soft" authoritarianism is nothing as compared with the brutal dictatorship of the 1960's - 80's, when the country experienced three military coups every 10 years — in 1960, 1971 and 1980. The last attempt of a military coup was neutralized by the Government of Erdogan in 2003. Then about 300 senior officers were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

In his work R. Erdogan relies on a moderately pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, the non-replaceable leader of which he has been since its inception in 2001. In the Parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2011, the Party gained 40% to 50% of the vote, which allowed it to form a single-party government. Many analysts point out the authoritarian nature of the party, in which its members are “Erdogan’s soldiers”, whose only responsibility is the unquestioning execution of decisions of the party and its leader. The main party's electorate is people of the province in the East and South of Turkey, for whom Islamic values ​​are absolute. In order to attract voters to their side, JDP provides social support and incentives to people with limited incomes, thereby strengthening the social base of the ruling party.

Political scientists and sociologists have noted the increased over the last 5-6 years dictatorial "manners" in Erdogan's behavior
Political scientists and sociologists have noticed the increased over the last 5-6 years dictatorial "manners" in Erdogan's behavior
http://www.vestikavkaza.ru/

Many political scientists and sociologists, both in Turkey and abroad, point out gain in the last 5-6 years of dictatorial "manners" in the behavior of R. Erdogan, who has abolished the system of checks and balances in the party. He has become the only person in the party, who in his discretion takes strategic and tactical decisions and reacts very harshly to any criticism of his actions. Practically it is the formation of the personality cult of R. Erdogan. Today, in R. Erdogan’s immediate environment almost no one would dare to tell him that he is doing something wrong. He also appears surrounded by many of those who humbly whispers to him about his greatness, uniqueness, indispensability and the ability to see things that others do not see. To strengthening the dictatorial style of behavior of R. Erdogan has greatly added the fact that today almost all branches of power— the Government, the Parliament, the President, the Army, the Courts are controlled by the JDP, which is positioned as the only political force capable of ensuring the implementation of reforms and development of democracy. However, from the declaration of democratic reforms to their implementation is still quite a long way to go, because the real democratization of the Turkish society must inevitably come into conflict with the authoritarian practices of both, R. Erdogan himself and his party.

It is well known that democratization involves development of civil society and a need to share power with the opposition parties, to which neither the JDP nor its leader is ready. "Democratization" of the political system conducted by the JDP, has been reduced to virtually removing traditional Kemalist elite from power, which does not contribute to national reconciliation, and exacerbates social tensions in Turkish society. Apart from the confrontation between the Islamists and Laicists, political polarization in the society increases as the unresolved Kurdish problem (delay of giving them autonomy), tensions between Sunnis and Alawites, between Muslims and Christians, Turkish military intervention into the internal Syrian conflict.

The main internal political challenges of the JDP for the nearest year and a half is the adoption of a new Constitution, providing for the transformation of Turkey into a Presidential-Parliamentary republic, the election of R. Erdogan for President and solution to the Kurdish problem. However, despite almost 50% of the vote in the Parliamentary elections in 2011, the JDP has only 326 Deputy Seats, which is 4 mandates fewer than the required minimum for the approval of its own draft Constitution. This fact makes the JDP seek situational allies and fellow travelers in the Parliament.

The main objectives of the foreign policy of Turkey in the nearest future is continuation of the course of European integration, strengthening positions of Turkey in the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus and Central Asia, in almost all directions around Turkey. It should be noted that Turkey's foreign policy strategy — "0 problems with neighbors" — is faltering as Ankara has problematic relations with most of the neighboring countries — Cyprus, Greece, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

To be continued