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In this article which appeared in the Radikal newspaper on 30 November 2008, Mesut Yeğen analyses the pact that Turkey’s establishment appears to have concluded with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.
The Turkish right has an age-old refrain: The state is alienated from the people; the people have fallen out with the state. According to this story, which the right not only penned but is also quite devoted to and firmly believes in, 1908/1923 led to the state being taken over by members of the people who had become alienated from the people and the door was shut in the people’s face. That is how the story goes: The people for virtually a century “have been strangers in their own country, pariahs in their own country.”
How odd that this tale which concludes that the state has treated the people, particularly its own children, abominably, is told with such relish against a backdrop where, with the exception of a few key positions, the bureaucracy, and with it the ability to distribute patronage, is run by the Turkish right. The Turkish right believes itself to have fallen foul of the state which it runs, and wishes us to believe this. So, does this tale of oppression so dear to the Turkish right not contain a grain a truth? Of course it does. The Turkish right has been able to manage the state under the supervision and threat of certain well entrenched forces which rather look down on it and reserve certain positions for “suitable people”; this is true. However, the point is that there has always been a greater truth, a more significant reality which has more or less been excluded from the story of great oppression so cherished by the Turkish right. This greater truth is that the state has always loved the Turkish right as has the Turkish right the state.
The right and the state
The state and the Turkish right have always known and never forgotten that essentially they resemble each other, that they need one another. The Turkish right surpassed all others in forgetting the Ottoman Empire’s cosmopolitan character which it had once cherished, and it became devoted to the (new) states uncompromising, rigid nationalism. It did not lose its affection for Abdülhamit, but it also cultivated an affection for Talat. It grumbled a little about the adverse consequences of this, but generally did not object to the states authoritarianism. It would have been ungrateful to display indifference in the face of so much affection. The state for its part developed an affection for the Turkish right’s image of a political community composed of Sunni-Turks. More precisely it had an affection for the Turkish right’s affection for this image, since the said image was of its own making.
In spite of all of this mutual love, the Turkish right from time to time was forced into skirmishes with the state, because it wished the people to appear a bit more religious and a bit less Western than the state saw fit. But the cherished authoritarian state would not contemplate even this “slight” objection on the part of the Turkish right.
This is the root of the oppression of which the Turkish right speaks with such eloquence; of the quarrel which it cloaks in such exaggerated rhetoric; this is the extent of it.
Time to make up
Nevertheless, to the good of us all, even this is history. The indications are that the skirmish between the Turkish right and the state is in the past. Its realisation and completion may take some time, there may be hitches and diversions, but a pact appears to be in the making that will end the skirmish between the state and the Turkish right, the quarrel between the people and the state.
It is clear who the parties to the pact are: The guardian bureaucracy and the people’s own child, the AKP/Erdoğan as the Turkish right’s new representative. The pact is based not on fusion, but on recognition! The bureaucracy will consent to recognise the right’s sensitivities and vice versa. The parties will, following the skirmishes of the past two years, consent to the status quo which has emerged. It appears that in real life the pact will take the following form: Consent will be given for certain positions to be filled by unsuitable citizens, but no more positions will be demanded. A conservatisation of the bourgeoisie and a conservatisation of the bureaucracy will be tolerated, but no push will be made in the direction of greater conservatisation. 28 February will not last a thousand years, but no provocation will lead to another 28 February. If the pact holds and no trace remains of the skirmishes of the past two years, perhaps a couple more areas, for example universities, might be opened up to unsuitable citizens.
This is the nature of the pact. I suspect that Baykal’s “initiative” also has something to do with this pact. Baykal’s “initiative” appears to go beyond merely fishing for votes in the local elections. Baykal may have sensed, and moreover approved, the “great pact”.
The tacit approval given by the guardians for the liquidation by means of the Ergenekon trial of the nationalist-coupist school without upsetting the whole applecart must have sharpened Baykal’s intuition. Baykal appears capable of coming to terms with the current pact. However, I fear that Abdüllatif Şener has no chance. Abdüllatif Şener, in taking charge with the words, “I will accomplish it” of the mission assigned to Şener by the Prime Minister to create a pact between the state and the people, has been left out in the cold.
The pact: Its reasons and consequences
So, what created the need for this pact? I believe it was borne of a consensus that a continuation of the skirmish would be destructive for both parties. A continuation of the skirmish may have meant imminent party closure for the AKP and its removal from the sections of the bureaucracy that it had brought under its control. Since an AKP which was deprived of the means to distribute largesse would be unable to nourish the conservative bourgeoisie which had brought it to power and kept it there, this situation may in the long run have led to the AKP retreating into the ranks of the Felicity Party. Rather than facing this danger, it was more than enough for the AKP to hold on to its current gains and be recognised by the state.
On the other hand, the situation was more risky for the guardian bureaucracy. The intolerance displayed towards the AKP was coming up against ever greater disapproval. But even more importantly, the democratic rhetoric employed and the “dangerous alliances” entered by the AKP in its skirmish with the guardian bureaucracy had matured to the extent that they might produce disagreeable outcomes with respect both to the Kurdish problem and the regime’s guardian nature. Under such circumstances, it would be more beneficial to persuade the AKP to abandon its democratic rhetoric, on condition that they did not demand more than they had gained. If this could be achieved, then both the people and the Turkish right would become reconciled with their beloved state, and this would also eliminate certain unpleasant possibilities in connection with the Kurdish problem and the regime’s guardian nature that were gradually looming up. The long and short of it is that a move was taken that would eliminate all of these destructive possibilities awaiting both the AKP and the guardian bureaucracy and the pact was signed. The AKP both avoided closure and was also permitted to remain in power. In return, the AKP abandoned its dangerous alliances and found the wisdom to advise the Kurds to forget about a democratic solution and be grateful that they were tolerated. (It is apparent that the USA also gave its blessing to the section of the pact concerning the abandonment of a search for a democratic solution of the Kurdish problem. In return for the abandonment of an uncompromising position with reference to the Iraq Kurdish Administration, it appears that our guardians’ and the AKP’s hands have been freed to deal with Turkey’s Kurdish problem as they see fit.) As a consequence, the pact formed is as follows: Firstly, in return for putting an end to greater democratisation including with respect to the Kurdish problem, the AKP would not be deprived of that which it had gained and would attain the status of one of the regime’s legitimate actors. Secondly, our guardians, in return for tolerating the AKP, would retain their status as guardians and would also be back on good terms with the people.
In truth, the pact as such appears to have been a very smart move from the point of view of the guardian bureaucracy. In return for tolerating the “malformed” conservatism of the AKP, whose affection for its state matches that of its predecessors, comes the ability to continue the guardian regime which was proving ever more difficult to maintain, and a return to dealing with the Kurdish problem from within the framework of rigid nationalism. In return for ending that tiny quarrel with the people the right was retained to act as the people’s guardian and greater affection was won from the people and its own children.
Was the same pact so smart for Erdoğan and the AKP? In truth, it is hard to be certain. In my view, there has been a slight miscalculation. My opinion is that it would in any case not have been very easy to wrest back from the AKP the guardian regime and the gains that it believed it could hold onto in the Kurdish problem in return for a willingness to maintain the status quo. But there was a risk; this has to be acknowledged. It appears that, rather than take this risk, Erdoğan/the AKP consented to this pact.
Indeed, by means of this pact, it seems that Erdoğan/the AKP will be blessed with the opportunity of making the Turkish right’s great fantasy of reconciling the state with the people come true. To go down in history, rather than as the person who took Turkey into the EU and sorted out the Kurdish problem by democratic means, as the one who ended the state’s alienation from its people and also reconciled the people with their state appears better suited to the Prime Minister’s disposition, which favours comparison with Fatih and Suleyman the Maginificent over Obama.
However, I fear that a huge miscalculation has been made. The matter of the people having fallen out is one that has been overexaggerated by the Turkish right, including the AKP. I have no doubt that when they are caught up together with the guardians, with whom they have reached agreement, in the whirlpool of Turkeys great problem, they will immediately realise this.