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TURKEY TODAY / Vol. 88, No. 2 (Summer 2021)

Arien Mack, Editor

How to make sense of the frequent twists and turns in Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP governments? Inspired by the “multi-factoral” and “radically integrative” approach of foreign policy analysis, I identify and discuss five phases of Turkish foreign policy under the AKP (Europeanization, autonomization, imperialization, isolation and survival), each representing a distinct constellation of actors, coalitions, and priorities at the domestic and international levels. Based on this framework, I suggest that the main determinant of Turkey’s geopolitical orientation has not been the ideology of its key decisionmakers but rather their sense of security in their positions of power.

Islamism thrived around the world following the crisis of developmentalism in the 1970s. Particularly in Turkey, Islamists challenged the political establishment only after they allied with small industrialists who played a pivotal role in the country’s increasing global economic connectivity in the 1980s. The political strength of this alliance derives from its capacity to deter its challengers from contacting the electorate in working-class communities. This article’s argument is that this coercive strategy frames both the authoritarian character of Islamism and the political economic reflexes of Islamists in power. Thus, the secular-Islamist cleavage is only one overstated factor to explain the sea change in Turkish politics since the 1980s.

This essay examines neo-Ottomanism as an ideological formation materialized in cultural institutions, rituals, and practices. I offer an analysis that shows its different elements, how these elements have come together in a contradictory unity, and how the dominant features of this formation have changed over time, increasing its affinities with the alt-right. Tracing the growing disjuncture between its self-representation as a multicultural and liberal alternative to Kemalist conservatism and its neo-nationalist, identitarian, and inegalitarian features, I contend that neo-Ottomanism serves as a crucial ingredient of Turkey’s neo-authoritarianism, furnishing the ideological and affective groundwork of legitimacy for the establishment of a popular autocracy.

In this article, I first focus on the relationship of the failure of the peace negotiations with the Kurds in 2015 to the subsequent rapid deterioration of democratic institutions and practices in Turkey. I call the goal of the Turkish state in these negotiations “authoritarian peace,” a political stalemate that would both keep the ethnic hierarchy in Turkey intact and pacify the Kurdish movement. Second, I discuss the factors that made the “authoritarian peace” an unsustainable project, with a historical snapshot of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and a review of comparable peace negotiations in recent decades around the world.

The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) once hailed rule is criticized today by the ahistoric argument that it revitalized the Turkish state’s rooted cronyism. This article identifies instead the historically specific characteristics of AKP cronyism by comparing it with the cronyism of Özal years within the context of neoliberal financialization processes. It argues that while setting up its crony political Islamist rule thanks to neoliberal institutional “reforms,” the AKP has also served the constitution of capital’s enhanced financialized discipline over the society and state, a discipline that started drawing strict class limits to the party’s own political aspirations since the 2010s.

This paper gives an account of the sequential ruptures that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) implemented between 2007 and 2021. I argue that Turkey completed the autogolpe in 2010 and exited the rule by law regime in 2013 after the suppression of the Graft Operation. Following the coup attempt and the counter-coup, a rule-by-decree regime emerged. Through emergency decree 696, Turkey made its totalitarian turn.

Turkey has become an integral part of international case studies in terms of searching for reasons for populism and democratic backsliding, along with Poland, Hungary, Colombia, and Venezuela. The threats to liberal constitutionalism in all its aspects have determined political life in Turkey since the beginning of the 2000s. Turkey, as a country that has never been a fully functioning constitutional democracy since its foundation in 1923, struggles for the survival of the rule of law and the basic principles of a liberal democratic regime as guaranteed in the Constitution of 1982. This article shows the small defeats that have led to huge democratic backsliding.

Today’s new authoritarian regimes are distinguished by their use of legality in authoritarian consolidation. In Turkey, Justice and Development Party governments have used constitutional amendments and other laws to augment the powers of the executive branch of government and restrict freedom of speech. The constitutional amendments of 2017 led to the replacement of Turkey’s entrenched parliamentary regime with a presidential one devoid of checks and balances. Other laws and decrees were used in curtailing free speech and suppressing Turkey’s republic of letters. Autocratic legalism, or the use of laws in curbing basic freedoms, is still an ongoing process in Turkey.

Constitutionalism and democratic resilience and resistance in Turkey in the face of its autocratic transition.

Can subnational democracy survive under the conditions of competitive authoritarianism and can it provide resources for a change in government? Based on expert interviews, textual analysis of municipality publications and ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines the case of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul under the Republican People’s Party since 2019. Engaging with the literatures on “democratic enclaves”, “springboard politics” and the “nested games of democratization by elections”, I argue that opposition parties in local government can create spaces of democratic resilience, promote democratic values, engage in coalition-building, create conditions of a laboratory for social policies and work as power bases for rookie politicians. In short, they may contribute to the empowerment of opposition politics and facilitate an eventual change in government, while at the same time having to avert the national-level incumbents’ assaults on local autonomy. In the case of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, these considerable achievements, however, also bear the risk of creating clientelist pressures and patronage expectations in case of a change in government.

This article argues that Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy is based on transformation of its ruling elite’s ideology; ongoing identity contestation at home; the need for expansionism for the construction-based economic model; and changing opportunity structures manifested by the declining power of the West. Turkey now acts more autonomously in foreign policy, which puts its policy targets at odds with both the West and the East. Another result is the isolation of Turkey in the region, estrangement from its treaty allies, and a closer relation with Russia, which has a vested interest in helping perpetuate Turkey’s current position in the regional and international orders.

Taking as its starting point the Boğaziçi protests of early 2021, this article makes a contribution to our understanding of the functioning of authoritarianism–and resistance to it–in Turkey today, by focusing on the relationship between LGBTI+ and Kurdish activisms. Drawing on the archives of Turkey’s LGBTI+ movement, this article traces how LGBTI+ activists analyzed and sought to build solidarities in opposition to nationalism, militarism, and ethnic discrimination in the 1990s. It argues that these expansive visions of social justice, developed in yet another turbulent decade in Turkey’s history, continue to inform the pursuit of democracy, rights, and social justice in Turkey today.

With the global decline of democracies and violation of the rule of law, the defense of democratic liberties is shifting from conventional institutions to alternative urban sites. With the global rise of authoritarian populism and attacks on freedom of thought, science, and academia, the university campus has become a major site of political contestation. While Turkey is not an exception to the Zeitgeist, it has become an outstanding case of reversal from the steadiest model of democratization in the “Muslim world” to the fastest decline of democracy. The paper focuses on how Bosphorus University, internationally renowned for its liberalism, has come to epitomize democratic resistance to Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.


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