Security in Turkey: The Rise of a Social Democratic Alternative

Security in Turkey: The Rise of a Social Democratic Alternative

Since its founding, the Turkish Republic has perceived and reacted to various significant regional and global security challenges. Thus, survival in a volatile environment has been at the center of securitized Turkish policy discourse and practice. Consequently, the perception of existential threats and crises requiring extraordinary measures restricted available courses of action and stifled critical debate.

Discontent with this securitized policy environment presented opportune conditions for the rapid ascent of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). With his bold claims of revising Turkey’s securitized status quo, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan succeeded in appealing to large segments of the electorate, far beyond his initial base in Islamist circles. However, after a decade-long single party rule by the AKP, Erdoğan has instead further strengthened the securitization trend in Turkey.

Erdoğan’s fall from grace coincided with the rise of an alternative represented by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who became leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in May 2010. In the past, the CHP has often been a target of ungracious criticism from Turkish liberals for its security-centered thinking. Thus, for the June 2011 general elections, the party ran a bold campaign based on unequivocal calls for democracy, fundamental rights, and de-securitized thinking both in domestic and foreign policy.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s rise to the leadership marked the party’s departure from state-centric understanding of security to a human security perspective. This new orientation reflected a strong commitment to social democracy and human security. The Turkish public welcomed this reorientation as a crucial move that could finally turn CHP policies into a viable alternative to the AKP’s increasingly securitized approach.

The transformation of the CHP’s security thinking is best exemplified by the restructuring of the party’s R&D unit, namely the Science, Governance and Culture Platform. In May 2010, Sencer Ayata was appointed as director of this Science Platform. A sociology professor at the prestigious Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), Ayata is one of the leading scholars on social democratic theory and practice in Turkey.

Sencer Ayata transformed the Science Platform unit from a static institution into a dynamic node of ad-hoc networks of experts tackling a wide range of issues. Ayata’s institutional reform was accompanied by a “youth revolution,” as he recruited a large number of scholars and experts in their 20’s and 30’s for the Science Platform. Under Ayata’s guidance, the Science Platform has produced an unprecedented series of reports and policy briefs addressing key issues such as family insurance, women, academic freedom and hate crimes. These have laid the ideological basis for the development of a comprehensive security perspective.

The CHP’s comprehensive security framework also offers solutions to Turkey’s existential state security dilemmas. The emphasis on social democratic solidarity, represented by the CHP’s renewed interest in Socialist International, Party of European Socialists, and bilateral relations with sister parties, runs parallel to the party’s strengthened commitment to the European Union.

Furthermore, the CHP’s perspective of comprehensive security has the potential to remedy the decline of Turkey’s soft power. As the AKP gradually lost its influence and trustworthiness in the greater neighborhood, the CHP has begun to emerge as a potential mediator and arbitrator in Southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Caucasus.

The success of CHP policies remains yet to be seen. The extent to which the CHP’s reinvigorated social democratic framework of comprehensive security can shape Turkey’s national policy, as well as its regional and global orientation, depends on whether Ayata’s “youth revolution” in the Science Platform can be followed up with a similar addition of young voices into the party organization. This could become a key determinant of the party’s prospective success in the run up to the 2014 local elections.

*Aykan Erdemir is a Member of Parliament of the Republican People’s Party, and a Member of the Scientific Board in Social Democracy Association. This article was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ). This one is an abbreviated version of the piece. For more information, please visit