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Turkey Modern History

Since the 1980s, Turkey has experienced a tug of war between the elected leaders and the military, where the politicians in the 2010s seemed to have finally resigned. The country has been modernized and seen a dramatic economic development, which has created self-confidence and pride for the entire nation. But the world's admiration for rapid development has largely turned into a concern for an increasingly powerful political leadership.

Shortly after the military surrendered power to elected politicians, civil war broke out in 1984 in southeastern Turkey, when the Kurdish PKK guerrilla took up arms to create its own state. The war mainly went on until 1999 but has flared up in turns since then. The conflict in 2019 is as current as before.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Turkey. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Turgut Özal, who became Prime Minister in 1983, partially paved the way for a new Turkey. During his reign, state control of the economy was reduced. Subsidies were cut and foreign investors were welcomed. Growth was high, but Turkey's old problems with inflation and unemployment remained and corruption worsened. Despite the civil war, during the time of Özal it became possible again to mention the word "Kurd" in public. (He was himself of Kurdish origin.) Özal also appeared as a Muslim believer and allowed religious utterances that had previously been opposed.

The first free election after the race was held in 1987, when formerly banned leaders such as Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit were allowed to stand at the head of newly formed parties.

Since Özal succeeded Kenan Evren as president in 1989, throughout the 1990s, Turkey was plagued by short-lived and resilient coalition governments, worsening war in the Kurdish provinces and deteriorating state finances.

Contemporary History of TurkeyOne of the short-lived prime ministers was the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan, who with his Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP) was able to form a coalition government in 1995. But the army leadership was openly hostile to him and exposed him to threats in June 1997 that he was forced to resign. It has been described as the first "postmodern coup", a military takeover without violence or state of emergency. At the beginning of 1998, the Welfare Party was banned by the Constitutional Court. Members quickly transitioned to the new Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi, FP).

In 1999, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan (see Kurds) was arrested, who had fled after the Kurdish guerrillas were pushed back. The war ended, or took a break as it would later prove, and the guerrillas withdrew to bases in Iraq. Since 1984, the war had claimed close to 37,000 lives, most Kurds but also 5,000 army soldiers. At least 3,000 Kurdish villages had been destroyed and about 3 million people were forced to flee. Öcalan was sentenced to death, but the sentence was converted to life imprisonment since the death penalty was abolished in 2002 as part of an adaptation to EU law.

The 1999 parliamentary elections gave Turkey a new weak coalition government. Around the turn of the century, the economy deteriorated further. The tripartite government got into big trouble and when the Prime Minister, veteran Bülent Ecevit, became seriously ill, was declared a new election in 2002. Then a whole new political situation had arisen, which caused Turkey's modern history to take an unexpected turn.

A more modern Islamist party

In 2001, the Constitutional Court had almost routinely illegally declared the largest opposition party, the FP. Conservative Islamists had just as routinely formed a new party with the same profile, which this time was named the Lucky Party (Saadet Partisi, SP). But a moderate phalanx led by Istanbul's former mayor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, realized that this conservative Islamism would never produce results and instead formed the Justice and Development Party (AKP). With an economically liberal, western-friendly, democratic but value-conservative program, the AKP joined broad masses. In the November 2002 elections, the party gained 34 percent of the vote and won by far. Since only one other party passed the ten percent barrier, the old CHP, the AKP was disproportionately given many seats and could form its own government. And this despite the fact that the party leader Erdoğan was not allowed to stand, since he had previously served a shorter prison sentence for publicly quoting a classic Turkish poem which was believed to propagate Islamic violence. It was now party comrade Abdullah Gül who was allowed to form government. Thanks to the large majority of the AKP, Parliament was able to revoke the ban on Erdoğan, after which he won a filling election in a safe constituency. In 2003, Erdoğan took power.

The AKP began its reign with rapid reforms of both the economy and the laws. The country was modernized in every respect. The infrastructure was expanded and the standard of living increased. Small and medium-sized industries in Anatolian rural cities were given better conditions and could expand. Turkish companies began to establish themselves abroad and trade increased. The government began to strengthen the rights of Kurds and religious minorities.

In May 2004, the PKK suspended its five-year ceasefire and entered southeastern Turkey from Iraq. From 2005, the new fighting between government soldiers and PKK affiliations became increasingly bloody. There were suspicions that the PKK was out of concern for being marginalized: in the Kurdish provinces, the AKP had strong support, as did the government's peacekeepers against civil Kurdish politicians.

In October 2005, Turkey was finally able to start membership negotiations with the EU, but the previous optimism had begun to slow down. Many Turks felt that the EU did not take the country seriously and imposed more stringent advance demands on Turkey than it did on the former communist countries in eastern and central Europe, which also had problems with the economy and the judiciary. Turkey's refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government and open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels led to the suspension of parts of the negotiations.

Tensions between secularists and religious rose in 2006 as a new presidential election approached and secularists feared that the AKP would strengthen its power and begin to Islamize the country. When Abdullah Gül, now Foreign Minister, was presented as AKP candidate, the opposition boycotted the vote in Parliament and the Constitutional Court rejected the election at the CHP's request. The military leadership made an indirect threat to a new coup in the form of a statement on its website on the internet.

Unlike previous governments, the AKP did not bow to the pressure. The government's refusal to back down, and the support it received from the EU and the US, became a water divider in Turkish politics. It seemed to be the beginning to the end of the military's long political influence. Erdoğan announced new elections and proposed that the constitution be amended so that the president would be elected directly by the people every five years, with the possibility of re-election, and that Parliament should be elected every four years instead of every fifth.

After a new big election victory for the AKP 2007, the party was able to get Abdullah Gül elected president. Nevertheless, the AKP 2008 was close to being declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. The reason was that the government, with the support of a nationalist party, pushed through that religious female students should have the right to cover their hair at the universities. With a single vote margin, the government party was saved from being banned and all its leaders from being banned from politics.

The Gülen movement is growing

In parallel with the strengthened position of the Islamic parties, a different Islamic movement emerged from the 1980s. It was called alternately for Hizmet (the Service), also for Cemaat (the Assembly) and was led by theologian and pastor Fethullah Gülen. The movement had a strong social profile and became known, among other things, for starting schools in disadvantaged areas. Many teachers and doctors were attracted by the Gülen movement which, in addition to its social appearance, also advocated democracy and peaceful coexistence between religions and between the various branches of Islam. But even lawyers, soldiers and journalists joined the ideas of Gülenism. Without making much of a difference, Gülen's followers began to obtain services in the judiciary, the military, the media and the education system. Although warnings of religious infiltration were heard quite early,

The Gülen movement created a global network of companies, organizations, schools, real estate companies and charities with no real connection, and without direct ties to Gülen himself, but led by people united by faith in his ideas. Hizmet has sometimes been likened to a sect, built around a charismatic leader but with such a loose structure that the many members are not aware of the various branches of the movement and are not aware of each other's existence.

The AKP and the Gülen movement saw each other for a long time as soul mates with a common goal. The AKP took government power when the party was less than a year old and had limited membership with competent members. The competence was instead found among the Gülenists with the help of the AKP could take a grip on public institutions. With the help of the government, courts, prosecutors, police and the state bureaucracy were filled with Gülenists.

Fethullah Gülen himself left Turkey in 1999 when he risked prosecution for Islamist statements. He was granted a residence permit in the United States, where he and his close followers founded a number of organizations and foundations that advocate for cooperation between faith communities. They can be regarded as the spider in the extremely loose, worldwide network of Gülen-inspired organizations.

Political trials

Beginning in 2008, Gülenist prosecutors brought charges against over 500 people, mainly high-ranking military but also journalists, lawyers and left-wing politicians, who were accused of leading a secularist organization called Ergenekon (after a mythical decline in Central Asia described as the "aboriginal" of the Turkish people). a conspiracy to overthrow the government. For decades, it had been "widely known" to harass Kemalists, ie defenders of the secular constitution called "the deep state", thwarted all attempts to broaden democracy, increase freedom of expression and soften the strict control of religious practice. The "deep state" was considered to be widespread in the military, the courts and the state administration.

Therefore, when the Ergen congressional proceedings began, it did not come as a real surprise. Now the "deep state" was drawn into the light, it seemed.

In parallel, in 2010, the Taraf newspaper claimed that it had come across documents showing that parts of the military leadership had begun plans for a military coup in early 2003. The conspiracy was said to have gone under the cover name Balyoz Harekâtı (Operation sledge). The military leadership said that the scenario described had existed, but only as a discussion basis for an exercise. From the beginning, suspicions were raised that the charges were being enforced by Gülenists for political reasons and that the evidence was forged, but the trials ended in 2012 with the majority of the 365 prosecutors sentenced to prison.

In 2013, a large number of life sentences and other long prison sentences were served against over 250 of the defendants in the Ergen Conviction.

During its first years in power, the AKP government succeeded in gradually pushing back the military and reducing the army's potential - and ambitions - to unseat a democratically elected government. Through constitutional amendments, Turkey was democratized and the ability of the military and the courts to interfere in politics was diminished. It became more difficult to ban political parties with a program that "the deep state" rejected.

But the AKP also began to appear as a powerhouse. Among other things, so many journalists were arrested, accused either of being involved in Ergenekon or in connection with the PKK, that the freedom of the press appeared to be seriously threatened. There was a European concern that Erdoğan no longer considered Turkish EU membership necessary and therefore no longer needed democratic reforms.

Democratization is slowing down

It did very well for the country and the government's popularity among the broad masses was steadfast. Economic growth in 2010 was as much as 8.9 percent, and during the AKP's reign, GDP per capita had doubled. In the 2011 election, the AKP received half of the votes and 325 of the parliament's 550 seats.

After this the third straight election victory for the AKP, the work of democratization stopped, and here somewhere between the government party and the Gülen movement. Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style caused more and more governments in the West to lose confidence in him and are troubled by Turkey's claim to EU membership.

A clear turning point came in the summer of 2013, when police were ordered to brutally beat down protesters who protested against the building of a popular park in central Istanbul. Broad opinion, even in the outside world, reacted to the harsh tone of government and especially Erdoğan, who described the protesters as terrorists and traitors. Five people were killed in connection with the protests.

In the fall of 2013, prosecutors brought charges of corruption against people related to AKP. In a single day, 52 people were arrested, including three sons of ministers. The allegations of involvement in the corruption spree, which involved illegal trafficking in Iran, went all the way up to Erdogan's own family.

The scandal triggered a bitter power struggle between the government and the Gülen movement, whose many supporters within the police and the judiciary were singled out by Erdoğan for lying behind a conspiracy against the government. Hundreds of police chiefs and judges were dismissed or relocated, and over the next two years all convictions from the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials were revoked. In both cases, it was now alleged that all charges and evidence were false. Erdoğan described the Gülen movement as an "empire of fear".

Around the turn of the year 2012-2013, new attempts were made to make peace with the Kurdish PKK. The government agreed that the imprisoned Öcalan should receive visits and become part of the peace process and facilitated Kurds' contacts with the authorities. The PKK announced a ceasefire and pledged to withdraw all fighters from Turkish soil. But the months went by without real progress and with growing Kurdish suspicion. The PKK accused the army of new war preparations. The ceasefire became increasingly fragile and began to disintegrate in 2014. In August of that year, Erdoğan won in the first direct presidential election. It was speculated that his main intention with the peace strikes against the PKK was to secure Kurdish support in the elections.

Kurds interfere with the president's plans

For Erdoğan, one of the big issues now was being able to change the constitution to give the presidential office greatly increased power. In November 2013, a parliamentary commission had interrupted work on a new constitution after disagreement on several issues, including the AKP's demand for strong presidential power. But with a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the AKP could change the constitution without regard to other parties, and this became the ambition ahead of the June 2015 elections.

Among the competitors in the parliamentary elections, the AKP met the relatively newly formed Kurdish party HDP (see Political system), which with a broader profile than the previous Kurdish parties reached out to left-wing voters across the country and received more than 13 percent of the vote. It gave the party so many mandates that the AKP missed a two-thirds majority and would be forced to form a coalition government.

Negotiations for a new government were significantly slow, which immediately aroused the suspicion that Erdoğan would rather have a quick new election. Meanwhile, relations between the state and the Kurds deteriorated significantly. The PKK officially suspended the ceasefire in early July on the grounds that the state was preparing for new attacks. Hard strikes broke out in July and when 33 Kurdish peace activists were killed in a terror attack in the city of Suruç, likely by the Islamic State (IS) extremist movement, the Kurds accused the Turkish state of indirect responsibility by looking between its fingers with IS activity in the border areas against Syria and Iraq..

The suspicions were also directed at IS when almost 100 people were killed and 250 injured in October 2015 in an attack on a demonstration in Ankara for peace in the Kurdish areas.

During the fall, hundreds of suspected PKK supporters and the army were arrested and the flight went on a hard offensive against the PKK. The government's full reversal of the Kurds was suspected of being an attempt to scare away voters from the HDP who did not want to be associated with a party accused of conspiring with terrorists.

The result of the new election that was held on November 1 was that HDP resigned, but again this time passed the parliament's 10-percent ten-percent block, and that AKP once again missed the opportunity to change the constitution on its own. However, the government explained that work on a new constitution with expanded presidential power was still high on the agenda.

In 2015 and 2016, interventions against the media and other companies with ties to the Gülen movement continued. Several companies, including the country's largest book publisher, were seized by the state. Internet sites were blocked and journalists arrested. Political control of the judiciary increased. The police's powers to use weapons against protesters, among other things, were strengthened. Hundreds of people were indicted for abusing the president through satirical or critical statements.

The European Security and Cooperation Organization (OSCE) criticized the unfair conditions during the election movement, but the EU indirectly rewarded the AKP by delaying a deeply critical annual report on the situation in Turkey after the November election. The difficult-to-handle refugee situation that arose in the EU during the autumn, when hundreds of thousands of people from Syria and Afghanistan, for example, entered Europe via Turkey, also favored the AKP government. A desperate EU promised Turkey multibillion aid and accelerated membership negotiations to bring back refugees and tighten border security.

In 2016, Turkey was characterized by continued political unrest, arrests of government opponents and terrorist attacks, including against tourist sites in central Istanbul. The country's largest newspaper, the Gülenan-linked Zaman, was taken over by the state and a couple of the country's leading journalists from the secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet were indicted for espionage after revealing how the security service smuggled weapons into Islamist militia in Syria. In May 2016, the AKP passed a law that lifted the Members' legal immunity so that they could be prosecuted if they committed any crime. The law was obviously created to enable all Kurdish members of the HDP to stand trial for cooperation with the PKK.

At the end of May, Parliament decided to officially classify the Gülenists as terrorists. The state began using the term Gülenist terrorist movement (Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü, Fetö).

Conditions in Turkey at the beginning of the summer of 2016 caused great concern in the outside world, but things would soon get worse.

 
 

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