The Republic of Turkey which serves as a bridge between Europe and Asia, both geographically and culturally, is a special country surrounded by sea on three sides. With its distinctive culture, historical richness, natural beauties, landmarks, and warm locals, Turkey attracts countless visitors from around the world. Furthermore, this 95-year-old republic has a very dynamic past.
A long succession of political entities existed in Asia Minor over the centuries. Turkmen tribes invaded Anatolia in the 11th century CE, to find the Seljuq empire; during the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire began a long expansion, reaching its peak during the 17th century. The modern Turkish republic, founded in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, is a nationalist, secular, parliamentary democracy. After a period of one-party rule under its founder, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), and his successor, Turkish governments since the 1950s have been produced by multiparty elections based on universal adult suffrage.
The Start of Modern Turkey
As already mentioned, the history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the republic on October 29, 1923, with Kemal as its first president. The government was formed from the Ankara-based revolutionary group, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues. The second constitution was ratified by the Grand National Assembly on April 20, 1924.
The 1990s were full of political and economic instability in Turkey. In 1997, military forces sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan claiming the disturbance of the government’s religious actions and Necmettin Erbakan had consequently resigned. This event is known as the ‘post-modern coup’ in Turkey. A new coalition party was then formed. After a long coalition period, the Justice and Development Party won the elections, gaining the right to form the government alone. To this date, the same party has won all the elections and has been the ruling party in Turkey. Turkish people were finally given the right to choose their own president. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first President who was elected by the people.
Step by step over the years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey sought to ensure nobody could challenge him. He marginalized adversaries. He purged the army, the police, and the courts. He cowed the press. He strengthened his powers in the Constitution. And he promised Turks a bright economic future.
The Challenges faced by AKP
The polarization of society has been a key strategy used by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to secure and hold on to power. Legal uncertainty, distrust in the judiciary, the deterioration of fundamental rights and freedoms, and inefficiency in governmental sectors have increased in the aftermath of the averted military coup of 15 July 2016. Suppression of opposition has intensified under the subsequent state of emergency, which lasted until July 2018. The new presidential system, introduced in the wake of the April 2017 referendum and the 2018 general elections, is an attempt to promote efficiency and coordination in governmental processes, especially in decision-making and implementation, through the use of government offices, councils and ministries. However, such centralization and unification of decision-making in the hands of the president raises doubts about the sustainability of interministerial coordination.
The Turkish-Kurdish War
The PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has launched a terror campaign against Turkey that has continued for four decades targeting both civilians and security forces. The group initially sought to establish a joint independent entity in Kurdish-dominated areas of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. They named it as Kurdistan. On the political front, the first Kurdish-dominated parties, which were allegedly PKK-influenced, have successively begun to emerge in Turkish political spectrum. Until the current Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), there have been at least seven parties established by this political movement. Five of them were active during the 1990s. These parties were successively closed by the Turkish Supreme Court on the grounds that they had been involved in separatist terrorist activities connected to the PKK, violating the constitution. In June 2015, Turkey held a crucial general election whereas a first the HDP surpassed Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold to be represented at the Parliament. In the end, the PKK’s umbrella organization, KCK, unilaterally ended more than two years of the ceasefire with the government on July 11 and further threatened Turkey with attacks. After the threats, the PKK has launched various attacks on both police and the Turkish Armed Forces.
Involvement of the United States of America
In 2017, Turkish top officials repeatedly warned the US and its Western partners not to ally with the YPG in their fighting against Daesh, but Ankara’s warnings have not been heard by Washington, which continued to heavily arm and train the PKK’s Syrian wing. After U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced in December 2018 that the United States would begin withdrawing troops from Syria, Syrian Kurds, who have largely fought as members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), expressed concerns that Turkey would increase its attacks against them. Ilham Ahmed, the leader of the Syrian Kurds’ largest political organization, asked western governments to create an international observer force along the Syria-Turkey border. In January 2019, Trump threatened to sanction Turkey should the Turkish military attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton indicated that the United States would continue to seek reassurances from Erdogan that the Syrian Kurds would not be attacked. As the Syrian civil war winds down, Erdogan and Trump have continued to discuss options for establishing a safe zone and whether the United States will retrieve the weapons it provided to the Syrian Kurds.
What is Turkey doing?
In October 2019, Turkey launched another big operation, Operation Peace Spring, against the YPG in northeastern Syria, taking over crucial border cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in several days.
While Turkey has already become an authoritarian country and any further step in that direction would mean it loses its democratic elements altogether. There is no more space for further authoritarianism in Turkey. A few more steps in that direction would be to declare it a regime in which even elections have no place.
AKP Losing its Influence
For the first time, the AKP suffered humiliating defeats in several major cities in the 2019 local elections, and the sense that Erdoğan has begun to lose his magic touch after 17 years in office was compounded by an embarrassing strategic miscalculation to re-run Istanbul’s mayoral race.
While Turkey is not supposed to hold a general election until 2023, under the country’s new presidential system opposition party alliances would only need to shave off a few percentage points from the AKP’s coalition with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to destroy the government’s already weakened majority.
In conclusion, Turkey is a fluid, unsteady country, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the next month, let alone the future. In the year 2025, these clashes will become much more visible and urgent: between religion and secularism, tribalism and globalism, nationalism and humanism, those who want to monopolize power and never let go and those who believe in a pluralistic democracy.