Turkey. Local elections in the country became a
noticeable setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's
Justice and Development Party (AKP), which in March lost
power to the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in
the capital, Ankara and Istanbul. According to
CountryAAH, a self-critical Erdoğan
said after the election: "Starting tomorrow morning we will
identify where we have failed and take action." His AKP has
not lost a single local election since the party came to
power in 2002. It was by a barely majority that the CHP
could take over the governorship of Istanbul, and a
re-election of the votes was required.
However, President Erdoğan refused to accept the result
and wanted the elections in Istanbul to be redone, as
thousands of people who did not have the right to vote still
participated in the election. On May 6, the election was
annulled; Erdoğan said the election was surrounded by
"irregularities and corruption". The new elections in
Istanbul were held on June 23. CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu
also won the re-election to the mayor's post, but this time
by an even larger margin (775,000 votes or almost 10
percentage points) ahead of AKP's Binali Yıldırım.
Since the US gave the go ahead in October, Turkey has
attacked Kurdish targets in Syria. Following initial
artillery fire and aerial bombing, ground troops also
entered Kurdish-Syrian territory. Together with Syrian rebel
forces, the aim was to fight "PKK, YPG and IS terrorists".
The offensive was given the slightly ironic name "Spring of
Peace". However, the Turkish offensive was not unexpected.
The US had, at the beginning of the year, admittedly warned
Turkey that they would suffer "economic devastation" if they
attacked the Kurds when US troops were withdrawn from the
area. In October, this had been replaced by a clear sign.
According to US President Donald Trump, the alliance with
the Kurds was now over.
As a result of the Turkish attack, the Kurdish forces
signed an agreement on military support from Syria. This
meant that Syrian government troops were now deployed to
assist the Kurdish-led SDF forces (Syrian Democratic
Forces). The agreement was also backed by the Russian
Federation, which wanted to fill the void after the US. On
October 22, Turkey and the Russian Federation agreed to
jointly patrol northern Syria along the Turkish border. The
decision was made after a meeting in Sochi between the
presidents of Turkey and the Russian Federation - and after
the Kurdish YPG militia agreed to leave the security zone
occupied by Turkey.
Another consequence of the Turkish attack was that the
Islamic State (IS) prepared a return to the area. Both the
US Defense Pentagon headquarters and French President
Emmanuel Macron warned of this. In addition, Turkey had
nearly 1,200 IS supporters in custody, which would be sent
back to its home countries in November, according to
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. Swedish Foreign Minister
Ann Linde, who was very critical of the Turkish initiative,
said there was no information that anyone would be sent to
Turkey has over 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but they
lack official refugee status. In Istanbul alone, there were
nearly 550,000 Syrians officially registered in the city in
July. Of these, about 50,000 were forced to leave the city
after the authorities decided to intervene against paperless
refugees. Many of these are now threatened with deportation.
The Syrian offensive against rebel-controlled areas in
northwestern Syria in December led to 235,000 people being
forced to flee, most of them reportedly on their way to
Turkey. UN warned of a new refugee crisis.
At the end of December, the Turkish Constitutional Court
ruled that the country's blocking of the digital
encyclopedia Wikipedia is a violation of freedom of
expression. The Swedish encyclopedia has since April 2017
been blocked by the Turkish authorities. In May, Wikipedia
went to the European Court of Human Rights, complaining that
the blockade violates freedom of expression. The ruling may
now lead to Wikipedia becoming available again to the Turks.
According to the country's regulatory body for
telecommunications, there is a law that allows you to stop
access to websites on the internet that are considered
obscene or that may pose a threat to national security. This
can apparently be the case with an encyclopedia.
AKP as a government party
The new government was on a moderate line not to provoke
the military, which had deposed Necmettin Erbakan in 1997.
Citing Turkey as a secular state, attempts were also made to
ban the AKP, but failed. On the other hand, the party's
leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was refused election because
of a prison sentence in 1998 for a speech in which he
allegedly promoted religious hatred. After the election, the
AKP formed government under the leadership of Abdullah Gül.
After a legislative amendment to the new parliament, Erdoğan
was again elected to the elections, and he was elected to
parliament at the first supplementary elections, in March
2003. He took over as prime minister the following week.
The new government soon approved international treaties
that fell within the EU's criteria for membership (the
"Copenhagen criteria"), including on human rights, democracy
and the market economy. Erdoğan was touring Europe and
secured Turkey's place in the new Europe. The AKP's ambition
for EU membership was linked to the party's desire for a
fundamental democratization and removal of the military's
strong power in civil society and the state system.
The government proposed lifting restrictions on freedom
of expression and reforming the country's party and
electoral laws. The AKP further consolidated its position
through the local elections at the end of March 2004.
Following the influence of several women's organizations, a
completely new criminal law was passed in 2005, which among
other things strengthened women's legal protection in
violence and abuse cases and went against the use of
torture. Soon after, however, the AKP came up with a bill
that criminalized adultery.
The AKP's first reign was considered by parts of the
Turkish left and by many in the West to have had a general
democratizing effect on Turkish society, mainly because of
the military's influence on civil society and politics. As
part of EU adaptation reforms, the military lost its
leadership and majority in the State Security Council.
In 2010, the government released a package of
constitutional amendments to the referendum because they did
not have a two-thirds majority in parliament. The most
important changes concerned the judicial system, and were
presented as a democratizing reform of a constitution
written by the coup makers in 1980. The jurisdiction of
military courts was limited, and military coup makers'
immunity from prosecution was revoked. The justice system
was a key area for change, and there was a conflict of
motives and consequences. The number of Supreme Court judges
increased, and the parliament, where the AKP had a clear
majority, was given authority to appoint more judges. The
AKP presented it as a depoliticization of the judiciary,
while the opposition portrayed it as a dangerous
politicization and weakening of the courts' independence.
Along with the AKP's initial democratizing effect came a
religious conservatism, which eventually created an
increasing polarization between secularists and the AKP. The
excitement was not lessened by statements such as the one
Erdoğan made in 2010, where he stated that men and women are
not equal and that women's destiny is determined by God.
Many secularists accuse the AKP of having a hidden Islamist
agenda under its democratic surface.
Eventually, the optimism surrounding the AKP's
democratizing effect faded. In 2007, an investigation of
alleged coup plans (the Ergenekon case) started
against the AKP government. Hundreds of military officers,
journalists, academics and politicians were arrested, and in
2008 the judicial process began. In several court cases, 275
people were sentenced to long prison sentences, but the
evidence and investigation were called into question by many
independent commentators. The critics believed that the AKP
used the alleged coup plans to clear away opposition
politicians, critical journalists and secular community
backers. It was also alleged that many in the prosecution
belonged to Erdoğan's ally, the Gülen movement, and that
this was a political purge. In April 2016, all judgments
were overturned by the Supreme Court.
Erdoğan and AKP also used their power against the media,
in a series of injury lawsuits against journalists, and
closures of newspapers and media channels. Terrorism clauses
in the legislation were also used to shut down media
channels, through allegations of support for the Kurdish
guerrilla movement PKK. Some media companies were also
confiscated and taken over by AKP's allies.
In 2012, the alliance between the AKP and the Gülen
movement began to crack. One of the reasons for this was the
AKP's negotiating approach to the conflict with the Kurdish
guerrilla PKK. In 2009, the AKP government held secret
meetings between the intelligence service and PKK in Oslo,
and negotiations began in 2012. However, these negotiations
were thwarted by Gülen-loyal prosecutors, who in the same
year demanded an inquiry by the head of the intelligence
service, Hakan Fidan. He was accused of cooperating with the
PKK and leaking secret information to them. These charges
were probably linked to Fethullah Gülen's movement
Hizmetwho were more nationalist in the Kurdish
question. In 2013, there was a full breach between Gülen and
the AKP after Gülen-affiliated prosecutors started
corruption investigations by Erdoğan and other leading AKP
politicians. Erdoğan responded with a purge of the Gülen
people in the prosecution, the judiciary, the police and the
army. He warned and against the existence of a "parallel
state" in Turkey, with clear reference to the Gülen
movement. Gülen warned against Erdoğan's authoritarian
tendencies and called him a "pharaoh".