Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, since his outburst at Davos, has been declared to be “totalitarian” in Western media organs, mostly by pro-Israel pundits. Those who have lost all common sense and rationality even created a dangerous radical Islamist persona – a potent combination of al-Qaeda and Hamas – for Erdoğan. In Turkey, actors, whose only political claim to fame is their opposition to Erdoğan, exhausted these publications by way of translation. In the years after Davos, this practice of Erdoğan-bashing simply became a cheap attempt to undermine Erdoğan via the clichés of the Western media. Shallow analyses that completely decontextualized Turkish politics from its historical and social roots inundated the media. The left-liberal pundits who do not have any constituency in Turkey repeated the same platitudes the Western media fed the secularist media in Turkey, back to the Western media.
The events Turkey went through in the last decade are considered pioneering, if not revolutionary, by any sociologist, historian or political scientist worth his salt. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power amid the debates over the invasion of Iraq. In fact, Iraq was occupied by the United States only a few months later. It was taken for granted that Turkey, which had remained a rather passive branch of NATO, would participate in the operation without objections like the first Gulf War. That was not so. The AK Party’s rejection of the United States’ call to join had a cold shower effect on the establishment, as well as on the secularist elite. The Americans, who had associated Turkey with its military and laicist elite, were also shocked by the rejection. Erdoğan, immediately after this rejection, took a big step on the Cyprus issue, which had remained a safe issue for the establishment, in order to kick-start discussions with the U.S. This was Erdoğan’s second moment.
Immediately after the Cyprus initiative, Erdoğan had another moment in his attempt to resolve the Kurdish question, which by then had turned into gangrene. Erdoğan apologized to the Kurds in the name of the Turkish state, admitting to past harms. This was a rather difficult moment for the Turkish establishment to digest. Before the Kemalists could recover from that shock, Erdoğan opened a new page in the Turkish political scene by stopping the military from intervening in politics during the presidential elections of 2007. That was the first time in history a civilian government openly challenged the military tutelage. The military took a step back, but the judiciary initiated the process to dissolve the AK Party. Erdoğan stood his ground and the judiciary tutelage was also forced to retreat. The same year witnessed operations carried out against high-ranking military officials who had conspired to overthrow the government. The operations not only led to the arrests of dozens of generals, but delivered a big blow to the military tutelage. A year later, Erdoğan transformed his first step in the Kurdish issue of 2005 into a full pledged “initiative for the resolution” of the Kurdish issue. In 2010, in order to be able to change the critical articles of the Constitution, he risked a referendum. The outcome was a disaster for the Kemalists.
After 2010, similar “Erdoğan moments” were seen in foreign policy beginning with the Arab Spring. In 2013, we witnessed another radical moment when Erdoğan initiated peace talks with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for the resolution of the Kurdish issue. Almost half-way into the year of 2014, the cease-fire is still holding and a resolution is looming. The Kemalist discriminatory ban on the headscarf was finally abrogated. Erdoğan recently had another moment right before the presidential elections. He took a step on the Armenian issue, challenging the century-old status quo. That is to say, while the absurd reality of the media declared Erdoğan totalitarian, Erdoğan’s moments continued to transform and democratize Turkey. And it appears they will continue to do so.