Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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The Turkish Paradox

by Steven A. Cook
June 28, 2012

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gives a thumbs-up sign from the cockpit of the Turkish Primary and Basic Trainer Aircraft "Hurkus" during a ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Industries in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).


Below please find an excerpt of a piece that my friend Michael Koplow and I wrote that was originally published here on I hope you find it interesting, and I look forward to reading your comments. 

The Halki seminary, founded in 1844 as a center of learning for the Orthodox Eastern Church, was for decades a symbol of religious toleration and minority rights in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. But in 1971, Ankara closed the seminary when the constitutional court, dominated by adherents of Kemalism, the secular ideology of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ruled that only the army was allowed to run nonstate-supervised private colleges. So in March, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Halki seminary would be restored and reopened, it seemed that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the country’s ruling faction since 2002, was furthering its reformist agenda of making Turkey a more open society by expanding personal, religious, and economic freedoms.

But while Ankara encourages openness with one hand, it clamps down on it with the other. In May, Erdogan announced that the government would end state subsidies for the arts, closing the spigot on $63 million in annual funding and, in effect, endangering the country’s more than 50 state theaters and artistic venues across the country. The AKP claimed that it did so in the name of private enterprise and was instituting a modern approach to government patronage of the arts; opponents argued that it was a deliberate attempt to silence artists, some of whom had become highly critical of AKP rule. Since the AKP era began, the world has watched closely to see if Turkey would embrace, or abuse, democracy. What is becoming clear is that Erdogan’s strategy is to do both, simultaneously.

 Read the full article here

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    To decide whether AKP is aiding or abusing democracy, one has to compare the Turkey of 2001 with the Turkey of 2012. It would be difficult to find anyone who would say that Turkey was more democratic in 2001. So, we can agree that AKP/Erdogan rule has largely been beneficial to democracy.

    Coming to specific points, I will acknowledge that Erdogan’s attitude toward press is reprehensible. He is not behaving like a true democrat and should mend his ways.

    However, other evidences against him are not very strong. First, does cancelling of $63 million funding for arts prove anything? Turkey’s budgetary expenditures for year 2012 are more than $180 billion. Therefore, to prove Erdogan is against arts or some some specific type of artistic endeavor, we need more evidence.

    Secondly, is arrest of military generals plotting against a legitimately elected democratic government ‘a repression of armed forces’? As you acknowledge yourself, given Turkey’s history, it is not difficult to believe military plotting against government. Add to it, the evidence available and a tacit acknowledgement of the plot by the military and one can see that accused generals were involved.

    Even if we ignore everything else, given the power and status of military in Turkey, it is beyond belief to see such a long lists of arrests without protests all across Turkey, unless there is general acceptance of the crime.

    One should not compare US generals with generals in countries with a history of military rule. Anybody can read Turkey’s history and see herself how Turkish military ruled Turkey, directly or indirectly, for the last 80+ years. How they threatened, gave ultimatums and even killed elected Prime Ministers.

    The main reason behind the recent resignation of the chiefs of staff was Erdogan’s decision to do what every democratically elected government does regularly i.e. deciding cases of promotion of high military officers. Generals just couldn’t accept that their recommendations would be rejected by Erdogan.

    And it appears majority of Turks do see Erdogan’s dealing with the military as correct, otherwise they would not have elected him with a larger majority for the third time a year ago.

    Finally, comparing human right violations of Turkey with those of UK or France is a little too strict a standard for a new democracy. One should not forget that this is the same country where in the 1990s, speaking Kurdish language publicly was considered illegal and a few sentences resulted in imprisonment for years.

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