Soner Cagaptay on Turkey

Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an organization that often serves as a resource for conservative foreign policy thinkers, has written a very informative essay on the AK Party and the Fethullah Gülen Movement (FGM) that reflects an emerging consensus on the right.

For some time, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute has been a sharp critic of the AK Party, arguing that the “deep state” dominated by the secularist military elite is being replaced by a soft Islamist “deep state” built by the AK Party elite and FGM, a religious movement that, notwithstanding Cagaptay’s “ultraconservative” label, is often characterized as moderate in its character. But of course this is tricky. FGM promotes religious observance among its members, but it also promotes entrepreneurship and something akin to the Christian “prosperity gospel.” Politically, the group is staunchly opposed to Islamist extremism, yet it is also very secretive and it seeks to build cadres of entrepreneurs, professionals, and other leading members of society. Basically, secular Turks, on the left and the right (insofar as those categories are useful in the Turkish context), tend to be suspicious of FGM.

Cagaptay suggests that FGM now controls broad swathes of Turkey’s security and intelligence apparatus, which would be an extraordinary development and strong evidence for the idea of a new “deep state.” Hence Cagaptay’s argument that FGM is essentially targeting its enemies in the military and also in civil society, most prominently by aggressively pursuing the Ergenekon investigation into what the AKP/FGM camp claims was a sprawling conspiracy to overthrow the elected government. 

Of course, coup allegations are serious matters that warrant immediate action. However, these allegations are part of the Ergenekon case — a convoluted investigation that so far has produced nothing in the last three years but a record-setting 5,800-page indictment, hundreds of early-morning house raids, and the detention of many prominent Turks, including university presidents and prominent educators such as Kemal Guruz and Mehmet Haberal. The only quality that ties together all of those arrested is their opposition to the AKP government and the Gülen movement. Zekeriya Oz, the chief prosecutor leading the Ergenekon case, and Ramazan Akyurek, the head of the police’s domestic intelligence branch, as well as other powerful people in the police, are thought by some to be Gülen sympathizers.

But Cagaptay’s description of a little newspaper called Taraf gave me pause:

On Feb. 22, 49 officers — including active-duty generals, admirals, and former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force — were arrested on allegations of plotting a coup against the government. Specifically, the officers were charged with authoring a 5,000-page memo that was later published in Taraf, a paper whose editorial policy is singularly dedicated to bashing the military.

Suzy Hansen, an independent-minded journalist based in Istanbul, offered a different and nuanced perspective on Taraf.

And indeed, people seem to have a hard time classifying Taraf – the word “leftist” in Turkey has been subjected to a number of contradictory interpretations. To Berktay, who is often described as the first Turkish historian to recognise the Armenian genocide, there is a common thread that unites those who support the EU as a way of assuring support for human rights, who support the rights of the Kurds, the right to wear headscarves, and the right to criticise the army for its political interventions. “The neo-nationalists in this country have created their own gravediggers,” Berktay said. And Taraf, he continued, represents “a new morality.”

Among other things, Taraf tends to favor a neoliberal economic policy. I’m just not sure things are so black and white. To be sure, I don’t have Cagaptay’s detailed understanding of the Turkish political scene — not by a longshot, as I’ve never even been to the country — and the article includes a number of persuasive arguments. What we can say is that the enthusiasm that many moderates and conservatives in the West had about the rise of AKP, due to its mix of pro-market policies, its apparent embrace of EU human rights norms, and its embrace of moderate Islam, was overblown. Trust but verify. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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