June 8, 2013

Western politicians and media have been scolding Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan over this past week’s anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara.

What began as a local protest over the foolish plan to raze trees in Gezi Park near Istanbul’s bustling Taksim Square quickly exploded into major protests thanks to the ham-handed response of Istanbul police, who tear-gassed and beat demonstrators. Turkish police have never been famed for gentleness.

PM Erdogan’s curt dismissal of the crowd as “looters” further inflamed the situation. In the West, Erdogan was accused of growing authoritarianism and trying to remake Turkey into an Islamic state. Even the normally sensible “Economist” magazine accused Turkey’s leader of trying to become a new Ottoman sultan.

What hypocrisy. These were the same Western newspapers and politicians who ardently backed Turkey’s former governments that were little more than sock puppets for the military. The very same opinion-makers lauded Egypt’s brutal dictator, Husni Mubarak, as a “statesman.” So-called NGO’s like Freedom House and Amnesty International, cat’s paws for western governments, attacked Erdogan.

The demonstrators in Turkey’s cities were mostly young, secular and indulging in a springtime flash riot, facilitated by new social media and support from abroad. Many were rightly angered by Erdogan’s wrong-headed decision to take a lead role in trying to overthrow Syria’s government, a key trading partner for Turkey. Others, by his plans to limit public drinking and the eternal dispute over women’s head scarves.

What we have been witnessing is an attempt by anti-Erdogan secularists and far rightists, joined by members of Turkey’s long quiescent far left, to achieve what they could not do at the ballot box: ousting Erdogan’s moderate Islamic AK party from power.

These are the same forces who made a terrible mess of Turkey when they were in power from the 1940’s until the 1990’s: coups, riots, murders, regular financial crisis, and brutal human rights violations.

The United States and its media have turned against Erdogan primarily because of his clashes with Israel. Pro-Israel groups in the US are now taking the lead in calling for Erdogan’s ouster. Washington’s conservatives see him as too independent and unreliable.

Over the last decade, Erdogan transformed battered, bankrupt Turkey into an economic powerhouse by imposing sound finances and releasing the pent up power of the commercial class that had long been stifled by the cartels and monopolies of the secular leadership for whom the 1930’s anti-Islamic dictator, Kemal Ataturk, remains a state deity.

Ataturk was a great national hero who saved Turkey from being carved up by the Western powers, Greece, and the Soviet Union. But he proved a destructive political leader, tearing up Turkey’s historical roots and religion and replacing them with a vague form of 1930’s state fascism.

Erdogan has indeed grown mildly imperious; success and the lack of any real political opposition has gone to his head. But he is not yet a new sultan and shows few signs of trying to become one. He has brought real democracy to Turkey, financial stability, and brought it close to European social and legal standards.

Syria aside, Erdogan has made great strides in restoring Turkey’s regional leadership and power. As Turks used to say, “Turkey is the center of everything.” Erdogan remains the Mideast’s most popular leader.

Turkey’s able president, Abdullah Gul, who may become a rival of Erdogan in upcoming elections, has helped calm the waters. Gul remains the good cop while Erdogan the bad.

Remember, in the last election, Erdogan won a landslide in Turkey’s fractured political system, taking almost 50% of the vote in a poll with an over 80% turnout.

Recent demonstrations have sent Turkey’s stock and bond markets into a tailspin, threatening a financial crisis after a decade of calm and steady growth.

Erdogan is on the edge of achieving a real peace with Turkey’s rebellious Kurds – the most important advance in modern Turkish history. One suspects Turkey’s generals, some of them itching to stage a coup, and their foreign allies, are trying to derail Kurdish peace talks by encouraging the current violence.

It took the AK Party a decade to defang the generals and push them out of politics. Are Turkey’s pashas trying to stage a comeback?

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: Turkey


  1. I think you have it wrong.

    I think you make a mistake of perspective here. It’s similar mistake I think Erdogan is making:

    *”These are the same forces who made a terrible mess of Turkey when they were in power from the 1940’s until the 1990s.. .. Are Turkey’s pashas trying to stage a comeback?”

    These (protestors) are mostly young people. They barely remember pre-Erdogan Turkey and definitely don’t see themselves as representatives of it. It’s a mistake a lot of revolutionaries make. They keep living the revolution. Keep fighting the enemy they beat a long time ago.

    As Erdogan sees it his opposition is forever the old Kemalists, the same forces. How dare those hypocritical Kemalists complain to him about democracy and civil rights, press freedom and political diversity.

    From their own perspective, these protestors have very little to do with The Old Kemalists.

    I also think you’re missing an important nuance here:

    *”He has brought real democracy.. .. Erdogan remains the Mideast’s most popular leader.. ..Erdogan won a landslide.. ..”

    Democracy is a somewhat vague concept. But it does not mean majority rule, it means rule of the people. These protestors feel like their opinions are irrelevant. Erdogan’s majority is fully in charge and doesn’t need to listen to the rest. His reactions to the protestors confirms that, dismissal of the protestors as fringe, aggressive populist speeches in front of massive friendly audiences.

    • I think you are gravely mistaken if you think that, in a democracy, people rule… they only vote, it seems…

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      If as you say, the protesters are young non-Kemalists, can they reach the populist levels of the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square?
      And if this happens, the real question is what will be the Military Generals’ reaction?
      Will they support the uprising, support Erdogan, or stage a coupe under the guise of restoring order and stability?
      All choices are on their table, and we don’t know who are their guests for dinner.
      ad iudicium

    • netc,
      Democracy is: “The doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group”. A true democracy is one, where the government has a true majority, 50% + 1.
      What Canada has is a poor imitation of democracy and in the US democracy got lost through the Homeland security Act, which is being abused by the government in illegal ways. The US right now effectively has a fascist government. It seems, as if the US has reformed its government along the lines of Nazi Germany. I know what fascism is; I lived through it.

  2. The ultimate goal of the American government in this situation is, to chip away at any entity friendly to Iran. Iran represents the bulwark against total and undisputed American hegemony. And that is the aim of whatever power is ruling the US today. There has been too big a shift to the extreme right in the US for it to be the will of the voting public. Americans seem too levelheaded to shudder in fear of all those terror attacks the propaganda wants them to believe. Fear makes people easier to manipulate, one of the main strangleholds of religion.
    If this government and the one preceding it is representative of the will of the democratic majority, then why would they be voting against their own interests? Something does not add up here.

  3. That whole area is a powder keg, just waiting for someone to intentionally/inadvertently lighting the fuse. It seems that with western intervention in the area (and that includes some EU members) there is one skirmish after another… things haven’t settled down and there is a new ‘flare up’ somewhere else.

    The problem is largely caused by the huge disparity in incomes with the ultra rich and the dismal poor… This has likely been helped by climate change to some extent… causing greater starvation. If the economy of the area ever ‘goes south’, the whole area could erupt.

  4. Erdogan will not be able to stablize the Turkish economy in the long run unless he is able to convince the EU that Turkey is justifiably elegible for membership in the EU. That just is not going to happen. Germany seems to be the only EU member raising the concern that Turkish Islamists are persecuting and even killing Christians in Turkey. One of the oldest Christian Convents in the world is under attack from Erdogan’s political party, trying to take it and the surrounding land away from the Christians by claiming that it was built on Muslim land, even though the building of it pre-dates Islam altogether.
    As long as Erdogan’s Islamist party continues to try to move Turkey towards a totally Islamist state, not only will membership in the EU be not likely,

    • George Rizk says:

      You suppose that now Turkey is in the news, there will be ONE journalist with integrity of fairness to reveal the Muslims attack on the old monetary? I can assure you if some Muslim thug sprayed graffiti on a syniguoge, it will be a first page news.

  5. Well, well.
    Do we get the impression that Israel or pro- Israel Americans are somewhat responsible for the brewing mess in Turkey?

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