Islamic journalist Ali Bulaç offers some very perceptive insights into the current political climate in Turkey in this interview with the secular journalist, Neþe Düzel, which was published in the daily Radikal on 18 April 2005. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.
Ali Bulaç: The AKP will drag its feet on the EU
Who in your view is to blame for the terrifying chaos that has gripped the country for the past few days?
In the first place, there is a serious weakness within the AKP (Justice and Development Party). The AKP leadership has difficulty in reading Turkey, the European Union accession and globalisation processes affecting Turkey, and perceiving change within society. But it acts with supreme self-confidence as if it were the agent of change itself. It is losing touch with reality and this makes it neurotic. The AKP’s neurotic behaviour creates a fertile ground for the environment of chaos in the country.
What are the AKP’s weak points?
The AKP does not possess the right ideological infrastructure to integrate Turkey into the EU accession process. In any case, it has been unable to prepare society for EU accession. Following the 2002 elections, it suddenly found itself in the middle of the IMF and EU processes. Wherever it has succeeded in following this road map, problems have appeared in society and certain sections of society have lost their advantages as a result and have become apprehensive. Now these sections are trying to exploit the AKP’s weaknesses to put themselves on centre stage and create an environment of chaos. They may produce a ‘devastating blow’. But this devastating blow is suicide. It will be to the detriment of society, of all of us.
What do you mean by a devastating blow? The possibility of a Turkish-Kurdish dispute?
The social spreading of chaos. This may be a Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Because just now there isn’t a suitable environment in Turkey for an Islamic-secular or an Alevi-Sunni conflict. But a Turkish-Kurdish conflict is conceivable; it is the only suitable area. This is because developments in Northern Iraq are making certain sections of Turkish society apprehensive. The creation of a federal state in Iraq, the granting by this state of a considerable degree of initiative to the Kurds, Talabani’s becoming head of state and the prime importance attached by the EU to the Kurdish question are all causing a build-up of hate in such sections of society. There may occur a provocation that ignites conflict among the dispossessed masses in the large cities who have given up all hope about the future, we may see disputes. This will also pull Turkey away from the course of EU accession and cause it to turn in on itself and pave the way for a totalitarian regime and set Turkey against the USA, leaving it isolated in the region. And the AKP will also go.
How have such mass attacks and outbreaks of nationalism that would have been inconceivable before 17 December managed to take on such dimensions in four months?
All of this is being done to deepen the weaknesses within the AKP, to make the AKP look weak. The AKP has tied its own future to the EU, but has neither managed to analyse the EU properly nor to calculate the expectations of various sections of Turkish society. When it became clear that the expectations of certain sections of society would not be met by the EU, conflict broke out within society. In fact, for the first time in our history we had a lucky break.
What lucky break was this?
From the Tanzimat onwards, all major reforms and changes were made under pressure from the large states, in other words the Great Powers. This is the first time in Turkey that change has occurred without pressure. For this is the first time that popular desire for change has corresponded to the wishes of the outside world. Mass migration has created cities in Turkey, and in these cities every section of society has in its own terms pushed for such things as the supremacy of the law, the protection of basic individual rights and freedoms, and freedom of religion and conscience. This was a great opportunity as far as our history of change is concerned. 74% of our people, including the AKP grass roots, supported EU membership. But the AKP was unable to read this.
Well, if the government and prime minister had not made statements that bolster nationalism, if they had not acted so leniently towards policeman who beat up women and subprovincial governors who in an illegal operation order Orhan Pamuk’s books to be removed from circulation, would the people behind such events have found the necessary courage?
No, they wouldn’t have found this courage.
The AKP is trying to cover its own weaknesses with nationalistic rhetoric. On the EU question, it is telling the nationalistic sections of society that criticise it: ‘In fact I think as you do.’ There is a strong nationalistic vein within the AKP. It is under pressure from below. In fact Turkey just now is in need of a party with an emphasis not on nationalism, but on change and globalisation that also protects oppressed sections of society. If the AKP achieves this it will continue. Otherwise it will go.
The AKP appears to have entered a nationalistic race. Can the AKP serve as a representative of Turkish nationalism?
It cannot. Besides, nationalism in Turkey does not have a massive social base. Turkey’s society, population and ethnic composition prevent the emergence of a very strong nationalistic party. In this country, only small or, under certain circumstances, medium-sized, parties can represent nationalistic ideology. This cannot be the ideology of large, centre parties. Although every right-wing and conservative party strives to a certain extent to keep the nationalists under its umbrella. Basically, the AKP is currently undergoing ideological difficulties. This is a very pragmatic party; it has no ideology. Depending on the circumstances it is social democratic, socialist, nationalist, conservative, liberal. Wherever a new view or solution springs up, it immediately embraces it, uses it and disposes of it. It does not convert it into policy. For example, the AKP has an Islamic background. It has violently rejected the Milli Görüþ (National Vision), stating ‘We have abandoned our Islamic roots, we are not religious.’ It has adopted a conservative identity. Whereas only one dimension of conservatism can find acceptance.
Which one is that?
The only dimension of conservatism that can find acceptance in Turkey is the moral aspect of conservatism. Turkish conservatism means the attitudes and behaviour of decent families, in other words ‘living decently.’ Conservatism in this country means living decently. This is the only aspect of conservatism that society can tolerate. When it comes to labour, social, political and international policies, Turkish society is not conservative, it is reformist. It votes for parties that are associated with change. Anyhow, conservatism has neither in the West nor in Turkey produced good results. But the AKP misreads society.
How does it read society?
It thinks that Turkish society is composed of Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Laz, Alevis, Sunnis, workers, small businesspeople, women, men and conservatives. While actually in Turkey there is now an urban society, an urban class. This is a dynamic society resulting from migration that changes and turns upside down every day and seeks a channel to flow through. This is in fact why Turkish society wishes to enter the EU, does not fear globalization and is full of such energy and self confidence. However, if you confront this society with a conservative ideology, all you will do is irritate and paralyse it. This is not what society wants; the AKP is currently experiencing just this problem. Then, Turkish voters have no loyalty. They have no religious loyalty. They have no ideological or class loyalty. As constituency voters they continually change parties and leaders, constantly in search of a party that will represent change and carry them to the centre stage.
Does the AKP no longer represent change in the eyes of the electorate?
The countdown has started in the AKP. Nationalist knee-jerk reactions are symptomatic of the weaknesses it is experiencing. Actually, whenever the AKP addresses society’s desire for change, it receives massive support. The desire for change brought it to the fore. Since the electorate still finds itself faced with no alternative, even if the AKP’s political support falls from 45-50 percent to 35-40 percent it will continue, but the AKP has no social support at present. This is because it has failed to solve basic problems within society such as unemployment, poverty, corruption and inequality of income. The AKP has failed to apply measures to eliminate corruption, regulate income distribution, improve the lives of those living in the East and of migrants from the East to the large cities. In this country there are eighteen million poor people, one million hungry people. Unemployment is much higher than the official figure of ten percent. Under the AKP administration the weak sections of society and the poor have seen no improvement in their lives.
Is the AKP administration really unaware that as the nationalistic race heats up it is losing its grip on power and control of the nation and opening the way for other forces to enter politics?
You think they don’t know this? But the AKP sees the lack of political alternatives as a kind of guarantee in its pocket. This is not the case. This is a very dynamic society, it creates alternatives immediately. Then, because the AKP has no ideology, whenever it is faced with an external ideological attack it immediately gets dragged along with it. If it was based on a strong world view, there would be some resistance; it would put up a fight. It would not attach importance to nationalism. Nationalist ideology may provoke the AKP from the inside, devoid as it is of any strong political idea. This is when it will alienate its core base. For this party’s core base is not nationalistic by nature. This base has nationalistic sensitivities, but … The AKP’s core base is an urban class that has come into being as a result of migration. This at the same time is a social group that wants change. Islam here is an umbrella. But this does not mean that they are all going to pray, fast and cover their heads. The AKP has been unable to solve the problems of this section of society. At the moment violence is spreading through the shanty towns and slums in Turkey. Pathological behaviour is on the increase. People on the streets talk endlessly into their mobile phones. But they don’t have lines. They are talking into empty boxes.
The AKP, with the wholehearted support of its base behind it, has fought for EU membership. During that period its power and influence increased. What has suddenly happened to make the AKP portray itself as a party that is not keen on the EU?
There are three reasons. The first of these is that the EU, with all its sensitivity towards the rights and freedoms of Kurds and Alevis, shows no interest in the aspirations of the Sunni majority towards freedom in matters such as headscarves, religious schools and university administration. The sections of society supporting the AKP have seen their dreams dashed by the EU. The second reason is the presence in Turkey of influential nationalist forces that are apprehensive of the EU. These anti-EU forces are increasingly making their voices heard. There is a coalition to this end of societies, foundations, communities, secret organisations and underground organisations crossing the spectrum from religious groups, socialist and pro-third-world groups to conservative sections of society. There is probably support for them from within the deep state. This front has names like ‘the Red Apple Coalition, the National Forces, the nationalist front.’ They were previously unorganised, now they have become a force. This has scared the AKP and it has started to attach importance to nationalist rhetoric. But the nationalist front has no chance of coming to power in Turkey.
There may be a devastating blow in this country, major disturbances and confusion may be created, the whole of society may be driven into a state of chaos, but this society possesses strong dynamics and will rapidly recover. The world no longer supports this kind of rule, that of 27 May, 12 March and 12 September. There are thirty million dollars of hot money in Turkey. If five million is pulled out the economy will be overturned.
Are there also nationalists within the AKP?
Their tentacles may stretch that far. The nationalistic vein within the AKP may be exploited by the nationalists. The third reason that is alienating the AKP from the EU are the mistaken policies of the EU towards Turkey. The AKP, by taking responsibility for the EU accession process, acquired a great deal of prestige domestically, it won the support of all sections of society, but it failed to educate the public about the EU. False expectations during the EU accession process have lead to disappointment and conflict. The AKP base has cooled very much towards the EU. If its religious base abandons its EU-linked aspirations this will negatively impact on Turkey’s EU accession process. The AKP at the moment can’t find a way out and is trying to gain time and drag its feet over EU accession. The AKP will do all it can to drag its feet on EU accession.
OK, can the AKP be a powerful political force in Turkey without world support?
Domestically it may lose its standing with intellectuals and certain sections of society, but certain formations within the EU which are constantly growing stronger would like nothing more than to see the AKP dragging its feet over EU accession. For the actions of both sides seem to be saying ‘You hold back a bit and we’ll drag our feet a little.’
Is the AKP now allying itself with the opponents of Turkey within the EU?
That is not what I am trying to say. If that’s the way you want to interpret it, so be it.
But if Turkey breaks away from the West, isn’t there the danger in this country of the existence of a government that is opposed by the deep state?
In your opinion, are there politicians in the AKP leadership with close links to the deep state?
I don’t know, but certain politicians whose political careers were totally finished joined the AKP at the last minute and have risen to the top ranks. But they had no chance of surviving politically.
What position should the administration adopt to prevent political power being usurped once more?
It must embrace change. The AKP must not abandon the EU accession process. The AKP incorrectly analyses Turkey and the world; it is unable to solve problems. At the moment a small clique closely connected to the party is getting rich. Like every administration, the AKP is creating its own wealthy class. This wealth does not filter down to the people. Because of this lack of filtering down, wide sections of society are suddenly breaking off from the AKP.
So does the AKP administration fill you with confidence?
No, it doesn’t. I would so love to see it succeed, though …
Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton