President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has challenged Turkey’s scant democracy, through exceptional use of oppression against journalism and democratic representation, extreme military hostilities in the region, domestic approach of Islamic ideologies, and continuous repression under the regime of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). With dismantling allegations of AKP officials, the purpose of this blog post is to clearly indicate how the regime of Erdogan has displayed a nationalistic and authotorian approach under his policies, which is causing democratic backsliding in Turkey.
Regarding the electoral process of Turkey and representation of the people, Turkish authorities have removed freely elected mayors of three Kurdish majority cities, Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van. The removal of the elected mayors in these cities are violations of political participation and freedom of expression. Erdogan’s government highly disregards the human rights obligation, under international and regional rule, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. His party has accused these elected officials of having links to (PKK), or Kurdistan’s Workers Party, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, without any clear evidence to support their criticism and removal of the officials. The mayor of Diyarbakir was elected by 1.8 million voters. “Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, mayor of Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality; received 62 percent of the vote,” says the article, “Turkey: Kurdish Mayors’ Removal Violates Voters’ Rights,” published by the Human Rights Watch. The continuous acts of hostility towards the political will of the Kurdish people and their elected officials constitutes a clear process of de-democratization. The elections were casted; however, the results are usually fabricated or the removal of any opposing representatives of different parties are forcefully removed from office without any legal process. The people of Diyarbakir protested peacefully against the regime of Erdogan and the removal of their elected representative; however, Turkish police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse crowds protesting the removal of elected mayors. Systematically, the local democracy in Southeastern Turkey interrupts the will of the Kurdish people and local democracy they attempt to obtain.
Erdogan has not been successful in domestic authority and oppositions that protest against his failure to govern. 82 people were arrested including former Kurdish officials of the HDP party for attending a protest in 2014. The Kurdish MPs and officials are now under custody and trials. They have been forbidden to discuss and engage in political activity and mention anything discussing the Kurdish identity, political involvement, or Kurdish cause for a decentralized government. This has been an issue for 100 years and continues to exist today more severely. The Kurdish ethnic group and language demands to be decentralized and observed as a right of freedom of speech, something Turkey lacks respect and policy for. The Turkish government is intensifying their attacks on the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by removing the mayors and preventing the functioning of elected local councils across Turkey’s Southeast. They have been removing, detaining, and putting on trial HDP politicians and convicting them as armed militants, with no criminal activity to support their false statements. Their purpose is to wipe out any political opposition. The European Union Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy called the removal of the three mayors in August “of serious concern as it puts the respect of the democratic outcomes of the 31 March elections into question.” Erdogan’s administration has supported violence, illegal alternatives, and autocratic politics in the Southeast to undermine the advocacy of Kurdish rights in Turkey. The HDP has insisted on remaining part of the government in a democratic and legal process; however, Erdogan and the AKP party refuse the opposition any time it gets a little strong.
This is not the first time Turkey has removed officials to represent the majority vote. The outrage of the amount of politically motivated extremists to arrest and remove elected officials is embedded into Turkey’s history and Erdogan’s current government. Many political activists, journals, lawmakers, and mayors have been jailed, including former chairman Selhattin Demirtas and Osman Baydemir, with the inclusion of “Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, mayor of Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality; Bedia Özgökçe Ertan, mayor of Van Metropolitan Municipality; and Ahmet Türk, mayor of Mardin Metropolitan Municipality.”
Another very significant matter that has been a highlight of the Turkish democratic backsliding discussion and important when analyzing democracy in a country, was the topic of foreign policy and the Kobani intervention. Erdogan diverted the attention of the people and media to the intervention of Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town. Military tanks were dispersed in the area of Northern Syria, or Rojava to “protect” the territory from the Islamic State. Turkey reinforced this mission to be able to secure their border; nonetheless, about 20 Turkish rockets and shell bombs were thrown into Kobani and many civilians were killed. This incursion advanced ISIS to resettle 5 kilometers closer to the Syrian and Iraqi border. Ankara stated caution from the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces to be linked to the Kurdistan’s Workers Party, or the PKK, as well. They have used this alternative explanation to expand their neo-Ottoman hostile use of foreign political and military interference in the Middle East. The Syrian Kurds have emphasized there is no links to the PKK and they been on the ground fighting against terrorism, creating a campaign of civil rights, gender equality, freedom of expression within a small democratic leadership.
According to How Democracies Die by Levitksy and Ziblatt, the hostile military power and coercion of a state, blatant dictatorship, or forms of fascism and extreme military rule, and conflicts over ethnicity, race, or culture, are the weakening norms of a democracy that usually disperse into the breakdown of a states moral and legal obligations on an international stage.
President Erdogan has broadcasted a neoliberal dialogue that challenges his economic and political factors with regional and international alliances. The terms of the AKP mechanisms are turning the party’s rule into Turkey’s newly proclaimed ‘conservative democracy’ and a climbing state of authoritarian rule. The literature of the AKP’s considerable streak of committing to minimizing representative democracy and evoking the people’s will has emerged into an aggressive political actor. AKP’s neoliberal economic and political developments are worrisome for Western governments. The AKP’s strong supporter in Turkey is the prominent Islamist part of the Felcity Party, a party of conservative Muslims. They have persistently encouraged the weakening of institutions and bypassed the European Union’s treaty, ‘Istanbul Convention Treaty’ to protect and prevent abuse to domestic women and LGBTQ communitites. Erdogan and his party has not held the discussion of the abuse of domestic women in Turkey, where more than 500 domestic women have been killed without the persecutors facing justice, under his regime. The party’s conservative and fundamentalist Islamic ideologies are a turning point in Turkey’s government. Erdogan did not support the EU treaty and did not have any subsitute policy to prevent discrimination, harrassment, and violence towards the LGBTQ community and domestic women.
In the 2017 referendum, constitutional effects were coming in place, where the regime became a depostic one-man rule. This has been shifting the power of the government predominantly in the control of Erdogan and the AKP. It seems Turkey is shifting its democratic power into an electoral “authoritarianism.” Erdogan has strongly became an aggressor of executions, a radical Islamist, and an occupier of regions across the Middle East. Erdogan and the AKP’s regime must be analyzed and held accountable carefully, before their Islamic, neo-Ottoman, and neo-liberal political and economic measures become unstoppable.
- Mızraklı, A., Türk, A. and Ertan, B., 2019. Turkey: Kurdish Mayors’ Removal Violates Voters’ Rights. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/07/turkey-kurdish-mayors-removal-violates-voters-rights#> [Accessed 18 October 2020].
- (Ireland), T. and (Ireland), T., 2019. Oppose Turkish Invasion Of Rojava – Global Rights. [online] Global Rights. Available at: <https://www.globalrights.info/2019/10/oppose-turkish-invasion-of-rojava/> [Accessed 18 October 2020].
- Human Rights Watch. 2020. Turkey: Kurdish Mayors’ Removal Violates Voters’ Rights. [online] Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/07/turkey-kurdish-mayors-removal-violates-voters-rights#> [Accessed 21 October 2020].
- Tansel, C., 2018. Authoritarian Neoliberalism and Democratic Backsliding in Turkey: Beyond the Narratives of Progress. South European Society and Politics, 23(2), pp.197-217.
- Özdemir, Y., 2018. Turkey’S New Regime And Its Neoliberal Foundations – Yonca Özdemir. [online] Social Europe. Available at: <https://www.socialeurope.eu/turkeys-new-regime-and-its-neoliberal-foundations> [Accessed 25 October 2020].
I enjoyed reading your blog about the myriad ways President Erdogan is currently and has undermined Turkish democracy for his own political gain. Nancy Bermeo employs the case of President Erdogan as a quintessential example of the form of democratic backsliding known as executive aggrandizement. Bermeo notes the entrenchment of his and the AKP’s political power though the 2007 and 2011 elections handed him the political capital to dramatically undermine Turkish democracy. His subsequent curtailment of press freedoms and constitutional reform giving him judicial appointment power severely undermined both vertical and horizontal accountability, while also compromising the independency of the judiciary.
Close friends of Erdogan’s were also exposed in the Panama Papers as owners of shell companies with the infamous Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Shady deals, like the sale of the pro-government mouthpiece Sabah ATV, indicate the presence of corruption and patrimonialism to compliment an already impressive authoritarian repertoire.
There are micro to macro examples of President Erdogan repressing dissidents. In 2015 a 13-year-old was testified by a prosecutor after allegedly insulting Erdogan on Facebook. In 2016, a waiter was arrested for “insulting” Erdogan by allegedly saying “If Erdogan comes here, I will not even serve tea to him.” He has blocked social media and even internet access during protests and has advocated for a “unitary state.” On the macro, Erdogan has arrested 300 major military and political opponents and in 2014 laws were passed to give the government more control of the courts. Secularist judges were removed and handpicked successors were placed.
When looking at your article and the trajectory of Turkey it appears that much of the controversy and centralization of power obviously stems from constitutional referendums.
The 2007 and 2010 constitutional referendums were of course helpful in addressing rule of law and issues in prosecuting former military officers under their military regime. But the 2017 referendum that shifted the style of government from parliamentary to a presidential one. Finally, the President would be given more control over appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors. Since then, Erdogan and his party may have lost certain elections at the local level, but, as you stated, many mayors have been removed.
It’s obvious that only constitutional reform can turn the tide, even if Erdogan loses an election, another member from his party or any other party will benefit from the currently weak constitution. Is it possible for the opposition to overturn the current centralization of power Erdogan is conducting? And secondly, how feasible do you think it is for Turkish citizens to use a referendum to strengthen institutional checks and balances?