Is Turkey a republic failing?
Department of Defense disclaimer: “The opinions and views expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of the DoD, USAF, or U.S. Government.”
As Islamic State Group and radical Islamic elements worldwide coalesce around the idea of eradicating Western democracy to establish a Caliphate (a form of religious Fascism governed by Sharia law), it is probable that Islamic elements will begin destabilizing states with Western ties closest to the movement’s epicenter. Even as the international community deliberates how to respond to the threat of ISIS, it is conceivable that Turkey, home to NATO’s second largest military, will soon find itself struggling for survival.
Both Turkey’s deteriorating geopolitical climate and its close proximity to a widening sphere of radicalism make it a lucrative prize if it can be destabilized further.
Both Turkey’s deteriorating geopolitical climate and its close proximity to a widening sphere of radicalism make it a lucrative prize if it can be destabilized further. Such an outcome is increasingly likely due to an array of factors working within the nation’s central government in addition to other internal and external forces such as the economic and demographic impact from nearly 1.7M Syrian war refugees, the ongoing Kurdish issue, and increasingly strained relations with Western and Gulf allies.
Since 2002, Turkey has experienced political destabilization do to the policies of then Prime Minister, now President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2011, Erdoğan cemented his position in government by removing the nation’s top military leadership under the guise of preventing a coup. The imprisonment of over 600 military leaders signaled a major political change as military authority is a constitutional provision designed to keep politically extreme factions in check.
Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Attatürk, understood Turkey required sustained constitutional opposition to religious extremism and noted: “Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people: it is against such people we have fought and will continue to fight.”
As Erdoğan continues to solidify power by changing laws and silencing opposition, the conservative Islamic elements that have supported his controversial actions increasingly require him to act in a manner consistent with Islamic law. In aggregate, these demands have caused the rapid erosion of 80 plus years of democratic reform. Erdoğan was criticized by Western powers, including the European Union which Turkey has sought membership for years, in late 2014 for imprisoning media opposition. The president responded with, “The EU should mind its own business and keep its own opinions to itself.” It seems Erdoğan is willing to forego the opportunity to become a member of the EU rather than receive criticism for unconstitutional policies.
While Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Egypt remain faltering democracies, no nation’s declension is more alarming than Turkey’s – a key Western ally that has enjoyed stability for more than five decades.
While Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Egypt remain faltering democracies, no nation’s declension is more alarming than Turkey’s – a key Western ally that has enjoyed stability for more than five decades. In 2013, Turkey’s internal struggles made international headlines when hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in the nation’s largest cities to protest against Erdoğan’s impingements on everything from freedom of the press to freedom of assembly. But the crackdown was not confined to the political realm. Turkish citizens also expressed shock and outrage at the banning of simple items from contraception pills to the service of alcohol after 10:00 p.m. Witnesses and protestors related that entire communications networks were blacked out in an effort by government to curb the rallies. In fact, there was an international condemnation of the blocking of social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. These events reveal that Erdoğan, a soft dictator, has allowed fundamentalist Islamic elements to advance their causes in the interest of his political ambition.
At the writing of this article, all of the authors’ contacts within Turkey are unwilling to speak on the record out of fear of reprisal. The central government now seizes any opportunity to extrapolate policies that prevent criticism of the President to any situation viewed as a threat. One recent incident led to formal charges against a 16-year-old student for a university speech critical of the government. According to BBC, the student now faces up to four years in prison.
In the latest effort to silence opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) State Television banned advertisements by the main opposition – The Republican Peoples Party (CHP). Turkey ranked 149 out of 180 nations for freedom of the press according to Reporters Without Boarders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index. In December of 2013, the New York Times reported that Turkey was guilty of jailing more journalists than any other country. The data the NY Times used from the Committee to Protect Journalists was updated in 2014, indicating there were seven journalists in Turkish jails.
While the United States turns a blind eye and refuses to condemn these and many other events such as the recent graft probe, the imprisoning of numerous military and government officials and the ongoing Armenian genocide issue in the interest preserving warm relations, such an approach could undermine Turkey’s future as a democratic government. However, before the United States can push for reforms, it must first close a growing credibility gap.
The United States must adhere without wavering to its commitment to universal human rights, dignity, and liberty.
The United States must adhere without wavering to its commitment to universal human rights, dignity, and liberty. We must abandon the doctrine of freedom and transparency for security; reject paranoia cultivated by an over-bloated intelligence community, and continue give right of way to the ideals which hold universal appeal to nations hungry for liberty – the supreme priority of upholding the freedom and dignity of citizens.
If we fail in this, America’s democratic allies will continue waxing fragile as they draw confidence from our compromises. Turkey will be but a Bell Weather in a cascade of toppling states as nations become democracies merely in word and then succumb to the forces of extremism. Turkey must not fail to see that ISIS is literally on the doorstep, and the U.S. must re-buff efforts to hold itself and its democratic allies to constitutional standards in the face of growing threats to freedom.
 NATO, Table 6, Armed Forces Annual Strength 2013e, “Turkey”. http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_topics/20140224_140224-PR2014-028-Defence-exp.pdf