In 2023, Turkey experienced significant events, including major earthquakes that struck the southeast, a highly divisive election campaign, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's and his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) re-election, a judicial crisis among top courts, a leadership change in the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), and more.
The diplomatic football crisis in Saudi Arabia concluded the year which was the centennial of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
In 2024, Turkey and political parties face their initial challenge with the local elections to be held on March 31.
Feb. 6 earthquakes
Turkey’s southeastern region was struck by two major earthquakes on Feb. 6, one at a magnitude of 7.7 and the other at 7.6, and more than 50,000 people died according to the official figures. The quakes affected 11 provinces in the region.
Experts stated that the death toll would be much higher, taking into consideration the thousands of buildings that collapsed.
The effects of the earthquake are still not over, especially in provinces like southern Hatay. Opposition politicians say the government has discriminated against some districts due to their little support to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their demographic structure.
Still, thousands of citizens live in tents and containers, and others migrated to different provinces.
The Turkish government faced intense criticism over its failure to take timely action in the face of two earthquakes regarding search and rescue efforts, debris removal operations and providing sufficient aid.
The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) also faced criticism for selling tents to the social assistance organization AHBAP for 46 million liras on the 3rd day of major earthquakes.
In the aftermath of the quakes, a 2019 video of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he boasted about the construction amnesty granted in the earthquake-stricken southeastern Kahramanmaraş province went viral on social media. The province was the epicenter of two major quakes.
The quakes also affected Syria.
Presidential and General Elections
Only three months after the earthquakes, Turkey held presidential and general elections in May after a very intense and polarizing campaign period.
In the first round of the presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received 49.52% of the votes, whereas main opposition Nation Alliance’s candidate Kılıçdaroğlu received 44.88%, and ultra-nationalist Sinan Oğan received 5.17%. Despite withdrawing from the race days before, Muharrem İnce received 0.43%.
During the pre-election period, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AKP adopted increasingly targeting rhetoric against the country's LGBTI+ community.
As polarization increased, physical attacks also occurred. Ultra-nationalists attacked and threw stones at the election bus of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu while he was addressing citizens during a rally in the eastern province of Erzurum on May 7.
Erdoğan also accused the opposition and Kılıçdaroğlu of “collaborating with the terrorist organizations and their political affiliations,” referring to the PKK.
In response to the harsh polarizing rhetoric, Kılıçdaroğlu adopted a softer language. Making a heart shape with hands became an emblem of Kılıçdaroğlu.
In the second round of the election, Erdoğan received 52.18% of the votes against Kılıçdaroğlu and extended his term for five more years.
Similarly in the general elections, the ruling People’s Alliance garnered the majority of the seats with 323 seats out of 600.
On the other hand, the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) garnered 61 seats.
Aftermath of the election
Erdoğan chose former Wall Street banker Hafize Gaye Erkan as central bank chief after his May re-election. She has led a policy U-turn to relieve an economy strained by depleted FX reserves and surging inflation expectations.
The new economic team under Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek also eased the state's grip on foreign exchange markets and moved away from unorthodox policies and regulations.
The central bank has increased the rate by 3,400 basis points since June following the elections.
Erdoğan changed the whole cabinet except two ministers.
Leadership change in the CHP
Following the electoral defeat, the CHP held an ordinary congress on Nov. 5. The party’s parliamentary group chair Özgür Özel defeated Kılıçdaroğlu, ending his 13-year rule as party leader.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Özgür Özel were leading “the reformist” bloc within the party against “the status quoists.”
The İYİ Party’s decline
After the elections, the opposition right-wing İYİ (Good) leader Meral Akşener openly criticized the alliance system, saying it fueled polarization in the country.
Before the elections, Akşener had first rejected Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidential candidacy, saying Ekrem İmamoğlu or Mansur Yavaş would be a better fit. Akşener accepted Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy after İmamoğlu and Yavaş’s vice-presidential candidacy.
Now, the İYİ Party is planning to enter the 2024 local elections on their own, refusing to collaborate with the CHP. However, several deputies and party members have resigned after this decision.
The party's deputy number in the parliament decreased 38 from 43 after the resignations.
YSP to HEDEP to DEM
The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) entered the general elections as the successor of the Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP) over the HDP's closure risk.
The YSP then changed its name to Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) to become more resemblant with the HDP.
The HEDEP then changed its abbreviation to DEM Party after the Court of Cassation objected to its previous abbreviation HEDEP because of its “similarity" to closed HADEP, a former pro-Kurdish party.
On Sept. 3, the Turkish women's volleyball team, known as “the Sultans of the Net,” defeated Serbia 3-2 and won the 2023 CEV Women's European Volleyball Championship title.
Villagers and activists have been protesting the cutting of trees for the expansion of the coal mining site in southern Muğla province’s İkizköy district.
In July, the tree cutting process was accelerated and those who protested against it saw the harsh attack of the gendarmerie teams regardless of their age.
Centennial of Republic
On Oct. 29, Turkey marked the 100th anniversary of Republic Day, signifying the official foundation of the modern secular republic.
However, Erdoğan and the government chose to avoid using traditional republican symbols and instead emphasized technological advancements and a strong military, aligning with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) propaganda.
The Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) garnered four seats in the elections, including Hatay deputy Can Atalay who were sentenced to 18 years in prison in the Gezi Park trial.
The Constitutional Court (AYM) on Oct. 25 ruled that imprisoned Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) deputy Can Atalay’s "right to vote and be elected” and “right to personal security and liberty" were violated and ordered the lower court to release him. The Criminal Court of Istanbul did not release Atalay, but referred the case to the Court of Cassation, arguing the AYM’s ruling was not related to the criminal court’s verdict.
The 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation on Nov. 8 refused to comply with the AYM ruling and filed a criminal complaint against AYM justices who voted for Atalay’s release, claiming they violated the constitution and exceeded their authorities.
The legal experts and the opposition deemed the move “a judicial coup” and “a coup attempt against the constitutional order,” reminding the 153rd Article of the Constitution, which reads “The decisions of the Constitutional Court are final. Decisions of the Constitutional Court shall be binding on the legislative, executive, and judicial organs, on the administrative authorities, and on persons and corporate bodies.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç and government ally far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) executives claimed that the judicial crisis showed the need for a new constitution.
Following up, the AYM on Dec. 26 released a statement and underscored that the "Court of Cassation has rendered a decision that is not found in Turkish law, stating non-compliance with the Constitutional Court's decision."
The AYM commented that referral of a case within the jurisdiction of the first-instance court to the Court of Cassation, top appeals court, and the latter’s decision disregarding constitutional provisions “clearly constituted a violation of the constitution.”
The first instance court, which discussed the Constitutional Court's ruling on the release of lawmaker Atalay, on Dec. 27 sent the case to the Court of Cassation once again despite AYM's ruling that this method was unconstitutional.
Elevator incidents in state-run university dormitories
On Oct. 26, Zeren Ertaş, a university student, died as an elevator fell in a state-run Student Loans and Dormitories Institution (KYK) dormitory in the western province of Aydın, who got stuck while trying to get out of the falling elevator.
Students staying in that dormitory had protested the negligence of the management, saying they warned them several times regarding the elevator but it was not fixed.
The incident that killed Ertaş caused a public outrage and nation-wide protests, especially among university students, amid poor living conditions in the dormitories.
After the fatal incident, students from several different KYK university dormitories reported dozens of similar non-fatal incidents.
Attack against football referee
The Turkish Super League club Ankaragücü Chair Faruk Koca and some people accompanying him on Dec. 11 attacked referee Halil Umut Meler who officiated their match with Çaykur Rizespor which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Koca punched Meler to the ground and other people kicked him.
After staying in prison for 15 days, Koca was released pending trial. He was also banned from football for life.
Football crisis in Saudi Arabia
Turkish Super League teams Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe on Dec. 29 refused to play the Super Cup final match in Saudi Arabia's Riyadh after the country did not allow any quote or image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish Republic’s founder, to be displayed hours before the match.