AKP, Gülen Movement and Mandela

AKP, Gülen Movement and Mandela

Since Turkey’s politicians and public have been only and intensely discussing the clash between the AKP-Gülen Movement, for months, one recent development has been overlooked. It was very disappointing to see that Turkey was not represented by its top leaders at Nelson Mandela’s funeral last week. While 91 heads of state and government headed to South Africa on December 9 to bid farewell to the legendary anti-Apartheid fighter, Turkey was represented only by its Deputy Prime Minister. This reveals how introverted and self-enclosed Turkey has become recently.

On the very same day a survey conducted by the Association of Real Estate Investment Companies (GYODER) has been published. Accordingly, 65 percent of the Turkish people oppose house sales to foreigners and only 27 percent said they had no problem with this. After a reciprocity law came into effect, allowing foreigners to buy dwellings in Turkey, many Turkish construction firms had started selling property to foreigners, especially Arab countries. However the worrisome xenophobic trend in Turkey has pushed many construction firms to limit their sales to foreigners out of fear of losing domestic customers. In short, Turkish people are still not ready to cohabitate with foreigners. 

I am using the word “still” because the study titled “Being Different in Turkey” conducted by the Open Society Foundation in 2006 had revealed similar results. Accordingly, 24 percent of the public do not want a neighbor who belongs to a different religious sect; 28 percent do not want Kurds, 39 percent do not want Jews, 42 percent do not want Armenians and 43 percent do not want Greeks as neighbors. In addition, the religiosity of the other party is given prominence in choosing partners, friends, neighbors, trade partners, landlords and tenants. Similarly, the percentage of people who do not want their daughter’s or son’s marriage with a non-Muslim is 70 and 67, respectively. Being of the same religion is not enough though. While in 1999, 42 percent would not accept their son’s or daughter’s marriage with someone of a different Muslim sect, in 2006 this ratio had risen to 51 percent. The recent Transatlantic Survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) also shows that the majority of Turkish people are concerned about immigration. The highest numbers of respondents who agree that immigrants are a threat to the national culture were found in Turkey with 55 percent.

This is no big news. Turkish people have always had a tendency to be xenophobic and introverted throughout history. Longstanding sayings such as “a Turk’s best friend is another Turk” are only a reflection of this trend. This makes Turkey claustrophobic to the extent that for months only the AKP-Gülen clash has been on the agenda of the politicians and the public. However this deep-rooted trend should have changed a long time ago with the AKP government. The AKP has made serious openings not only towards Turkey’s neighboring regions most notably the Middle East after a long break following the foundation of the Republic, but also domestically towards non-Muslim and non-Turk groups which had been excluded by the state. Furthermore, a government which purports to become the game-changer in the region and the center of mediation in the world does not have the luxury of not breaking this vicious circle.

Getting out of the AKP-Gülen struggle and coming back to earth would be a modest start.