Turmoil in Turkey
Steven Cook and Ömer Taşpinar examine the recent unrest and its implications for Turkey's neighbors and U.S. policy.
STEPHEN LARRABEE: Well, good morning. I'd like to welcome you all to this breakfast session. I'm Steve Larrabee. I'm the distinguished -- I hold the distinguished chair in European security at the RAND Corporation.
We have two very excellent speakers today, extremely well- informed. Steven Cook is the Hasib Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's written widely about Turkey but also about the broader Middle East, and his book on Egypt's transition has been highly praised. Omer Taspinar is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. He's widely published, particularly in Turkey, and one of the best analysts on Turkey.
So let me begin with a couple of questions. But first, let me say that we will go for about a half an hour, more or less interactive, between the two speakers and myself; (I will ?) be asking questions. And at 9:00, we will open it up for question-and-answer. Please turn off all your cellphones, and this will be on the record. So let's begin.
Steve, since you were recently in Istanbul and had a chance to observe the protests themselves, let me ask you, how do you see this? What are the deeper structural causes of what has happened? Because it's a little hard to explain, I think, that something like this could turn and transform and become -- and morph into from a(n) environmental protest with fringe elements, by and large, to a massive, overwhelming protest that spread to 70 cities. What in your view explains that?
STEVEN COOK: It's a great question, Stephen. Thanks. And thank you all for coming this morning. Let me just say a few words about Istanbul -- what I experienced in Istanbul and try to answer your question by way of that.
What I experienced, what I saw in Turkey over the course of the -- June 15th, from the day that the police went into Gezi Park after Prime Minister Erdogan's big speech in Ankara through the rest of the week, was really two Turkeys. I mean, there is always these cliches about a fractured country, a torn country and so on and so forth, and nobody paid a lot of attention to it. But in fact, there was one Turkey that saw Prime Minister Erdogan as the problem, as -- to some, even the root of all evil. And there was another Turkey that saw him as a kind of benevolent father figure. Not only did I visit the Gezi Park protest and the -- was tear-gassed -- (inaudible) -- but I also went to the big AKP rally on the 16th, which outnumbered by a factor -- I can't even -- but was just enormous. And they were very, very different kinds of groups of people who were there. Certainly, the AKP rally was a broader cross-section of Turkish society. But still, even the -- even what I observed in Gezi, Taksim and -- (inaudible) -- it was also broader than people had wanted it to believe.
And the way I reconciled all of this in my mind was that yes, it seems odd that this little park that no one paid a lot of attention to kind of sparked these -- what were nationwide protests, and how they're been kind of persistent in Turkey's large cities. And it strikes me that the -- Gezi Park is the place, metaphorically, where all of the complaints and concerns about the 10 -- past 10 years have come together, whether it's police brutality and this sense that the police represents a particular force; the arrogance of power on the part of the AKP, the -- you know, the recent issues in Turkey have been this sense that the prime minister and the AKP were writing an constitution not for Turkey but to serve the ambitions of the -- of the prime minister -- whether that's true or not, that's the general impression that people have; the rise of crony capitalism -- one of the reasons why Gezi Park is so important to the prime minister is because, as the Justice and Development Party has become bigger and vertically and horizontally integrated over time, with virtually everything that goes on in Turkey, construction and redevelopment has been a source of patronage for the AKP, and as the beast has gotten bigger, you have to feed the beast and feed the feast and feed the beast.
And there was also I think a very strong sense that -- obviously, the Justice and Development Party, the prime minister himself, the police were the -- were the primary objects of people's ire.
They're also unhappy with the traditional opposition parties that don't really represent anyone other than their narrow constituencies. And what was interesting was that Turkish officials were calling these people in Gezi Park and Taksim Square "marginals." And what I said was a they're not marginals; they've been marginalized by the politics of the last 10 years, and they're finding their voices in the street. They have been hemmed in and frustrated and have had no recourse in the normal political system. And given the opportunity, because of the police brutality, there very clearly is a repression/radicalization dynamic. The more tear gas that was used, the more people that came out into the streets.
So now this is this new form of politics in Turkey, and it wasn't just the protests. I spent -- I was there to do book research. I got zero book research done, but I spent a fascinating time talking to Turks who were newly mobilized. And there was endless meetings of people trying to transform the energy of these protests into actual -- some sort of viable political platform, viable political movements. There was a lot of organization. There was a lot of energy. There was not so much political acumen. But they're essentially starting from scratch, and they're not -- it seems that they're not at all interested in working with the established political players.
LARRABEE: Omer, same question to you --
OMER TASPINAR: OK.
LARRABEE: -- but perhaps focusing now a little bit on the underlying structural causes.
TASPINAR: Yeah. I think what we're more familiar -- in Washington especially -- when we talk about Turkey is exactly the kind of stereotype torn image that Steve talked about at the beginning. I mean, Huntington called Turkey the torn country; he couldn't really place it in the civilizational groups.
So what we're familiar with is Islam versus secularism. In 2007 we had huge rallies in Turkey, and the country was deeply radicalized between the Kemalists, who had huge demonstrations, walking to the mausoleum of Ataturk, basically expressing their concerns about Islamization in the country, and then we had basically what we called the (mildly ?) -- moderately Islamic AKP supporters. So that was Islam versus secularism.
And in the debate about Islam versus secularism, the question for people like me -- and I consider myself as a liberal democrat, not a liberal in the American political sense but more in the European sense, in the sense of believing in democracy -- was, who is more democratic here, who represents democracy in this debate between Islam and secularism?
And because the military was behind the secular forces, because there was a risk of a coup in Turkey, many liberal democrats took the position that actually what Erdogan represents, despite the Islamic banner, is first a very moderate version of Islam; second, it is democratic, it has the popular support of the people behind him.
This time around, this new polarization in Turkey is not about Islam versus secularism. And the structural cause this time is about, I think, democracy, the absence of democracy. It's about autocracy versus democracy.
And in this case, we have a situation where Erdogan is the autocrat, and the people in the streets are demanding democracy. So this is no longer about Islam and democracy. This is about autocracy versus democracy.
And Erdogan, despite being the representative of the democratic Turkey, despite representing the underdog, coming from, basically, what political scientists in Turkey call the periphery to the center -- the periphery is this term for basically Anatolia, the Anatolian tigers, the small bourgeoisie, the peasantry, the conservative heartland -- he's the representative of the downtrodden, the representative of the underclass. In that sense, a lot of people have sympathies for him.
But in the last five, six years, as he defeated the military, as the military has been totally emasculated -- and don't get me wrong; this is a good thing, because I don't think the military should play a role in Turkey; I have no nostalgia for the days when the military, the generals would be calling -- were calling the shots -- but as he emasculated the military, he also strangled the free press. He established a kind of authoritarianism, and he became the state. He became the center.
So one type of authoritarianism, the old type of Kemalist authoritarianism, where the generals and the civilian and military bureaucracy was in charge, has been replaced by these guys who basically have the electoral support but, they're not democratic. They don't believe in liberalism. They believe in electoral democracy. They believe in the ballot box. We win elections. Their message is, what part of "We're in power" you don't understand? We win elections, we have an agenda, we implement our agenda. So we will curb the sale of alcohol. So we will lecture about virtues of conservative democracy. We want a pious generation.
In that sense, this is a very interesting situation, because I can easily hear in Washington the debate between Democrats and Republicans. When basically a Democratic president, like Obama, wins elections, and he wants to implement his agenda, he says, elections have consequences. I have a mandate.
Erdogan can easily say, elections have consequences, and I have a mandate.
But the problem in Turkey is that we don't have the checks and balances, we don't have the institutions that really protect basic rights -- freedom of association, freedom of the press, separation of powers, independent judiciary. So what we're seeing in Turkey, in the absence of the European Union now as an objective, as an anchor that helped Turkish democracy, we have the rise of illiberal democracy. We have the rise of electoral democracy, a majoritarian type of democracy.
And as Steven mentioned, who's the alternative? Who's going to provide the checks and balances? The CHP is hopeless. The CHP -- the opposition, unfortunately, is unable to connect with the masses. And what we saw in Gezi Park and later on is actually the frustration of this apolitical new generation that is fed up with Erdogan, and they have nowhere else to go.
LARRABEE: Let me --
COOK: Can I just -- I just want to emphasize something that Omer said. Everybody that I talk to -- I spent a lot of time with protesters and Gezi people and so on and so on -- not a single word was mentioned about religion, Islamism, head scarf, alcohol. These were not their concerns. Their concerns were the illiberal turn in Turkish politics. These were people, some of whom were like Omer, who had voted for the AKP because they had no other alternative and saw Erdogan and AKP, 2003 through 2007, as a progressive force for change in the country that -- and they were successful in making Turkey more democratic, more Muslim, more European, without losing that sense of Turkishness all at the same time. That has clearly changed since 2007.
LARRABEE: Let me -- let me suggest one thing I think we can focus on, and that is the profile of the protesters, because by and large, with some exception, most of them were young, middle-class, well-educated, primarily secular, but as you rightly point out, that was not the driving force. They were, in many ways, the beneficiaries of the 10 or 11 years of reform politics that the AKP initiated, although it slowed down. And do you see -- how do you see this playing out with this group of people? Do you think that this -- after the protests, this group will be more vocal? Will civil society be strengthened by this?
COOK: Well, it seems to me that -- I mean, it's early, to say the least. We'll see what happens this weekend in terms of whether there is, you know, the durability of these protests. But certainly people are mobilized and are seeking ways in which they can affect and influence the political system. The political parties, the Republican People's Party, the nationalist movement don't represent any of these people.
The problem is that they have no way to formally engage in the political process because those parties are so weak and because they don't represent them. I kept waiting for some political entrepreneur to emerge on the barricades, various barricades, whether it was -- (inaudible) -- (Kadikoy ?), wherever, to stand in front of the television cameras and say, Prime Minister Erdogan, you can't do this to sons and daughters of Turkey. Everybody -- any candidate for that was sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen.
And that's why I'm -- despite all of the energy, all of the organizing that is going on, it strikes me that with the kind of awesome power of bringing out hundreds of thousands of people and the strategy that the Justice and Development Party has pursued in terms of dividing the country, it strikes me that these voices will continue to be heard, but whether they can have a significant impact on the trajectory of Turkish politics -- given the current configuration of forces and the lack of checks and balances that Omer talked about -- I think that this is, to use a bad analogy, you'll see this kind of 25, 30, 35 percent of the population seething and angry and seeking a voice but being essentially shut out -- (inaudible) -- and kind of -- I mean, again, not a good analogy, but in kind of the way that Chavez was able to kind of isolate his opposition and not permit them to have a real -- a real impact on politics.
And you see this happening with the press, and you see this happening with the efforts to shut down social media, the -- which are positively Mubarak-esque, to throw in another distasteful character, and the effort to tie the Gezi Park protests to this conspiracy within a conspiracy within a conspiracy called the Ergenekon investigation, which goes back to 2007, which is related to the deep state and conspiracy to undermine Erdogan, going back to the mid-2000s.
LARRABEE: I want to come back to the question of the conspiracy. But it does seem to me -- let me suggest that there are, I would say, four factors that made this almost a near-perfect storm.
The one factor is the weakness that you've pointed out in the political parties. The CHP really hasn't won an election in 40 years. It has not been able to get beyond its 23 to 26 percent of the popular vote and to expand in some way beyond the secular core. And the AKP, on the other hand, has won three of the last three elections, each time with a greater majority, the last time 49.9 percent of the vote.
But what this has led to systemically is a de facto one-party system, because the parties are so weak. And therefore, various groups have not found a way to articulate their concerns. And the second factor, of course, is Erdogan's personality, which is increasingly autocratic and just not allowing very much dissent.
Now, this is not so unusual, but it is the case that when Erdogan first came to power and the AKP first came, that wasn't the case, because there were a number of people around Erdogan who acted as a kind of break and constraint on his impetuous behavioral tendencies. But with the elevation of Abdullah Gul to the presidency, these other forces were marginalized or removed. And Erdogan then had -- in fact, was the sole representative of the power structure. He did not have -- he was surrounded then by yes-men. Everything had to be pushed up to the top, because none of the assistants and ministers really dared to make major decisions.
And in a way, what you had, as David Owen has written in his book -- the former foreign minister in Britain -- called the hubris factor in politics. But -- and I think this was in a case of this. He became increasingly isolated, unwilling to -- he had no one to stop him from doing things, and he began to -- and increasingly micromanage everything. This protest -- can you imagine here in the United States if somebody came -- tried to build a mall on Lafayette Park. Would you blame the president of the United States? No; it would have something to do with the mayor and the planning office. But he became the planning office.
And then, the third factor I would suggest is his attempt to change the constitution in order to become president. The president, in the past, has always been elected by the parliament. But Erdogan wants to change the constitution in order to strengthen the presidency and give it powers somewhat like the French executive. And this has caused a lot of concern, and not only in the -- by the opposition, but as Omer said, the checks and balances -- there would be very few checks on Erdogan's behavior under a strengthened presidency.
Now, I think, after the protests, it's not very likely that that will be -- that he'll be able to drive that through, but -- and then I would say, just lastly -- there is a foreign policy aspect to this, because the deterioration of Turkey's security environment over the last two years -- especially with the Syrian crisis -- has also caused a lot of uncertainty, unease and many Turks see this as a kind of strategic mistake, but that -- this foreign policy unease has fed in, I think, and reinforced the general other unease, and so you have these four factors coming together, which, I think, helped to blow this out from a small environmental protest to something that was transformed nationwide in a way that no one expected.
Omer, do you have a -- do you want come in on this?
TASPINAR: No, I think you've summarized it well.
LARRABEE: Well, let me ask this question: Have the protests changed Turkey?
TASPINAR: I have my doubts. It's easy to say, "nothing will be the same again." And the media people say that all the time, and things continue the same way, often, in Turkey. My question is, in that sense, what can this street protest -- the Gezi movement, this kind of discontent, it would seem, represents, really, in the ballot box? There's a tendency to exaggerate the power of such demonstrations. For instance, in Western media, we often heard 70 cities. Yes, but it was basically concentrated in areas where you have, basically, an urban middle class and strong opposition to AKP.
In the heartland, in places where the AKP is strong, you did not see thousands of people coming together. Even at the height of the protests, you did not have what you see in Brazil. You never had, really, half a million people coming to the street. You never even had 150,000 people coming to the streets. I think we're talking about tens of thousands of people. So what kind of traction will this movement create? Is there a political party that can capitalize on this? Can we say that this has re-energized Turkish civil society?
There I think there's some room for hope because this was a grass-roots movement and hopefully there will be a kind of more robust civil society in Turkey that will have less reluctance to go to the street. But the way police suppressed it also showed that there's a price to pay. It needs -- it requires, really, strong civic courage to go to the street in Turkey when you have such police brutality.
And also one thing that I think there is hope that gives me some optimism is the fact that the Turkish media, that was totally muzzled to the degree that when the demonstrations happened, CNN Turk was not even showing what's going on there -- they had a documentary on penguins, which became kind of a joke afterwards. CNN International was there showing what was going on in Taksim Square. CNN Turk was not there. They corrected themselves, and in the next few days there were vibrant, strong debate on Turkish TV about what was going on. In that sense, this was not really a Turkish spring comparable to the Arab Spring that way, but there was a media spring in Turkey. All of a sudden the media realized that they need to cover these things. And I hope that this kind of press freedom will energize, to a certain degree, the debate, intellectual debate in Turkey.
But if you ask me, in eight months in the local elections, AKP will win, maybe not by 50 percent, depending on the economy. And here I want to remind you that in electoral democracies like Turkey, the -- in most democracies the most important issue is the economy. If the economy tanks, then the AKP will start losing votes. What we have now is (more parenthesis ?). With the Fed changing track, you have less money going to the emerging markets. You have less liquidity, and less liquidity in the case of Turkey means the short-term capital flows, hot money going to Turkey will diminish.
That means higher current-account deficits in Turkey. That means basically higher interest rates. And higher interest rates will transfer into slower growth. Already Turkey, from last year's high growth of 6 percent or 5 percent, is down to 2 percent, and projections for the next couple years are quite low. That means unemployment may go up. That means you may not have the same kind of construction boom that you -- that keeps people really employed and wealthy in Turkey.
So AKP will start, I think, realizing that it cannot stay in power forever. But in the absence of a strong alternative, in the absence of CHP providing an alternative vision, I don't think there's a risk of AKP really losing in the short term. So they will win in eight months with 40 percent, maybe.
But who's going to capitalize on this? I think that the CHP, if they're smart, if they're able to connect with what's going on -- and Kilicdaroglu is trying, is trying. The problem of CHP is that it's a split party. There are the new nationalists within the CHP who basically are very conspiratorial, as conspiratorial as AKP. On the Kurdish, question, which we haven't talked about, they're not willing to do anything. They're not willing to really engage in reform.
And ironically, paradoxically, despite all the undemocratic tendencies that I talked about for Erdogan, the autocratic tendency, et cetera, this is the only leader of Turkey that has a plan for the Kurdish question. Look at Turkey's relations with Northern Iraq today, Erbil. Look at what Turkey's trying to do on the Kurdish question.
We're talking about federalism in Turkey, which was a taboo subject, and decentralization. We're talking about changing the education system and introducing Kurdish language as part of the education system. Again a taboo that has been broken. We're talking about a constitutional change which will change the definition of Turkishness from an ethnic category to a civic category, so that the Kurds will not feel that they're being the other in Turkey, that they're not part of this Turkish identity.
So AKP, despite all its illiberal, authoritarian tendencies, has decided to tackle this Kurdish question, and the CHP is nowhere to be seen. Normally if you're social democratic party, you're supposed to be progressive and raise this kind of progressive agenda. They're not doing that.
So I think the AKP, to answer your question, will be around for a while. Rumors about Erdogan's demise are highly exaggerated. He's going to be around. And he's not Putin. He is a democratically elected leader. He has legitimacy, and elections are free and fair in Turkey. And the economy will determine his future. This is why, I think, he's panicking, because he's realizing that the economy is going down.
And his talk about the interest rate lobby, his talk about these kind of conspiracies, it's partly to blame nefarious external forces when things go bad and to say, look, I told you so; it's not my fault; it's anything -- everything else surrounding us, all these forces that don't want a strong Turkey.
And that kind of conspiracy theory unfortunately resonates in Turkey because -- I'm a product of the Turkish education. From the age of 6 until university, we learn about outside forces that want to divide Turkey. That's how we're educated. A Turk has no friend other than a Turk. That's what you learn in elementary school. So that resonates with Kemalists and also Islamists.
COOK: Let me add one. Your question, Steve, was is this going to change Turkey? Certainly not in the short run. But there are a range of factors where you can imagine that things are going to change. First of all, this is a -- you have lots of new people who are mobilized. Those marginalized now want to get back into the political system. And you mentioned Kilicdaroglu. Kilicdaroglu was going around requesting meetings with people. So there is a certain sense that these people are empowered. I said to one group -- I said, OK, what are your list of demands for the chairman of the Republican People's Party? The media, as you correctly pointed out, Omer, looked at themselves in the midst of this and were ashamed of what -- of the way in which they had -- they had --
COOK: -- self-censored, exactly, and determined that either they needed to start all over again or that they were going to renew their -- you know, their professional ethics and actually report. And in fact, one of the nights that I was in the protests, I got driven into a cafe, and all of the Turkish television channels were actually covering what was happening.
So there are these -- this mobilization of people -- certainly on Istiklal -- (inaudible) -- there were tens of thousands of people, whereas in -- at the Erdogan rally, there were hundreds of thousands of people. But over the long term, the combination of these things, in addition to an economy that is not going to perform in the same way that it did in the last decade -- essentially, Turkey was making up for the '90s. So you look at 2000-2010 -- that was two decades' worth of growth. It's going to be much more difficult to manage it, in addition to the fact that we can't count on the fact that there will not, over time, develop divisions and fissures within the Justice and Development Party. Everybody's been looking for this. It hasn't happened. There's been a closing of ranks. Erdogan is a master of his political universe, but there is very clearly discontent among senior people within the AKP.
And let me point out one last thing. All of these things that Erdogan is doing, these rallies across the country, bringing out hundreds of thousands of people, blaming the interest rate lobby, Zionists, extremists, the American Enterprise Institute, foreign provocateurs, journalists, the BBC, CNN, Christiane Amanpour, her alleged husband Michael Rubin -- although she's married to another Rubin; I tweeted the wrong Rubin, folks -- and so on and so forth -- the --
LARRABEE: (Chuckles.) She's married to Jamie.
COOK: Exactly. That was the point, that they got the wrong Rubin -- that the pressure on the media, the attempts to control or the -- at least floating the idea of controlling social media, the pronouncement that wearing swim goggles somewhere not within certain proximity of swimming pools was tantamount to terrorism -- these kinds of absurd things suggest to me a certain weakness about Erdogan, a certain weakness.
LARRABEE: I want to open it up in just a second to the floor, but one thing that, Omer, you mentioned, the Kurdish initiative -- do you not see that as a possible casualty of the uprising?
MR. COOK (?): (Already is ?).
LARRABEE: Because the Kurds need a strong Erdogan because it's -- he's going to have to get changes in the constitution which expand the political and cultural rights of the Kurds. And if he is weakened and tarnished, that is going to be very difficult. So it seems to me that this is one very important issue, that if -- the Kurdish initiative or the Kurdish opening could be a casualty of this turmoil. And so --
TASPINAR: You're absolutely right. And that's why I wanted to underline the paradox of Erdogan. It requires tremendous political courage for a prime minister in Turkey to talk to the PKK. This is like Netanyahu deciding to talk to Hamas. And Erdogan decided to talk to PKK, not only to talk to them but actually to have a plan, a political plan.
And the Kurdish question is the realm of conspiracy theories in Turkey. The same guy who's blaming, basically, outside forces, instead of blaming the West on the Kurdish question, decided that he needs to actually do something and address the root causes of the Kurdish problem, which have a lot to do with the absence of democracy, the centralization, the absence of cultural rights, et cetera -- so decided to address all these issues and to talk to -- to show that courage to talk to the PKK, and in the midst of that is showing this kind of authoritarian tendencies that we talked about.
So you can imagine how people like me are torn, because we need someone who needs to address the Kurdish problem; we need a democrat in Turkey who needs to address this most intractable problem of the country. Yet the -- our instincts are secular. My instincts are secular. I would like to vote for a progressive party, but I have nowhere to go. So this is why in the past I thought this is the best we have, Erdogan is the best we have, we have to go with this guy. I -- and can kind of liked the fact that he came from an underclass. That's also different from Putin. I mean, Putin is the KGB. Putin is the deep state. Erdogan basically destroyed the deep state, but has started his down, kind of -- so one type of totalitarianism been replaced by another.
So for the BDP, for the Kurds, so I answer your question with more focus, the BDP is hopeless too because they need someone, they need a counterpart; they can't find anyone better than Erdogan. Maybe Abdullah Gul. The big question in Turkish politics now is the future of Abdullah Gul, what's going to happen to the president. He has the support of I think the center-left, center-right. If he runs for the presidency again next year -- for the first time the Turkish Republic will elect its president through popular election -- I think he can win. And so -- a lot of people hope that somehow, in the next 10 years, instead of another decade with Erdogan, who's obviously, tired, arrogant, with a lot of hubris, et cetera, the next 10 years could be Gul's decade, if he plays his cards well, if he basically decides to become the president of the republic for another five-year term and then maybe becomes the leader of AKP. But that depends on where Erdogan goes, which -- we should think about what's going to happen to Abdullah Gul as well.
COOK: Let me just add a couple in the -- on the Kurdish -- on the Kurdish initiative. It already is, as a result of these protests, starting to become questionable whether Erdogan wants to go forward. Couple things have happened. One, he said that in the new constitution, the 10 percent threshold of getting into the parliament will not be lowered. That was something that the Kurds very much want. He also said today that he was not committed to broader cultural rights for the Kurds, language rights and so on and so forth. And there has been some flirtation with the Nationalist Movement Party and -- which shares somewhat a constituency with the AKP in order to shore up a base. One of the more interesting things that happened at the AKP rally was the unfurling of the MHP banner, and this was seen as an implicit signal that the AKP was seeking to make common cause politically with the MHP on a -- on a variety of issues.
Gul -- everybody loves Gul. We should be careful not to make them the president of Turkey in the -- on the Potomac.
LARRABEE: Let me open it up now. First, let me just say, please wait for the microphone, and speak directly into it. State, if you would, please, your name and affiliation and keep questions and comments as concise as possible.
QUESTIONER: My name is David Abkar (ph), and I work on development evaluation at Social Impact. Thanks you all three of you. This is a really good discussion. I just want to pose one question about fragmentation of the AK majority in two ways. First, despite all the similarities between U.S. and Turkish politics -- you know, we have a conservative, religious, rural interior and a -- and a progressive, privileged urban coastal periphery -- there is one big difference, and that is that you see a lot of migration from that conservative AK interior to the cities -- you know, headscarves on both sides of the Bosphorus. And the question is whether that is liberalizing the -- parts of the AK majority. Now, the other to put the same question, and it's even briefer, is, is there any connection between the protests, which were on the part of the secular minority, and Fethullah Gulen's remarkable condemnation of authoritarianism from his Pennsylvania redoubt in May; that's the first time he's seen to be criticizing the prime minister directly.
LARRABEE: Want to take that? By the way, the Fethullah Gulen movement is the Islamic movement in Turkey, so --
TASPINAR: Yeah, we haven't talked about Fethullah Gulen movement, but they're definitely more moderate at this point than Erdogan on a number of questions. But Fethullah Gulen's political style has always been nonconfrontational. He believes in dialogue in almost anything. So in that sense, it's not surprising that he invited the prime minister to be more careful about this discourse, not to call the demonstrators looters. And that's typical Fethullah Gulen.
However, there is a growing divergence between the Gulen community and AKP because the Gulen community represents, actually, in my opinion, the strongest civil society movement in Turkey that is not really beholden, that is not really controlled at the same time with -- by AKP.
They represent a different brand of Islam. Erdogan comes from the Muslim Brotherhood tradition. He's a reformed Muslim Brotherhood guy, so he's much better connected with, I think, the language of political Islam at the universal level, whereas Fethullah Gulen is a much more indigenous type of Islam. Sufi -- Turkish Islam, very skeptical of the Arab world. Most of the Gulen schools are in Central Asia, Africa -- United States now, not in the Arab world. They're not welcome in the Arab world; they don't like to go to the Arab world. That's a very kind of Turkish nationalist attitude, a sense of almost superiority bordering sometimes on racism towards the Arab world.
So these are two different brands of Islam. They have different power bases, and I think it's not a coincidence that he is very critical of Erdogan on foreign policy issues on Israel -- he's very critical. He believes that Erdogan should be much more conciliatory towards Israel. He believes that Erdogan should have better relations with the European Union. He believes Erdogan should have better relations with NATO, United States and should be more -- less confrontational on the democracy question. So in that sense, he represents, really, something different in Turkey.
Your question about the headscarves and whether we see something changing in Turkey -- I am very optimistic about the future of Islam in Turkey because of capitalism in Turkey. Capitalism moderates Islamists. These conservatives coming from the countryside to the city -- sooner or later, basically, have to change their lifestyle. They adapt to -- they have to do adapt to modernity.
There is a huge clash between tradition and modernity in Turkey. And modernity is very much represented with -- by consumerism, globalization, capitalism, and tradition is represented by Islam. But -- and capitalism manages, I think, to create this bridge that somehow you need to adapt Islam to the 21st century.
So the Islamists in Turkey, unlike Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, don't think about establishing Shariah. The debate we're having in Turkey about political Islam is -- centers on lifestyle issues. On alcohol, on gender, on sex -- this is why I think what we need is basically a kind of liberal order -- a post-Kemalist order where religion has its legitimate place, but we also have to speak about freedoms. This is a very advanced debate.
I think the future of political Islam in Turkey -- and in Iran, by the way, which is having also a big debate about freedoms, what needs to be done -- is brighter than the Arab world. And in the context of Turkey, the good thing is that we don't have oil. We don't depend on this kind of rentier state. So there is a genuine private middle class and entrepreneurial energy, and that moderates, (deep down ?), AKP, the Gulen movement and the Islamists. I hope it will also change the Kemalists at one point.
LARRABEE: You want to add anything?
COOK: No I think -- (off mic) --
LARRABEE: In the back.
QUESTIONER: John Gannon from Georgetown University. Could you comment on the impact that the -- Erdogan's domestic crisis may have on his -- what I think is his growing influence as a regional player with regard to the -- whatever resolution comes in Syria? And then his relations with Israel, right? I believe he intends to visit, Gaza, I think, in the coming weeks.
And then as a separate kind of add-on to this, do you know of any health issue that he has that may give him a concept of limited time that may, in fact, drive him more?
TASPINAR: He will eventually die. (Laughter.) We all do.
QUESTIONER: I knew that answer. I was looking for something more short- term than that. But is there a health issue that may affect his concept of time where he needs to solidify his -- and preserve his legacy?
COOK: Yeah. Well, first, on your last question, I saw him in mid-April, and he looked great. Very much in command -- he's actually grayed a little bit since this began; I guess he didn't get his hair dye person recently, but he was full in command, looked terrific. He is, physically, a formidable person. I mean, he towered over me. He gave me a nice tie.
TASPINAR: Sounds like you have a crush on him.
MR. COOK (?): Anyway -- with his initials on the back, too. It was very, very cool.
On this question of Turkey as a regional leader, I never bought this argument to begin with, and I actually got myself in a little bit of hot water with the foreign ministry in the spring of 2011 when I wrote a piece called "Arab Spring, Turkish Fall." And I think that, you know, if you fast forward a couple of years, the prime minister has folded his cards on Syria. When he came here in May, he essentially acceded to what U.S. policy will be and how U.S. policy evolves on Syria.
The Turks have essentially written themselves out of the peace process, are at odds with the United States on Iraq because they hate Maliki. I happen to agree with them on Maliki. He is an authoritarian, sectarian, Iranian agent who is a loser. I mean, that's their words, but I'm saying that that's not -- that's not entirely inaccurate. The idea that Turkey would lead the Arab world to some sort of democratic soft landing was, I think, something that, you know the Turks cooked up and the United States cooked up because we couldn't really understand the complexities of what was coming in the Arab world.
And if you just take a look at what's happening in Egypt, in Tunisia and other places, clearly Turkey may have some influence there in terms of a driver of economic change, but certainly not on the political level. There's been a lot of time since Erdogan arrived in Cairo, in Tunis, in Tripoli in September 2011 in a triumphant way.
So what is he left with? Well, he has very good relations with Erbil, which is very good, an extraordinary turnaround. The country that went from being most likely to invade, to prevent the emergence of a more autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq has essentially helped midwife that more autonomous region in Iraq. And that's primarily a function of the fact that there's been a meeting of the minds between the Turks and the Kurds in Erbil that Maliki doesn't have it and their patience is wearing thin in terms of their commitment to a unified federal Iraq, but the Sunni and Shia in Iraq lack of commitment to the same outcome.
And then so the other thing that he's left with is a visit to Gaza, and which he announced he'll be there on July 5th. That, to me, does not strike me as someone who is leading the region, and model for the region, whatever we want to call it.
I think also these domestic problems, although they're not critical and fatal to the continuation of the (AKP ?), means that the country will turn somewhat more inward. And you see all of this with kind of discussion about foreign influence and so on and so forth, which is playing to this insularity and mistrust of the world.
LARRABEE: One thing, just to mention, I think his -- Erdogan's image in the Arab world has definitely been tarnished, and you can see this in the press -- the Arab press. There's a feeling that's growing that -- questioning whether -- how sincere is Erdogan about democracy? Does he have a double standard: one standard for the Arab world and another standard for Turkey? So this -- it will be harder in the aftermath of the protest to push a so-called Turkish model. It's going to have an effect and is having an effect on it.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible) -- PBS Online NewsHour. To broaden out the last question a bit, you briefly mentioned the EU. Does this totally -- and, you know, Merkel's response to what's going on in Turkey -- does this totally kibosh anything that was even punitively developing there in terms of accession?
And then also, you know, a lot of your fellow commentators recently have been writing about the post-Ottoman Middle East, or the end of the post-Ottoman Middle East. I guess that means we're going to the post-post-Ottoman Middle East. I mean, whatever's happening, I mean, the neighborhood is crumbling. And are they going to get forced back into this, somehow, whether they have any talent at it or power at all?
COOK: I'll let Omer talk about the EU ally. I did a piece on the EU a few weeks ago in which I was just pointing out the fact that there is a correlation between a credible EU process and reform in Turkey. This is the anchor that Omer was talking about, but I'll let him talk about it. There's been this kind of boomlet (ph) of, you know, the end of Sykes-Picot.
And I certainly think that we are entering a new era in the Middle East. There are deep historical changes that are going on, and we are consistently looking for templates to make sense of these kinds of things. I think we are in store for a reckoning in the Middle East. I'm not convinced that Turkey either has the wherewithal to order the region nor wants to order the region. I think that the conflict in Syria, the way the Iranians have approached it, the way the -- Bashar al-Assad has approached it, the way Hezbollah has approached it, has, in the words of one loyal AKP supporter, to me, brought the reality of the Middle East to Ankara.
And I was actually rather surprised in a previous visit in how many people that I ran into and talked to were opposed to the government's policy on Syria -- deeply, deeply unpopular. I was surprised that the Kemalist maxim -- I mean we've been talking about for 10 years that Kemalism is dead -- but the Kemalist maxim that peace at home and peace in the world, which has been translated and interpreted as a cautious foreign policy, not getting involved in other people's affairs, how much that has stuck, how that has become an embedded common-sense kind of view. Despite Foreign Minister Davutoglu's, you know, eloquence about history about being an asset to Turkey and Turkey's role in the region, most people didn't buy the kind of involvement in the region, particularly in Syria, that I think that they had wanted.
Do you want to talk about the EU?
TASPINAR: Yeah, on the EU, I don't think there will be something radically different than what we've seen in the last couple of years. The fact that the French president, Hollande, is less opposed than Sarkozy helps, but he's --
COOK: It doesn't mean she opposed.
TASPINAR: But that still means that the French public opinion has concerns about Turkey. And, I mean, the European public opinion, especially in countries that really matter, like France and Germany, is opposed to Turkish membership.
And Turks see this as double standards, Islamophobia. And the fact that the Turkish economy was doing well created this hubris in Turkey, not only in the leadership level but at societal level too. I mean, I think there is a lack of interest now in EU membership.
What happened, however, with Gezi reminded people that this narrative of, you know, we don't need the Copenhagen criteria; we can continue to -- on our path with the Ankara criteria -- well, we've seen what the Ankara criteria is with police brutality, et cetera. So I'm sure that if the CHP is intelligent, they can capitalize on this, and they can say, look, we need the European Union for democratization. But I'm not sure that the CHP will be able to do that because they have this new nationalist camp within it which sees the conspiracy. Their model is probably not peace in the world, peace at home. Their trouble is -- trouble in the world, conspiracy theories -- (laughter) -- related to that. So they basically are not on board with the EU.
Merkel's position -- I think Merkel had to say something. What happens in Turkey has huge impact in Germany because of the Turkish community there. So she made her point.
But a new chapter will be opened. That's overall a good thing, but you have the technical problem of Cyprus that is still there, you have the major structural problem of European public opinion, and you have Turkey, who's no longer interested.
Now, fast-forward a couple of years. If the Turkish economy tanks, if all of a sudden you have major destabilization in Turkey on the Kurdish question, the Kurdish process unravels, I think people will look for an anchor again, and the EU will re-emerge if they -- especially the European economy is doing better. This Turkish schadenfreude, et cetera, this Turkish hubris may end, and people may say, OK, we need the EU; let's restart the talks.
QUESTIONER: Peter Rosenblatt (sp). What is the impact of these demonstrations and the obvious discontent of the -- at least a sector of the public on Erdogan's ambitions to create a more powerful presidency and his desire to occupy that position?
TASPINAR: I think he still wants the -- a strong presidency, but he doesn't have the parliamentary majority, and now I think he has lost the center vote. There are 25 percent of Turkey who really considers him as God, there are 25 percent of Turkey who hates him, and then there is a silent majority in the middle who vote basically according to the economic issues and where the AKP's moderate message is important for them. He has lost, I think, an important part in the silent majority.
So he will still win 40 percent, 35 percent, but for him to become president with 60 percent of the vote and then to have a referendum to push for a semi-presidential system like in France where he can run things from the presidential palace -- I think because of the economy and because of his authoritarian style, I don't see that happening, and especially the fact that Gul -- Abdullah Gul emerged as more powerful from this crisis has to also be factored in. I think Gul, if he decides to remain as president of the republic and he says, wait a minute, I will run too, he may win the elections. So overall, what happened in the last month and the downturn -- if the economy also turns -- there's a downturn in the economy, that will negatively impact his presidential ambitions.
COOK: I have a view on this. I would never count Tayyip Erdogan down at all. He is a brilliant politician. He has an innate sense of what your average Turks believe and want and say, and that is a function of from whence he comes.
I have heard every argument why he will not get an executive presidency. I'm not convinced he won't. Those arguments make sense. There's a certain logic to them. But I think that he can recover from this, and he likely will do everything he can to make that happen. If he can't, though, there's a plan B. I think this is probably more likely than the -- than the executive presidency, although I wouldn't count him out on that, which is to change the party bylaws. All he needs is 600 delegates, change the party bylaws, and guess what? Guess who the next prime minister of Turkey is: Tayyip Erdogan, with all the range of powers and influence and prestige that he has now, and Abdullah Gul remains in -- as president of Turkey, or someone else who -- this is not a ceremonial post in the sense that the Israeli presidency is a ceremonial post, but has limited powers.
Again, Gul is someone who everybody is quite fond of. He has a very, very different style. He is charismatic in his own way. The question is whether he is willing to fight with Erdogan, who is, I think, an extraordinary, extraordinary politician.
LARRABEE: If I had to guess, I have to say plan B is the more likely. And I think there's growing -- after the protests, there's even much more concern about the lack of checks on -- constraints on Erdogan's behavior in the AKP (parts of it ?) as well.
COOK: I agree with you, but I still think that he's a magical politician.
LARRABEE: Oh, I couldn't agree more.
COOK: Just like Bill Clinton would get re-elected today.
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Don Daniel (ph) from Georgetown University. I happened to be in Istanbul, as a matter of fact in the -- stuck in the Marmara Hotel, when the first Taksim Square problems occurred. So we were there, looking down -- you know, you're on the second floor, it's all glass, so it could be -- it was very easy to see kind of what was going on. And the protesters were coming from the left over here towards Gezi Park, the police were moving from Gezi Park in the middle to meet them.
And I realize that the Turkish police have a tradition, but I was actually quite surprised at how early the Turkish police moved to firing tear gas, water cannons and the like.
TASPINAR: That's the tradition. (Laughs.)
QUESTIONER: I guess -- it's because of the tradition, but I thought, you know, I mean, you know, the protesters only moved a couple of feet, you know. I mean, they hadn't done anything, if I could put it this way. And yet they were --
QUESTIONER: I thought they were very brutally assaulted, frankly, from my point of view. And we were there for the rest of the weekend, and we saw this over and over again.
And my question to myself was, what are the structural pillars underlying Erdogan's retention of power relative to the security forces? In other words, would the police have done this with the Kemalas (ph), would they do this with the next guy? You know, is there a way in which the police themselves are -- you know, have a certain amount of leeway in the sense of, where he's got -- what are they getting out of it? And why should they respond so brutally, you know, to this guy, in other words?
What are the structural foundations, particularly relative to the police? And my understanding from some people is that there's a large Gulen -- there's a lot of Gulenists, if I could put it this way, within the police force. And so how do we count this particular group, which was the active one to go down and beat up on what I consider to be the good guys?
TASPINAR: I think it doesn't matter who's in power. The Turkish police, the way they deal with such issues is very much grounded in Turkish political culture, in Turkish tradition of protecting the state and public order from groups that may disturb it. so in that sense, there's a problem in Turkey. The constitution, the political culture, the tradition is very patriarchal, paternalistic. You put -- our whole system in Turkey, the whole system is based on protecting the state, not protecting the individual. So that reflects, I think, itself in the way that the police deals with dissent. They crack down fast. They take orders from the Ministry of Interior, but overall, I would say this is standard operation procedure for them.
And what we've seen in Istanbul, we see it daily in Diyarbakir with the Kurds. The fact that it happened in Istanbul caught the attention of the world, but in Navroz Day, New Years in Diyarbakir, you have nine people killed and no one pays attention. We've been talking about what happened in Giza. Four people died in total. Well, you have -- every year in Diyarbakir you have demonstrations during Navroz Day, and sometimes dozens of people are killed.
So you deal with force with enemies of the state, and there's a tendency to see these guys as enemies. And you protect public property, public orders or the state.
LARRABEE: Let me just ask one question on this. What about the military? If, as Arinc, the deputy prime minister, threatened that if need be we will call in the military --
TASPINAR: Was that your question, Audrey (sp)?
QUESTIONER: Something like that.
TASPINAR: OK. I wanted to get Audrey's (sp) question.
LARRABEE: What would be the reaction? Would in fact the military be willing to crack down the way the police did, or would they -- in my view, this could be a real test case.
COOK: Well, you know, he said this while I was there. And it's my sense that what he was referring to was the fact that they did call out the gendarme to back up the police. Now, the gendarme in peacetime is under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, during wartime is under the authority of the general staff. And I think that that's what it was. But it did cause somewhat of a cause celebre. And this has been a question that I've been asked, given my interest in this issue, over and over again; you know, what's the military going to do?
And I think that there were these kind of tantalizing moments where we saw soldiers handing out -- at the beginning, handing out these masks to protesters, under the noses of their officers, and people said, oh, there must be -- there was no evidence whatsoever that this was a coordinated effort on the part of the military to signal some sort of support for the protest.
What has happened in Turkey, first in 2003 and 2004, has been the subordination of the military to the civilian leadership. In 2003, 2004, they did it very wisely. They did what Samuel Huntington would call objective control of the armed forces. That is to bind the armed forces to neutral political institutions so that they were loyal to those institutions.
Since 2007 and the revelation of the Ergenekon plot, which has now become a conspiracy within a conspiracy within a conspiracy, but the fact that there was something there in 2007 that did involve some military officers, and given the fact -- given the Turkish military's history, it was easy to believe that this would happen -- the approach has been rather different. It has been to essentially cut off the head of the military and grow new military officers in place.
And this is, I think, a much more dangerous way of going about establishing control of the military. Nobody has a brief for the military in Turkey, by any stretch of the imagination.
Having the military subordinated to the civilians creates an environment more conducive to the emergence of democracy, but it's not the only -- it's necessary but not sufficient.
What they've done since 2007 is -- contrary to objective control of the military, is establish subjective control of the armed forces, which has the kind of potentially unintended consequence of actually politicizing the military, creating factions within the military that are pro-AKP, anti-AKP and so on and so forth. There's no evidence that that has happened.
What we see, though, is the evidence is that the military has been firmly put on the side, and there's been nary a peep from the general staff, unless I missed it, and I've been paying fairly close attention to what's been going on. These -- they're not in it. This is not a -- and ultimately, in the long run, that's a healthy thing. You know, people wanting the military to come out -- back out of the barracks, I think, would set Turkey back many, many decades.
So look, Turkey is by every measure more open than it was 10 or 15 years ago. The problem is it's less open than it was five or six years ago.
LARRABEE: Thank you very much. I have to close this. I think we could stay another hour or two discussing this.
COOK: Except that we have to go -- (off mic) --
LARRABEE: Let me thank everyone, and thank -- (inaudible). (Applause.)
MR. : Thank you.
Steven Cook and Henri Barkey discuss the recent protests in Turkey.
Steven A. Cook, CFR Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, and Henri Barkey, Cohen Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University, discuss the protests in Turkey and how they will affect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule.