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Turkey’s consensus problem

jeudi 19 juillet 2007, par Emre Uslu

What would happen if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power once again on July 23, 2007 ? It is the question that political observers have been trying find answer in last two months.

However, they have yet to find a satisfying answer. It seems that the unpredictability of the question is related with the recent political maneuvers of the military and the constitutional court, yet the profound reason behind the unpredictability is much deeper ; it is related with Turkey’s internal consensus problem.

Since the establishment of the nation state on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the republican elites have faced many challenges. Most of the challenges were related with the issues of achieving a consensus of who we are. Yet it was not easy to build a consensus on a unified social contract between the state elites and the citizens. Instead of finding a common ground on who we are, the state elite, at the beginning, tried to find a consensus on where we are heading toward. Therefore, the state’s orientation were diverted into a set of goals i.e. muassir medeniyet, to achieve the level of civilized nations, the Europe.

On the international level, the role that the state elite assumed to have was to convince Europe and the West that Turkey is no longer an Islamic country, therefore it is of interest to Europe to support the new republic.

On the domestic level however, the state elites devoted their efforts to convince the citizens that the set of goals to reach the muassir medeniyet will bring stability, prosperity, and power to the nation. The primary aim behind this strategy, however, was to maintain the unity of the country.

By assuming such dual role, the state elites established themselves in a key position in which they control the state’s relation with Europeans and its subjects as well. The sate elite and their associates, the « white Turks, » (a broader term that is usually applied to Turks who earned their fame and wealth through their elite families and Balkan immigrants who had tie to Ottoman bureaucracy), have enjoyed for being in a key position in which they have been making profit out of it.

With the liberalization policies of Turgut Ozal the traditional state-run economic model in which the « white Turks » were the primary beneficiaries, have mutated into « export based » economy which opened new doors to Anatolian « black Turks », the periphery, to have direct contact with Europe and the rest of the world. In a way, the new socio-economic structure has undermined the « gate keeper » position of the state elites and « white Turks » that allow the « black Turks » to bypass « white Turks » when needed to have relations with Europe.

A story of by-pass ?

In the political arena however it is necessary, though not easy to bypass the state elite. Over the years, the state elites have established domestic alliances to strengthen their positions. Because they realized that the liberal values of Europe is not fully applicable to what the state elite have pursued of for a long time, their unnatural alliances with the Europeans have reached to the end. In order to maintain their key positions, they are in search of foreign alliances alternative to Europe.

On the domestic level, they bring the sensitive issues, i.e. unity of the country, Kurdish separatism, Islamization, into public debate to derive domestic support. The « fear strategy » that the state elites have used so far to convince European is no longer working in Europe but it is working in domestic politics.

To counter the « fear strategy, » the political periphery is now on a legitimacy travel toward Europe against the state elite. The July 22 election and following months seems to bring a big clash between the state elites and the periphery who want to occupy the mainstream politics. It is very likely that the state elites, who are now returning from their long lasted « legitimacy travel » to Europe without a major achievement, and the new periphery will have a big confrontation over the issues like Kurdish separatism, Islamization of the country and the EU.

The military holds a key position on this possible clash that would either end this confrontation forever or make it worse. If the generals in the military expectedly take side of state elite to maintain their key position they would confront with the citizens who want to have a democratic -not a bureaucratic- state and join the EU. If the generals unconditionally support the EU membership process, they would avoid such confrontation on the burden of the state elite, including the military generals, to pay heavy price ; losing their privileged positions.

The third option would be the AKP government to step back from the EU oriented policies. Yet such policy is too risky for the AKP government that definitely will end its legitimacy in the eye of the periphery. In addition, it would be a major setback for Turkish democracy. The failed democracy may lead to a major civil war between the periphery and state elite that have a potential to erupt a regional war, if not a global war.

I think it is time to have a major consensus on who we are and what we want. Unlike in the early republican era, neither majority of people, the periphery, want to establish an Islamic state, nor do they want to have a separation. All they want is to have a democratic and prosperous country. The goal oriented consensus search of state elite or the periphery for that matter has only been postponing our real problems. Turkey’s EU perspective provides an opportunity to find a new social consensus.

To be fare to some of the sate elites and the white Turks, I should note that state elite the « white Turks » are not fully unified on their resistance against the EU membership process. For instance, former Chief of General Staff, Hilmi Ozkok was supportive of the EU process ; however, the new military leadership do not seems to have such desire toward the EU membership.

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Source : TNA 13 July 2007

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