Armeno-Turkish platform

Viewpoints from Turkey, Armenia and the Diaspora
Full translations into Turkish, Armenian, English and French


Turkey, the Wear and Tear of Power. Part 1


Standpoint of Turkey

Turkey, the Wear and Tear of Power.
Part 1

Uraz Aydın


Uraz Aydın

Independent journalist and sacked academic

After the referendum of 16 April 2017, what AKP supporters (Justice and Development Party) cared about was not so much the strong suspicions of fraud as their performance, the results being way below all the estimates. Indeed, when compared to the previous elections, the pro-Yes coalition in favor of M. Erdogan’s presidential reinforcement project, comprising AKP and the extreme right party MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), had lost 10 percent of ballots, falling from 61.5% to 51.3%. It thus obtained only a fragile majority—particularly fragile for such a momentous constitutional amendment—against a 48.7% camp quite determined not be silenced in spite of their differences. Another disquieting factor was to see a “No” majority in big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul (although with an AKP municipality) as well as in conservative Istanbul districts.

There was a need to explain this outcome and to turn the trend around before the next regional, parliamentary and presidential elections of 2019. This translated into a series of entangled discussions and polemics in the media and social networks. Two main positions stood out in that multitude of controversies.

An implicit internal opposition

On the one hand were the supporters of a more moderate line who considered that the outcome of the referendum was calling for a revision of the politics of cultural-religious polarization, criminalization of opposition, and witch-hunting. These advocate a reviving of relations with the West accompanied by democratic measures on the domestic scene, without giving up the fight against the protagonists of the coup attempt, although they denounce the excesses of anti-Gülenist repression. They defend a vision returning to the sources of the initial “conservative-democratic” project of AKP.

Among the supporters of this line are found various trends of AKP in disagreement with the authoritarian course taken by Erdogan. First, Islamists who might be called “moderate”, such as former President Abdullah Gül and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. However that term “moderate’ must be used cautiously inasmuch as these two figures clearly do not mind the flurry of religious references both in the sphere of the civil society and in the workings of the State. However, they stand against the sudden repressive turn taken by Erdogan, although they did in fact contribute to it before being “tactfully” dismissed.

On that front of critics are also segments of the traditional Turkish right who were so far supportive of AKP. These voters with both conservative-religious and secular values—i.e. according to the Turkish saying, “those who pray on Friday but also drink their raki”—no longer relate to Erdogan’s project. These two sections of the political spectrum, who may of course intersect, are nostalgic of the early AKP (from 2003 to 2011 or even 2013 for some), driven by values and goals other than Erdogan’s sultanate. In those days, these were democratic values in the sense that the representation of religious Muslims and the visibility of Islamic references in the public sphere constituted an issue of democracy in the context of the authoritarian secularism imposed by Kemalism. And at the time this position was of course supported while maintaining the goal of joining the European Union.

Among the disgruntled are also found more radical Islamists. It should be noted that various more or less fundamentalist trends have called on voting “No” at the referendum. And above all, the Saadet Partisi (Felicity Party) which represents the core trend of Millȋ Görüş (National Vision) that AKP originates from (and much more religious than that latter) adopted a pro-No stance which countered Erdogan’s attempt to dress up the referendum in the guise of a religious cause. And it is precisely because the Islamic cause was brushed aside to satisfy Erdogan’s power drive that several Islamist circles were pushed into the opposition.

The devoted followers

In the Erdogan camp are found the Reisçis [pronounce “reyischis”], as they call themselves, staunch defenders of the Reis, or Captain. They mostly stick to stressing the victory of Erdogan and of the “national will” in the face of an alleged conspiracy implemented by Western powers–the alleged conspiracy starting with the Gezi Park uprising (in May-June 2013, with thousands of arrests, wounded and dead, a movement which spread to the main cities) and moving on to the anti-corruption operations of 2013, the PKK “terrorist” actions, down to the 2016 attempted coup d’état

They are aware of the drop in votes but interpret it within a framework of analysis based again on the concept of treason. A young Reisçi woman renowned on social networks connected to AKP, whom I had met a few days after the referendum, told me: “The Party hasn’t done its work. Hidden supporters of the “No” such as the teams of Davutoglu and Gül are still influential within in. These groups must be dismantled, as well as followers of Gülen. They say that 120 MPs downloaded Bylock, the messaging application of members of the Gülen brotherhood. Purges haven’t yet aimed at inside the Party. We’re still waiting for an anti-putsch operation directed at politicians.”

In the eyes of Reisçis, these two important party figures, Gül and Davutoglu, are close enemies, liable to be in contact with Fethullah Gülen. To them, the fact that Gül should have declined Erdogan’s invitation to take part in a pro-Yes assembly during the campaign and that Davutoglu, although not daring to refuse, did not make any appeal to vote “Yes” in his speech, are proof of their conspiracy.

According to Marxist political analyst Dogan Cetinkaya, who has closely followed the Islamist movement, this vision stems from a belief in total identification with Erdogan: “According to Reisçis, anything diverging from Erdogan’s way is considered an act playing into the hands of traitors. Therefore, you have to uphold all of his words and deeds, which themselves can change direction within weeks or even days. But contradictions are not a problem, what is essential is devotion.” To Cetinkaya, Erdogan’s return to the presidency of the AKP on 21 May 2017, after the constitutional referendum canceled the obligation for the President of the Republic to be non-partisan, is a logical outcome of “Erdoganism”. “There is no more Party stricto sensu outside Erdogan himself, no possibility of debate between divergent positions or objection to the line decided by the Reis. The only way to influence the leader is through personal relations developed with him. And this is where you see the race going, in order to be “more Reisçi” than the other, to discredit competitors at the slightest sign of breach of loyalty and to strengthen one’s place in the sphere of power.”




Subscribe to our newsletter

Partners on the “Repair” project: