Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who is losing Turkey and to whom

08/09/10 - By Salam Zand

I read Barbara Lerner’s article on Turkey “Losing Turkey to the Islamists” in National Review Online, NRO, August 2, 2010 and I was stunned by some of the arguments given to show that AKP (Justice and Development Party, led by Erdogan) reign in Turkey is a unique anti-Western, anti-Semites era in Turkish history, including Ottoman Empire.

The ingress of the article suggests that “…how very un-Turkish is the mindset of its current Islamist rulers”. Current Islamist rulers, no doubt, are AKP leaders. The first qualified question in this context is what is Turkish mindset? Is there any specific mindsets based on ethnicity? There are a huge numbers of years between Ottoman epoch and AKP rules in Turkey and it is very logical not to assume that the former is like the latter. Since then decisive structural social and economic changes in Turkish society did take place which obviously shifted the value system paradigm of people living in the country.

Mindsets, behavioral patterns and value systems of a group of people (including religious beliefs), I would argue, are ultra structures created and boosted by existing socio-economic and political circumstances during a defined period of time. These mindsets will severely be adjusted, modified and changed by changes in these circumstances. Consequently it is not very American or un-American to practice, for instance, racial discrimination or to involve in a very dirty business like Vietnam War. American society as any other society, within a period of time, rejects values and mindsets which are believed not to be advantageous for them and adapts new ones when they are believed to be profitable for the same, all according to the prevailing mindset created by above mentioned circumstances. I do not believe that there is a sustainable argument supporting the idea of ethnically based mindsets.

Ottoman Empire, as we know, belongs to the pre-national state era where the states, rather empires and emirates were identified not ethnically, neither culturally but were confessional communities. In these communities changes of mindsets have almost always followed the interest of the ruling elites’ interests. The main reason for Roman Empire to adapt Christianity and Ottoman Empire to follow the millet system was utility of the mindset during that time. The same can be said about England and Protestantism.

When the national state paradigm staged on the world’s political arena each and every newly created state tailored a new mindset and value system and defined it being in the interest of the nation. So in the beginning of this period neither colonialism nor racial discrimination was so awful and disgusting mindset. And in this context neither Apartheid was. The most striking evidence of these acceptable mindsets is our modern history. It is not academically justified to analyze history ethnically or nationally. Turkish, American or European history is not isolated entities living its own life.

Modern Turkey’s identity crisis apparently has its origin in its ethnically defined national identity. It was not easy for Ataturk to create an ethnically homogeneous society from the Empire´s leftovers. An irrational urge within Turkish nationalism tried to create a pure Turkishness out of Anatolian diverse ethnic groups. This led to an inherent societal defect which hindered the process of building a modern secular and democratic regime in Turkey. Islam being a non-ethnically based ideology was fiercely fought by Ataturk and his nationalist generals. In the last eighty years of the history of the Turkish republic neither Islam nor Kurdish national aspirations have disappeared. Practicing ages old national ideology in a multi-ethnic and multi- confessional society led to the crises now Turkey is suffering from.

The end of the cold war demoralized Turkish military elites mentally and economically. Turkey’s old geo-political prestige which attracted NATO is no longer the same. Post-cold war political maps are not either the same as before and not definitely in the interest of Turkey’s generals. Turkish military elites realize the new situation and seek new geo-political strategy by appealing to Arab and Islamic world. AKP is more suitable to play this role than the other traditional nationalist parties. The party is equipped with devices suitable to address the mindset of the Islamic countries´ leaders. And the traditional military coup d’état every decade disappeared from Turkish political scene to let AKP play the role. The last Sultan of Ottoman Empire did indeed the same when the empire eventually lost its European territories. He shifted his focus toward Islamic world which still belonged to the empire. The Islamic discourse then became the official discourse of the empire. This is not unique or specific for Turks; all political regimes react to changes of socio-economic and political circumstances. What Turkish regime is doing now are reactions to the new geopolitical reality and to the globalized world economy where oil revenues have a decisive part in it and where the oil wells are situated just south of the Turkish territory.

In contrary to what Barbra Lerner believes, AKP can and very possibly is going to play the role of Christian Democrats in European politics if the conditions to doing so are available. With suitable conditions I mean seeking for democratic measures to tackle, above all, the Kurdish question internally, and externally to play rationally and with liability with actors like USA, EU and regional powers.

On one hand, keeping the balance between the regional players like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel in a globalized world, on the other hand coping with country’s serious internal conflicts have forced the Turkish state to take political actions which sometimes struck as “a big surprise to world’s foreign-policy establishment” as Barbra Lerner put it.

What does not jeopardize the whole AKP experience in Turkish politics, and for this reason Turkey’s position in Middle East is, in my opinion, the AKP leaders’ accurate reading of and properly proposed solutions to both the internal challenges and the current external circumstances.

Salam Zandi is with the Mälardalen University, Sweden