Erdogan’s New Victory in a Polarised Nation
Mustafa Akyol interviewed by Azzurra Meringolo 9 November 2015

How can we explain this result? “Turkish people were worried. This explains Erdogan’s success. His party governed the country for thirteen years, and it was by large successful because it boosted the economy. When last June the AKP lost the majority there was no policy in the government, and people thought that the country would be just out of control. Another determinant factor was the resurgence of terrorism in the past five months, the big blame goes here to the PKK. And the peace process scrubbed” says to ResetDoc Mustapha Akyol, a Turkish intellectual and an international columnist (among others for the Washington Post and the New York Times), and also author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty (Norton, 2013).

From Ennahda to the Muslim Brotherhood. Why did political Islam praise Erdogan’s victory?

Some states are more modern and secular than other Islamic states, but they still have ideological ties with Turkey, in a sense they see Turkey as a model. The problem with Syrians, and Tunisians also for the future, is that the political Islam is the dominant model in society and does not transform it, supporting its own division. They are in need of a deeper democratic contribution to society. So far, only Tunisia has been able to do that. In Turkey, they did not follow the Tunisia example yet.

How is it to be a journalist or an intellectual in Turkey today?

It is hard. Turkish mainstream media are dominated by people who are ‘pro-government’. Newspapers have been changing over time during these last decades, and the new owners turned out to be the best friends of the President, and fired either the columnists or the writers who were critical about the President and the regime he had established. Hundreds and hundreds of journalists lost their jobs because they did not fit into the line followed by the so-called ‘New-Turkey’. 
In addition, Turkey has become very polarised. The results in such a polarised society is that fair, objective, and unbiased arguments do not sell. They make people angry. ‘Whose side are you on?’ is a question I get all the time, and I am very critical with the government right now. However, I am not buying everything the oppositions say about the governments as well too, which makes people do not understand what you are talking about, and you cannot find a place for yourself. So you are just a voice out, running on twitter, or on a blog.

If you had to advise European institutions, would you suggest them to support Erdogan?

I would suggest not to support Erdogan on everything, because of course he does not know everything. I suggest looking at the solutions, and support Erdogan when he is right, and criticise/oppose him when is wrong. Regarding the Syrian refugees, Turkey has done a very impressive job hosting these refugees, and Erdogan should be supported on this too. On the other hand, he monopolised the press in Turkey, and this is against any right of expression; then, Erdogan should be criticised too. Instead of being either categorically supporting Erdogan, and so being an ally with the state, or criticising him, I would rather have a critical thinking about what he is doing and on that basis either supporting him or opposing him.

In your books you describe the Ottoman Empire as pluralist State that respected all the minorities, Kurds alike. What do you think of the Neo-Ottoman approach of your State?

Well, the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic led to other questions. Turkish identity was imposed on the Kurds, and on other non-turkish groups, that’s for sure. In the past 15 years, under the AKP, we have seen an Ottoman nostalgia which includes some ideas of pluralism within the society. That has helped, has led to some reforms to Kurdish language and culture, all the bans on Kurdish language basically have been lifted; there are very encouraging classes in schools right now. However, in the meantime, Kurdish demands have gone beyond just the language and the schools: there are demands on autonomy, some kinds of federations, etc. We actually do not know what the PKK demands right now, but it wants power and this is a whole different issue. Unfortunately, the peace process between the government and the Kurdish rebels, the PKK, which was a promising effort, failed a couple of months ago, and this is partly due to the Syrian civil war, which poisoned Turkey as well. Unfortunately we are in an area of clashes again; maybe the peace process can revive at some point, or if it does not we will endure a period of low intensive civil war again, the 1990s alike.

In the light of recent events, do you think that the peace process can now restart?

It can. But I think that first the AKP wants to really have a heavy resonance on the PKK, and break globalisation with more kind of military move, so that the PKK will accept terms of strength and eventually will stop using violence. In this way, they will come back to peace process. I do not know how they will force PKK to do that.

In 2013 you published Islam without extremes. But watching what is going on in Turkey, in Syria and in the Middle East extremism is evident. Are you afraid for the future of your country?

In Turkey, the so-called Islamic State is not receiving support from the population. Just pockets of people are supporting it – above all in South-eastern Turkey and on its borders with Istanbul – who buy into the idea and advocate for it. I do not think their number is huge.

Turkish government has not been alerted about this issue, and this is one of my main criticism towards it on this issue. I do not claim that they are supporting the Islamic State, because this would be extreme, but they were only focusing on a side in Syria and later on the Syrian-Kurdish issue and they probably did not go after the Islamic State as aggressively as they should have done. And as we had the shelling taking place in Ankara, we knew from some government statements that the bombers were known by the police, but apparently they were not put in surveillance enough. Turkey is not supporting the Islamic State, but Turkish should be more alerted against it. 



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