Where is Turkey headed?

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Relations between Turkey and Germany are not founded solely on the approximately 4 million immigrants with origins in Turkey living in Germany who constitute as much as 4 to 5 percent of the country’s total population.
Almost 4 million German tourists visited Turkey over the last year. Turkey is a NATO ally and also a major trade partner of Germany. There is a history of relations between the two countries they have never been at war against each other. It can be said that it was principally the Social Democratic–Green coalition government in Germany at the end of the 1990s that helped Turkey to gain candidate status and get on the road to accession to the European Union.

For the above and other reasons I have always found it odd that the number of German academics who specialize in Turkey and vice versa has been so conspicuously small. A major compensation in this respect has been a number of outstanding German journalists who have done an excellent job in their reporting on Turkey’s relations, its economy and politics. The work of Rainer Hermann of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Christiane Schlötzer of Suddeutsche Zeitung and Michael Thumann of Die Zeit, I regard as particularly commendable. I have greatly appreciated their friendship and, in fact, learned a lot from them.

Dr. Rainer Hermann, who has specialized in economics and Islamic studies, speaks Arabic, English, Persian and Turkish besides his native German, and lived in Istanbul for 17 years from 1991 to 2008, covering Turkey and the Middle East for his paper. His book titled “Wohin geht die turkische Gesellschaft? Kulturkampf in der Turkei” was published in 2008, and a Turkish edition appeared the next year. The English edition, printed last summer with the title “Where is Turkey headed? Culture battles in Turkey” (Blue Dome Press, New York), is perhaps the best guide so far for those who are trying to make sense of the incredible differences in the behavior and policies of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan during his first two terms in power between 2002 and 2011 and since then.

This is what Hermann writes in the preface to the English edition of his book: “With all the recent fait accompli bills, bans and news blackouts, the ErdoIan government aims to take Turkey back in the direction of the old one-party rule, even to the former censorship-savvy iron curtain countries. In the past several decades, the relationship of the center to the periphery has changed, and outsiders in the Anatolian periphery have now become the insiders, but the means of power — its authoritarian reach — have not changed. In 2007 ErdoIan was the reformer fighting the structures of the ‘deep state.’ With that battle won, ErdoIan and the new small oligarchic elite around him now represent the status quo, the new power. Their unlawfulness and authoritarian tendencies cannot be reconciled with the democratic values of the rule of law and accountability. … The results of the coming three elections will determine the country’s trajectory — towards authoritarianism or democracy.” (pp. xxiv-xxv)

Hermann, in a recent interview with the Turkish Zaman daily, responded to the question “Where, indeed, is Turkey headed?” with the following comments: “Turkey is always half-way. During the last 10 years some steps were taken towards democracy. But now the leader of Turkey chooses to move towards an authoritarian system. He appears to be closer to Putin’s Eurasia rather than Europe’s European Union. … I listened to ErdoIan’s victory speech on the night of the local elections aghast. His power is based on the electorate, and therefore thinks he can behave any way he likes. But this does not in any way help the consolidation of democracy, the building of independent and strong institutions that bolster a democratic regime. I believe that ErdoIan’s strength is Turkey’s weakness.”

IAHIN ALPAY (CihanToday’s Zaman) C