Davutoğlu’s promise of ‘restoration’

Davutoğlu’s promise of ‘restoration’

Prime Minister designate Ahmet Davutoğlu is promising to continue with what he refers to as the “restoration process” under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  He is an academic and likes to use words that have an academic ring.

“Restoration” in the historic context, refers to a return to a previous state of affairs that is considered better in the eyes of those who use this term. It is not hard to see what AKP supporters hope will be “restored” in Turkey.

What the AKP is trying to “restore” is also clear, however, to secular Kemalists, Turkish nationalists and pro-EU liberals who represents 42-45 percent of the population and do not support the AKP.

For them, there is an attempted “dismantling” for the sake of Davutoğlu’s “restoration.” Kemalists believe the secular and unitary nature of the Turkish Republic is being dismantled.

Nationalists believe that in addition to the unitary nature of the republic, the concept of “Turkishness” is being dismantled for the sake of a predominantly religious and Sunni identity.

Liberals – who have always represented the smallest group in Turkey – believe there is a dismantling of Western-style democratic institutions, as well as a rolling back of advances made in this regard under Turkey’s EU perspective over the past decade, ironically under the AKP.

All three groups see an attempt to roll back the parliamentary system, based on the separation of powers, in favor of an unencumbered “leadership” system that is driven ultimately by an Islamist worldview. This rule takes its strength from the ballot box but takes no heed of democratic pluralism.

Davutoğlu is clearly also hankering after some kind of neo-Ottoman glory for Turkey under Erdoğan’s tutelage. This was also evident in the speech he delivered last week, which was laced with religious imagery, after Erdoğan nominated him for prime minister.

Davutoğlu claimed that Turkey was seen as a “sick man” before the AKP came to power. This is an unmistakable reference to the Ottoman Empire during the reformist Tanzimat period in the 19th century when it was seen as the “sick man of Europe.”

Islamists believe the secularization and Westernization process the Tanzimat period entailed brought the end of the Ottoman Empire. They say the Ottoman Empire was strong and glorious before that, and ruled a large portion of the world, drawing its strength from Islam.

Of course, a significant number of Kemalists and nationalists also believe that the Tanzimat period brought about the end of the empire, although they see a unitary and secular Turkish state, with a definite national identity based on modern (but not necessarily democratic) institutions as the panacea for this.

This is a very large topic that continues to be dealt with in scores of academic studies today. What is significant here, however, is Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are harking back to the glorious period of the Ottoman Empire when it was not seen as a “sick man.” 

This is their ultimate point of reference when they talk of “restoration.” What they are not talking about, however, is the raising of pluralistic democracy, or secularism and freedoms in Turkey, up to the highest universal standards.

They clearly see no “glory” in that, only a hindrance to their Islamist-centered worldview. This is why they talk about “restoration” and not “reformation.” Nevertheless, how they plan to achieve their dream, given the realities that drive this day and age - which Turkey is certainly not immune to - remains a mystery. 

All the talk about “restoration” is therefore very likely to be seen as hollow in the end and aimed only at pleasing supporters, while covering up for a genuine vision for a contemporary and modern Turkey that is respected internationally for its democratic achievements.