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. 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.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG: Click to see the meanings of 3-letter acronym and abbreviation of TUR in general and in geography as Turkey in particular.
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admittedly warned Turkey that they would suffer “economic devastation” if they attacked the Kurds when US troops were withdrawn from the area. In October, this had been replaced by a clear sign.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 Sweden.
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 Hizmet who 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”.
According to CountryAAH, the population of Turkey in 2019 was 83,429,504, ranking number 18 in the world. The population growth rate was 1.320% yearly, and the population density was 108.4022 people per km2.