How Anti-Westernism Institutionalized in Turkey After 15/7

July 15, 2020
by Bahadır Gülle, published on 15 July 2020
How Anti-Westernism Institutionalized in Turkey After 15/7

Turkish contribution to the lexicon of political discourse is not very glittering. But a concept invented by the Turks in the 1990s gained worldwide currency and already increasing its popularity which is "Deep State." Leaving aside its conspiracy theory implications the term refers to a powerful bureaucratic elite that can keep the elected government within certain boundaries. Established on the legacy of a very centralized Ottoman bureaucracy and a weak civil society, Turkish State did not hesitate to chasten any social or political movement demanding "too much" independence. Some historians even trace back the roots of Turkish State's practices to the Eastern Roman Empire where the state never felt the deficiency of sharing its power with any feudal authority and later coalesced with the church into one and controlled every aspect of life. This is best epitomized in the famous scolding the Governor of Ankara gave to the leftist youngsters in 1940s: "If this country needs Communism we will bring it, who the hell are you?"

The elites of the Turkish Republic have been representatives of a top-down modernization and nation-building project which alienated a substantial portion of the population. They have stuck to a 1930s version of Kemalism, which is an absolute, ultra-nationalist and ultra-secularist version. Which was comprehensible in the 1930s world became more and more archaic after the Cold War. Being pro-Western was an irrevocable fundamental of the Turkish Republic. It was an invaluable asset for the state elites at the early stage: It provided international legitimacy and the support of the West and certainly provided security against the Soviet Empire. But after the Cold War, the tide began to turn. Integration with the West would lead to increasing internal demands for freedom and change which inevitably would result in the erosion of their power. The state elites who decided to leave Turkey's two centuries old perspective of being a part of the West for the sake of maintaining their ultra-nationalist and ultra-secularist ideological hegemony, especially the ones in the security establishment would later assume the title "Eurasianists."

When Erdoğan came to power in 2002, he was weak against the Eurasianists, and it was a grueling task for a religious party to find competent and reliable bureaucrats with enough experience for important ministerial and advisory posts. Erdoğan's chronic shortcoming is that he has not many followers among well-educated youth and by extension, he could not find enough supporters to place in the state institutions. Therefore he could not establish full control over the state. But AKP made an auspicious start. The so-called Gulenists, who are members of a religious, social movement inspired by the ideas of the charismatic preacher Fethullah Gülen, were eager to support the reforms that would transform the uncompromising ideological character of the state.

The rapprochement between Erdoğan and Gülenists resulted in remarkable economic success and democratization reforms in AKP's first term between 2002-2007. AKP had begun its second term in 2007 with a landslide 47 percent popular victory and felt secure enough to target the Eurasianists. A series of legal cases, "Ergenekon" and "Balyoz" being the most known ones, neutralized the influence of the Eurasianists. That brought about a mood of optimism and hope that the country will eventually throw off the authoritarian straitjacket. After the Eurasianist cadres retired from the scene many chronic diseases of the country almost simultaneously dissolved into the air. Unidentified political murders disappeared, organized crime almost wiped out, torture in police and gendarmerie stations ended. The state seemed to comply with the rule of law. But the sad thing is that chronic diseases cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication; they require a change in lifestyle to be avoided. Extensive structural reforms were needed to consolidate democracy and the rule of law. Weakening the deep state only removed the obstacles for implementing such reforms. But it also removed Erdoğan's limits in exercising power. Rather than consolidating democracy, Erdoğan started to consolidate his own power.

Two sides were aware that they needed each other to topple Eurasianists, but they did not share the same vision. When the gloves came off in 2013 with a series of investigations on corruption against Erdoğan's inner circle and even his family, Erdoğan instantaneously allied with his previous archenemy, the Eurasianists, to topple the Gülenists. Gülenists had proved to be very effective with political back up, but they were not influential at the higher ranks, and when the state hierarchy and the political force turned against them, they collapsed. Erdoğan's challenge to the ideological hegemony of Kemalism ended up with his alliance with the ultra-nationalist Kemalists in the state, and with his submission to Turkish nationalism.

Erdoğan couldn't devise an ideology for creating a permanent social base in the society. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt the ideological aspect of the Islamist movement in Turkey is very shallow and cannot compete with Kemalism or Turkish nationalism. Erdoğan had the luxury of challenging the representatives of the hegemonic ideology without challenging their ideology when he championed public's demand for democracy and freedom in his early terms. But, he couldn't apprehend that he must support his cult of personality with devising and spreading an ideology when he has started to become authoritarian and set out to transform the state and the society. Well described by Robert Cox that "Hegemony is like a pillow: it absorbs blows and sooner or later the would-be assailant will find it comfortable to rest upon." Erdoğan soon found out how comfortable hegemony was.

On 15 July 2016, a coup attempt took place in Turkey. The plotters were easily overpowered. Erdoğan claimed that Gülenists orchestrated the coup and Gülenists claimed that it was a Reichstag fire perpetrated by Erdoğan. Erdoğan and the Eurasianists enormously benefited from the attempt. They decisively crashed the Gülenists. Erdoğan established the presidential system he desired, and Eurasianists who got out of jail reassumed their ranks in the military.

The witch-hunt against Gülenists started with the lists made by Eurasianists. While Erdoğan and Eurasianists were attacking Gülenists, an anti-Western propaganda machine was also working in tandem. Every step taken to overthrow the Gülenists also fueled resentment towards the West for supposedly helping the Gülenists. A closer look at the numbers shows that it is impossible for the majority of the purged people to be Gülenists, considering that it is highly improbable that a religious group could attain these rates in the state apparatus. Almost half of all the generals and admirals, a quarter of all the officers in the military, 77 percent of the staff officers who make the backbone of the Military, seventy percent of the pilots in the Air Force, majority of the police officers in the counter-terror, intelligence, organized crime departments, one third of the career diplomats, thirty percent of the judges and prosecutors and people from many other institutions have been expelled. After a while having a good command of English became a satisfactory criterion for being on the list. The government used decree-laws to purge the dissidents from the state. Decree-laws arbitrarily dismissed more than 150,000 public servants. Erdoğan and Eurasianists carried out a well coordinated attack against any person suspected to have a pro-Western mindset.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that anti-Westernism in Turkey has been institutionalized by the Eurasianist-Islamist alliance in the last six years through controlling media, politicizing education and using judicial procedures as instruments of oppression. Defending good relations with the US or the EU became almost equal to treason in Turkey. It is tempting to hope that Erdoğan era is an interregnum in Turkey's long march towards the West and the country will rotate back to the path of democracy and the rule of law. But Turkish Westernization is pioneered, carried out and mostly imposed by the state. Without any cadres in the state who has any such motivation, it is unrealistic to expect any shift in Turkey's new direction.

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