Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism IX

After a break dealing with proofs and indexes of two forthcoming books, a process that overlapped with getting a new university semester started, I can return to this series, which I last added to here. I set the scene of the late 1960s in Turkey, so I will turn to the next big upheaval, the Coup by Memorandum on March 12th 1971.

The Coup by Memorandum followed an attempted coup by far left/third worldist revolutionaries amongst the officer corps. Any unity created by the Kemalist project (secularist national-republican tradition of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk) was effectively ended, though this decomposition could be said about the whole period from the 1940s to 1971, especially after the adoption of multi-partyism by Atatürk’s successor, İsmet İnönü.

The 1971 coup forced the resignation of the conservative Prime Minister Süyleman Demirel and the implementation of a program to crush the far left, while also implementing some of the more left-wing ideas associated with the 1960 coup (particularly land reform and trade union rights). National View, the first Islamist party in Turkey, founded by Necmettin Erbakan, was closed down along with leftist groups so that an appearance of balance could be maintained in opposing the extremes on both sides. The reality, though, is that the level of state repression, including violence, and further including illegal violence (torture of the arbitrarily detained) directed against the far left, including Kurdish autonomists, drastically exceeded that directed against the far right.

The level of oppression that affected the mainstream right (in that the Justice Party was temporarily removed from government) and religious right was enough to create the idea that the right in Turkey was in some way the liberal part of Turkish politics. This not only influenced liberals, but even some people with very left wing views. It is part of how the AKP could come to power and hollow out state institutions, while subordinating civil society from 2002 onwards. The right continued with a militant anti-communist discourse, in all parts, while in part posing as the liberal friends of leftist rights, along with the rights of the Kurdish autonomists. This was pioneered by Turgut Özal in the 80s and taken further by the AKP. Presumably, Turkish liberals and leftists of the most anti-Kemalist sort have now learned a lesson, but possibly too late to benefit from it for at least a generation.

The military establishment’s implicit tolerance of the religious right, along with the ultranationalist grey wolves, in comparison to the secularist leftists tells an important story about the reality of ‘Kemalist domination’ of Turkey. It had evolved into a Turkish-Islamic synthesis, a compromise with the more conservative parts of the Kemalist establishment, in which the Turkish-Islamic synthesis became more prominent and the ‘Kemalism’ became more and more gestural, including a pointless obsession with preventing young women with covered hair from entering the university, at the same time as the rights of non-Muslim minorities.

The picture is more complicated in that the anti-leftist post-memorandum government in 1971 closed the Greek Orthodox seminary in the Princes Islands off the Marmara Sea coast of Istanbul, as part of a general closure or nationalisation of private (largely foreign) institutions of higher education. This was a policy in accordance with the demands of the far left, including campus radicals. So a measure to deny rights to a Christian minority coincided with the demands of the far left and was undertaken by a notionally secularist government, in reality more concerned with crushing the far left and extending a conservative form of statism.

The above, in any case, did not resolve the real problems of political violence to which the 1971 coup responded. The period between the end of the very temporary government appointed in 1971 and the coup of 12th September 1983 was one of increasing political violence and extremism, with a lack of stable governments as the Justice Party lost majority support (though it remained in government most of the time). Neither it nor the Republican People’s Party were able to form stable coalitions or parliamentary agreements, while the economy suffered and political violence increased between far left and far right groups. Unexplained massacres of demonstrators and political assassinations accompanied barricades that violent groups put up to signify control of urban areas.

The National Assembly failed to elect a President of the Republic in 1980, despite 115 rounds of voting during increasing political and economic disruptions. When the army seized power again on the 12th September, there was widespread public support, but this was the most brutal of the military governments. Its attempt to create a more ‘stable’, i.e. authoritarian, democracy gave Turkey a constitution and system which enabled the AKP to come to power with 35% of the vote in 2002 and then erode the weak restraints on executive powers when held in conjunction with a one party majority in the National Assembly.

More on this in the next post.

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism VIII

Continuing from Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism VII.

The Democrat Party returned to power under the name of Justice Party (a name possibly referring to ‘justice’ for Adnan Menderes, who was certainly executed as the result of a very politicised trial, but was no genuine martyr of democracy) in 1965. This hint at an enduring idealisation of Menderes sets up many problems in Turkey to the present day.

Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan has appealed to the same theme, which has very evidently turned under his rule into a drive for ‘revenge’ against anyone who supposedly defies the National Will.

The National Will, in practice, is based on preserving a monolithic majoritarianism based on ethnic Turkish nationalism and Sunni religious identity along with loyalism to the state under its rightful leader, who looks more like a Reis (a traditional chief) than the head of a liberal democracy.

This process begins under Süyleman Demirel (1924-2015) as leader of the AP (short for Adalet Partisi, the Turkish words for Justice Party). Demirel himself was despised by Erdoğan, and in the end sided with his old enemy, the Republican People’s Party, against Erdoğan’s AKP. However, AKP stands for Adalet ve Kalkınması Partisi, which is Justice and Development Party, so clearly Erdoğan placed himself in Demirel’s tradition. Demirel was Prime Minister or President for nearly half of the time from 1965 to 2000, but never acquired the status of a giant in national history, as such a long occupation of the highest offices of state might suggest.

The most grotesque single item of evidence of Demirel’s desire for revenge over the 1960 coup came in the case of Deniz Gezmiş, a leading figure on the revolutionary left, who was arrested for the kidnapping of two American soldiers. Gezmiş was executed in 1972, along with two associates, after Demirel had said ‘we want three’, in a clear reference to the execution of Menderes and two of his ministers in 1961, and possibly referring to Gezmiş’ self-declared Kemalism (though he is usually seen as more a revolutionary Marxist). We have two major problems in Turkish politics in one here. Firstly the attraction of some parts of the left to political violence; secondly the unendingly vengeful attitude of the right towards the 1960 coup and a belief in state violence as the solution to the far left.

State violence against the far left has been constant in the Republic. As long as there was Soviet Socialist Russia and then the USSR, the far left tended to be seen as part of an assault by a traditional national rival, whether run by a Tsarist or Bolshevik regime. This combined with a never ending fear of the weakness of liberal democracy in the face of possibly existential enemies in which political compromise has been seen as treason.

The continuing idolisation of Gezmiş, who was it must be said an attractive and charismatic person, who died young and very good looking, by the far left continues a vicious cycle in which the state establishment under various governments treats any expression of far left views as subversion, only one stop at most from outright terrorism, while the far left can then see violence as politically legitimate. Not everyone who continues the memory of Gezmiş advocates violence and we can only hope he does become a symbol of revolutionary purity detached from advocacy of political violence.

The existence of the revolutionary groups where Gezmiş operated itself tells us something about the difficulties of the 1960s. Economic growth and stability was reasonable, but there was no state understanding of how to incorporate the most disaffected parts of society. The far left was not very working class in its base, which has a stronger social core in Aleviism, that is a heterodox off shoot of Shia Islam, which constitutes the largest religious minority in Turkey.

The strongest geographical concentration of Alevis is in the Tunceli (also known as Dersim) region. These Zazaki (Persian dialect) speaking Alevis, along with Alevis elsewhere, had an antagonism to the Republican People’s Party as a result of extreme suffering during state-Zazaki Alevi conflict in Tunceli during the later 30s. However, when the Democrat Party-Justice Party line became the new state establishment and expression of Sunni supremacy, Alevi support switched to the Republican People’s Party and has stayed with it ever since as a major component. The far left also has a strong Alevi component, expressed at its most extreme in the DHKP/C terrorist/insurgent group.

Support for the far left reflects to some degree the incapacity of the state to deal with Alevi identity, while also failing to adapt to the kind of radicalised student political culture of the late 60s that existed on a global level. A significant part of this international trend comes from the growth of higher education to accommodate more people from non-elite backgrounds, which meant an increasing proportion of students with little hope of achieving the elite status more easily achieved by earlier students.

Pesant families were moving from the land into illegally constructed buildings in city suburbs, creating a target audience for the far left, though providing more support overall for the most conservative aspects of the right. The ultranationalist right found political expression in the Republican Peasants’ National Party after its take over by Alparslan Türkeş. Türkeş had announced the 1960 coup on the radio, but in politics deviated from the Kemalist ideology of the military government, certainly by the late ’60s when Türkeş went on pilgrimage to Mecca and changed the name of the party to Nationalist Action, with a party emblem of three crescent moons, referring to an Ottoman military standard.

The Nationalist Action Party was named as such in 1969, the year that Necemettin Erbakan founded National View. National View is a Muslim conservative movement which takes much of its inspiration from the Arab-based Muslim Brotherhood. The National View of Erbakan evidently refers to Turkish nationalism. The nationalist movement had secular aspects and the religious conservative movement had aspects of a Muslim universalism beyond nations, though particularly directed towards the Arab world, so seeking a kind of authentic source for religion. On the whole, the Grey Wolf/Idealist Hearth nationalists of Türkeş and the National View religious conservatives of Erbakan converged. This tendency is often referred to as the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis and has roots going back to the late 19th century, but is mostly thought of as something that grew in the 60s.

More on this and related topics in the next post.