Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism X

In my last post in this series, I discussed Turkey of the 1970s, starting with the 1971 Coup by Memorandum. Now I will move onto the Turkey of the 1980s, starting with the 12th September Coup in 1980, its impact and the foundations of civilian politics after the military left government. The coup was in reaction to political violence in the streets, political deadlock in the National Assembly and a worsening economic situation. It was overwhelming popular when launched, but since has become thought of as the darkest moment of the Turkish state. Despite its retrospective unpopularity and the ways that Recep Tayyıp’s Erdoğan AKP (along with Islamist predecessor parties) has positioned itself as the biggest victims of the coup, there are clear continuities with the current illiberal Erdoğanist-AKP regime and the 12th September regime.

At the time of the coup the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces was Kenan Evren, and he became head of the military council which administered the country until 1983. He also assumed the office of President of the the Republic, which he retained after the return of civilian rule in 1983. He was still respectfully known as Evren Paşa to some when I first came to Turkey in 1997, but all lingering respect and affection has disappeared. There is some ingratitude here as Erdoğan’s way of running the country clearly owes a lot to Evren and the 1982 constitution promulgated by the coup regime, with its lack of restraints on executive power, enabled Erdoğan to take over the state and turn the kind of power Evren exercised during a military regime into the permanent power of a civilian president, based on a crudely majoritarian understanding of democracy. Majoritarian in two senses, which will be discussed below. The regime became famous for abuse of human rights, including mass detentions, widespread torture and widespread use of the death penalty for political linked crimes, including a man of only 17 years. The brutality and the crude political understanding of the generals in power undermined the idea that a full scale military coup was acceptable and it never happened again, though the story of military involvement in politics was not over.

The 12th September regime stabilised the economy with the help of Türgut Özal who was then a professional economist and then the first civilian Prime Minister when elections returned. The original plan was presented to the last pre-coup government and so the coup regime’s initial economic plan was a continuation of ideas entering the centre-right civilian political sphere sphere. This reduced some forms of state intervention in the economy and opened it more to the world economy, so could be labelled neo-liberal, a term now used largely as a term of abuse, but which can be used in a more meaningful way. Inevitably, there are left-wing analysts who treat the economic changes that came out of 1980 as the equivalent of the economic changes introduced in Chile after the September 1973 coup. This conceals more than it illuminates. The military adopted Özal’s plans out of pragmatism of the moment rather than conviction, soon moving away from economic liberalism, when a military figure replaced Özal as head of economic planning in 1982.

The 12th September regime organised a referendum in 1982 to pass a constitution which was far less liberal than that of 1961 (itself introduced by referendum during a period of military rule). It retained the role of the army in influencing the government through a National Security Council, introduced by the 1961 constitution. The 1980 constitution is still in place, though heavily amended. The 1982 constitution retained the centrality of the National Assembly as the expression of the national will, going back to the constitutional ideas at the beginning of the Republic. It increased executive privilege though in over-ruling court decisions and gave the Presidency just enough power so that once Erdoğan came to power with a strong willingness to ignore precedent and the norms guiding the constitution, he could turn Turkey into a de facto presidential republic with a weak national assembly, even before the 2016 referendum which formalised the change.

The electoral rules for the National Assembly were changed to exclude parties with below 10% of the vote. The system of proportional representation introduced (a version of the d’Hondt system), favoured the largest party so that it could take the majority of seats with about 35% of the vote (lower is possible but that in practice is how it has worked, depending on the distribution of votes between parties), which is how the AKP gained a majority. The rules were biased towards rural constituencies over urban constituencies, so favoured the right-wing parties.

The 10% rule is sometimes seen as aimed against Kurdish based parties, but if we look at the election results before 1980, it would be more reasonable to think of it as aimed against Idealist Hearths/Grey Wolf Turkish ultranationalists and National View Islamists. Preventing radical left parties and Kurdish based parties from entering the National Assembly may have been an aim in 1982, but surely only secondary to a wish to keep the far right out of the National Assembly. The system had adjusted to a kind of absolutist majoritarianism in which the ‘majority’ could be a plurality with much less than half the vote. The less formal design was to make Turkey a permanently majoritarian country in the sense that it would be dominated by forces rooted in the Sunni religious majority and dominant Turkish ethnicity resolutely committed to a very homogenous understanding of the nation in which the more extreme versions of ethnic nationalism and religious conservatism would be marginalised but so would religious minorities (most significantly Alevi Muslims), ethnic minorities (most significantly Kurds), and open non-believers. Evren himself publicly quoted from the Koran, completely against the spirit of Kemalism, and suppressed the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools. Erdoğan has imitated him in both these respects.

The coup regime created its own national-conservative party with a left-Kemalist (national republican party) as the preferred opposition, both of which disappeared before long. Özal was allowed to create a middle ground party, Motherland (which now exists only as an on-paper micro-party satellite of AKP). This gathered members of the Menderes-Demirel centre-right tradition along with three other pillars: ultranationalists who had been active in the Grey Wolf  associations, former members of the left (including far-left) turned ‘liberal’, members of Sunni religious communities. All the pre-coup parties were illegal during the 1983 elections and the Motherland Party was the only legal party led by people with political experience and talents, so it was in the ideal position to get the most votes, to the irritation of the military leaders who nevertheless accepted the result.

Özal himself was a member of the Nakşibendi Sufi lodge (a very old religious community linked to very orthodox Sunni Islam, originating in the Ottoman lands but also present in other Muslim areas) so was the first Turkish leader from the world of religious communities in the history of the republic. More on Özal and the politics of the 1980s in the nest post.

Why Hayek was Wrong About American and European Conservatism I

The title of this post refers to F.A. Hayek’s essay ‘Why I am Not a Conservative’, which can be found as an appendix to his 1960 book The Constitution of Liberty. What this post is really about is the deficiencies of American conservatism and the general idea of liberal conservatism or a natural alliance between classical liberals and conservatives. However, first a few words about Hayek’s essay as Hayek is an important figure for liberty advocates. The essay in question is well known and particularly easy to find online.

Hayek’s criticism of conservatism overestimates the extent to which it is just a limiting position, slowing down change. The relation of conservatism to tradition is seem too much as conservatism being too slow to accept changes to tradition. Traditionalist conservatism, however, has been a much more active and dangerous force than that. ‘Traditionalism’ as far as I know is a 20th century term used particularly in France (René Guénon) and Italy (Julius Evola) to refer to a spiritual based for politics of an extreme conservative kind which found natural alliance with fascism. It seems clear enough that it has precedents in late 18th and 19th century conservative monarchist thinkers like Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, and Juan Donosó Cortes.

Carl Schmitt, who was maybe the greatest 20th century admirer of those thinkers, joined the Nazi Party in 1933, though found himself purged as not properly Nazi from his post as head of a jurists’ association in 1936. Not only did Schmitt admire the French and Spanish thinkers mentioned, he was a great admirer of Edmund Burke. Burke is a favourite of those claiming a conservative-liberty affinity. It would be unfair to suggest that Burke would have welcomed National Socialism (though the same applies to de Bonald, de Maiste, and Donosó Cortes).

It is a fact that a large part of conservative thinking of the time of the rise of Fascism, and allied forms of illiberal government such as corporatism, regarded it as a legitimate counter to Bolshevism and disorder. Even Ludwig von Mises defiled his own 1927 book Liberalism with generous words about Fascism as a counter to Bolshevism. The reality is that at the time such regimes came to power there was no immediate risk of Communist take over and this is a horrifying position, which cannot be justified by suggesting that Mises was writing in the heat of the moment as Bolsheviks stalked power in any particular country. Winston Churchill welcomed Fascism in Italy and even initially welcomed Hitler’s rise in Germany, before becoming acquainted with the reality of his regime. It is of course the case that Fascism and National Socialism had socialist roots as well as traditionalist conservative roots, but then a liaison between socialism and traditionalist conservatism as a counter to liberal individualism has a history going well back into the 19th century.

We can see right now in Europe the growing force of conservatism with a populist-nationalist emphasis targeting abnormals (as in everyone who does not fit their assumptions of a normal person in their country). This is not some new addition to the repertoire of the right. The strong man of the Northern League in Italy, Metteo Salvini, has aligned himself with Mussolini recently by tweeting a variation of Mussolini’s slogan ‘many enemies, much honour’ on Mussolini’s birthday. The Hungarian equivalent of Salvini, the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has rehabilitated the pre-war authoritarian leader Miklós Horthy. The Legue, Orbán’s Fidesz party, the Bannonite wing of the Republican Party and the like are stuffed with Vladimir Putin apologists, or at least as in Bannon’s case slippery arguments according to which he does not like Putin, but we should ally with him. In any case, Bannon is very active supporting the pro-Putin parties in Europe.

These parties draw on long traditions of conservative populism, monarchist anti-liberalism, and the like. The appeal to conservative love of monarchy, state church, and social conformity was a major weapon of monarchist conservative forces after the 1848 Springtime of the Peoples in Europe, helped by violent Russian intervention in the Austrian Empire to ‘restore order’. We see something like this now in the growing strength of a brand of conservatism which does not just limit change but fosters change in the direction of illiberalism, nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Christian identity, free trade, liberal protections of the individual from state power, the rights of civil society organisations to stand up to the state, and economic protection, seeking inspiration from the kleptomaniac nationalist authoritarian regime in Russia.

Enthusiasm for Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan is less obvious, but Orbán has put him on his list of ‘illiberal democracy’ heroes, and we can reasonably say that the rhetoric and methods of Erdoğan have been an inspiration for the populist right throughout Europe, even as, like Órban, it puts Islamophobia at the centre.

The role of Donald Trump and Steven Bannon as friends of, and models for, European populists should give reason to wonder whether Hayek misunderstood US conservatism. 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.

Turkey at the start of one-man rule

1. Yesterday (Monday) Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan took office under the system of executive presidency, which gives him arbitrary personalised powers, based on the claim that a system of such extreme powers for one person is the most democratic system if that person is elected. The changes came about as the result of a referendum last year, which gave a narrow victory for the constitutional changes. It seems to me, and many others, that rigging allowed victory in the election. For the first time in Turkey, all ballot papers unstamped by an electoral officer were counted, allowing unlimited fraud. There are other issues about intimidation and irregularities, but this is not the moment to go into further detail, but I will just point out that radical changes to the constitution were ‘legitimised’ by pseudo-democratic fraud.

2. The constitutional changes enable the President to: legislate by decree, appoint most Constitutional court judges, appoint the army chiefs, appoint police chiefs, appoint all higher level members of the bureaucracy, appoint government ministers and vice-presidents without reference to the National Assembly. There is no Prime Minister. The President, Vice-Presidents, and Ministers are not obliged to answer questions in the National Assembly. In principle the National Assembly can reverse decrees as laws, but to allow the President to legislate in such an unaccountable way in the first place undermines all understanding of what a national assembly is for and what the limits on the head of government or head of state (now the same person) should be in a state which is constitutional and democratic.

3. Ministerial appointments have most notably included the elevation of Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, to the Ministry of Treasury and Finance. Albayrak is a major businessman whose rise in business and then politics have taken place since Erdoğan became the most powerful man in Turkey in 2002.

4. Other appointments have given business people ministerial posts for areas of the economy in which they have a dominant market position. Erdoğan’s own family doctor who owns a medical business is health minister. The education minister owns a private college.

5. The appointments of business people and a son-in-law show carelessness about propriety in the separation of the administration of public affairs from private and family interests, to put it in the mildest way possible. It also suggests that Erdoğan thinks he is too big for the party which brought him to power, AKP. It has been clear for some time that the most powerful people in the AKP are this son-in-law and one of the sons. That is, the AKP exists as a vehicle of one family, and its businesses associates. In this case, it is hardly a properly functioning democratic party.

6. The appointments were preceded by a presidential decree on the appointment of the governor and vice-governors of the central bank, which reduces its autonomy and makes it more vulnerable to Presidential pressure. Erdoğan has clearly been struggling to live with central bank decisions to raise interest rates in response to inflation and the falling value of the Turkish Lira. Anyway, the currency lost 20% of its value and inflation is at nearly 16% though the central bank’s target is 5%.

7. Market confidence in Turkey, even of a very minimal kind, was resting on one man, Mehmet Şimşek, who has western training in economics and is the last remnant of the days when the AKP appeared to many to be a centre-right reformist party, and did manage to behave in part like such a party. Şimşek appears to have been increasingly unhappy with his situation, putting a rational face on polices he knows are going in the wrong direction, occasionally winning battles to raise interest rates. One of Erdoğan’s main obsessions is that interest creates inflation. He has found it necessary to curtail that belief on occasions. Şimşek apparently wanted to resign from government recently, but no one ‘betrays’ Erdoğan in that way. Şimşek was bullied into staying and has now been sacked. His replacement is Erdoğan’s son-in- law. The markets have been spooked and the lira fell very sharply yesterday evening.

8. The Erdoğanists do have a solution to lack of international market confidence in Turkey. It is to create a Turkish ratings authority which will rate Turkish government credit as the government wishes! This absurd proposal, which will only reduce the credibility of the lira and government debt, shows the depths to which economic policy run on political paranoia has sunk in Turkey. Political paranoia because low credit ratings are due to foreign conspiracies!

9. Going back to last month’s election, about 2% of ballots cast have been declared invalid by the Supreme Electoral Council. HDP (Kurdish rights and leftist party) has pointed out that most ‘invalid’ ballots are from polling stations where it did not have observers. The HDP is defined as ‘terrorist’ by the followers of Erdoğan and its presidential candidate is in prison on ‘terrorism’ charges. This is all based not on credible evidence of co-operation with the PKK, which does have common roots with HDP, but on absurdly broad definitions of terrorism which take in people who do not oppose the PKK enough or which offer any criticism of state policy towards the PKK.

10. Based on point 9, it looks very much like 2% of votes cast were spoiled to take votes from the HDP. It hardly seems likely that would be the limit of fraud. As mentioned in point 1, all ballots were counted which did not have the basic security guarantee of a stamp from an electoral official on the ballot itself or the envelope containing the ballot. It is inherently difficult to arrive at accurate figures in this matter, but it looks very much like at least 4% of the ballot was fixed (that would merely double the most obvious form of rigging, which I do not think is an extravagant assumption, after all most rigging will take place in very hidden ways). If I am correct then the pro-Erdoğan electoral list for the National Assembly did not get a majority of votes and Erdoğan did not get a majority of votes in the presidential election.

11. The government-state machine extends claims that the HDP is terrorist to the main opposition party, CHP, on the grounds that the CHP has offered some criticisms of the detention of the HDP presidential candidate, and that some CHP supporters voted HDP to help it overcome fraud and reach the 10% of votes necessary to enter the National Assembly. CHP provincial leaders have been banned from attending the funerals of soldiers killed by the PKK, soldiers who in some cases will be CHP supporters, showing the kind of spite, vengefulness, and abuse of state power driving the AKP.

12. The Istanbul municipal government has announced that public transport will be ‘only’ half price during next month’s Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Festival; religious festival and public holiday) instead of free as has been normal for a long time. This shows the strains that public finances are under in Turkey. The AKP are specialists in providing ‘free’ benefits to electors, along with favours for individuals and families, building up a base in local government in this way before they came to power nationally. The Istanbul news is a small thing in itself, but is suggestive of a decline in the capacity of the AKP to use public money to buy votes.

13. Given increasing personal indebtedness, rising inflation, the falling value of the currency, the decline of foreign investment and the credibility of government debt instruments, we could see some very difficult economic times in Turkey. It is clear that this process was important in holding the recent election 18 months early. The loyalty of the AKP and Erdoğanist base is intense, but was formed at a time of economic growth and expanding public services. We see going to see what happens to loyalty in less happy circumstances.

Ottomanism, Republicanism, Nationalism I

The Republican experiment in Turkey goes back formally to 1923, when Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk) proclaimed the Republic of Turkey after the deposition of the last Ottoman Sultan, becoming the first President of the Republic after holding the office of Speaker of the National Assembly. The office of Caliph (commander of the faithful), which had a symbolic universalism for Muslim believers world wide and was held by the Ottoman dynasty, was abolished in the following year. The Republic, as you would expect in the early 20s, was founded on intensely nationalistic grounds, creating a nation for Turks distinct from the Ottoman system which was created in an era of religiously defined and personalised rule rather than ethnic-national belonging.

The move in a republican-national direction can be taken back to the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, which itself put down a counterrevolution in 1909, and might be taken as a model for current political divisions (in a qualified clarification through simplification manner). The name rather exaggerates the nationalist element of the revolution. The governments which came after 1908, ruling under an Ottoman dynasty reduced to a ceremonial role, were torn between Turkish nationalist, Ottomanist, and Islamist replacements for the personalised nature of Ottoman rule.

In this context Ottomanist refers to creating the idea of an Ottoman citizenship and shared institutions rather than restoring the political power of the dynasty. Variations on these ideas include Pan-Turkism/Turanism (the unity of Turkish peoples from the Great Wall of China to the Adriatic Sea) and a Dual Monarchy of Turks and Arabs modeled on the Habsburg Dual Monarchy of Austrians and Hungarians (that is the Habsburgs were Emperors of Austria in the Austrian lands and Kings of Hungary in the Magyar lands).

The move away from a patrimonial state based on the hereditary legitimacy of dynasties, who were not formally restricted by any laws or institutions, goes back to the Tanzimat edict of 1839, issued by Sultan Abdulmejid I in 1839, establishing administrative reforms and rights for Ottoman subjects of all religions. This might be taken as providing a model of moderate or even conservative constitutional reformism associated with the Young Ottoman thinkers and state servants. It has its roots in the reign of Mahmud II. Mahmud cleared the way for the reform process by the destruction of the Janissary Order, that is the military corps which had expanded into various areas of Ottoman life and was an important political force. The Tanzimat period led to the constitution and national assembly of 1876, which was suspended by Sultan Abdul II in 1878.

Abdul Hamit carried on with administrative reforms, of a centralised kind which were seen as compatible with his personal power, accompanied by war against rebellious Ottoman subjects of such a brutal kind that he became known as the Red Sultan. His status has been greatly elevated by President Erdoğan who evidently wishes to see himself as a follower of Abdul Hamit II, rather giving away his tendency to regard democracy and constitutionalism as adornments to be displayed when they can be bent and twisted to his end, rather than as intrinsic values. The brutality of Abdul Hamit II, the violent reactionary, was foreshadowed in the reformism of Mahmud II. His destruction of the arch-conservative corps of the Janissaries was a highly violent affair in which an Istanbul mutiny provoked by Mahmud was put down through the execution of prisoners who survived the general fighting.

In this sketch, I try to bring out the ways in which the Ottoman state used systematic violence to reform and to push back reform, when giving rights and when taking them away. There is no Ottoman constitutional tradition respecting the rights of all and the pre-republican changes were just as violent as the most extreme moments of the republican period.

The ‘millet system’ of self-governing religious communities under the Sultan was a retrospective idealisation of ways in which the Ottomans accommodated religious diversity, at the time the capacity of the state to have legitimacy over non-Muslim subjects was declining. Serbia started revolting in 1804, leading to self-government within the Empire in 1817, on the basis of national post-French Revolution, not the ‘millet’ tradition rooted in classical Muslim ideas of ‘protected’ minorities. The strength of modern nationalism in the Ottoman lands is confirmed by Greek Independence, internationally recognised in 1832, following a war in which western educated Greeks familiar with ideas of nationalism and sovereignty provided the ideology.

The republican national tradition in Turkey is sometimes seen as a fall away from Ottoman pluralism and therefore as regressive. The ‘regression’, as in the influence of nationalism and reconstruction of the Ottoman state through centralisation and centrally controlled violence, actually goes back much further. The Ottoman state was not able to find ways of accommodating the aspirations first of non-Muslim subjects then even of Muslim subjects outside Anatolia and Thrace. In this process the Ottoman state was step by step becoming what is now Turkey, based on the loyalty of mostly ethnic Turkish subjects, including Muslim refugees from break-away states who fled into Anatolia, and to some degree on the loyalty of Kurds in Anatolia to the Ottoman system. Antagonism towards Ottoman Armenians was one part of this.

To be continued

Turkey after the Election

Grim Facts

Turkey held National Assembly and Presidential elections last Sunday (24th June). Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan won an overall majority of votes and retained the presidency without a second round of voting. The pro-Erdoğan electoral list of his AKP (Justice and Development Party/Adelet ve Kalkınma Partisi) and the older (the second oldest party in Turkey) but smaller MHP (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi/Nationalist Action Party) took a majority of votes. The MHP took more votes than the breakaway Good Party (İYİ Parti/IP), though IP’s leader (Meral Akşener) is more popular than the MHP leader (Devlet Bahçeli) and the IP has more members.

The MHP broke through the 10% barrier to entry into the National Assembly in the votes cast for it, within the joint electoral list, though it was mostly expected to fall short by a distinct margin. Since the more moderate elements of the MHP joined IP, MHP forms part of a presidential majority in the National Assembly, with its authoritarian monolithic variety of nationalism unrestrained.

The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/CHP, a centre left and secularist-republican party), lost about one tenth of its National Assembly votes. The third party in the opposition electoral list, SP (Saadet Partisi/Felicity Party), a religious conservative party with the same roots as AKP, failed to get up to 1% in either the presidential or National Assembly elections, thus failing to increase its vote significantly and failing to take any notable fraction of the AKP vote.

CHP and then IP leaders failed to live up to promises to demonstrate outside the Supreme Election Council building in Turkey to protest against likely electoral rigging. Opposition data on voting gathered by election monitors ended up almost entirely coinciding with ‘official’ results (strictly speaking official results will not be available until 5th July) and earlier information is preliminary only.

Qualification of Grim Facts 

The above gives the bare facts about the results with regard to the most disappointing aspects from the point of view of the opposition. This is a disappointing result for anyone opposed to the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, which began by appealing to supporters of reform in a country with rather limited liberalism in its democracy.

Erdoğan has since made it clear that he regards democracy as the unlimited power of one man who claims to represent the People against liberal, westernised, secularist, and leftist ‘elites’ and ‘marginals’, along with foreign and foreign manipulated conspiracies against the Nation.

One qualification to the bad news above is that the opposition during the election is fighting against bias, exclusion, threatening accusations, harassment, violence and legal persecution from the state apparatus, state media, private media effectively under state direction (which is most of the private media), and gangs of thugs, some armed. At the very least the opposition held its ground in terrible circumstances, which have been getting continuously worse for years.

Another ‘optimistic’ aspect is that while there was certainly some vote rigging of a kind it was difficult for opposition monitors to capture. This includes pre-marked voting ballots. As in last year’s referendum vote, videos of pre-marking of ballots have been circulating on social media.

In the referendum campaign the electoral authorities broke the law by accepting ballot papers which had not been stamped by a polling station official. This was legalised in time for the election and broadened to allow counting of ballot papers in unstamped envelopes.

Legal changes have also made it easier for state authorities to move polling stations and remove ballot boxes from polling stations to be counted elsewhere. On a less official level, reports indicate harassment of voters by armed gangs and some employers requiring evidence from a phone camera photograph of voting for the government.

There have been problems for decades with polling stations (especially in areas where the opposition does not send monitors because of a small local base) ignoring opposition votes and recording ‘100%’ for the party in control of the state at the time.

It is very difficult to know what the overall number of votes is changed by these malpractices. It is, however, clear that the southeast of the country (that is the Kurdish majority region) is much more vulnerable to such practices because of the atmosphere created by PKK (far left Kurdish autonomy terrorist/insurgent group) and the security-state counter operations.

The main Kurdish identity party, the leftist HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi/Peoples’ Democratic Party), competes with the AKP for first place in the southeast. It is regularly accused of supporting PKK terrorism and even of being an organic part of the PKK in government oriented media and legal cases opened by highly politicised state prosecutors.

There is certainly overlap between PKK sympathisers and HDP supporters, but ‘evidence’ that the HDP supports terrorism consists of statements calling for peace, criticising security operations against the PKK and it’s Syrian partner (PYD), and criticising state policy towards the PKK. Whatever one might think of the HDP’s policies and statements, these are not evidence that it is a terrorist organisation. The idea that it is legitimises official harassment (including imprisonment) and less officials forms of intimidation and vote rigging. It also legitimises less widespread but very real harassment of the CHP on the grounds that some supporters voted HDP to get is past the 10% thresh hold and, in a limited and very moderate way, the CHP has expressed some sympathy for persecuted HDP leaders and activists.

I can only make guesses but I think it is reasonable to estimate that 1% of votes have been historically manipulated and that this has increased along with the strengthening grip of the AKP on the state and parts of civil society, and also with its increasing demonisation of opposition.

I’ll estimate 3% for the votes manipulated.

Election evening results indicated just over 53% for Erdoğan as president and for the electoral list backing him. This has however been going down as later ‘preliminary’ results so it may now be about 52% for both votes. In this case, if 3% of votes are manipulated (a very sober estimate in my view) then we could be looking at 49% for Erdoğan and his supporters. This might still give a slight majority in the National Assembly, as distribution of seats is biased towards rural and small town conservative areas, and since 100% of votes are not represented by seats in the National Assembly in even the most pure form of proportional representation (because there are always some micro-parties which get some votes but do not enter the National Assembly).

A run-off for president after Erdoğan gets 49% seems very likely to still set up Erdoğan as the winner in the second round. It is of course wrong in principle to rig at this level but it doesn’t change anything important presuming rigging is at the level I’ve suggested. I will have a clearer idea about this when all results are officially released on 5th July.

On further relatively good news, the CHP vote in the presidential election was at 30%, about one fifth higher than before.

The presidential candidate Muharrem İnce turned out to be an inspiring campaigner and public speaker able to appeal to a variety of sections of Turkish society. He seems like a natural fit for the leadership of CHP, though so far the incumbent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been slow to step down and clear the way.,

The final results seem likely to show at least a slight decline for Erdoğan since the 2014 presidential election. IP is new and has no local government base. As there are local elections at the end of March next year, they should be able to establish local strongholds and build on that nationally.

The AKP does not have a majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 2002. MHP makes up the majority at present and as stated above seems likely to behave in a very nationalist-authoritarian way. However, its vote seems to have been increased by disaffected AKP voters (particularly in the southeast) who are not ready, so far, to vote against Erdoğan and a pro-Erdoğan electoral list. This makes their support rather unstable and the MHP is likely to see advantage in turning away from Erdoğan at some point, or at least cause him trouble by asserting its independence. Erdoğan is not someone to welcome, or live with, this kind of division in his support bloc and a conflict of some kind seems likely at some point.

Turkey elections: Elections, Rappers, Media, Micro-Party, Rigging, Iraq

The Turkish State’s War On Rap

The election campaign has not slowed down the Erdoğanist state in its efforts to punish anyone who deviates from Erdoğan’s ideal of obedient, socially conservative, and conformist citizens. One of the best known Turkish rappers, Ezhel, with very leftist and counter culture lyrics, has been arrested recently for ‘encouraging drug use’. A prosecutor ordered his detention, which was implemented after he voluntarily went to the police station to answer a ‘complaint’, with no warning about detention. Onur Dinç (known as Khontkar), and Young Bego have also been detained. They can all be found on Spotify and YouTube. Listening on Spotify generates a little income for people who deserve a bit of solidarity at the moment.

İnce’s Presidential Campaign

An interview on HaberTürk TV with the leading opposition candidate for President of Turkey, Muharrem İnce (from the secularist, centre-left Republican People’s Party), has gone down very well. The interviewers let İnce express his views and had a selfie with him afterwards. HaberTürk TV is a private channel but, like all commercial private channels, accepts (and has no real choice) the biases and silences imposed by the Erdoğanist-AKP regime.

It is normal for Erdoğan himself to phone media groups and complain about coverage, demanding firings of journalists, where the bias is not as complete as he requires. So how long are these journalists, and the responsible manager, going to survive? A manager on another private channel was fired (officially ‘left for personal reasons’, ha ha ha) after allowing a very brief segment on the second most popular opposition, and more right wing, candidate, Meral Akşener. Will these HaberTürk people survive until the election? Are they more willing to push the limits because the opposition is doing better than expected?

On recent polls (leaving aside companies who enjoy close relations with the Erdoğanists) only rigging (or some extreme situation) can now stop 1. the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly (could be stopped on current polling by stealing/losing about 2/3% points from HDP, a Kurdish rights-leftist party which appears to be between 1 and 3% points above the 10% election threshold). The main left-right opposition list seems to be about 3 points behind the right wing government list 2. the presidential election going to a second round, i.e. Erdoğan cannot get 50%+ of the vote in a several-candidate field (except by rigging at least 7% points of votes cast) and might lose in the run off.

I can only presume the interviewers of İnce will be out of a job if Erdoğan and the AKP-dominated electoral list do win by some means, and HaberTürk will suffer other penalties. Yes, polls can be wrong and they don’t all show the same thing, but those most favourable to the government tend to be run by cronies and there is widespread suspicion that in the current atmosphere in Turkey, some voters would prefer not to tell a stranger they are voting for an opposition party, particularly HDP. This is confirmed by the relation between opinion polls and the final result in last year’s referendum on moving to a presidential system (in which the final result itself may have been affected by losing and faking ballots, and by the difficulty that many voters in the Kurdish southeast had with getting to polling stations, a tactic the regime is setting up for this time as well).

The AKP-Erdoğanist Media Strategy: Why Turkish Media promotes an ex-terrorist micro-party.

Presenting the Opposition

Following on from the above, though İnce gets a lot less coverage on all media, including state media which is legally required to provide balanced coverage, than Erdoğan for the Presidential campaign, he gets far more than the more nationalist-conservative opposition candidate Meral Akşener (who would be the first female President of the Republic). She is polling behind İnce, but mostly by a moderate margin. She receives almost no coverage, her campaign is in fact a completely banned subject in the Erdoğan-controlled media (that is all state media and all the major private media groups).

Clearly the Erdoğan strategy (and we can be sure that he dictates it, without any delegation of overall strategy to campaign organisers) is to promote İnce as the only opposition candidate, in the belief that Akşener is a more of a threat to conservative support for himself. I used to believe this, but as far as we can tell from polls, İnce is leading in the first round and would do as well as Akşener in a second round play-off, both going down to very narrow defeat. This strategy has a high chance of backfiring by enabling someone further from Erdoğan in politics to become President.

The media manipulations may not make much difference since people open to voting for the opposition are going to treat the Erdoğanist media with scepticism and seek other news sources, but it is at least worth noting what the strategy is. It might be that the main aim is to make electors forget that Akşener’s party İYİ (Good) exists, on a common list with İnce’s party, but voters for the list can choose between them. It is unlikely that many voters are unaware of Akşener, the İYİ party, and the common list, and those that are unaware must be hardcore Erdoğanists who will not switch support to anyone in this election for any reason.

Promoting a Micro-Party

The most bizarre aspect of Erdoğanist coverage of the elections is that Hür Dava Partisi receives a great deal more coverage than İYİ. Hür Dava Partisi means Free Cause Party and the Turkish name is usually contracted to Hürda Partisi or Hüda Par. It was founded by people who had supported the Kurdish religious terrorist group Hizbollah. This is nothing to do with Hizbollah in Lebanon, which is a Shi’a group. Hizbollah in Turkey is defunct and was Sunni Muslim, as is Hüda Par.

It advocates religious law in Turkey and operates only in southeastern provinces where ethnic Kurds are in a majority, and has no more than 5% support in any individual province, giving it overall less than 5% in the whole region and less than 1% in the whole country. For it to receive much election coverage is of course absurd. The reason this happens is in the hope that the more religious Kurdish voters who are dissatisfied with the AKP after voting for it in the past (AKP is the second party in the region) will vote for Hüda Par instead of the secular-leftist HDP, which is the leading party in the region. The aim is to keep the HDP vote below 10% nationally, the electoral threshold for the National Assembly.

I don’t think it is possible that Hüda Par can soak up those votes sufficiently, but from the Erdoğanist point of view, it is worth trying and might just keep HDP below 10% in conjunction with electoral trickery such as moving polling stations away from HDP areas to make it less easy for them to vote and the possibility of outright electoral fraud, particularly in those polling stations where opposition observers may not turn up, in remote very pro-AKP areas. Electoral law has been changed recently to make removal of ballot boxes by the police easier and to legalise the illegal decision of the Supreme Election Council to count unstamped ballot papers in last year’s referendum.

On current polling, the opposition electoral list is a few percentage points behind the Erdoğanist list, so keeping the HDP out of the National Assembly would give his list an overall majority. This is why a micro-party of extreme religious conservative Kurds gets a high level of coverage in the Turkish media compared with conservative nationalists in İYİ who oppose Erdoğan and have created the third largest party in Turkey in terms of opinion polling.

Resisting Electoral Fraud

The possibility of electoral fraud and the use of fraud to keep HDP out of the National Assembly to the advantage of the Erdoğanists has of course been noted by the opposition and they are co-operating to work against this. The electoral list which comprises the second, third, and fourth parties in Turkey (secular centre-left CHP, nationalist conservative İP, and religious conservative SP) is cooperating with the HDP in a platform to ensure a fair and accurate count of votes. That the more nationalist parts of the opposition list and the Kurdish autonomy leftist people are able to work together on this is itself a good sign. There are no guarantees that the platform can prevent decisive fraud, but at least it will make fraud more difficult and shows there is unity in a very diverse opposition against the AKP-Erdoğan abuse of power.

Iraq Surprise?

I’ve seen a report that Turkish army units in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq, which have been stationed in a mountainous border part of the region for some years by ‘invitation’ (or possibly in reality extreme pressure), are moving closer to the PKK (Kurdish separatist and extreme left terrorists of Turkey) base in Kandil. Kandil is in the mountains and provides obvious difficulties for an army aiming to destroy the PKK. It is inherently difficult to observe, fire on, occupy, and completely control a mountainous region. It is a certainty that the PKK has contingency plans to move its base through the mountain, dispersing it if necessary.

I cannot predict if the Turkish Armed Forces will attack the Kandil base soon, or if it can succeed in a mixture of eradication and control. The PKK is a dangerous terrorist organisation and should be eliminated, but whether it can be eliminated in practice, without lessening the reasons some Turkish Kurds want to fight for it (very misguided people in my view) is another matter.

What I can say at the moment is I won’t be surprised if there is an offensive against Kandil before the election on June 24th, particularly if polling shifts against Erdoğan and his electoral list, or if the Turkish lira resumes its decline against foreign currencies. The consequences, militarily and political, are not matters I can think through at present.