Politeía Digest

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Foreign Affairs: The Turkish Paradox

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By: Michael J. Koplow and Steven A. Cook

The Halki seminary, founded in 1844 as a center of learning for the Orthodox Eastern Church, was for decades a symbol of religious toleration and minority rights in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. But in 1971, Ankara closed the seminary when the constitutional court, dominated by adherents of Kemalism, the secular ideology of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ruled that only the army was allowed to run nonstate-supervised private colleges. So in March, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Halki seminary would be restored and reopened, it seemed that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the country’s ruling faction since 2002, was furthering its reformist agenda of making Turkey a more open society by expanding personal, religious, and economic freedoms.

But while Ankara encourages openness with one hand, it clamps down on it with the other. In May, Erdogan announced that the government would end state subsidies for the arts, closing the spigot on $63 million in annual funding and, in effect, endangering the country’s more than 50 state theaters and artistic venues across the country. The AKP claimed that it did so in the name of private enterprise and was instituting a modern approach to government patronage of the arts; opponents argued that it was a deliberate attempt to silence artists, some of whom had become highly critical of AKP rule. Since the AKP era began, the world has watched closely to see if Turkey would embrace, or abuse, democracy. What is becoming clear is that Erdogan’s strategy is to do both, simultaneously.

The key to understanding democracy under the AKP lies with the meaning of democracy itself. The Yale political scientist Robert Dahl wrote that democracy is defined by the extent to which citizens can participate in civic life and whether they can contest the government’s power. Looking at each factor separately illustrates why Turkey is such a paradox.

When the AKP came to power, it introduced a series of reforms that allowed more Turkish citizens to participate in the political process. Until then, Turks had lived under a constitution imposed by the military that placed severe limitations on democracy, from restrictions on union organizing to freedom of religion. To liberalize Turkish society and secure an invitation to join EU membership negotiations, the AKP abolished civilian-military courts in which civilians accused of political crimes were tried by military officers, banned the death penalty, and amended Turkey’s anti-terrorism law so that the state could no longer prosecute citizens for simply voicing unpopular opinions. The changes also made it more difficult to ban parties and politicians from the political arena. And in September 2010, Turks voted for a number of constitutional changes designed to improve Turkish democracy, including subjecting military officers to the jurisdiction of civilian courts and restructuring the judicial system by streamlining the appeals process, making it more accessible to ordinary citizens.

Turkish minorities have also benefited from AKP reforms. For decades, Turkey banned Kurdish political parties, restricted the use of the Kurdish language, and, in 1987, implemented emergency rule in Kurdish areas. Although limitations still exist on speaking Kurdish in public forums and in the course of official government functions, Kurds can now teach their language in private schools and universities and address crowds in Kurdish at campaign rallies. And there is also a state-run Kurdish-language television station. Other minorities, from Armenians to members of the Greek Orthodox Church, competed in last year’s parliamentary elections for the first time in decades, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called for more Turkish Jews to serve as diplomats. Read more in the Foreign Affairs


Written by Theophyle

June 29, 2012 at 8:52 am

2 Responses

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  1. Buna ziua!
    Multumesc pentru articol.
    Intr-adevar Turcia se schimba si unele din schimbari nu arata prea bine.


    June 29, 2012 at 9:39 am

    • Cu multa placere 🙂 Citesc destul de mult. De multe ori gasesc articole care merita sa fie cunoscute si de altii 🙂


      June 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

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