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Turkey: the coup attempt

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

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Two old friends in the US have written to me asking what I think of the now failed coup attempt. So voilà. When I heard the news late last night, my immediate, visceral reaction was to hope that the coup would succeed, thereby ridding Turkey and the world of the unspeakable Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But I quickly got intellectual control of myself, objectively understanding that it was a very bad thing and with terrible potential consequences regardless of the outcome. If the coup succeeded, it would plunge Turkey into open-ended instability, indeed chaos, as a military regime would be angrily rejected—and indeed actively resisted—by the large portion of the population that supports the current president and his party—and particularly if it were to arrest RTE, proscribe the AKP, and throw thousands in prison. This would be a disaster. There is no way the opposition parties (CHP, MHP, HDP) could possibly support this, lest they be complicit in the suspension of democracy—as RTE and the AKP were indeed democratically elected, which no one contests—and plunging Turkey into possible civil war—which, given the already deteriorating security situation (IS, PKK) and the conflicts on its borders, is the last thing the country needs. And there is no way the US or the EU could possibly acquiesce in the action of the military or formally recognize its regime.

What were the Turkish military putschists thinking? Plus their sympathizers outside Turkey? This is 2016. One doesn’t go around overthrowing elected governments in modern, sophisticated countries and that have one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. The putschists embarked on a fuite en avant: a rash course of action the consequences of which were not at all thought out. Not smart at all.

But now that the coup attempt has failed, the consequences will no doubt also be terrible. RTE will certainly come out of this reinforced and vengeful. He will redouble his efforts to modify the constitution—to, in effect, make him sultan-for-life—and likely succeed. Turkey will descend further into authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, and with all the instability that will entail. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last night in his Turkey coup live blog, the near 100-year Kemalist era in Turkey has, with the coup attempt, come to an end. Despite the problems and shortcomings of Kemalism, this is not to be celebrated.

I’ve mainly been getting information and analysis via social media (Facebook and Twitter). Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and personal friend Dan Brumberg—whose analyses are always smart and well-considered—posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Coup supporters in the US [such as, e.g., this one] are now trotting out the usual suspect excuses for backing the coup in Turkey:

1) The Military has always been the guarantor of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Not true. The military saw its role as the ultimate guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy and his ideology. That ideology was not only authoritarian, it was not “secular.” Under the state that Ataturk created the clerics and their institutions became employees and extensions of the state. Friday khutbas (sermons) were an important device in the efforts of successive governments to rally support. Moreover, at key points—in the eighties for example—the military invoked Islamic themes, a dynamic that had wider echoes in the region.

2) Military coups were designed to “restore democracy” and achieved this aim.

Also not true. Military coups were often undertaken against elected governments (as was the case today). Opponents of such actions were repressed. This is not democracy.

3) Under Erdogan, the Turkish state imposed an Islamist ideology and system, or was well on its way to achieving this aim.

Not true again. Under Erdogan, the government did push for Islamist policies of various kinds, and secular Turks had good reason to be worried. But as anyone who has visited Turkey in the last year or two will tell you, Erdogan and his ruling party did not succeed in uprooting the still vibrant sectors of urban secular Turkish society.

Erdogan’s primary goal is to enhance his personal power. There is little doubt that he seeks to build an electoral autocracy. That is the essential problem, and the essential challenge.

4) The only and perhaps even most effective way to prevent the creation of an electoral autocracy is via a military coup.

A familiar position but also very dubious. If the coup succeeds what will follow will be an onslaught of repression (see Egypt). If the coup fails, you can be sure that this act of folly was provide Erdogan and his allies precisely the justification they need for advancing their project.

Following up, Dan—who needs a blog—had this

Whatever its many faults, this Turkish Government was elected and has every right to remain in place and resist this coup.

See the interview in Slate with Jenny White, who teaches at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies: “How Turkey came to this: The attempted military coup isn’t the country’s first. But this time is different.”

Turkey specialist Claire Sadar, who co-edits the Muftah website, made this important observation earlier today

Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of the coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise. Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: We don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support has removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant that this coup attempt was doomed from the start.

More to follow.

UPDATE: The excellent Vox website has a number of articles and interviews with Turkey specialists, all grouped in a category on “Turkey’s coup.” Among them:

[Harvard University] expert [Dani Rodrik] tries to explain what the hell is going on.”

[Brookings Institution] Turkish politics expert [Ömer Taşpınar] on why it looks like a failed attempt.”

Turkey has had several military coups in its modern history…[Columbia University] historian [Richard Bulliet] explains why.”

Why Turkey’s coup failed, according to…[political science] expert Naunihal Singh [of the University of Notre Dame].”

The Gülen Movement, explained.”

I’ve had several posts on Fethullah Gülen in past years and with links to numerous articles. To see them all, go here (and follow the links the first paragraph).

2nd UPDATE: Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA and who knows Turkey well, agrees that the attempted coup was a “lose-lose” proposition.

3rd UPDATE: MENA specialist and friend Steven A. Cook, who’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in WaPo, “Turkey has had lots of coups. Here’s why this one failed.”

See also the post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog by Syracuse University political scientist Yüksel Sezgin, “How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest.”

4th UPDATE: BuzzFeed News Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch from Diyarbakir on “Why the failed coup will hurt Turkey in coming months.” Quoting specialist Henri Barkey: “This is a coup where everyone loses.” Hélas.

5th UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu, writing in OpenDemocracy, asks if the coup d’état attempt is “Turkey’s Reichstag fire.” The lede: “We are witnessing the consolidation of a new form of authoritarianism with a populist streak.”

6th UPDATE: Dani Rodrik—who is worth reading on any subject he writes about—has a commentary in Project Syndicate, “Turkey’s baffling coup.”

7th UPDATE: The well-known journalist and commentator Cengiz Çandar, writing in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, asks the question that’s on many minds: “Was Turkey’s coup attempt just an elaborate hoax by Erdogan?” One should naturally be wary of conspiracy theories—and which are a dime a dozen in Turkey and elsewhere in that part of the world—but sometimes there are conspiracies. If such was the case with the attempted coup—and which does indeed smell a little fishy—the truth will come out, and probably sooner rather than later.

8th UPDATE: Philip Giraldi—executive director of the Council for the National Interest, former CIA officer, and Turkey-watcher—has an interesting piece in The American Conservative (July 18th), “A very predictable coup? Opponents of Turkey’s strongman have only solidified his position,” in which he suggests that Erdoğan may have had wind of the plot.

9th UPDATE: The well-known intellectual Cengiz Aktar, presently a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, has a tribune (July 18th) in Le Monde, “Les putschistes ont offert à Erdogan le régime présidentiel dont il rêve.”

10th UPDATE: Cihan Tuğal, who teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, weighs in with an essay (July 18th) in OpenDemocracy, “Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism.” The lede: “Predictions about the consequences of Turkey’s failed coup focus on how it fulfils Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. But the danger that awaits is much greater than that.”

11th UPDATE: Voilà three “snapshot” analyses in Foreign Affairs:

Erdogan’s prophecy: The coup attempt will leave him stronger,” by Michael J. Koplow (July 18th).

Where the Turkish military fails, Egypt’s succeeds: Here’s why,” by Steven A. Cook (July 19th).

Turkey’s troubling turn: Terrorism and security after the attempted coup,” by Soner Cagaptay (July 19th).

12th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, writing in City Journal (July 20th), asks “Who planned Turkey’s coup?” The answer: “It probably wasn’t President Erdoğan.”

Also see Claire’s piece in The American Interest (July 20th), co-authored with Izmir-based blogger Ali Kincal, “Dark days ahead: The plot against Erdoğan has laid bare dangerous undercurrents in Turkey.”

On the Ricochet blog, Claire has reproduced an English-language version of an interview her friend and colleague Okan Altiparmak—an Istanbul-based filmmaker and Turkey director of the website Muslim World Today—gave to an Iranian publication on the attempted coup.

13th UPDATE: Aaron Stein—Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East—has a post (July 20th) in the War on the Rocks blog entitled “Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military.” Monica Marks—a sharp doctoral candidate at Oxford University and with specialized knowledge of Turkey—writes on social media that this is “by far the most detailed account [she’s] seen in Turkish or English of how Friday’s coup attempt transpired and its implications for the Turkish military. Well worth reading and spot on…”

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Mustang

Mustang

Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).

The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.

The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title, mustangs roaming free on the plain…). One feels the girls’ exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.

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Turkey’s election

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I am just so goddamned, f—ing disappointed! F—ing bummer! My disappointment and disgust at tonight’s outcome are equal to the exhilaration and joy I felt with the result of last June’s vote. In thinking about the election this morning I had visions of the AKP losing even more ground than it did last time, the HDP and CHP gaining, RT Erdoğan stunned and confused and descending into a deep depression, a faction of AKP heavyweights (Gül, Arınç, whoever) bolting to form a new party, and with the AKP’s hegemony over Turkish politics finally broken. Talk about a douche froide

No one foresaw this, not even pro-AKP polling institutes. As top Turkey specialist Michael Koplow tweeted

Wow. Had someone predicted these Turkish election results to me last week, I would have scoffed to their face. Never saw this coming.

In an instant explanation of the AKP’s near eight-point spike, WINEP’s Soner Cagaptay submitted that Erdoğan’s stoking up the conflict with the PKK drove liberal Turks from the HDP, nationalists from the MHP, and with conservative Kurds returning to the AKP.

Trying to look at the bright side of things—if bright there is—at least the HDP is over the 10% threshold, the AKP fell short of the 330 seats needed to change the constitution—insuring inshallah that RTE will not get the hyper-presidency/sultanate he so desperately wants—and that Turkey will at least have a stable government—if not political stability.

Michael Koplow has the first instant analysis of the outcome (in English), posted on his Ottomans and Zionists blog, “A Quick Reaction to the AKP Victory.” Money quote

People who pay attention to Turkish politics spend a lot of time reading the Turkish press online and conversing with each other on social media, but the vast majority of Turkish voters get their information from Turkish television, and last week’s seizure of Koza Ipek television stations reinforces that if you get your news from Turkish television, you are getting a relentless pro-government message. So in hindsight, it is easy to see how the AKP’s message that instability was the result of not giving the AKP a majority in June and that the only way to restore things was to correct course today, and drowning out every alternative argument to the contrary, could have produced the desired result.

Getting one’s news exclusively from state-controlled television… Like Slobodan Milošević’s Serbia in the 1990s. Or Vladimir Putin today.

On RTE and Putin, see the comment by Claire Sadar, who blogs at Atatürk’s Republic, in Foreign Affairs last February 12th, “Dreaming of Russia in Ankara.”

On possible irregularities in today’s vote, Michael Koplow says this

I’m not in a position to make accusations of fraud, but there is definitely some unusual stuff going on. The bottom line, however, is that even if there turns out to be nothing irregular at all about the actual vote tally, the facts are that the AKP spent five months harassing opposition politicians, arresting opposition journalists, shutting down television stations and newspapers, accusing the HDP of supporting terrorism, and warning the entire country that the instability that has wracked the country would look like child’s play if the AKP were not handed a majority this time. Whatever you want to call the sum total of those tactics, they do not make for a free and fair election. Welcome to the era of competitive authoritarianism, Turkey.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Istanbul-based writer Kaya Genç has a good analysis in TNR (November 2nd) of “Why Turkey stuck with Erdogan,” which is built around the “White Turks/Black Turks” cleavage (though he doesn’t actually use these terms).

The well-known columnist Mustafa Akyol, writing in Al Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, examines “How the AKP dominated yesterday’s election in Turkey.”

Istanbul-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller, in a post in Foreign Policy, offers his thoughts on “Erdogan’s big night.” The lede: “The Turkish president’s party defied the polls, guaranteeing its political dominance for years to come.”

Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center has a tribune in Libération, “La Turquie d’Erdogan ne bénéficiera que d’une pseudo-stabilité.”

2nd UPDATE: Aykan Erdemir, a former CHP deputy and current Bilkent University prof, has “6 takeaways from the Turkish elections” in Politico.eu (November 2nd). Smart take IMO.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has a post on “Why Turkey’s election results shocked all the experts,” in which he quotes some of those experts (Michael Koplow, Steven Cook, Sinan Ülgen).

As for expert Sinan Ülgen, who is chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, he weighs in on “Erdoğan’s second chance” in a commentary in Project Syndicate.

3rd UPDATE: Istanbul-based reporter David Lepeska has an analysis up on the Foreign Affairs website (November 2nd) on “The AKP’s Golden Opportunity: Erdogan’s victory and Turkey’s open-door policy.”

Also see Lepeska’s October 31st opinion piece on the Al Jazeera website, “A mountain to climb for Turkey’s liberals and leftists.” The lede: “Amid rising violence and a crackdown on free speech, critics raise their voices – but remain pessimistic about the vote.”

4th UPDATE: Erik Meyersson of the Stockholm School of Economics has a post (November 4th) on his blog, “Digit Tests and the Peculiar Election Dynamics of Turkey’s November Elections,” in which he tries to measure possible irregularities in the vote. I’m skeptical, as there appear not to have been allegations of fraud from the adversely affected parties (MHP, HDP).

Steven A. Cook has a commentary in Fortune (November 2nd) on “What Turkey’s election surprise says about the troubled country.”

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For anyone with any interest in Turkey, please take ten minutes of your time to watch Selahattin Demirtaş respond to Ahmet Davutoğlu in the aftermath of yesterday’s massacre (here, with English subtitles). As one journalist uttered after Demirtaş finished: “wow!”

If I were a Turkish citizen there is not the slightest doubt as to which party would get my vote in the upcoming election.

ankara

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Syria’s lost generation

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Istanbul-based journalist Sebnem Arsu has a feature article in Politico.eu on the dire situation of Syrian refugee children in the city—which, one may safely presume, is likewise elsewhere in Turkey as well, plus Lebanon and Jordan, not to mention in Syria itself—who have been descholarized in massive numbers, some since the outbreak of the war four years ago. The consequences of this, ça va de soi, will be calamitous—for the children’s futures, the countries in which they live, and Europe and the world—if the international community, such as it is, does not act quickly. Quoting Abdulrahman Kowara, director of the Syrian Education Commission—the de facto educational authority of the Syrian opposition in Syria and Turkey—at the end of the piece

“These children, if left uneducated, will harm Syria, Turkey and the entire world in the future…I see these children as time bombs, ready to explode any time. I see the expression of detachment on their faces. It is up to the world to help the future generations of Syria as much as their own.”

On the subject of Syrian refugees, the German website In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt, which makes videos “explaining things,” posted a six-minute You Tube last Thursday—which has already been viewed almost 4.5 million times—explaining the European refugee crisis and Syria. It’s good and merits wide circulation, though, for the record, I will quibble with the line about how “[a]ll sides committed horrible war crimes, using chemical weapons, mass executions, torture on a large-scale, and repeated deadly attacks on civilians.” All sides have indeed committed exactions and done very bad things but the lion’s share of this has been the doing of the regime of Bashar al-Assad—and when it comes to the use of chemical and torture on a large-scale, that share is total. The Islamic State would commit worse crimes if it could but, so far at least, the aggregate quantity of its crimes and of persons killed, maimed and/or displaced from their homes as a consequence cannot hold a candle to those committed by the regime in Damascus.

In arguing for generosity toward the Syrian refugees landing on the continent, the video’s authors make this impeccable assertion

Even if the EU alone were to accept all four million refugees and 100% of them were Muslims, the percentage of Muslims in the European Union would only rise from about 4% to about 5%…The European Union is the wealthiest bunch of economies on Earth, well-organized states with functioning social systems, infrastructure, democracy, and huge industries. It can handle the challenge of the refugee crisis if it wants to. The same can be said for the whole Western world.

In a post two years ago on Syria’s Palestinians, I opined that it would behoove the European Union, US, Canada, Latin American states, Australia, and Russia to absorb all 300,000 of them. Comme ça. Can these states—to which one must add those in the OIC who have the means but have so far done little to nothing, but who can and must share in the responsibility—absorb four million Syrians? That’s a lot but what choice is there, as the Syrian war is not going to end anytime soon and what will become of those four million displaced persons in the meantime? But if some kind of international agreement can possibly be worked out on this at some point down the road—when the Syrian refugee crisis has really become untenable—the refugees should be offered choices as to where they want to go—where they have family or support networks, speak the language, and/or will encounter the least difficulties in finding employment, i.e. in integrating into the host society. If refugees are sent to countries—however generous the latter’s intentions may be—where they know no one, don’t speak the language, and are sure to have great difficulties in the labor market, there will be problems, as one learns in this report in Le Monde last week.

À propos of all this, see these two reportages—here and here—on the France 2 news this evening. Je n’ai rien à dire de plus.

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: Vocativ/Jodi Hilton)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: Vocativ/Jodi Hilton)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

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I am Suruç

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Heartbreaking the images of the youthful victims of Monday’s IS terror bombing of the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç, Turkey (the death toll is 32 as of today). See the photo gallery with profiles here. Also here and here. The victims were militants in the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), which is linked to the extreme-left Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP, whose founder and leader until last year, Figen Yüksekdağ, is now co-chair, along with Selahattin Demirtaş, of the HDP). The SGDF was an active participant in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, with its contingent in Suruç preparing to cross the Syrian border to help in the reconstruction of neighboring Kobanî.

The AKP government, not surprisingly, has had no better response to the massacre than to have a court ban media images of the victims (and to block access to Twitter) and with the police attacking demonstrators in Istanbul expressing rage over the terror bombing with tear gas and water cannon. Pathetic.

UPDATE: See this photo gallery in the MailOnline, “Minutes later she was dead: Tragic story of Turkish student who posted haunting selfie moments before ISIS bomb that killed her and 30 others.”

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ERDOGAN

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Continuing with links to post-election analyses and commentaries

Paris-based journalist Claire Berlinski, who lived in and reported from Turkey for some ten years, has a sharp, hardheaded, typically well-written analysis in Politico.eu (June 15th) of the election’s aftermath, in which she says “Don’t rejoice yet: Erdoğan could still win.” The lede: “Forming a coalition in Turkey will be a nightmare, and the strongman has the trump cards.”

The coalition/minority AKP government hypotheses have been enumerated and speculated upon by most analysts, though Claire goes further than others in taking seriously the prospect—however unlikely it may seem—of an AKP-HDP deal. First off, she notes that the HDP may not be the liberal-progressive force that it’s been cracked up to be, particularly in the West

There is something about the language now being used to describe the HDP that is reminiscent of the early days of the AKP. It takes a special kind of stupid to fail to appreciate the eagerness of the West to befriend anyone or anything in Turkey that sounds even remotely like a Western liberal. This eagerness generally precludes asking too many questions. The HDP has become the instant darling of a foreign media eager to find in Turkey a genuine liberal party. And true, Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP leader, may represent some Turkish liberals. But mostly he represents conservative and nationalist Kurds. Many have been voting for the AKP for years. In the southeast, there has long been cooperation between the AKP and the Kurdish tarikats (or religious orders) and clans.

The political economist Erik Meyersson carefully studies Turkish electoral statistics. After considering the recent results, he concluded: “The HDP cake may have a leftist-liberal-secular crust, but most of its filling is socially conservative Kurds.” The rise of the HDP, he plausibly argues, does not represent the revival of the Turkish left. It represents the unification of its Kurds under one political banner.

Further down, Claire has this

The scenario most likely to prevent [a possible implosion of the AKP] is an AKP-HDP alliance. Depending what he offers them, the HDP might allow Erdoğan, in exchange, to push through his one-man-leadership plan, and this despite everyone else’s objection to it.

Don’t rule it out. Demirtaş has sworn he won’t do it, but his party has objectives that only the AKP can deliver. Demirtaş in turn must deliver the goods to his supporters, and fast. His promises to work for all of Turkey, not just the Kurds, are promises; his interest is in working for his supporters. Only the AKP, for example, might entertain the notion of offering regional autonomy for the Kurds in exchange for Erdoğan’s elevation to an enhanced presidency. Erdoğan could even be so cynical as to dangle the prospect of freeing Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, in exchange for the HDP’s cooperation. An AKP-HDP alliance, in other words, could result in outcomes that would thrill many Kurds; horrify the majority of the electorate; set the country alight; and result, despite everything, in Erdoğan, President for Life.

I’m dubious mais on ne sait jamais…

BTW, the study Claire cites by Erik Meyersson, who teaches at the Stockholm School of Economics, is a post on his blog dated June 8th, “How Turkey’s social conservatives won the day for HDP.”

Selim Can Sazak, who studies at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has a post (June 9th) on The Century Foundation blog entitled “The aftermath of Turkey’s elections: The curse of d’Hondt,” in which he has, entre autres, some interesting observations on the HDP

HDP’s success also owes much to two names—Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition party leader of CHP, and Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP’s own leader. Kılıçdaroğlu risked his own political fortune by desisting from attacking HDP despite the outflow of around 5 percent of the overall vote from his own party to the HDP. Demirtaş, a human rights lawyer, won a devout following among urban left-leaning voters consisting of mostly youth and women. With his charisma and generational appeal, Demirtaş has been compared to Europe’s rising left-populists, like Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and Spain’s Pablo Iglesias. He stands in stark contrast to the other older opposition leaders: MHP’s Devlet Bahçeli is a gaffe-prone septuagenarian who has been leading his party for almost two decades, while CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is as exciting as any other retired actuary.

While Demirtas’s popstar charms may have won him an election, they won’t solve his many problems. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list for its bloody campaign against the Turkish government, maintains a strong influence on Kurdish politics. Like the Kurds themselves, the PKK’s politics are fairly conservative. In an interview last year, PKK leader Cemil Bayık bemoaned that HDP is pandering to “Cihangir marginalism,” using Istanbul’s upscale Cihangir neighborhood as a metonym in a thinly veiled jab against HDP’s cosmopolitan-left elements and its influence on issues like LGBT rights. PKK’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in solitary confinement at an island prison since his capture in 2003, but he remains influential over the Kurds.

For the broader public, however, his name is still toxic—when Demirtaş thanked Öcalan in his victory speech, it unleashed a torrent of angry comments on social media. The Öcalan factor—essentially, hesitancy about supporting a Kurdish party in general—is already giving momentum to MHP, which still considers HDP an extension of the PKK and has therefore been reluctant to negotiate with the Kurds. MHP increased its vote share by about 25 percent this time around. Unless Demirtaş can convince his non-Kurd voters that he will keep a healthy distance from Öcalan, HDP’s victory could be a one-time feat, and could even enable MHP’s rise or pull AKP and MHP closer together, in their opposition to the HDP. But it’s not so simple for Demirtaş, for whom distance from Öcalan risks alienating the Kurdish base and angering the party’s Kurdish activists, most of whom continue to regard Öcalan as their natural leader.

In a political science-y piece on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (June 12th), professors Emre Erdoğan (Bilgi University) and David L. Wiltse (South Dakota State U.) ask “Will Turkey’s recent election send the country back to the politically turbulent 1990s?” The scenario they appear to give the most credit to is an AKP minority government tacitly supported from the outside by the MHP. I’ll go along with them.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Mustafa Akyol has a commentary in Al-Monitor (June 15th), in which, like Claire, he says that “Erdoğan lost a battle, but perhaps not the war.” The scenario he deems most likely is Erdoğan calling for new elections after 45 days—during which time the AKP and CHP would have failed to form a government—which, Erdoğan calculates, would result in gains for the AKP—voters being frightened by instability—thereby giving it a majority in the Grand National Assembly. Akyol also speculates on a possible return of Abdullah Gül, who would replace Ahmet Davutoğlu as PM.

2nd UPDATE: Aaron Stein, a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College London and fellow at several institutions, has a Turkey election recap (June 16) on his Turkey Wonk blog, in which one will find a podcast discussion (worth listening to for Turkey aficionados) with him and Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for The Economist and a columnist for the liberal Istanbul daily Taraf, and a link to Stein’s latest analysis for the Atlantic Council, “Turkish coalition politics: Prospects for the Kurdish peace process.”

3rd UPDATE: Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe—who is very smart (I’ve seen him speak at a conference)—has an op-ed in the NYT (June 17th), “Turkey at a democratic crossroad,” in which he privileges the scenario of an AKP-CHP coalition—as do Aaron Stein and Amberin Zaman in their discussion linked to above—that would have a super-majority to amend the constitution and effect major institutional reforms.

Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş

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