Archive for the ‘OPINION’ Category

by Dr. Bilge Eris Dereli (Marmara University, Turkey)

Associate editor of ChangingTurkey.com


According to World Bank’s World Development Indicators, Turkey has been listed among the biggest 20 economies in terms of current GDP, steadily since 1997. Yet, development-related indicators other than the economic growth have been on the agenda of many development debates. Indices of human development, gender inequality, innovation, education, health, democracy, happiness, technology achievement, environment, media independence, human rights and many others have been treated as important indicators of national development and there is almost total consensus that a country’s overall social and economic success should be evaluated as a combination of its performance at these numerous aspects.

In order to evaluate Turkey’s mid-2015 well-being performance in terms of different development indicators, it is suggested to gather the most well-known development indicators mentioned above and compare them with each other. Since many of the indices are published by different institutions; both the calculation methodologies and the numbers of countries involved in the estimation differ from each other. This makes the evaluation of different indices at once challenging. Consequently, it is useful to put forward the indicators published by a selected institution, which cover the same countries[i] in ranking. The OECD publishes “Better Life Index” that compares countries’ well-being based on different essential topics which cover most of the key indicators of development. I use the most recently (July 5th) extracted data[ii] of Better Life Index for Turkey in order to evaluate Turkey’s rank of well-being in comparison with other OECD countries.[iii]

Before evaluating the indicators, it is necessary to look at the distribution of Turkey’s rankings out of 36 OECD countries for the selected indicators. Figure-1 shows that Turkey’s rank[iv] is 30 or more for 67% of the indicators, between 20 and 30 for 25% of the indicators, 15 for 4% of the indicators and 5 for the 4% of the indicators. Turkey is ranked 5th at best, and 15th at second best. Turkey is ranked at tops rarely: Turkey is ranked as 5th out of 36 countries in terms of voter turnout (which makes Turkey’s overall ranking for civic engagement in top 10) and 15th in terms of the housing expenditure. For all of the other indicators, Turkey is ranked 20th or higher out of the OECD countries.

Figure-1: Distribution of Turkey’s Ranking by Better Life Index Indicators


After introducing the indicators where Turkey is ranked at tops, let me move to where Turkey is ranked at bottoms. Figure-2 (the scale of the y-axis is reversed to make higher ranks to appear at the bottom) puts forward Turkey’s ranking among 36 OECD countries for the selected indicators of the Better Life Index. Turkey’s ranking for the following indicators is 30 or more: Household financial wealth, educational attainment, employees working very long hours, time devoted to leisure and personal care, dwellings with basic facilities, employment rate, personal earnings, air pollution, water quality, household net adjusted disposable income, job security, student skills, life expectancy, rooms per person, life satisfaction and quality of support network. It is observed that Turkey is performing very poorly in terms of housing, income, job quality, education, environment, life satisfaction and work-life balance indicators. Among these, I focus on the education and job quality indicators and it is very disappointing that Turkey performs almost worst out of 36 countries at these aspects.

Figure-2: Turkey’s Ranking by Better Life Index Indicators


Other sets of indicators where Turkey’s rank lies between 20 and 30 (still worse than the half of the countries) are related to community, health and safety: Years in education, assault rate, consultation on rule-making, homicide rate, long-term unemployment and self-reported health. With a very high voter turnout, Turkey performs very well in terms of civic engagement. However, it fails in the remaining main categories.

In terms of overall education indicators, Turkey performs the worst after Brazil and Mexico. Taking into account the growth-stimulating role of innovation and human factor lying at the heart of innovation and technology, and education being one of the most important components of human capital; education indicators show us that Turkey needs to go a long way to be ranked among the top 10 economies in the world. The dramatic increase in the number of universities since 2000 is claimed to be one of the biggest successes achieved by the Turkish education system. However, if the share of higher education graduates in total unemployed since 2000 is taken into account, this success story becomes questionable: According to TURKSTAT statistics; while 9.5% of the unemployed were recorded to be individuals with higher education degree in 2000, this share increased to 20% by 2014. On the other hand, unemployment rate across higher education graduates has jumped from 7% in 2000 to 10.6% in 2014. Moreover, the quality of the education at the universities has been questionable for the last years. The unplanned increase in the number of universities and thus the number of individuals with a higher education degree have led to serious labor market deficiencies.

Overall evaluation of Turkey’s job indicators makes its ranking 34, ranked just before Greece and Spain. Low employment rates (especially for women), low job security and low personal earnings are the main reasons that explain Turkey’s poor performance in this sector. Only long-term unemployment rate helps Turkey to be ranked as the 20th country. In addition to these; low female participation rates, high youth unemployment rates, high share of informal sector, gender inequality, long working hours, occupational accidents and mismatch can be listed as other poor  indicators of labor market in the country.

Although Turkey is among the top 20 economies in the world, there is a long way to go for it to be classified as a developed country, or at least to be among the top 10 economies. There are many policies that Turkey needs to implement in order to achieve that goal and it can be suggested to give the priority to education policies providing equal opportunities and aiming to increase both the quality and attainment for all levels of education. In this sector, quantitative improvements should not be considered more important than qualitative improvements. If the education system does not bring up innovative individuals capable of contributing to research and technology, it seems that Turkey will keep its place at the bottom of the development indicators ranking.

To conclude, it is important to remember that Turkey performs poorly on other macro-economic indicators too. There are many macroeconomic indicators that make Turkish economy fragile. Among them; low saving and investment rates, high current account deficit, increasing external debt of private sector can be listed as the most alarming ones.

[i] Most of the countries ranked as bigger economies than Turkey are captured by this classification as well.

[ii] http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=BLI#

[iii] OECD itself evaluates each country’s Better Life Index (for Turkey: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/turkey/); here, I to put forward Turkey’s ranking at a glance and analyze the indicators in more depth.

[iv] The higher the rank, the worse the performance.


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By Associate Professor Dr. C. Akça Ataç (Çankaya University, Turkey)

21 July, the day of summer solstice, has been recognized by the United Nations as the International yogYoga Day, consequent to India’s vibrant campaign since September 2014 and the growing unforced global love for yoga. For the first time this year, yogis and yoginis all around the world concurrently came together outdoors as a proof of their commitment to be in unity and harmony with nature and in this way acknowledged that co-existence is humankind’s natural state. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the increasingly recognized face of the developing world, has set yoga diplomacy as a priority on his foreign policy agenda. The fact that the resolution for ‘International Yoga Day’ has received the support of 177 out of the total 193 member states of the UN is unprecedented in terms of the support for similar kinds of UN resolutions. Since the registration of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, 2 October, as the International Day of Non-Violence in 2007, International Yoga Day has been India’s second important contribution to the UN’s annual calendar. According to the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, such contribution to the UN agenda is “a reflection of the pan-global appeal of India’s rich cultural heritage,” which in fact “signifies how India’s age old traditions are in harmony with what the world needs today.”[i]

It appears that at the opening of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 70), scheduled to be held on 16 September, the issue of reforming the UN structure will be predominantly brought up by the leaders of major states and Modi will definitely be one of them. In his UNGA 69 speech he already underlined that a new, genuine dialogue must start there, at the UN, within a year and India constituting one-sixth of humanity would definitely participate in it. The Indian Prime Minister’s launch of this ‘pro-active, pro-people’ foreign policy was actually an unexpected move on his behalf, given that the more evident emphasis in his election campaign remained on domestic priorities.ModiSelfie-e1431693156496 However, before the first year of his mandate ended, he surprisingly became the “most well-travelled prime minister in Indian history”[ii] by beginning a series of high-profile travels, from China to France, Mongolia to United States. Also, he has demonstrated a renewed interest in the immediate and far-beyond neighbourhood of India by paying visits to Bhutan, Fiji, Mauritius, Nepal, Seychelles and Sri Lanka -places none of which had been visited by an Indian prime minister for more than 10 years. As a token of the good intentions of a neighbour, India has even yielded its claim in the Bay of Bengal, which was a thorny issue with Bangladesh.[iii]  Looking at this new internationalism, Modi is being more and more associated with Jawaharlal Nehru and his vibrant and inspiring foreign policy in progress with a sort of Non-Alignment 2.0.[iv] His selfie with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing went viral in social media early this year and definitely contributed to his popularity worldwide.

In point of fact, Modi’s enthusiastic reception by the international community makes one think of Ahmet Davutoğlu’s first years as the Turkish Foreign Minister. Davutoğlu’s rapid and unprecedented scheme of traveling had gained him the nickname ‘peripatetic,’ whereas Modi is the one now who bears the title ‘globetrotting’ among all pro-active statesmen of the world. Davutoğlu, too, had a vision for the new world order and the reform of the UN, as he underlined a “unitarian humanitarian conscience under the flag of the United Nations,” and in this vision he foresaw a cardinal role for Turkey.[v] To him, Western civilization had its chance to design the world, but instead led the international system to an impasse. Therefore, as he contends:

We have to be aware that the Eurocentric culture reached the limits. Now there is a rise of authentic cultures, of old traditions. We have to admit them, we have to create a cultural inclusiveness. Otherwise global cultural order could not be restored…There is a need for a new paradigm of cultural inclusivity and interaction of authentic cultures and modernity.”[vi]

Similarly, to bring the much awaited peace and harmony to the world under the UN, Modi’s new, active diplomacy suggests an ‘Indian way,’ which is “a constructive approach focused on finding peaceful solutions to global challenges that are in harmony with our environment.”[vii] In this way, he has reinvented the previously ‘Look East’ principle of the Indian foreign policy as ‘Act East.’

At the UNGA 70, India seems to be planning on putting a fresh emphasis on the Indian philosophical dictum vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family) in its attempts at taking part in the reform of the UN Security davutogluCouncil. For its permanent membership, it has already gained the support of a wide range of countries from France to Mongolia and to further its bid, it aims to question the fact that the world, no matter how interdependent it might look, has been deeply divided among groups, “various Gs with different numbers.” The reformed UN must be able to act as one united family, may it be “G-1” or “G-All,”[viii] and India under Modi comes to fore as an apt candidate to initiate an all-encompassing dialogue. In the same way, Turkey, too, has been demonstrating an intensified focus on the UN reform, particularly since 2008. Within this context, Turkey, not long after its non-permanent membership appointment to the Security Council in 2009 and 2010, once again announced its candidacy for another round of temporary membership in 2015 and 2016. The campaign it has started, Dünya 5’ten Büyük (the world is bigger than 5), may correspond to that of India. Nevertheless, the recent attempts by Turkey to remain ‘pivotal,’ a term Davutoğlu frequently and particularly picks to define Turkey’s new foreign policy, in the UN have not been received by the member states in the way Turkey had expected. Dünya 5’ten Büyük remained an uninfluential and under-attended campaign (only 31 votes on change.org) and Turkey could not win its bid for the 2015-2016 term on the Security Council.

Parallel to the acceleration of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the tone of Davutoğlu’s criticism of the UN has become less and less friendly as the Security Council continues to decline to militarily intervene against the Assad regime. He considers the failure of the UN to act on the Syrian civil war as a missed opportunity to reform the UN, or to be more direct, to elevate Turkey to a permanent position on the Security Council. Davutoğlu’s frustration about the absence of “a single binding resolution on Syria where more than 30 thousand people have been refugees”[ix] justifies the humanitarian diplomacy subsequently conducted by Turkey in the form of establishing refugee camps along its border with Syria. Asking, “So why do we need the UN?,”[x] however, diminishes the UN reform to merely increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council and limits its mission to humanitarian intervention. Despite his earlier advocacy for a broader vision of the UN reform, Davutoğlu has come to perceive the UN only as a tool for intervening in conflict within neighboring states. This attitude has weakened Turkey’s capacity and capability to meaningfully contribute to any debate on the UN reform.

On the eve of a new round of reform talks at the UN, Turkey is no longer in the position to contribute to a genuine civilization of dialogues- impartial to all civilizations, partial to civilization. The recent uncertainty about the future government and the possibility of an intervention in Syria weaken Turkey’s international position even further. Meanwhile India comes to the fore as the state likely to be influential in initiating and conducting such a dialogue, willing to make progress on the gender-equality agenda. It is a pity that Turkey is now unprepared and unsuitable to contribute a meaningful input to the upcoming reform talks at UNGA70. This, however, could have been otherwise, had Turkey not taken the misguided steps of the recent past.


[i] ‘177 Nations Co-Sponsor the United Nations Resolution to Declare International Day of Yoga on 21st June, Every Year,’ http://www.indembassy.org.tr/alert_detail.php?newsid=36 [ii] Jaideep Prabhu, ‘Do We Finally Have an Assertive Foreign Policy Under PM Narendra Modi?’, dna, April 13, 2015, http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/stand-point-do-we-finally-have-an-assertive-foreign-policy-under-pm-narendra-modi-2077065 [iii] Tanvi Madan, ‘Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Foreign Policy: The First 100 Days,’ Brookings Institute, August 29, 2014, http://www.brookings.edu./research/opinions/2014/08/28-modi-100-days-foreign-policy-madan [iv] Prabhhu, ‘An Assertive Foreign Policy?’. [v] C. Akça Ataç, ‘Turkey’s New Vision for “Man’s Best Hope for Peace”: United Nations Reform and Reorganization of the Security Council,’ All Azimuth, Vol. 3 No: 1, January 2014, pp. 5-18. [vi] ‘Speech Delivered by H. E. Ahmet Davutoğlu Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, in the University of London School of Economics and Political Science’, 7 March 2013, London, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/speech-delivered-by-h_e_-ahmet-davutoglu_-minister-of-foreign-affairs-of-turkey_-in-the-university-of-london-school-of-economics.en.mfa [vii] ‘177 Nations Co-Sponsor the United Nations Resolution.’ [viii] ‘English Rendering of the Statement by Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi at the General Debate of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA),’ September 27, 2014, pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=110091 [ix] ‘Davutoğlu: International System About to Fail Syria Test,’ TurkishNY.com, September 25, 2012 http://m.turkishny.com/news/davutoglu-international-system-about-to-fail-syria-test [x] Ibid.

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The bicephalous nature of Turkey’s Syrian Policy

by Ariel González Levaggi (Koç University, Turkey)

Ariel González Levaggi is a Ph.D. student at Koç University in Istanbul. Turkey. He holds a TÜBİTAK Graduate Scholarship and acts as the Secretary of the Turkish Studies Chair at the Eurasia Department- Institute of International Relations of the National University of La Plata (Argentina).

The Arab Revolutions were the turning point for the Turkish foreign policy towards the Middle East. The “virtuous regional cycle” based on cooperation resulting in the growing economic interdependence between Turkey and its Middle Eastern neighbors and the enhancement of security along Turkey’s southern borders, has been replaced with a more competitive approach wherein the promotion and spread of normative democratic principles along with national security interests become the main aims of the Foreign Policy in a highly unstable and dynamic regional context[1]. The regional environment used to be perceived as more stable after starting to recover from the US invasion of Iraq but this stability blew up with the streak of regime changes and increasing securitization towards popular demands. The Middle East has become again a turbulent region.

Domestic revolt in several Arab countries was one of the main drivers of change in the Great and Regional Powers’ Middle East policy. In Turkey’s case, the general approach has changed from a security-economy balance approach to a normative-security one. These regional events generated an opportunity to show the benefits of the “Turkish Model” combining democracy and moderate Islam as well as positioning Turkey as a new regional power[2]. Such alterations in Turkey’s regional policy was not an exception. All the regional and global powers had to deal with this new situation but only a few modified their behavior in an effective way. On the contrary, most of them have committed several mistakes and miscalculations (Take the French support for Ben Ali in Tunisia or the overall NATO Military Intervention in Libya).

The core of Ankara’s new political identity has been the same since 2002. The AKP generally represents the emergence of the traditional and conservative Anatolian elite traditionally opposed to the “old” Kemalist elite who ruled most of the Republic’s years. While the “white” (Kemalist) elite used to see Europe and the West as the main international horizon for Turkey, the new “green” elite has been more interested in the countries that previously belonged to the Ottoman Empire with a special focus on the Middle East and the Islamic World. Relations with the West may still be important for AKP foreign policy-makers, but in their opinion, the West is neither the most relevant dimension of Turkish foreign policy, nor the main orientation for Turkey’s future. During the first years of AKP, the accession of Turkey to the European Union was the main determinant for Turkey but following the partial suspension of the negotiations with the EU, Turkey has changed its general foreign policy orientation slowly toward the East trying to diversify and balance the growing indifference of the West – especially in Europe –towards Turkey. Erdoğan’s government has chosen the Middle East as one of the regional priorities of Turkey’s “new” Foreign Policy not only due to the identity nexus between Turkey and the Middle East, but also because of the change in Turkey’s strategic culture and the rising opportunities in economic and cultural spheres. This orientation toward the Middle East deepened even more after the Arab Revolutions. In general terms, the Turkish Foreign Policy toward the Middle East in the AKP era can be split into two phases: the era of the Regional Grand Strategy (2002-2011) and the “Country-to-country” Strategy (from 2011 until now). The cutting line is the Arab Spring. Syria is the more relevant example of the pro-activism and assertiveness of the Regional Grand Strategy but, at the same time, the focus of the controversial foreign policy of Ankara in the aftermath of the Arab Revolutions.

In the short-term, there have been no real winners of the “Arab Spring” but the destabilizing forces of radical Islamism such as Daesh (Islamic State). No regional power has succeeded yet in strategic terms. In this context, Turkey can be counted among the losers because it not only failed to change the trajectory of the Assad’s regime regarding the popular democratic demands and lost an economic partner in the region, but it is also facing increasing threats in its south-eastern frontier and a growing humanitarian cost due to the question of Syrian refugees, among other issues. Turkey’s Syrian Policy is neither a success nor a complete failure. The actual results are grey rather than black or white. This policy, from the beginning of the “Syrian Spring”, has a “bicephalous” nature between national security and normative concerns[3]. The “bicephalous” nature is not a new modus operandi for Turkey but the increasing divergence between the realist and normative perspective produces paradoxical outcomes that makes it an unusual case. Beyond well-meaning rhetoric, Turkey’s bicephalous policy was not enough to face the challenges of civil war in Syria. The normative approach does not fully explain per se why Turkey broke up its “special relations” with Syria; nor why Turkey developed good relations with undemocratic states like the Gulf Countries. For its part, the realist approach based on self-interest and the search of a regional hegemony remains insufficient to explain why Turkey has followed an open border policy towards a significant number of Syrian refugees or why it decided not to normalize its relations with Al-Sisi’s Egypt.

During the Syrian Crisis, Turkey has pursued its self-interests, trying to be a regional hegemon while, at the same time, it has sought to promote democratic values and norms. This approach has affected the relations of Turkey at global level. In particular, Turkey’s Syrian policy has led to several difficulties with the West because of the lack of support of the United States and European major powers to Turkey’s position toward Al-Assad’s Regime. Western countries have chosen to develop a more pragmatic policy toward Syria than Turkey did. The threat of an Islamic State has only worsened the relationship between Turkey and the West, and challenged the perceptions of Turkey as a reliable Western ally.

Turkey has developed a “bicephalous approach” toward Syria mixing elements of realism and liberal internationalism. This approach means that Turkey’s Syrian policy has two major dimensions. The normative dimension considers the longue durée in terms of providing a long-term horizon in which the emphasis on democracy and popular legitimacy as well as the crisis management efforts that do not hold immediate effects, are central to reordering the regional and global environment in a constructive manner. Alternatively, the realist/strategic or “self-interest” dimension deals with the current (and immediate) security concerns and economic consequences of the Syrian Civil War. However, these dimensions have not been always complementary, but competitive in the midst of an increasing tension. Greater emphasis on democracy promotion leads to greater insecurity and the greater pursuit of domestic security leads to the abundance of undemocratic measures at domestic level. In addition to these paradoxes, the situation has deteriorated in the last two years, especially since the eruption of the Daesh and the reemergence of the Kurdish issue — which is the traditional security threat against the Turkish Republic since the 1980s. Overall, the Arab Revolutions and the Syrian Civil War have undermined Turkey’s position in the Middle East and Turkey’s Syrian Policy involves a dualistic response to an unstable and complex environment in which Turkey remains only an actor among others, rather than the main actor.

[1] Öniş, Ziya (2014) “Turkey and the Arab Revolutions: Boundaries of Middle Power Influence in a Turbulent Middle East”, Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 19 (2), p. 4.

[2] Ozkan, Mehmet and Korkut, Hasan (2013) “Turkish Foreign Policy towards the Arab Revolutions”, Epiphany: Vol. 6 (1), p. 171.

[3] Onis, Ziya (2012) Turkey and the Arab spring: between ethics and self-interest. Insight Turkey, Vol. 14 (1), p. 6.

-Image copyrights by Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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Turkey’s Regionalist Engagement and Syria

by Associate Professor Dr Alper Kaliber (Kemerburgaz University, Istanbul)

Foreign policy analysts often tend to explain the regionalization of security outlook in Turkey only by makingalper_kaliber reference to the recent policies and discourses of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP)) governments. Yet, a more accurate account suggests that the regionalist shift in Turkish strategic thinking and security outlook started in the early 1990s. The end of global bi-polar rivalry has recognized some leeway for Turkish policy makers to engage more actively in regional security institutions, issues and challenges. Hence, the first wave of regionalist engagement in Turkish foreign policy began soon after the end of the Cold War and manifested itself in Özalian Neo-Ottomanism in the 1990s, and in the embracing rhetoric toward the Turkic states of the former Soviet Union, Turkey’s initiative for the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the efforts of Turkish Armed Forces to join international peacekeeping initiatives.

However, regionalism of Turkish foreign and security policy (FSP) took its more mature and comprehensive turn in the regionalist assertiveness in the first decade of the 2000s, where Turkey claimed itself as a ‘pivotal state’[i] in its region. The three successive AKP governments, and most notably the current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, have initiated this second regionalist turn in Turkish FSP by endowing it with an identity dimension. It is a widespread conviction that Turkey’s regionalist activism in the 2000s put special emphasis on the engagement with the Middle Eastern states and societies. To the widely voiced argument by the AKP leaders and pro-government analysts, ‘after decades of passivity and neglect’[ii], Turkey is ‘rediscovering’ the Middle East as well as reshaping its roles in the region. For them, Turkey’s activism as a peace broker, or as a participant of international peace-keeping missions in the region represents a historical ‘departure’ from its conventional policy of ‘avoiding deep involvement in Middle Eastern affairs’[iii]. Turkey acts in the region as a ‘soft’ and’ ‘normative power’[iv] working for the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts acting with the responsibility and duty of endorsing regional integration through security and economic cooperation.

Yet, Turkey’s policy initiatives and discourses on the Syrian case hardly epitomises these peaceful aspirations and soft power strategies. Rather, they represent a historical departure from Turkey’s conventional policy of not being involved in the domestic affairs of neighbouring countries. It should also be noted that the Syrian case represents a radical deviation even for the identity politics of Turkey’s recent regionalist activism. Actively taking side with the Syrian opposition in the civil war in that country, Turkey preferred to promote a sectarian Sunni interpretation of Islam, rather than a set of broadly defined Islamic and/or conservative values. It is apparent that the Syrian crisis has dealt a serious blow to Turkey’s ambitions of being respected as a peaceful regional pivotal state even in the eyes of predominantly Muslim societies. The Turkish government has been subject to intense criticisms concerning its policies triggering the Shia-Sunni divide in the region rather than remedying it. Turkey was even blamed for supporting some groups inside the Syrian opposition adopting a fundamentalist Sunni line and associated with Al Qaeda.

The opposition political parties in Turkey have also levelled harsh criticisms against the AKP government’s Syrian policies. For instance, the pro-Kurdish party leaders and civil society activists converge on the idea that the AKP government has given full support to Islamic State militants to curb the rise of Kurdish forces in the region as well as to debilitate the ‘Rojava revolution’. Any ordinary person in southeastern Turkey or in Syria – regardless of their ethnic origin– will end up mentioning Turkey’s share and stake in the bloodshed in its immediate neighbour.

Turkey has inarguably lost the credibility firstly of its extensively used ‘normative state’, and subsequently its claim to be a ‘benevolent regional power’ after the crises in Syria have rolled out. It has become notably less persuasive for Turkey to contend for a soft power since it stationed NATO missiles on the border with its neighbour and approved the bill for cross-border operation in the Turkish parliament. Furthermore, the excessive, inacceptable and disproportionate force used by the police against protestors at Gezi demonstrations starting in June 2013 revealed that Turkey’s aspiration to be a democratic model for Muslim societies remains unsubstantiated and highly debatable. Certainly, it is not justifiable to compare the Turkish government’s repressive policies and authoritarianism with the cruelty of the Assad regime in Syria killing hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and inducing involuntary displacement of millions of others. Yet, it is also true that it is getting harder and less convincing to problematize the Assad regime for a Turkey increasingly narrowing the sphere of democratic politics and oppressing opposition groups.

[i] Ahmet Davutoğlu, Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye’nin Uluslararası Konumu [Strategic Depth: Turkey’s Role in International Politics], Istanbul: Küre Yayınları 2001; Ahmet Davutoğlu, ‘Enine Boyuna’, televised interview at TRT, 28 December 2010.

[ii] F. Stephen Larrabee, ‘Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East’, Foreign Affairs, 86(4), August 2007: p.103

[iii]  Ibid., p. 110.

[iv] The concept of ‘normative power’ was introduced by Ian Manners to refer to the norm exporting and value setting qualities of an entity through peaceful means, i.e. conditionality rather than military and coercive ways.  See Ian Manners, ‘Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?’, Journal of  Common Market Studies 40 (2), 2002, pp. 235-58.

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Dr. Gülçin Erdi Lelandais (Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique [CNRS], FRANCE) holds PhD in Sociology at EHESS, France. Her forthcoming article « Citizenship, Minorities and Struggle for a Right to the City in Istanbul » will appear in Citizenship Studies (volume 17, 2013).

When I read Mr. Scott’s article, I thought that I should maybe clarify some points he mentions in his article and give more elements about the context he describes. First of all, I have to say that I do not agree with the viewpoint of Scott and will say why.

Scott is right when he says that the AKP government has been massively attacked by kemalist front since it came to power until 2007. Firstly because the party was considered by the army and kemalists as a threat for the secular Republican system of Turkey. As they were controlling the judiciary and the Constitutional Court, they made everything to topple this government and to ban the AKP. What Scott forgets is that that period is now over. Actually since the referendum of 2010 on constitutional amendments and especially after the elections of 2011, the AKP has become de facto the one and only political power in Turkey. In ten years of power, the AKP has changed the juridical, the educational and the legislative system. They have infused slowly but permanently individuals close to Fethullah Gülen’s community. They have facilitated the acceptance of the students of religious high schools (imam hatip) in Faculties of law, political science, economy and so on.

A very important political lawsuit, Ergenekon, which could be a turning point for a more democratic and transparent police violencepolitical life in Turkey, has deviated from its initial objective and transformed into a kind of revenge against kemalist opponents. Even people who supported the referendum considering it as a chance to get rid of the military tutelage were confused as many journalists (especially Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener) and the former head of Turkish army (Ilker Başbuğ) were also sent to the jail. There are people in prison since 2007 without a definitive judgment on their destiny. Since 2009, more than 4000 Kurdish activists, politicians, members of the BDP have been arrested and some of them stayed more than two years in prison without trial. More than 600 students are also detained in prisons because of their political engagements or participation to political rallies like 1st May Labor Day or campaigns for free public education. Much information about all these events is easily available on the Internet. Today, the Turkish Army has no more power to intervene in the political arena and this is a good thing. However, the power changed side and this is now AKP who monopolizes it by eliminating  its adversaries progressively.

Scott is also right on one point that Turkey is now more developed than ten years ago. However, he forgets that it came at a high price. Since 2003, we have had the most neoliberal government that we never had in our history. Land, water, forest, every natural resources, the city, urban and rural spaces, costs, rivers became sources of profit and are devastated by the so-called “development projects” of this government. Because of more than a hundred hydroelectric power plants in the Black Sea Coast, many villages lost their water sources. Dams in the south-east of Turkey displaced many people and changed the local eco-system. Just for an example, Ilısu Dam, which will be finished in 2014, will displace 55 000 people, immerge 199 villages, including the very important historical and archeological city of Hasankeyf.

3. kopru fotosuUrban renewal projects launched under the pretext to enhance buildings against earthquake risks seem to have been transformed into gentrification projects that seek to push the poor populations of Istanbul to the margins. In several areas in Istanbul like Sulukule, Başıbüyük, Tozkoparan, Derbent, inhabitants have been forced to leave their neighbourhood and to resettle into the new housing areas constructed by TOKI, Mass Housing Administration, whose objective was to provide social housing at the beginning. In addition, TOKI expropriated houses in these neighborhoods and people were forced to take loans of 15 years to pay for their new houses although they were living in their own houses without debt before the TOKI-led renewal projects. Most of them could not pay the loans and had to sell out their house and became tenants. It is notable that 75 % of TOKI’s buildings are for-profit constructions and social housing constitutes only 6.5 % of TOKI’s whole projects. Most of the estate projects are led by firms close to the AKP (Çalık, Kalyon, Albayrak, Ceniz etc, for details, see Harun Gürek 2008. AKP’nin Müteahhitleri. Guncel publishing). This is simply corruption and should not exist in a democratic country. Mr. Scott makes me smile also when I read that the AKP government beautifies Istanbul more than another government. Indeed! They put everywhere nice tulips but at the same time constructed, more than any previous government, skyscrapers, shopping malls and gated communities. Today, when you sit in the garden of Topkapı Palace, you see the massive amount of skyscrapers much more than the nice forests of Bosphorus which is gradually leaving its place to buildings. For Mr. Scott, it should not also be a problem that Haydarpaşa train Station will be transformed into a shopping mall and hotel; or that 800 000 trees will be cut for the 3rd bridge, and several historical buildings are destroyed by this government in order to construct the copies of buildings that already disappeared (as it is the case in Gezi Park with Topçu Barracks). These are certainly acts of adornment for Istanbul.

I would like to quote a phrase of Mr. Scott. He says that “The freedom to drink real coffee, or sip a glass of beer or wine with my meal in a sophisticated bar, café or restaurant is not one that I remember from my early days in this city”. This is strange. I was born in Turkey and lived there until 2002. Even during my high school years in Ankara, I was able to drink a beer in a “sophisticated bar”. This is not a criterion and he should know that in cities like Afyon, drinking alcohol and selling it in the limits of the city was entirely forbidden until one month ago. In several cities of Anatolia, you cannot even find a simple restaurant to drink a beer not to mention a “sophisticated bar”. However, he is right. Before the AKP, political freedom was not developed but I believe that today it is not developed either. Before, Kemalists were persecuting their opponents who were Islamists, Kurds and extreme-left organizations. Today Islamists are persecuting Kemalists, Kurds and extreme-left groups. What has changed?

Finally, how could we defend a government who constantly attacks women by threatening them to forbid abortion, to advise to have three children at least, to consider caesarean as a slow genocide against Turkish nation imposed by foreigners (you could find all these statements on official websites) and who frees soldiers and local politicians who raped a young girl? Could you imagine one second something like that in New Zealand? Yes it is true that there is not any good opposition party against the AKP. But are the AKP authorities allowed to do everything they want because they had the majority of votes? Does democracy mean that elections are the only way of political expression for citizens? The AKP is not Turkey and Turkey is not only AKP. We are clever enough to decide about our political acts and to decide what future we want for our country. It is definitely not a bull dozer neoliberal system decorated by Islamic motifs and Ottoman heritage. We won’t allow that the government practices all kind of strange projects against the will of the inhabitants of Istanbul. Citizens have their right to be consulted about their city and should participate in the decisions concerning their everyday life. A normal, democratic government should answer these demands and discuss with the civil society instead of calling protesters “çapulcu” (looter), killing 4 young boys, injuring more than 7000 people, insulting sociologists and claiming that its PM knows everything better than anybody. Mr Scott should not worry about “well-meaning citizens of Turkey” who “should think twice before aligning themselves with anarchic (!) or anti-democratic elements within the country, and foreigners abroad who do not have the country’s best interests at heart”. I would like to remind that we are living in a globalized world and protests are now transnational, and solidarity networks work very well to inform people about the injustices around the world (Keck and Sikkink, 1997). Mr. Scott should also leave behind the old Cold-war conspiracy theories according to which Turkey has no friends abroad and foreigners are against Turkey. People don’t need to be in Turkey to be friendly and in solidarity with the Turkish people because they know that a country could never be reduced to its government.  

P.S: More information and analyses about urban transformation and Gezi protests in Turkey can be found in English and French on my blog http://villeenturquie.wordpress.com

note: The second photo showing the environmental damage associated with the 3rd bridge’s construction (copyright Ugur Ceylan/ www.koprufotograflari.com).

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Assist. Prof. Erkan Saka

İstanbul Bilgi Üniversity, School of Communication, Turkey

Erkan Saka (PhD, Anthropology, Rice University) is a lecturer at the Public Relations Department, at the Media Studies MA program, chair of MA Program in Public Relations and Corporate Communication in Istanbul Bilgi University. He is the coordinator of a TV Show, SosyalKafa, and citizen journalism seminars.

Protests are not uncommon any more as the government starts massive and socially disruptive urbanization projects with no hesitation recently. The ruling party has a level of power no political party has seen for decades and the leader is so powerful that he does not seem to care about the opposition ideas. As there is nearly no institutional opposition to challenge AKP moves, citizens take to streets as the last option to voice their democratic rights to oppose. Previously, I would say, these civic protests do not/cannot go beyond symbolic acts. In any case, we have witnessed an increasing police brutality over these protests recently and the authorities have become so arrogant that they could ban any protests in and around Taksim.

Gezi Parkı was a similar incident. Had the police forces not intervened so brutally in early morning hours, things775952949 would not go out of hand. By saying going out of hand, I mean the scale of protests. Otherwise, these protests are unbelievably peaceful, civic. I have seen so many groups who normally fight each other in every gathering, stand together.

Gezi Parkı was the spark. Arrogant authorities have frustrated some, creative and highly educated sectors of society. These sectors are mostly secular but not necessarily Kemalist and not necessarily all secular. PM Erdoğan has begun to act as if he is a patriarchal father who intervenes every aspect of a household. From abortion to alcohol restriction or scripts of soap operas, he needed to intervene. Hence, came the point of explosion.

Here is a list of keywords Erdoğan frustrated many citizens:

Gezi- Reyhanlı- Esad’dı Esed oldu- Ananı da Al Git- THY Grev- 4+4+4- Tekel İşçileri- Tuzla Tersane- Öğretmen Atamaları- Madımak- Ertesi Gün Hapı- Benim Bedenim Benim Kararım- ÖSYM kitapçıkları- 3.Köprü- Havaalanı- Çılgın Proje- Devlet Tiyatroları, Opera ve Bale- Emek- AKM- İki Ayyaş- Dinleme Fişleme- Ahmet Şık- Nedim Şener- Müesser Yıldız- Ayşenur Arslan- Hrant Dink- %50 evde bekliyor- Çapulcu- Tiyatroda Sakız Patlatan VIP Kişi- Asmalımescit- Alkol Yasası- Kız Erkek arası 45 santim- Bunlar Zerdüşt- Ucube- Cemevi İbadethane mi ki?- 19 Mayıs/ 29 Ekim- Gavur İzmir- Aksırıp Tıkısırıncaya Kadar İçmek- Bir Yan Gelip Yatma Yeri Olarak Askeriye- Ülkeyi Pazarlamakla Mükellef Olmak- “Kız mıdır Kadın mıdır Bilmem”.

I could never believe such people from all aspects of creative industries would run to barricades. I could notuc_buyuk_taraftar_istanbul_united believe how younger generations went beyond the edge of fear created by authorities recently. I must add football fan groups here, too. I believe these citizens wanted to make a statement. Warning the government to stop its interference to citizens’ daily lives. Nothing else. Pro-government circles are full of conspiracy theories. But this movement does not have an agenda beyond sending a warning to government. This is a fair civic act. However, I wonder if police brutality will ever be investigated. As a citizen of Turkey, I have never seen such a show of force. And such a show of resistance. The authorities created an opposition they never imagined.

I believe after the very first wave of protests triggered by these young urban and mostly digital natives, there came other waves with different and more traditional political agendas. I don’t deny or downplay this. I believe AKP government increasingly alienated many sectors of society and they have all their issues with the government. Increasing legitimacy of protest led to others to participate. However, as far as I can observe, those who started the Occupy Gezi movement still frames the movement’s discourse which remains to be civic and pluralistic. I would like to highlight the high level of humor. PM Erdoğan is known to be lacking any sense of humor. At least according to what he demonstrates. Occupy Gezi has such a level of humor that pro-government gets even more frustrated and increase their assault. Unfortunately, some leading activists are targeted by pro-government media and people in the last few days. I hope this does not lead to more concrete repercussions…

Despite all criticism I have made, I believe AKP is skilled at governing better than its rivals. Things might lead to more pessimistic results such as a widespread crackdown on citizens. But under normal conditions, I believe there will be a retreat. PM Erdoğan will maintain his provocative style but behind that government might have gotten the signal from resisting citizens. This is what I hope although my hopes continue to diminish as 11 June incidents show that Government does not hesitate to trigger provocative acts…


Note to Alan Scott’s piece

I would totally agree with Mr. Scott’s piece in another context. Unfortunately, he misses the point that Gezi Occupiers are not the same people that thrashed PM Erdoğan from the outset. Yes, they might have similar backgrounds, they might be seculars but the dominant mood of the Gezi is not pro-coupt Kemalist ideology. Therefore, Mr. Scott is really unfair to peaceful protesters. Two photos of wrecked vehicles are in no way representative of the events. If only photos of actual police violence over protesters were added, then I could take his words more reasonably…

Note to Turkish speakers

I have also started to collect my ideas in Turkish on Gezi Resistance in fragments. The first one here: http://erkansaka.net/archives/23951

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Alan Scott

Mr. Scott is a teacher of mature years living in Istanbul and currently teaching English at Okan University (Istanbul-Turkey). He was born in New Zealand and worked as a high school teacher of English there. He first came to Turkey in 1995, and, apart from two years back in NZ, he has lived in Istanbul since then. He has a strong attachment to this country now through his Turkish wife, Dilek, as well as a great interest in Turkish history and culture. He has three grown up children living in Australia.You can see Mr. Scott’s blog where he publishes his thoughts as a foreigner in Turkey at: http://turkeyfile.blogspot.com/

I have been following the posts by scholars and others attempting to explain the protest movement that erupted in Taksim busTurkey after events in Taksim’s Gezi Park at the end of May. As a foreigner, I have refrained from adding my voice, but as one who has lived in Turkey since 1995, and been a close observer of events over the period, I feel the need to put an alternative point of view.

First, then, I can say with certainty there are those in this country who have hated and tried to oust this AKP government since it first took office in 2003. The same people, no doubt, who arranged to have Tayyip Erdoğan jailed when he was Mayor of Istanbul. Since that time there has been a smear campaign conducted in the popular media, via the Internet, in local social circles, and by certain foreign sources abroad, aimed at discrediting and undermining the credibility of this popularly elected government. There was an attempt to use the courts to have the AK Party banned, and, failing that, had their action not been pre-empted, there is no doubt in my mind that the Turkish military would have long since carried out a coup on the pretext of preserving democracy and the secular republic.

Taksim graffitiThe Republic of Turkey is in its 91st year, but for much of that time it has not been a democracy in most acceptable definitions of the word. With its roots in ancient history, and its cultural diversity, Turkey is not an easy country to govern. However, if the dream of its founder, Kemal Atatürk is to be realized, those who aspire to govern must strive to include all sections of society – not merely an anachronistic and increasingly irrelevant urban elite. One of your correspondents, for example, wrote: ‘Erdoğan takes his power from uneducated masses and he is like a rock star for pious Turkish and Kurdish people.’ The reason that CHP and other political parties in recent memory have been unable to gain more than 25% of the national vote is their refusal to accept the reality of Turkey’s diverse population and the responsibility of the fortunate few to care for and educate the less fortunate.

I read a news item in today’s Hürriyet: Acrobats from the United States participated in the Bitlis-Van Aquatic Sports Festival on Lake Van. I am not necessarily crediting Tayyip Erdoğan and his team for this and similar events being held these days in hitherto forgotten parts of Turkey – but I cannot imagine such events taking place even as recently as ten years ago.

Most contributors have recognized that these so-called Gezi protests are not simply about a park near Taksim Square. Taksim vandalismIn fact, this government has done more than any predecessor to beautify Istanbul with trees, flowers and green spaces. That I can now enter some government office and be greeted by a helpful public servant in a modern workplace and have my business completed quickly without the need for a bribe, I am grateful for. That I can board a bus or purchase a newspaper with coins and notes of normal value (rather than millions), I congratulate whoever is responsible The freedom to drink real coffee, or sip a glass of beer or wine with my meal in a sophisticated bar, café or restaurant is not one that I remember from my early days in this city.

I am attaching two photographs I took in Taksim Square on Sunday morning, 2 June. I am including a link to an article I saw in a US newspaper last week. In my opinion, well-meaning citizens of Turkey should think twice before aligning themselves with anarchic or anti-democratic elements within the country, and foreigners abroad who do not have the country’s best interests at heart.

Alan Scott


Copyrights of all the photos used in this piece belong to Mr. Alan Scott.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author/s who retain the copyright.

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