Current Situation in Turkey

What is Currently Happening in Turkey?

Current Situation in Turkey: The Rise of a Regional Power

The rapid rise of Turkey’s economic and political power in the first decade of the 21st century has been the envy of the Middle East. Once a laggard hopelessly chasing the elusive dream of entering the European Union, Turkey has become a regional power in its own might. The economy grew by 5% a year on average between 2002 and 2012, placing Turkey well ahead of the stagnant European economies and its politically troubled regional peers.

Once at odds with almost all its neighbors, Turkey worked to build burgeoning trade relationships in the region, dubbed by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as the “zero problem” neighborhood policy. That said, the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 complicated Turkey’s forays into the Middle East. In a reversal of its policy of non-interference, Turkey has thrown its weight behind the Syrian rebels. This puts the Sunni Turkey increasingly at odds with the Shiite power Iran, at a time of growing Sunni-Shiite tension in the Middle East.

Remarkably, the economic successes of recent years were achieved under a moderate Islamist government. In 2002, at the time when most Arab countries were still ruled by dictatorships, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in free and fair elections. In contrast to the Arab world, the threat of radical Islamism in Turkey is marginal. More recently, the AKP has come under fire for doing little to improve the country’s poor human rights record, but Turkey still has one of the most robust democratic systems in the Muslim world.

Kurdish Issue

The issue of the Kurdish minority remains one of the main black spots of Turkish democracy. Kurds account for around 15-20% of Turkey’s population, and live predominantly in the least developed areas of Turkey’s south-east.

Upon the creation of the Turkish republic in 1923, the Kurds were not recognized as a separate ethnic group. As such they could not claim any cultural rights, such as the use of Kurdish language in education and the media.

Kurdish frustration exploded in mid-1980s, when the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an armed rebellion with the aim of creating an independent Kurdish state. Although major fighting has ended, a peace agreement remains elusive, and most Kurds still complain of discrimination.

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Latest Developments: Secular Turks Rise against the Government

The anti-government protests in June 2013 reminded the world all is not well in Turkey’s success story. Rallies that started in protest against development plans in central Istanbul escalated into a wider expression of discontent with the authoritarian governing style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Those Turks concerned over their country’s secular tradition suspect Erdogan is using his parliamentary majority to monopolize all power and push for a gradual Islamization of the Turkish society. Erdogan, for his part, accuses the protesters of trying to destabilize a democratically elected government.

  • Foreign Policy: How Erdogan's enemies are using the protests against him
  • Washington Post: Turkey’s protests just a slice of a polarized country

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Who is in Power in Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He walks a tightrope between his party's platform of political Islam and Turkey's constitutional commitment to secularism. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Elected for the third time in 2012 with almost 50% of the vote, Erdogan is Turkey’s most successful and most powerful politician in decades. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) enjoys the support of business circles, rural voters, and moderate Islamist groups, and is credited with presiding over a booming economy and a pragmatic foreign policy.
  • Military: Turkish military has a long tradition of acting as the ultimate guarantor of stability and the secular order established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic. After the WWII, the generals launched three military coups to restore stability. However, the army’s power has declined dramatically under Erdogan’s government.

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Turkey’s Opposition

Anti-government protestors in Taksim Square on June 8, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
  • People’s Republican Party (CHP): Turkey’s oldest political party won 21% of the vote in the 2012 elections, making it the biggest opposition group. CHP is a secular, left-of-center party which used to dominate Turkey during the one-party period before the WWII.
  • Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): Currently the third force in parliament, MHP is a right-wing nationalist party advocating a hardline approach to the Kurdish issue. The party was notorious during the political violence of the 1970s, when its paramilitary squads fought left-wing opponents.
  • Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK): The armed wing of Kurdish separatism, PKK was originally a Marxist party which launched an armed rebellion against the Turkish state in 1984. PKK has softened its positions since the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. Ocalan declared a ceasefire in 2013, offering hopes of peace after three decades of violence.