What has happened to Turkey in the last five years?

What has happened to Turkey in the last five years?

A Columbia University initiative, the Columbia Global Centers to be more specific, held a workshop in Istanbul on Sept. 25 under the title “Geopolitical Developments and Press Freedoms in the Middle East and Turkey.”

An international collection of scholars, academics and journalists focused on the title in three sessions: What is happening in Syria and Egypt, what is happening in Turkey and what is happening in the field of press freedom in global terms?

It is obvious that, like a century before, the clock of history has started to run faster and we are all living history, which is presently in the making.

A century ago, the political powers, regimes and borders changed in a few years’ time as the Turkish empire, the Ottoman dynasty, collapsed and disintegrated into nearly two dozen nations.

Colonialism had started to disappear with the collapse of not only the Turkish and Russian empires into secular and socialist authoritarian republics, respectively, but a new oil era also began to appear.

Now the pressure is rising in all nation-states in the region on a different level as the oil and mass manufacturing era is making way for a gas and digital era. The main motivation of that pressure is no longer nationalism, perhaps with the exception of the Kurds and Iranians. The main catalyst for the rise is the sectarian fight, perhaps thanks to the U.S. Cold War adventure of using Islamist and radical Islamist movements to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

This fact has been observed since the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and now in the Syrian civil war in its most brutal and naked form.

Turkey has found itself in this open-ended transformation in a different position. With Islamist origins, combined with an apparent transformation into a Western-oriented party, Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Parti came to power through a popular vote and presided over a prosperous economy as Turkey became a relevant international player in regional policies. Turkish foreign and trade policies were successfully based on “talking to everyone” in the region, but very quickly, the country found itself unable to cooperate with non-Sunni parties within a few years of the rise and fall of the Arab Spring.

Is it a coincidence that the problems within Turkey regarding democratic rights, including freedom of press and expression and freedom of assembly, have begun to lose ground, unlike in Erdoğan’s first few years, leading foreign observers of Turkey to say that was “unimaginable five years ago?” 

People who were supporters of Erdoğan up until a few years ago in the West and the region now have difficulties recognizing him as his style and politics have grown less inclusive in both domestic and foreign policy – and even economic – terms.

In trying to explain what has happened to Turkey, or in Turkey in the last five years, one has to take into account the feeling of power boosted by the 2011 elections and the coming presidential elections of 2014.

Accelerated turmoil in the region has had a considerable influence on the political landscape in Turkey, and the changing Turkish domestic political balances are likely to have a greater effect on the regional transformation.