A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Eve of the Turkish Elections

Sunday Turkey will go to the polls. I do not hold myself out as any kind of expert on Turkey; MEI has its own Turkish Studies Center and other think tanks around town do too, so I will not presume to preempt their genuine expertise. On the other hand, I can't ignore the impending elections, so I'll link to folks who might know what they're talking about.

I'll start here at MEI.  Taha Ozhan, Director General of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara, recently spoke at MEI. Here's the YouTube video (Part 1 of 7), or if you prefer you can download a podcast of his talk here.

It seems to be generally assumed that Prime Minister Erdogan and his AKP are likely to win a third term. That does not please everybody. The Economist has actually endorsed the CHP, the opposition Republican People's Party that started life as the sole party in the days of Kemal Atatürk, but which today is seeking to recreate itself in a social democratic image. (Also see H. Akin Unver and Soner Cagaptay on a similar theme.)

At Foreign Policy, Mohammed Ayoob argues that these fears are misplaced. He specifically criticizes the "neo-Ottomanism" critique of Turkey's increasingly eastern-oriented foreign policy, a characterization reflected in Firas Maksad and Soner Cagaptay's "Uncomfortable Ottomans."

Personally, and again as a decided non-expert on Turkey who notoriously has had trouble trying to use a traveler's phrasebook in this language which, unlike Arabic, makes so much depend on vowels, I see nothing very "Ottoman" about the AKP, either in the old imperial sense or the footstool sense. I do suspect Turkey, rebuffed and pretty much dissed by the European Union, is finally recovering from the Kemalist insistence that it is part of Europe and has nothing in common with those lesser folk to the east. If this is "Ottomanism," it's also reality. Turkey borders Syria and Iran, and has religious and cultural links (not to mention historical ones) binding it to its eastern neighbors for good or ill. You can ban the fez and the veil and the Sufi orders, change the alphabet and even the language of the call to prayer (at one time), but you can't really deny your history.

I am not a Turk and I will not be voting. Whether the Turkish people choose the AKP again, or the reincarnated CHP or someone else is not my choice, but I assume those who see another AKP victory have some basis for their expectations. I do welcome democratic elections whenever and wherever they occur in the region. Vote wisely, Turkey.

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