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Brookings Institution Examines Turkey’s Political Journey
The Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe hosted a discussion titled “Turkey’s Political Journey: From Where to Where?” on April 20. The event featured Gareth Jenkins, nonresident senior fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, and Etyen Mahcupyan, director of the democratization program at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Omer Taspinar provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
The goal of the discussion was to go beyond the usual examination of the struggle between secularism and Islam in Turkey and instead focus on two dimensions: the civil-military aspect of the power struggle between authoritarianism and democracy, and second, the role of the judiciary in this political struggle.
In his presentation, Jenkins concluded that Turkey is not becoming more democratic. “There was a brief time when the AKP first came to power when certain subjects could discussed with greater freedom,” he said. “That era is now long past.”
Jenkins also concluded that the political influence of the military has been “undoubtedly” reduced but that this does not mean that authoritarianism has disappeared.
“The demilitarization of the Turkish political sphere is not the same as democratization of the Turkish military sphere,” he said. “Unfortunately what we've seen over the last two years in particular is the shift from one form of authoritarianism to another form of authoritarianism, the one which had the Kemalist establishment behind it, the one in which now it's the supporters of the government who are acting very authoritariangly (sic).”
In his presentation, Mahcupyan cited statistics to reflect the views of the Turkish people. According to polls conducted in April, 70 percent of the Turkish public believes Turkey needs judicial reform. Seventy percent also believe Turkey needs constitutional reform.
He also explored the existence of the Ergenekon and concluded that it is very difficult to deny its existence anymore because it has become “very transparent now.”
“For an organization to exist what do we need? We need members. We need some kind of hierarchy. We need a conversation system, a communication system. And we need to have some goals, a coherent structure that tries to succeed with some goals. We have all those things with Ergenekon so it's very difficult to say that it doesn't exist,” he said.
Mahcupyan identified that the military believes the main threat in Turkey is an internal one. It is not Greece, and it is not Russia now that the Cold War is over. “The real threat comes from within and this is the Kurds, this is the Muslims, this is the non-Muslims or whatever,” he said.
He also offered a theory that the Turkish military would want a coup d’état to avoid a series of events from occurring as if they are in a “vicious cycle.” These events include: joining the EU, which would provide closer ties to democratic and human rights; an enlarged public sphere, meaning more political actors and majority rule; an increased number of Muslims in government thanks to majority rule; and if the Muslims are pro-European, then this would lead to more democratic reforms; and then the cycle repeats.
“It [the cycle] has to be stopped,” according to Mahcupyan. “So the Army, the judiciary and all those people, the secularists in Turkey, they want to put an end to that vicious circle before it's too late.”
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The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a policy forum titled, “Which Way Next? Turkish Foreign Policy at the Crossroads,” with guest speaker Leyla Tavsanoglu, columnist with Cumhuriyet and author of “Chess Game in the Middle East.” on April 15, 2010.
In her presentation, Tavsanoglu identified as a main problem in Turkey that politicians are constantly amending legislation or laws that best suit their four-year term in office instead of the nation. For example, the ruling AKP party is wants to perform a constitutional amendment where the high judiciary system has less power. The effect would make the judiciary system come under the control of one party, most likely that of the AKP, which in turn would increase its staying power.
When the focus turned to foreign policy, Tavsanoglu stated that Turkish President Abdullah Gul is actively seeking to strengthen ties in the Arab world, and she noted that Turkey has weakened its relations with Israel. In this regard, Turkey has been an “avid supporter” of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She also made the following observations about Turkish foreign policy:
With respect to Cyprus, and the issue of 40,000 Turkish troops on the island, Tavsanoglu stated that Turkey would not withdraw the troops because in its mind their removal would expose Turkey’s southern position. Tavasanoglu went on to describe U.S.-Turkish relations as “erratic” and also commented on other topics such as Turkey’s position in the UN and fundamental issues regarding Turkey’s EU path.
Brookings Institution Examines Turkey’s Political Journey