For those who are interested, this is what I’ve been doing on my sabbatical in Stockholm, a short essay describing my recent research on the 1970s in Turkey, a period that ended in a quasi-civil war and a coup. With the support of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, I carried out interviews with a variety of people (from shopkeepers to industrialists, to leftist and rightist leaders and their followers, bystanders, men and women) who lived through that period in Turkey, as I did myself from 1975 to 1978. I collected very fine-grained accounts of their experiences at the time and oral histories of their lives (they were very young, so it’s often a fascinating coming-of-age story as well). I wanted to capture more than just the politics, so I also asked about personal lives and their environments (some were in a city, others in towns or rural areas), economic conditions, and so forth. I’ve just recently finished the interviews, so it will take time now to write it all up and analyze it and to read the secondary literature , like memoirs of the period, that I’ve collected.
Now that I’m on Twitter (WhiteJennyB) as well as Facebook, I’ve been seduced by the ease of forwarding sound-bite information and opinion. I’ve also been consumed by my work at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS — the institute is still debating how to pronounce the acronym). Now that my data is collected and my time on sabbatical is rapidly drawing to a close, I’m writing as much and as fast as I can. All of this is to say that I have neglected my blog (not to mention my friends and the gym) and I apologize. As a propitiatory offering, I attach below the relaxing sound track to one of my favorite movies, Hamam. It is a special gift to those able to watch YouTube again for the first time in many weeks.
And the politics? There has been little that I feel competent to comment on right now. The situation in Turkey is so fluid and unpredictable, that all possibilities are on the table. PM Erdogan has been campaigning for months to become president, without actually announcing his candidacy. The opposition has floated a few candidates without any campaigning. From PM Erdogan’s own and his circle’s comments, it appears that he plans a form of presidential rule quite at odds with the present more ceremonial role of the post. He believes that ‘being elected’ will imbue the post with power beyond, I suspect, what is on the books. (Ballot box as tank; the new, post-democratic “coup”.) He will be advised by a group of hand-picked “Wise Men” which I envision to be a civilian version of the MGK (National Security Agency) through which the military used to steer Turkey’s civilian governments. He is looking for a pliable prime minister, one of his own boys, the rest to fill the ranks of the government. There will be a turnover in the coming election, since many of AKP’s stalwarts will have reached their 3-term limit. Some will move on to ministerial posts, thus bypassing their use-by dates. President Gul seems uninterested in becoming prime minister. Will he start his own party, leave politics altogether? No one has their cards on the table.
The presidential election is close, less than two months away. It’s clear that PM Erdogan thinks his election is assured, so all that remains is finding the staff. Oh, and announcing his candidacy. As to his vision is for the country, that is unclear. He is focused on one goal right now, staying in power. Let the rest of them eat cake, as Marie Antoinette famously said of the poor. (The AKP’s callous treatment of the miners of Soma comes to mind after the recent horrific mining accident in which hundreds died.)
I highly recommend Reuben Silverman’s blog (here) for an incredibly detailed account of the issues and events surrounding the corruption investigations and their larger context — the history of Hizmet versus AKP jostling. Silverman has done a great service by doing this research (and documenting it). He says he is working on the economic angle (firings at the stock exchange, mass withdrawals from the Gulen-associated Bank Asya, etc) and will add that when he’s done. Keep an eye on his blog.
You can find Eric Meyersson’s fascinating statistical analysis of Turkey’s institutions here. His practical, fact-based approach is a refreshing alternative to news hyperbole.
Thus the problem is not simply that its institutions are bad, but that they are unbalanced toward state power at the expense of citizens’ rights, executive constraints, as well as openness and accountability.
Moreover, this imbalance appears to be getting worse…
Turkey’s institutions are correlated with countries that have significant authoritarian characteristics and strong security establishments, some – like Iran, Russia, and Belarus – are international pariahs.
Meyersson builds his argument using a variety of available databases to comparatively analyze patterns in institutional behavior, such as judicial independence, press freedom, imprisonment, and constraints on government power. Below is one of several fascinating charts in the essay.
The AKP’s executive board, in a meeting chaired by PM Erdogan, has decided not to extend the term limit for prime minister from three to four terms. This means that Erdogan will not have another term as PM and instead will likely run for president in August. The presidency has in the past been a largely ceremonial post, its incumbent elected by parliament. This will be the first time the president is elected by popular vote. Erdogan attempted unsuccessfully to change the constitution to give the presidency more power, but in his public statements has said that, if he were president, he would wield more power because the position would be an elected one. In other words, in a kind of magical thinking, he believes that the popular vote on its own confers powers beyond the letter of the law regulating the institution. If president, Erdogan would also likely seek a weak PM.
The current president, Abdullah Gul, is holding his cards close to his chest. Popular and respected, and a more conciliatory figure than Erdogan, Gul could run again for president (against Erdogan) or put his hat in for prime minister (not the weak PM Erdogan as president would prefer). Either route puts him at odds with Erdogan’s aspirations. Or he could choose to leave the dirty game of politics to those with sharper claws and less conscience. Many hope, though, that President Gul’s conscience and concern for his country is strong enough to sacrifice a comfortable retirement in order to place himself between the rock of Erdogan’s autocracy and the hard place of democratic reform.
Clear minute-by-minute timeline of December 17, 2013, the day the corruption scandal broke, from the early morning arrests of dozens of people in PM Erdogan’s circle to frantic attempts by Erdogan and others to hide vast quantities of money and beat the rap. Incorporates video footage and wiretap recordings gathered as evidence in the corruption case (these were later leaked to the public when the prime minister removed prosecutors, thus squelching the case). All in Turkish, unfortunately. Put together by Can Dündar, one of Turkey’s most respected journalists.
Here is a study of why voters voted as they did. Corruption allegations and leaked tapes had little effect. AKP voters chose AKP mainly because of the leader Erdogan and because of the services AKP provides.