“Putin is like Al Capone” (Garry Kasparov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Turkey dominated the mainstream media’s agenda at a time when the international community was overwhelmed by the escalation of the Iran-US hostilities.
The occasion was the launch of the TurkStream pipeline project, the latest joint energy project between the two countries, though the opening of the pipeline became secondary to behind the scenes diplomacy. Productive as always, the two presidents’ meeting led to ceasefire plans for Libya and Idlib region of Syria, although both initiatives have failed to materialize. The tangible rapprochement between the two countries in recent years has been interpreted in terms of Russia’s geostrategic aims, including the security of energy transportation routes and weakening the NATO bloc, and the Turkish president’s desperation for a strong international ally.
Gas and oil pipelines, regional diplomacy and global power struggles are certainly the primary reasons that frequently bring the two men together but the nexus between Putin and Erdoğan probably has a rather deeper, structural dimension, which can only be defined in terms of proximity or inspiration. To begin with, a shared “will to power” is immediately observable: Putin has reigned over Russia more than two decades; similarly Erdoğan’s rule has continued since 2002. In this context, Putin seems to be a role model, a source of inspiration for Erdoğan, from where the Turkish president obtained the prescription on how to establish autocratic power in the 21st Century and hold on to it. A guess as to the contents of this prescription is only possible after a close look at the Putinist model of transition to “neoliberal autocracy” (Boris Kagarlitsky).
Putin’s primary political concern was centralization against the regional elites and business tycoons that had developed during Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet administration. Putin inherited strong presidential powers, which he utilized to their limits. The parliament (State Duma) was an already weak institution, referred to as “a rubber-stamping parliament” (The Economist), which he effectively turned into “a puppet parliament” according to Putin critic Boris Nemptsov, who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015.
Putin’s time in power witnessed the virtual elimination of the system of separation of powers with presidential interventions into the judicial process. Selective application of the law replaced the equal distribution of justice and the law was reduced to a tool to suppress the political opposition and eliminate rival economic elites.
In Putinist transition, the media was the first casualty. The ownership of the TV company NTV, which was watched by 70 per cent of the population, was taken over by a pro-Putin businessman, while Boris Brezovsky, the owner of the other popular TV channel, ORT, had to flee to London. All the mainstream media outlets were put under direct or indirect state control.
Putinism demonstrates sympathy with conservative values, including religion, which amounts to the promotion of clericalization of society. In turn, Putin assured the enthusiastic support of the Russian Orthodox Church. An ideology of national greatness, a desire to reclaim Russian glory of both the imperial and sovietic periods, accompanies the religious revival.
Putin’s post-Soviet economic model consists of a peculiar mode of capitalism that operates under political authority’s control. As The Financial Times put it: “Putinism was built on the understanding that if tycoons played by Kremlin rules they would prosper”. Such a system has its usual irregularities such as cronyism and unlawful accumulation of personal wealth, as documented in the recently publicized Panama Papers.
The ever-inflating personality cult of Vladimir Putin is built over these foundations. The motto, “There is no Russia if there is no Putin” is by now an organic part of Russian folk culture. In the 1990s, Russian society experienced a traumatic fear of total collapse under the roof of a state that was in constant contraction regarding both geographical territory and international prestige. Putin, on the other hand, gained domestic and international appreciation as the second coming of Stalin or Peter the Great, who managed to put the country back on its feet and reclaim Russia’s status as a global power.
Erdoğan’s “New Turkey”
In 2002, Erdoğan came to power with a program promoting democratization and economic prosperity in a fierce struggle with the secularist ideology and republican establishment. After tragic steps and variants towards the liquidation of the “ancien regime” institutions, his aspirations have turned towards the establishment of his own presidential rule. The guidance of Putinism in achieving this goal is evident in the measures that Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have taken and the methods they have employed.
The transition to a presidential system has reduced the parliament from the legislative power to an office of approval of the president’s bills, similar to the Russian State Duma under Putin, while judicial reforms have brought judges and public prosecutors under political authority’s commands. Interventions into the judicial process and selective application of law to suppress political opposition are turning the whole citizenry into hostages of political authority.
The presidential monopoly over the Turkish mainstream media has been achieved through Putinistic methods. Clericalization of the education system and religious revival in social life along with the rise of state-promoted nationalism also demonstrate parallels to the Russian experience. The personality cult of Erdoğan as “a world leader” is also a known phenomenon.
At the economic foundations of society, Erdoğan has imposed new rules over conventional business elites, similar to Putin’s coercion of the Russian tycoons to obey his authority. A stratum of nouveau riche, consisting of entrepreneurs, financial businesses and contractors loyal to Erdoğan, has also been spawned through large-scale public projects. Turkish and Russian practices of economic transition have effectively reversed the assertions of economic determinism on behalf of a peculiarly “Asiatic mode of capitalism”, in which the economic activities are overdetermined by the political authority. The symptoms of this mode include both in the Russian and Turkish cases the usual irregularities of kleptocratic earnings, cronyism, nepotism, etc.
Overall, the deeper, structural dimension of the Putin-Erdoğan rapprochement probably indicates that the Russian experience of transition to post-Soviet capitalism provides the blue print for post-Kemalist Turkey.
There may have been changes in the relations between the underworld and politics in Turkey but nevertheless the relations between criminal chiefs and the politicians and bureaucrats can still overwhelm the political agenda. As politics is criminalized, mafia is further politicized.
The Diyanet was originally designed by the republican regime as a tool of “de-Islamization”, but it has ironically turned into an instrument of “re-Islamization” of society under the AKP regime. It has become a supersized government bureaucracy for the promotion of Sunni Islam.
April 23 marks the first sitting of the Grand National Assembly in 1920, the nucleus of republican Turkey. It is also celebrated as “Children’s Day”. This year is the centenary of the April 23 national day and it is rather unfortunate that the coronavirus outbreak will not allow public ceremonies and festivities on this important day. In compensation, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will address the nation by reciting the verse of Turkish national anthem live.
The problem is what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls 'the danger of transition into a continual state of exception' in which the exception is no longer the exception but the norm.
Over the past week, a political row over an animated cartoon shown to schoolchildren has become the second item on the Turkish news agenda after the coronavirus outbreak. It depicts the 1961 execution of former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. The importance of this sixty year old affair, why it was chosen to be presented to schoolchildren at a critical moment can only be understood through reference to the narrative of the ruling AKP government.
This year, Newroz and the accompanying neurotic symptoms of the Turkish psyche may pass silently around the country due to the coronavirus emergency. The importance of this day, March 21, however, as all the signs indicate, will never diminish, on the contrary, it will continue to determine the future of the Kurdish and Turkish people in the country and region.
Last week, a chain of arrests and the subsequent court decisions to imprison six journalists hit the headlines in Turkey. Two of the imprisoned journalists are the co-authors of the 2019 book “Metastaz” (Metastasis) in which they investigate how, in the post-15 July 2016 environment, different religious sects have gained positions in the state structure by filling the void that resulted from the purging of the Gülenists.
The current engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces and their proxy Sunni troops in Idlib province is with the Syrian military. Behind the thin windows of this showroom, pro-AKP pundits have been carrying out a comprehensive ideological operation with a series of arguments. The intra-Muslim sectarian character of the violence in Syria inevitably enters into the picture.
With his newly acquired profile of a repentant political Islamist, Abdullah Gül may this time have the courage to meet the challenge from the palace but there is much more that requires self-criticism, since he was by no means an outsider of the AKP circle of power.
A number of allegations have recently surfaced over Adnan Tanrıverdi, a former security aide to President Erdoğan. Tanrıverdi is said to oversee SADAT, a shadowy paramilitary group close to the President. Allegations of the company’s involvement in the combat training of the jihadist paramilitary groups loyal to Turkey go further to suggest that SADAT pushed for the current escalation in Idlib. Can it be compared to Iran's Revolutionary Guards?
Başbuğ’s imprisonment was a turning moment in AKP’s consolidation of power. His release was also the symbol of a dramatic shift in AKP’s and Erdoğan’s stance against their former Gülenist allies. And now, as İlker Başbuğ is again on the stage, there is all the more reason to suspect that we are on the brink of a substantial turn in the state and society.
The data pointing to the escalating incidence of femicide; the soft approach by the police and judicial authorities towards male perpetrators; and the sustained immunity of men with political or financial power and influence all indicate some rather disquieting trends in Turkey’s social life: a safe haven for misogynists where women live in permanent insecurity.
Despite being a novelist and a painter, Rahşan Ecevit’s name is mostly associated with politics. She was not merely the wife of a politician but a top politician in her own right, whose stance determined Turkish society’s fate at certain critical moments. With all its rights and wrongs, Mrs Ecevit’s legacy will occupy an exceptional place in Turkish public’s collective memory.
Why Hrant Dink among all the anti-establishment journalists and all the prominent figures of Armenian community? What is the specific reason that made him the target of this fatal hate crime? Fatih Akın’s 2015 film “The Cut” may provide an answer to this question.
He served as the national police chief, Minister of Interior and Minister of Justice in the centre-right True Path Party (DYP) cabinets back in the 1990s, but had to resign after the Susurluk scandal in November 1996, which uncovered links between senior state figures and organised crime. Since then, Ağar does not have any official titles. Yet, his statements imply that he speaks on behalf of “the state”, that is, what is otherwise known as the voice of “the deep state”.
With a court ruling against his release from detention last Tuesday, businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala has been sentenced to welcome a third new year in jail. Following his arrest in October 2017, Kavala was put in a Kafkaesque position of more than a year of imprisonment without a charge. The indictment, when it […]
Eurasianists, as championed by their self-styled leader, Doğu Perinçek – head of the left leaning nationalist Homeland Party – argue that since 2016 the AKP has been transformed to adopt their strategic position. Perinçek argues that he is the main architect of this transformation. In turn the Eurasianist/Nationalists have also compromised their hard-line secularism to recognize religious affiliations as part of national unity.
Davutoğlu aims to turn a new page in his political career with the launch of a new party, which, his spokepersons declare, is grounded on a revival of the “real AKP,” promising a resurrection of the original equilibrium sought to be achieved through the ‘Turkish model’ of moderate Islam. This appeal is expected to inflict damage on the AKP’s organizational structure and a haemorrhage in the electoral base.
The collective memory of Turkey’s Alevi communities consists of dark layers of trauma. Although in its early years in office the AKP government launched an Alevi initiative to open dialogue with the community, it was shelved after some discussion along with the breakdown of the Kurdish rapprochement in 2015. Moreover, the Islamist character of the AKP government resulted in a tangible decrease in the number of Alevi civil servants, particularly among the ranks of the police, military and in the education system.
Turkey's former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt died at the age of 79. Being one of the most controversial figures in Turkish political and military history, Büyükanıt is known with two significant events, with one leading Turkey into a political turmoil and forcing early elections.