Saturday, July 30, 2011

Turkey 2020
Scenario One: page 10
Illiberal Islamism
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidates its power by capitalizing
on the weakness of the secularist opposition, responding to the demands of the
conservative urban lower-middle class, and building an alliance with the Islamist
Felicity Party (SP). By 2020, Sunni Islam is the most powerful force in domestic
and foreign policy, to the exclusion of minority views.
Scenario Two:
Illiberal Secularism page 23
The AKP faces socio-economic challenges, increasing resistance to its Islamist
tendencies, and a deteriorating security situation. This creates an opportunity
for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to come to power, with the support
of the military and the National Movement Party (MHP). The new coalition
espouses a strong, secure, and secular Turkey. In pursuing these goals,
however, it tends toward authoritarianism.
Scenario Three:
Political Pluralism page 34
The AKP loses support when it fails to mitigate Turkey’s socio-economic
problems. Dissatisfaction prompts civil society and political parties to begin
coalescing around new approaches to the economy, corruption, regional
development, and governance. Politics becomes more competitive, forcing
parties to compromise in order to build governing coalitions, and the
polarization between secularist and Islamist forces gives way to pragmatism.
Number 5 Spring 2011
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The CGA Turkey Scenarios workshop, conducted on May 21, 2010, was
the fifth in a series of events at CGA designed to reduce surprise and
expand U.S. foreign policy options. Previous events focused on Iraq, Iran,
China, and Russia. Subsequent workshops on Ukraine and Pakistan will be
released later in 2011. The workshops on China, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine,
and Pakistan are funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
In both official and academic policy debates, the future is often expected
to parallel the recent past. Potential discontinuities are dismissed as
implausible, information that conflicts with prevailing mindsets or policy
preferences is unseen or viewed as anomalous, pressure for consensus
drives out distinctive insights, and a fear of being “wrong” discourages risktaking
and innovative analysis. This conservatism can reduce foreign policy
options. Our experience, through several workshops, is that experts tend
to underestimate the degree of future variability in the domestic politics
of seemingly stable states. This is the case with Iran and with the Soviet
Union. Globalization, financial volatility, physical insecurity, economic
stresses, and ethnic and religious conflicts challenge governments as
never before and require that we think seriously about American policies
in such uncertain circumstances.
The CGA Scenarios Initiative aims to apply imagination to debates about
pivotal countries that affect U.S. interests. The project assembles the
combination of knowledge, detachment, and future perspective essential
to informing decisions taken in the presence of uncertainty. The project
comprises long-term research on forces for change in the international
system and workshops attended by experts and policymakers from diverse
fields and viewpoints. The workshops examine the results of current
research, produce alternative scenarios, identify potential surprises, and
test current and alternative policies against these futures.
Michael Oppenheimer, the founder of the project, has organized over
thirty such projects for the Departments of State and Defense, the National
Intelligence Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Institute of
Peace, the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, and
the President’s Science Advisor. He is a professor at the Center for Global
Affairs at New York University.
A key ally of the United States, long-standing member of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) and a candidate for membership in the
European Union (EU), Turkey has strong ties to the West and to the East
in a volatile, yet strategic region of the world. Turkey sits geographically
at the crossroads of civilizations, but has only in the last decade of the
post-Cold War environment assumed the confidence and trappings of a
geopolitically pivotal player. As a non-permanent member of the United
Nations Security Council from 2008–2010, a G-20 founding member since
2008, and holder of the post of Secretary General of the Organization
of the Islamic Conference (OIC) since 2005, Turkey’s global rise is
unprecedented. Turkey’s newly discovered role in global politics has its
benefits, but also its challenges that need to be assessed.
Turkey’s new role has been brought about by the emergence of the
self-confident Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an and his Justice and
Development Party (AKP). Elected in 2002, reelected in 2007, and projected
to win again in 2011, they have become a formidable force to be reckoned
with in Turkish politics. Their critics accuse them of authoritarianism
and Islamism, while their proponents laud their democratic reforms and
liberal attempts at opening Turkey up domestically and internationally.
The fact that the AKP as a civilian party has unrivalled control of Turkey in
a way unprecedented in its post-Ataturk history means the stakes for the
country’s future have never been higher.
The recent activism and independence of Turkish foreign policy has
drawn the most recent attention throughout Europe, the United States,
and in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood. In the West, there are fears that
Turkey is being “lost,” that it is becoming more oriented toward the East,
and that it is drifting away from secularism and toward Islamism. Turkey
is seen as a more autonomous actor pursuing greater regional and global
influence, and making it a less reliable partner of the West. Ideationally,
the Cold War metaphor of Turkey as a “bridge” between East and West
has been abandoned to demonstrate the agency of Ankara in its evolving
neighborhood. Indeed, Ankara, particularly under the influence of current
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, now conceptualizes Turkey
as a “central country” in the midst of “Afro-Eurasia,” one that attempts
to pursue “strategic depth” and “zero problems” with its neighbors. It
does so by fostering bilateral and multilateral ties, by using the country’s
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Ottoman heritage as a foreign policy asset, and by exerting “soft power”
and economic independence in its region. Actions in support of these
policy goals include Turkey’s headline grabbing engagement of states
and movements shunned by the West, such as Iran, Syria, and Hamas.
However, perhaps more significantly but less glamorous, Turkey’s efforts
to establish free-trade and visa-free zones throughout its neighborhood as
it seek to integrate these areas into the global environment by projecting
itself as a regional leader and hub.
Balancing Ankara’s historically close relationships with the West both in its
“strategic alliance” in Washington and its ongoing process with Brussels
amidst the realities of its neighborhood is no simple task. Key to this
is managing the interdependency between a democratizing and stable
domestic political scene and ambitious foreign policy vision in Ankara.
The changes in Turkish foreign policy cannot be attributed to a single
factor; rather, a number of domestic and international considerations have
propelled this phenomenon as this report seeks to outline. Turkey has the
economic and political potential to be a trans-regional actor that promotes
peace, prosperity, and stability or an inward-focused state, whose domestic
turbulence inflames problems abroad. Therefore understanding Turkey
on its own terms and assessing its potential impact globally and regionally
is of critical importance to practitioners and scholars alike working on
Turkish foreign policy today.
This report is a valuable contribution towards these assessments of future
scenarios for Turkey. As idealized and highly stylized extremes, no single
scenario of the three can be seen as fully predictive, but simply plausible
potential outcomes. The distinguished practitioners and scholars gathered
together represent the best thinkers of our day on Turkey and their
perspectives offer us important insights. Not a single participant or reader
will agree with every part of this report, but given the nature of the exercise
it offers a unique perspective on a valuable and increasingly important
strategic player on the global scene. This report could not be more timely
given upcoming elections and the winds of change sweeping Turkey’s
neighborhood. It is an important contribution to our understanding of
one of the most dynamic players on the international stage today.
Joshua W. Walker
University of Richmond, Virginia
April 1, 2011
The Turkey Scenarios workshop was held on May 21, 2010. A group of Turkey
experts were convened for a free-flowing discussion on plausible scenarios
for the future of Turkey to the year 2020. It was not a formal simulation
with assigned roles, but an open dialogue. The objective of the session
was to identify and develop three plausible, distinct, and consequential
scenarios that merit the attention of U.S. foreign policy-makers.
The launching point for the discussion was a paper prepared by the CGA
Scenarios Initiative team (see Appendix) that identified six “drivers of
change” in Turkey: secularism and political Islam, the military, the economy,
the Kurdish question, and the country’s foreign policy orientation.
In preparation for the event, participants were asked to consider how
each of these “drivers of change” has varied in the past, how they could
plausibly vary in the future, and how such variations could interact with
other “drivers of change”.
Scenarios, as conceived in this project, arise as the “drivers of change”
evolve and interact over time, to the extent that a country would be
described substantially differently in the year 2020 than at present. We
have consciously chosen to deemphasize—without ignoring—the role of
external forces in shaping change based on an impression we have gained
from previous workshops that country experts tend to underestimate
the degree of variability of factors internal to countries. Seemingly stable
states surprise observers when they suddenly unravel—the USSR being
the classic example. Expectations of stability often turn out, in retrospect,
to have reflected limited information, embedded mindsets, political
biases, and/or excessive caution. This observation does not amount to
a general prediction of imminent instability, but recognizes that states
are today subject to an extraordinary combination of internal, as well as
external, demands.
The workshop in May began with a presentation of fragmentary scenario
ideas by the CGA Scenarios Initiative team based on considerations of
Turkey’s “drivers of change”, as well as current literature on the subject.
Panelists were asked to consider how Turkey in 2020 could plausibly
differ from today. They discussed the ideas presented, adding to the list
and making suggestions for eliminating redundancies. A recurrent theme
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in the workshop’s early conversations was the apparent tension between
Turkey’s Kemalist secular tradition and political Islam: how would these
two seemingly dichotomous political traditions drive change?
Some panelists noted that they most obviously gave rise to four scenarios:
a liberal secular state, an illiberal secular state, a liberal Islamist state, and
an illiberal Islamist state. Others questioned the validity of using the
secularist-Islamist and liberal-Islamist dichotomies built into this model,
arguing that the reality in Turkey is significantly more complex and
nuanced. Still others emphasized the need to integrate other dimensions,
such as economic realities and nationalism. The challenge remained that
only three scenarios could be addressed within the time constraints of
the workshop.
Nearly all panelists agreed that a scenario would have to be built for a
Turkey that is decidedly more Islamist in 2020 than it is at present, since
this prospect had become prevalent in the literature following the rise to
power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Since this scenario
involved the predominance of only one of many ideologies and viewpoints
in Turkey, it was decided that it would be beneficial for U.S. policymakers
to consider the prospect of its coming to dominate Turkey at the expense
of alternate views; that is, in an illiberal fashion.
It was then highlighted that the obvious alternative should be considered
as well: that the government’s commitment to secularism—and all the
related ideas this term encompasses in Turkey—could strengthen once
again. Panelists agreed that this scenario appeared unlikely at the present,
given the weak position of both the military (the traditional “guardian”
of secularism) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP). However, this
scenario would be highly consequential should it occur. As the discussions
progressed, it was decided that this scenario would also trend away from
liberalism, since its realization would also depend on the restriction of
alternative, apparently competing, views.
There was also support for building a scenario in which the apparent
tension between secularism and political Islam was not resolved. It was
proposed that, given the right confluence of circumstances, Turkey’s
diversity could precipitate conflict, center-periphery divisions, or even
threats the country’s territorial integrity. Some panelists countered
that the surfacing of diverse views and competing interests would not
necessarily lead to conflict. The emergence of a multiplicity of influential
actors with a multiplicity of views—in a situation in which no one set of
actors could monopolize institutions—would, by definition, give rise to a
more pluralistic Turkey. It was considered plausible that such a scenario
could produce a relatively liberal outcome.
By the time the scenarios were selected, it was clear that many more
scenarios were conceivable for Turkey in the next decade. The possibilities
for the future of such a dynamic, complex country could certainly not
be fully addressed through three scenarios. However, it was clear that
the objective of the exercise—to select three plausible, distinctive, and
relevant scenarios for detailed treatment—has been met.
It should be noted that the selected scenarios were not intended to
represent the most likely or probable scenarios for Turkey’s future; rather,
they were intended to consider developments that would be highly
impactful were they to occur and that challenge both our assumptions
and our preferences. None of the scenarios assumed that Turkey will have
arrived at an idealized end-state in 2020.
The remainder of the workshop was committed to building the most
persuasive case possible for each of the scenarios. Panelists were asked to
suspend disbelief, set aside probabilities, and use imagination. For each
scenario, the following questions were addressed: What would Turkey
look like in 2020? What factors and events would precipitate and drive
the emergence of the scenario? How would potential hindrances to the
emergence of the scenario be rendered unimportant?
It should be noted that, while the conversations during the workshop
were rich and detailed, they also included many debates, disagreements,
and contradictions. Consequently, by the end of the workshop, the CGA
Scenarios Initiative team was left with an impressionistic image of each
scenario and faced the task of synthesizing the discussion and crafting from
it three coherent narratives. The narratives that follow, then, represent
the ideas presented at the workshop, as well as supplementary research.
Each scenario was constructed around a particular conception of Turkey in
2020 and includes a plausible, though not necessarily probable, narrative
toward that outcome. Since the narratives all begin in the present,
their early years are structured around similar events, such as the AKPIntroductory
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sponsored constitutional amendment package passed by referendum
in September 2010. As actors respond differently to emerging realities,
the narratives diverge and take on unique characteristics that by 2020
definitively distinguish them from the other scenarios. Thus, the scenarios
are not mutually exclusive, but each represents a dominant tendency with
distinctive implications for Turkey and for U.S. foreign policy. Each scenario
concludes with a discussion of implications for U.S. foreign policy.
To reiterate, it is not the goal of this project to predict or speculate on
the likeliness of any particular event or scenario. Rather, the goal is to
stimulate imaginative thinking about a country whose future course is by
no means confined to the current trajectory. We hope that each scenario is
plausible and thought-provoking, revealing challenges and opportunities
for U.S. policy not apparent in extrapolations or in policy-driven debates
about the future of Turkey.
Michael F. Oppenheimer
NYU Center for Global Affairs
March 20, 2011
We would like to thank the Carnegie Corporation of New York for its generous
sponsorship of the Scenarios Initiative at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU.
The scenarios presented in this document were prepared by faculty and students
at the Center for Global Affairs, based on discussions at a full-day workshop and
additional research. The group of experts who participated in the workshop
was assembled by Michael F. Oppenheimer, Clinical Professor at the Center for
Global Affairs.
Please note that the NYU Scenarios Initiative assumes responsibility for the contents
of this report. Workshop participants discussed the core themes and underlying
factors on which the scenarios are based, but the details of the narrative were
provided by the NYU Scenarios Initiative. The contents of this report do not
necessarily reflect the views of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Participants Included:
Henri Barkey, Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor, Lehigh University
Soner Çaˇgaptay, Senior Fellow and Director, Turkish Research Program,
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies,
Council on Foreign Relations
Ahmet Evin, Founding Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
Sabanci University
Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Daniel Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Chair in Middle East Policy Studies,
Princeton University
Ian Lesser, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Michael F. Oppenheimer, Clinical Professor, NYU Center for Global Affairs
Stephen Szabo, Executive Director, Transatlantic Academy, German Marshall Fund
of the United States
Ömer Taspinar, Director, Turkey Project, Brookings Institution
Joshua Walker, Assistant Professor, University of Richmond
Ross Wilson, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council
CGA Research Associates:
Eduard Berlin, Jessica Bissett, Bianca Gebelin, Gordon Little, Samuel Mueller,
Melanie Vogelbach, Jesse Ward
CGA Administrative Support:
Cori Epstein, Associate Director, Center for Global Affairs, NYU
Katherine Wilkins, Graduate Program Support, Center for Global Affairs, NYU
SCPS Administration:
Robert S. Lapiner, dean, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, NYU
Vera Jelinek, divisional dean and director, Center for Global Affairs, NYU
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Scenario One:
In this scenario, Turkey becomes an illiberal Islamic state. By 2020, Islam
functions as justification and motivation for restrictive government policies,
a basis of identity for large segments of society, and an exclusionary code
of conduct in everyday life. Institutions remain nominally democratic, but
political opposition groups and parties are either repressed or ineffective.
Turkey is governed by the religious-conservative Justice and Development
Party (AKP) in coalition with the Islamist Felicity Party (SP). Though the
AKP gains substantial voter support and manages to keep the country
stable and reasonably prosperous for a number of years, by the end of the
decade the country is on the verge of a political and economic crisis.
Turkey’s relations with the EU and the U.S. have deteriorated, and
Turkey has stepped back from all EU-accession negotiations. While its
relationships with states in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia
deepen over the decade, by 2020 a number of countries from these
regions are skeptical of Turkey’s starkly anti-Western course, since they
had benefited—economically and diplomatically—from Turkey’s former
role as a “bridge” between the East and the West. Turkey’s trade relations
with both Eastern and Western partners gradually deteriorate throughout
the decade, compounding the problems already threatening the country’s
economy, especially unemployment.
By 2020, Sunni Islam (the branch of Islam to which over 80 percent of
Turkish Muslims belong) dominates Turkey’s public sphere, education
system, and state apparatus. However, the relationship between Islam and
democracy in Turkey is complex. On one hand, measures to facilitate an
Islamic lifestyle and allow Islam to influence political decisions have been
promoted under the banner of freedom and justice and implemented
by a democratically elected government. On the other, minorities,
including non-Sunni Muslims, atheists, secularists, and homosexuals, face
discrimination and have become alienated from politics and the state.
Furthermore, the government heavily influences the media and attempts
to repress all opposition groups and actors. Hence, Sunni Islam has
become the rationale for social, economic, and political exclusion—the
means by which the masses impose their will on the minority.
n Internal Migration: By 2020, more than 90 percent of Turkey’s
population lives in an urban environment. Throughout the decade,
large-scale migration from rural to urban areas floods cities with people
holding conservative and religious worldviews. Religiosity emerges as
the defining feature of the growing urban lower-middle class. These
segments of Turkey’s society provide Islamic conservative parties and
groups with the necessary mass support.
n Islamism: The AKP capitalizes on the growing political influence of the
urban lower middle class. In order to appeal to the conservative masses,
the AKP relies increasingly heavily on religious symbolism and attempts
to introduce laws supporting Islamic ways of life. Over time, staunch
Islamists gain influence in the government, especially when the AKP
enters a coalition with the SP.
n Foreign Policy: Turkey deepens its relations with Middle Eastern
and Central Asian countries, as well as Russia, while the country’s
traditionally solid ties with the U.S. slowly deteriorate. The country
increasingly views itself as a part of the Muslim world, rather than the
West. Disappointed by the stagnating EU-accession process and the
harsh anti-Turkish stance of many EU politicians, Turkey steps back from
accession negotiations. Turkey’s prime minister and other state officials
exploit and fuel anti-Western and pro-Islamic sentiments domestically
by employing stridently Islamist rhetoric toward foreign policy issues,
such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
n The Economy: As the AKP asserts its power, its Islamic supporters
increasingly monopolize emerging economic opportunities. Cronyism
becomes a defining feature of the economy. Meanwhile, unemployment—
especially among women and youth—continues to grow. Concerns over
Turkey’s economic prospects are heightened when the government’s
break with the EU (Turkey’s biggest export market) begins to dampen
trade and investment with the bloc, as well as with countries in the
Middle East and Central Asia looking to utilize Turkey as a transfer point
into Western markets.
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
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n The Military: The military, traditionally functioning as the guardian
of Turkey’s secularist state and the authoritarian antithesis to Islamist
movements, has lost most of its political influence. Its interference
in civilian issues is increasingly opposed by large segments of the
population, and its former power is weakened by ongoing investigations
launched against military personnel by the AKP.
n Civil Society: Many civil society groups and members of the intelligentsia
promote Islam as the distinguishing feature of Turkish national identity
and social order and support the government’s tendency to turn away
from the West. Those civil society actors opposed to the country’s proreligious
course face repression, threats, and discrimination—from the
state and from non-state actors.
2010-2011: The Consolidation of
the AKP’s Power
In 2010, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) responded to
the long-standing demands of liberal Turks and EU politicians for a more
democratic constitution with a package of 26 constitutional amendments.
In the September constitutional referendum, a great majority of the
Turkish people supported the proposed reform package (58 percent of
votes cast in favor, with a turnout of 74 percent).
While several of the amendments seemed to genuinely further Turkey’s
democratization, such as improvements in women’s and children’s rights
and the strengthening of additional civil liberties, it became evident over
time that others were aimed at solidifying the AKP’s political power.
Reforms of the latter kind included limitations on the Constitutional Court’s
ability to ban political parties and to veto future constitutional changes.
Hence, under the altered constitution the Court would likely be unable
to challenge future controversial legislation by the AKP government. This
change was particularly significant because previously, in the absence of
an effective opposition party or an intervening military, the Constitutional
Court had been the sole institution able to block controversial moves
by the AKP, such as its attempt in 2008 to invalidate the headscarf ban
at public universities. Moreover, as part of the amendment package, the
number of constitutional judges and personnel of the Supreme Board of
Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) was increased, thus hampering decisionmaking
processes within the judiciary.
Overall, the constitutional amendments significantly increased the power
of the president and parliament, institutions dominated by the AKP. The
AKP also used the constitutional amendments to weaken the position of
the military. In addition to the ongoing Ergenekon trials, the AKP began
to strive for civil prosecution of military generals involved in the coup
of 1980, a judicial undertaking that had not been possible under the
previous constitution. Most importantly, the approval of the amendments
by a public referendum confirmed the people’s trust in and support for
the party, which increased its legitimacy.
Despite criticism from the secularist establishment, represented by parts
of the judiciary, the military, and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the
majority of Turks supported the AKP. In the 2011 national elections, the
AKP won a majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly for a third
consecutive term. Apart from the AKP, only the CHP, the National Movement
Party (MHP), and a handful of independent candidates were able to claim
seats. Thus by late 2011 the AKP had increased and consolidated its power,
while the influence of the military, the
Constitutional Court, and the secularist
parliamentary opposition had significantly
The AKP owed its electoral success to a
number of factors. Most notably, the party
was able to capitalize on the growing
political influence of the urban lower middle class, winning, as it had in
2002, the support of conservative, religious Turks who had migrated from
the countryside to the cities over the course of the previous 30 years.
In order to appeal to the conservative masses, the AKP relied heavily
on religious symbolism (such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an’s
avoidance of alcoholic beverages at official receptions)1 and attempts to
introduce laws supporting Islamic ways of life (such as allowing headscarves
at universities). Competing secularist parties, such as the CHP, remained
unable to mobilize mass support, in part because of their organizational
weakness and in part because of the unipolarity of their staunch Kemalist
views. At the same time, the AKP established itself as the party of economic
success and market liberalization. It gained the support of entrepreneurs
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
The AKP was able to capitalize
on the growing political influence of
the urban lower middle class.
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and small businesses that were rooted in traditional culture and suspicious
of the secularist parties’ close ties with big industries.
2011–2015: Deepening Conservatism and
Fallout with the West
Having won the 2011 elections and successfully implemented several
constitutional amendments in its favor, the AKP enjoyed more power
than ever before. President Abdullah Gül enjoyed broad support within
the AKP and won a second term in 2012. Riding on its success, the party
exercised its power by further changing the constitution, this time without
intervention from the weakened Constitutional Court. In the name of
religious freedom and equal educational opportunities, the party lifted the
ban on headscarves at universities—a triumph for religious conservatives.
This decision was perceived by many conservative Turks as the beginning
of a new era, in which the state would be open to greater influence
from Islam. Islamic civil society groups became more vocal, demanding
the implementation of further religiously motivated legislation. More
women began to wear headscarves, more men began to grow beards,
bars and restaurants that served alcoholic beverages were occasionally
vandalized, and journalists and others who criticized these developments
were often anonymously threatened by Islamists or sued by politicians
for publicly “insulting” them—all without serious response from the AKP
government. Social and political issues, such as unemployment, social
welfare, economic growth, security, and foreign relations, were debated in
relation to religious values and principles.
Islamic movements, such as the Gülen
movement and the “Islamic Community
Millî Görüs¸ ,” openly articulated their
visions of a Turkey improved by the
application of religious doctrines.
These developments provoked several demonstrations by secularist
and liberal opposition groups against the AKP and the “Iranization of
the country.” However, these segments of Turkish society were small
compared to the AKP’s nationwide support base, and their actual impact
on political decisions was limited.
The nation’s new course also affected its foreign relations. Anti-Islamic and
anti-Turkish opinions grew among many EU citizens and politicians—a
shift that became particularly significant during the 2014 EU parliamentary
elections. Many right-wing EU politicians and parties drew heavily on anti-
Turkish sentiments in their campaigns, advocating “No” to Turkey’s EU
potential accession. The AKP, as well as other Islamic parties, responded
to such opinions and campaigns with pro-Islamic campaigns of their own.
The central vision expressed in their campaign messages in Turkey’s 2014
local elections and 2015 national elections was of a strong, self-confident
Turkey, united by an Islamic identity. Concurrently, Turkey’s foreign policy
began to center on deepening ties to Islamic countries, especially Iran
and Iraq, which served to reinforce its growing distance from the EU.
An additional development prior to the 2015 national elections was the
emergence of cronyism within the ranks of the AKP. Members of the Islamic
business community took advantage of their connections to politicians,
facilitated by memberships in Tarikats and Sufi Orders, and profited from
energy deals with Iran, Iraq, and Russia. These newly rich entrepreneurs
had formerly argued that Islam would foster industriousness, modesty,
and thrift and ultimately lead to social justice and national prosperity. Now,
however, they indulged in ostentatious displays of wealth while remaining
easily identifiable as Islamic through their renunciation of alcohol and
their wives’ use of the headscarf.
In the eyes of the relatively poor masses, such behavior was inappropriate
for true followers of Islam. Ultra-conservative religious media seized on this
discontent and vocally raised criticism. Other Islamist parties began to sense
an opportunity to displace the AKP as “real” Islamic parties. The Felicity
Party (SP), which had recovered from its split in 2010, became particularly
prominent as it claimed to support justice and prosperity for ordinary, hardworking
Muslims and labeled the AKP as an “Islamic jet set.”
2015: National Elections and the SP’s Entry
Into Parliament
Even though evidence of cronyism within the ranks of the party hurt
the AKP’s image, it still emerged from the 2015 national elections as
the strongest force in parliament. However, the most significant result
from the election was that the Islamist SP entered parliament for the first
time, barely surpassing the 10 percent threshold with about 11 percent
of votes cast. As it turned out, the AKP’s corruption scandals had helped
the SP to win over some votes from AKP’s support base. The CHP and
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
Social and political issues were
debated in relation to religious
values and principles.
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the MHP entered parliament as well, but were unable to increase their
To the surprise of many political observers, the AKP built a coalition
government with the SP in order to form a dominant two-thirds majority
in the Grand National Assembly (GNA). It was decided—at the insistence
of the SP—that the two parties would take turns filling the post of prime
minister, first with the AKP’s Erdog˘an until 2017 and with the SP’s leader
thereafter. This agreement enabled Erdog˘an to run for president in 2017
when Gül would be barred from seeking an additional consecutive term.
The combination of the majority of the population’s nationalism, religious
conservatism, and concern with their own economic security favored
the coalition: the AKP campaigned for a strong, self-confident, assertive
Turkey and the SP successfully drew on concerns about issues of social
justice and unemployment.
Secularist parties, on the other hand, remained unable to gather enough
supporters to seriously challenge the AKP’s power or the strengthening of
the SP. In fact, the main secularist opposition party, the CHP, had not been
able to win more than 21 percent of votes cast since the 2002 elections.
Although some demonstrations against the AKP’s pro-religious policies
had occasionally taken place in Turkey’s bigger cities, the great majority
of Turks never felt represented by the secularist CHP, precisely because it
lacked sympathy for the religious sentiments of the population. The CHP
was unable to effectively engage pre-election debates or reframe those
debates in secular terms.
Moreover, the opposition to the AKP and the SP was highly fragmented. The
CHP’s traditional emphasis on Turkey’s territorial integrity—and, hence,
ingrained prejudice against Turkey’s Kurdish population—prevented the
party from cooperating with Kurdish parties. Liberal and leftist critics of
the country’s course toward religious conservatism and authoritarianism
predominantly voted for independent candidates, since in their view the
CHP was not progressive or liberal enough. The ultra-nationalist MHP
entered the parliament, but was unable to collaborate with others. Thus,
liberals, secularist elites, Kurds, Alevi, and other actors opposing the AKP
could not establish a unified opposition.
2015–2020: Crisis and Isolation from the West
The trend towards Islamization of the state and distance from the West
now accelerated. The first political decision made by the new government
was to step back from EU-accession negotiations—a decision supported
by many Turks, given the decline in relations with the EU during the
previous two years and the apparent opportunity of exerting influence
independently in the Middle East and Asia.
Evidence of this reorientation was an emerging coalition among Turkey,
Iran, Syria, and Iraq. While stressing their common religion, these
countries deepened trade relations with Turkey, defined the Kurdish
question as a common security problem, and became increasingly
hostile in rhetoric and diplomacy towards Israel, the U.S., and the West
in general. Ideologically united under the banner of Islam, these states
began reaching out to other countries in the region, trying to leverage
their influence on Kurdish issues, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and nuclear
On the domestic level, the new government tried to implement many
laws in favor of an Islamic lifestyle and Islamic principles. The ban on
the headscarf in public spaces, including government buildings was
lifted in 2016. Concurrently, positions in the administration were now
opened to graduates from Imam-Hatip High Schools. In 2017, the AKP
supported a group of ultra-conservative MPs in pitching a reform package
to significantly alter the curricula of public high schools and universities
in an attempt to take advantage of a fast-growing youth population. All
subjects concerning natural sciences and history were to be revised in
accordance with the Koran, and law schools were to integrate Sharia law
into their curricula, while making Roman law an elective subject. However,
after some debate, the government decided to postpone these proposed
reforms because it feared opposition to them would be too great and that
implementation would require better planning and, hence, more time.
Other laws promoted Islamization more indirectly. They included, for
example, increasing financial support for the building of mosques and
the staffing of the Directorate for Religious Affairs, a further increase in
tax on alcohol, and official permission for workers to take breaks for daily
prayers. Furthermore, various AKP policies strengthened Islamic banking
in Turkey in order to foster opportunities for businesses and individuals.
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
CGA Scenarios
18 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 19
Measures to support Islam went hand in hand with increasing authoritarianism.
Holding the majority in the parliament, the AKP and SP not only controlled
executive organs and the police, but also had the political, financial, legal, and
administrative means to sue their political opponents, ban demonstrations,
influence and control labor unions and civil society associations, and, most
significantly, censor the media. The demands of non-Sunni Muslims and other
minority groups for equal rights and liberties were largely ignored—including
those of Kurdish citizens for more freedom to use their language and promote
their political interests publicly.
Although the AKP and SP’s ideologically driven policies were popular
in the short run, both internal and external resistance grew in the latter
part of the decade. Their educational reforms met stiffer resistance than
expected in the parliament. The breakdown of EU-accession negotiations
in early 2016 gradually undermined trade and investment relations with
the EU and negatively affected the Turkish stock market and the value of
the Lira. Efforts to coordinate diplomacy with Iran, Iraq and Syria generated
few concrete benefits, while harming relations with the West. Moreover,
by breaking with the West, Turkey had all but forfeited its former role as
the “bridge” between the East (including the Caucasus and Central Asia)
and the West in international diplomatic and trade relations. The negative
effects of this shift became clear when negotiations over natural gas and
oil deals—such as the expansion of the Nabucco pipeline project—lost
momentum, upsetting countries in the
Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle
East, which had hoped to continue
profiting from Turkey’s diplomatic and
economic ties to the West.
Consequently, Turkey found itself
increasingly isolated from the West, while
facing complications in dealings with
its eastern neighbors. Turkey’s economy suffered under strained trade
relations. Downward revisions of growth forecasts—and indications that
high unemployment, the country’s most pressing economic problem, would
linger for the foreseeable future—were blamed on the government.
In this context, it became clear that the AKP’s pro-market liberalization
policies and desire to craft an advanced industrialized society were
increasingly at odds with its education policies. Since the majority of
Turkish citizens had only limited access to higher education and training,
the labor market was saturated with unskilled workers. Low-skilled
workers, migrating from the countryside to Turkey’s bigger cities in
search for employment, found themselves in a competitive environment.
Simultaneously, the demand for skilled workers could not be met by
Turkey’s small number of graduates from high-quality universities. This
trend was compounded by the neglect of education for women and
in Kurdish regions, as well as continuing population growth and the
corresponding growth in the youth population.
In addition, PKK-sponsored terrorism escalated, with increasing support
from the Kurdish civilian population. While the AKP-SP government
sporadically announced the continuation and deepening of what had been
termed “the Kurdish opening” early in the decade, promises for increased
language rights, language education, better access to education, and the
development of southeastern regions were never fully implemented.
Closely related issues, such as the demands of Kurdish politicians, human
rights groups, and the EU for better prosecution of extra-judicial violence
against Kurdish demonstrators by police and security personnel, were
neglected more often than not. The AKP-SP increasingly alienated Kurds,
many of whom had begun to view the PKK’s attacks against Turkey’s
security forces as legitimate.
These concerns fueled a more effective opposition. In 2017, as agreed,
Erdog˘an left his post as prime minister to the SP’s leader.2 Even though it
had been arranged in advance, the ascent of the new SP leader, an ultraconservative
Islamist, to the position of prime minster galvanized various
opposition groups and parties. Demonstrations took place in many of
Turkey’s bigger cities. While opposition groups were actually small in
number and not powerful enough to seriously challenge the government
or upset the power balance immediately, their criticism turned national
attention to the country’s growing challenges. Problems such as Turkey’s
democratic deficit, cronyism, high unemployment, and isolation in the
international realm were obvious, and the popularity of AKP and SP began
to wane.
In the 2019 elections, the AKP-SP government managed to gain only a
slim majority in government, while the CHP profited from the AKP and
SP’s losses. The most critical outcome of the election was the sharp drop
in voter participation. Many people were increasingly disappointed by
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
Turkey found itself increasingly
isolated from the West, while facing
complications in dealings with its
eastern neighbors.
CGA Scenarios
20 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 21
Turkey’s political and social situation. As the decade ended, Turkey was
trending toward polarization, fragmentation, and isolation. Religiousconservative
forces had failed to lead Turkey to social peace, greater
security, or increased prosperity, but opposition parties, including the
CHP, remained unable to develop a convincing alternative path to a more
prosperous and politically liberal and stable Turkey.
2020: What Next?
By 2020, Turkey had evolved into an illiberal Islamist state, though it was
unclear whether this was a transformation really led by the population or
whether it could actually satisfy the population’s needs. The country’s
relations with neighboring countries had deteriorated, economic growth
around the country was uneven, and conflict between social groups was
intensifying. Citizens had grown detached from politics, and opposition
parties appeared weak and irrelevant. In the absence of a viable alternative
to the AKP-SP government that could remedy these issues, the country
appeared to be bordering on national crisis.
The erosion of checks on the AKP government early in the decade
had created an environment ripe for authoritarian tendencies, a trend
facilitated by the weakness of the opposition and civil society. Thus,
while AKP-SP government’s “Islamic” legislation largely centered on
allowing the individual to express an Islamic creed which could have
been compatible with democracy, the government’s break with the West
and poor management of minority issues created perceptions that Islam
was, in fact, being imposed on the populace by an illiberal government.
Unfortunately, while opposition to this government grew significantly
throughout the decade, politically viable alternative visions for the
country’s future had not materialized by the decade’s end, leaving Turkey
in a precarious state.
None of the scenarios are without challenge for U.S. policymakers.
Turkey as an effective partner or, more likely, as a positive influence in
independently confronting problems shared by both states, presupposes
a strong and self-confident Turkey with which we will not regularly see
eye-to-eye. Turkey as a dependable ally reinforcing American policy
presupposes a Turkey without the capacity (political or economic) to
pursue its own interests in a regional and global environment full of both
threat and opportunity. A pliable Turkey is by definition weak, unable to
exert influence in a rapidly changing Middle East, less useful to U.S. policy
as a bridge to the Muslim world, and unable to offer material or effective
diplomatic support in areas of U.S. engagement. This seeming paradox is
something the U.S. confronts in multiple venues, with several rising (or
risen) powers, but Turkey is perhaps the best test of our ability to succeed
in post-hegemony, given the country’s size, imperial past, and location at
the intersection of East and West, Muslim and secular worlds.
As we consider these scenarios, it is important to understand the
contribution of strategic considerations in Turkey’s “zero problems with
neighbors” policy and insistence on playing a more active, independent
role in the region. These policies should not be attributed entirely to the
internal contest between secular and Islamist forces. Yet the three scenarios
do present varying levels of challenge to U.S. interests-depending on who
governs, and how successfully Turkey builds its international influence.
The Illiberal Islamist scenario is surely the most daunting. The combination
of an illiberal politics and strengthening Islamic identity will poison the
climate for collaboration between the U.S. and Turkey, and complicate
the management of a range of bilateral issues from trade policy to human
rights. Turkey’s value as a link to the Muslim world will diminish as its
distance from the EU widens and its policies tilt towards Iraq, Iran and
Syria. The indirect value of Turkey as a reconciliation of Islam, pluralism
and democracy will be lost, just when—given the revolutionary changes in
the region—it is needed the most. On issues of central importance to U.S.
interests where Turkey has some leverage, such as controlling the spread
of nuclear weapons, extending/reforming
liberal institutions of global governance,
managing U.S. troop withdrawals from
Iraq and Afghanistan, mitigating the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict, and promoting secular
responses to political change in the Arab
world, the two countries will frequently
find themselves on different pages.
Two challenges will be especially important. First, new opportunities
presented to Iran in a reconfigured Arab world, and the weaponization of
its nuclear program (a reasonable prospect by 2020), will raise issues of
prevention, then containment and deterrence if prevention fails, that will
Scenario One: Illiberal Islamism
The obvious question is
how to influence political
change in a moderate,
pluralist direction.
CGA Scenarios
22 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 23
place the U.S. and an Islamic Turkey at direct odds. Second, shaping the
direction of political change in the Middle East will be a priority for both
countries, and a natural competition between the two for influence in
transitional states will be aggravated by diametrically opposed visions for
the future of regional politics. Although an emboldened Iran and violent,
unpredictable change in the Middle East pose common threats for both
states, their capacity to act collectively against these threats will be badly
compromised in this scenario.
With these negative consequences for U.S. interests, the obvious question
is how to influence political change in a moderate, pluralist direction.
Under the conditions described however, it is difficult to imagine the U.S.
wielding either the power or the legitimacy to have much positive impact on
internal Turkish developments, and the best approach—the EU accession
process—breaks down in this scenario. The U.S. has little influence over
the EU accession process, however, and while it has so far been associated
with advances in Turkish democracy, this scenario paints a breakdown in
the accession process. That said, as security worsens in Turkey’s region,
there may come a point when ‘zero problems with neighbors’ loses its
value, threats common to the U.S. and Turkey trump competing interests
and ideologies, and ad hoc cooperation becomes possible. Until then, the
U.S. will have to pursue its interests in the Middle East without much help
from Turkey, and sometimes with its active opposition.
Scenario Two:
Illiberal Secularism
In this scenario, secularist forces again come to dominate Turkish life.
The traditional maxims of territorial integrity and modernization gain new
persuasiveness for many citizens, for whom fears of insecurity and a sense
of nationalism grow throughout the decade.
This scenario is driven by diminishing returns to the AKP’s economic
and foreign policies and by deteriorating regional security. Violence in
Kirkuk after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and increasing PKK violence
in southeastern Turkey fuel fears that the country’s stability is being
threatened. The CHP rises to power by contrasting with the failed policies
of the AKP its own vision for Turkey—as strong, secure, and unified—and
by promising to restore security. It presents secularism as embodying a
range of principles valued by Turks, such as progress, democratization,
social justice, and national unity, while arguing that Islamism undermines
these principles.
Once in power, the CHP addresses religious issues from a secular
standpoint. Secularism, as conceived by the party, is more than the neutral
principle of separation of religion and politics, but rather involves state
control over the expression of religion in public life. This includes debates
over religion in education, the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in public
spaces, the employment of Islamic prayer leaders, and the building of
mosques, among other issues.
As the CHP strengthens its alliances with the MHP and the military, the
authoritarian-secularist tendencies of Turkey’s past reappear. Demands
for religious freedoms and freedom of expression in the media, including
the use of the Kurdish language, are repressed in the name of security.
Criticism from abroad is rejected as undue interference in domestic affairs.
By the end of the decade, many of Turkey’s international relationships are
strained and membership negotiations with the EU have been suspended
CGA Scenarios
24 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 25
Drivers of this scenario
n The Economy: In the early years of the decade, Turkey’s annual GDP
growth has returned to around 5 percent. Fundamental economic
challenges remain, however, including persistent unemployment,
difficulty attracting foreign investment, and corruption at all levels.
These issues undercut prosperity later in the decade and become central
to criticisms of the AKP’s leadership.
n The Kurdish Question: The AKP’s promises of an enhanced human
rights situation in Kurdish regions and greater attention to Kurds’
demands go largely unfulfilled. Instead, policies toward Turkey’s
Kurdish population become more repressive. The issue continues to
be addressed as a security threat to the state, rather than as a question
of human rights or civil liberties. Kurdish demonstrations against the
lack of political rights often turn violent and are harshly suppressed.
PKK terrorism escalates throughout the decade. The CHP comes to
power on promises to restore order and national unity. Its approach
simply reinforces the security-orientation of past policies, however, and
thus flounders. Meanwhile, threats to Turkey’s security and territorial
integrity begin to be used as justification for curtailing civil liberties in
the country as a whole.
n The Military: The military’s influence over Turkish politics increases
under the CHP, which views strong security forces as the key to containing
PKK terrorism and violence in Kurdish regions. The government
and military collaborate frequently, and in partnering with the CHP
leadership, the military reassumes much of its former role as a bastion
of Turkish secularism.
n Foreign Policy: Turkey’s neighborhood becomes increasingly unstable
due to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, popular revolts in some Middle
Eastern countries, the lingering potential for an independent Kurdistan,
and ever-greater prospect of a nuclear Iran. Turkey makes no real
progress in resolving disputes with Cyprus and Armenia. Throughout
the decade, Turkey’s foreign policy becomes more and more symbiotic
with domestic political sentiments, especially nationalism. Dispute over
the Turkish government’s increasingly illiberal tendencies leads to the
formal suspension of EU accession negotiations late in the decade.
2010-2011: “Trial and Error” for the CHP
After winning the constitutional referendum in September 2010, the
Justice and Development Party (AKP) was able to reestablish its image as
a bastion of democracy, sensitive not only to the demands of its Islamicconservative
constituency, but also as a reformer of human rights and civil
liberties in the country.
Nonetheless, the AKP’s policies came under increasing fire. Its management
of the economy drew particular criticism. After contracting in 2009,
Turkey’s economy had improved, with exports trending upward due to
demand in Africa and the Middle East.3 Nonetheless, high unemployment,
a large current account deficit, and noticeable wealth disparities persisted.
The AKP’s failure to substantially reduce unemployment after two terms
in power left the Turkish electorate with questions about the AKP’s ability
to achieve this in the future.
In the run-up to the 2011 parliamentary elections, the CHP tried to attract
voters by pointing out the deficiencies of the AKP’s policies. It highlighted
economic problems, promising that if elected, it would prioritize
increasing welfare provisions and reducing unemployment. In addition,
the CHP continued to claim that the AKP’s constitutional reform package
had betrayed Turkey’s secular principles and served only to help the AKP
consolidate power (according to many CHP supporters, the referendum
only furthered the AKP’s agenda to transform Turkey into an Islamic
theocracy). These criticisms played out in a heated public debate about
the AKP’s “hidden Islamic agenda” and its implications for the country’s
Commentators had initially predicted the CHP could win above 30 percent
of the 2011 parliamentary votes4–enough to elevate it to power. This
prediction, however, proved premature. Many voters still felt a sense of
loyalty to the AKP and remained unconvinced by the CHP’s critical stance
on the AKP’s policies. It appeared that the CHP’s stance on Islam and its
indifferent position towards the Kurds were preventing it from mobilizing
voters beyond its traditional support base. The AKP repeated the success
it had enjoyed in the constitutional referendum in the 2011 parliamentary
elections, once again securing its position as the strongest political force
in Turkey.
Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularism
CGA Scenarios 27
CGA Scenarios Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularism
In the end, nationalistic resistance to these measures was so strong that
the effort was ultimately abandoned.
Concurrently, the AKP’s relations with the military deteriorated.
Investigations and court proceedings against military personnel
connected with the Ergenekon and “Sledgehammer” cases continued.
Furthermore, the party extended measures against the military’s political
power by prosecuting army generals who were involved in the 1980
coup d’état, a legal move made possible by the constitutional
amendments in 2010. To many Turks, however, concentration on this
issue appeared disproportionate, given that many more pressing issues
remained unaddressed.
The AKP’s attempts to weaken the military became particularly controversial
when violence escalated in Kurdish regions. Many Turks surmised that the
government was encouraging extensive media coverage of the military
investigations in order to distract the public from the Kurdish issue, while
secularists pointed out the ill timing of such measures, given that the
fragile security situation demanded a strong military response.
The Kurdish issue had begun to flare following the withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Iraq, which brought expectations of insecurity across Northern Iraq.
Indeed, there were some episodes of pro-Kurdish violence that spilled
over into the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey. However, the
Kurdish population’s discontent had been longer in the making, stemming
primarily from the AKP’s failure to follow through on its promises of
improving the human rights situation there and expanding political rights
for Kurds. In urban areas, Kurds displaced years earlier by violence in
their home regions, were disappointed that the AKP had not addressed
discrimination against them. Young Kurds in particular felt alienated and
betrayed by the AKP.6 Their dwindling support for the Party—reflected in
their boycott of the constitutional referendum in 2010—dipped further
when, in its third term, the AKP continued to overlook demands for
Kurdish language rights and reacted harshly to Kurdish demonstrations,
notably in the trials of the “stone throwing kids.”7
Violent protests broke out in February 2014 on the 15th anniversary of the
capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, provoking a harsh crackdown by
Turkish security forces in which hundreds of young Kurdish protestors
were imprisoned. Kurdish protests spread across Turkey and reached
2011–2015: The Downfall of the AKP
Free from significant opposition in parliament, the military and the
judiciary, the AKP turned its attention to pro-Islamic legislation in an
attempt to solidify its popularity among conservative Islamic voters, a
critical element of its support base. The party overturned the headscarf
ban in universities and introduced legislation to restrict the consumption
of alcohol. However, intense backlash to these policies surprised the party,
which believed following its electoral success that public support would be
relatively high. As expected, secularists were at the core of this resistance,
and they succeeded in galvanizing much greater support for their views
than expected. Many AKP supporters, for example, expressed concerns
that the party was undertaking these policies at the expense of following
through on its more critical promises to voters, such as improving living
standards and deepening democratization.
Concerns with the AKP’s political agenda were heightened by its foreign
policy. The “zero problems with neighbors” approach began showing
obvious signs of strain. As the leadership deepened connections with
leaders of Muslim-majority countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan,
secularists raised concerns that the country’s foreign policy was turning
pro-Islamic. Other detractors criticized these relations from a nationalistic
point of view. When foreign minister Ahmet Davutog˘lu proved unable to
extract an apology from Israel following the Gaza flotilla incident of June
2010, opposition parties accused the AKP of allowing Israel to get away
with murder. Turkish nationalists, notably the anti-western ulusalcılar
(neo-nationalist groups), claimed the AKP was making Turkey appear weak
in its neighborhood and leaving it vulnerable to exploitation. In 2011, a
delay by Erdog˘an in decisively speaking out in support of democratic
protests in the Middle East in 2011 opened him to criticisms by the CHP
that he had double standards for the region.5
Nationalistic concerns with the AKP’s foreign policies grew further when
the government reopened negotiations with Armenia in an effort to
normalize diplomatic relations and open the border between the two
countries (much to the frustration of Azerbaijan, which insisted that
Armenia withdraw from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory first).
While this move had been a response to mounting pressure from the
U.S. and EU, most citizens did not see it as improving their reputation
abroad. Rather, the outrage of nationalist groups at what they saw as an
implicit concession regarding the “Armenian question” gained currency.
26 CGA Scenarios
CGA Scenarios
28 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 29
Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularism
unity, and prosperity. In speeches peppered with nationalistic references,
the new CHP leader repeatedly cited the AKP’s failure to stop PKKsponsored
attacks and violence in the Kurdish regions, or to protect
Turkey from the spillover effects of instability in Iraq’s Kurdish regions. He
blamed high employment and widening income disparities on the AKP as
well, accusing its leaders of favoring demands of their patronage networks
over those of the country as a whole. By demonstrating concern with the
security situation and with issues of social justice, the CHP attracted new
supporters, including from the far right and the social democratic camps.
2015–2019: Secularist Leadership
Unsurprisingly, the AKP suffered significant losses in the 2015
parliamentary elections, and the CHP gained almost as many seats in
the parliament. The MHP, too, entered parliament, as did a number of
pro-Kurdish independent candidates, and the AKP only barely managed
to form a governing coalition. In fact, the opposition was so strong that
analysts predicted Erdog˘an’s ability to
make decisions in the future would be
highly constrained by opposition from the
CHP and MHP.
Under the pressures of the cumulative
criticism of his last term, the current
power struggle in parliament, and the
prospect of legislative gridlock, Erdog˘an abruptly resigned as prime
minister after 13 years in power. With the loss of its prime mover, the
AKP was facing a seemingly inevitable decline as a significant political
force. Given the parliamentary gridlock, early elections were held late in
the same year. The CHP won a clear victory, the AKP was reduced to the
second strongest party in parliament, the MHP gained seats, and even the
Kurdish BDP entered parliament. Overall, the new Turkish Grand National
Assembly (GNA) was dominated by the CHP, which began to operate with
the support of the ultra-nationalistic MHP.
Following the elections, the new government increased the state’s
education budget by 10 percent and proposed increasing benefits to
the unemployed. The government also announced a review of Turkey’s
taxation system to eliminate corruption and ensure equal treatment for
all Turks. More women were appointed to senior government positions,
Istanbul. These developments were accompanied mounting violence
between PKK guerilla fighters and the military in the region between
Turkey and Iraq, as well as an increasing number of PKK terrorist attacks
in major cities. In the wake of a series of attacks against the army in
the Turkish-Iraqi border region and a bomb attack on Istanbul’s central
Taksim Square (which killed one police officer), the AKP lost much of its
credibility on the Kurdish issue. Voters became deeply skeptical of the
party’s ability to guarantee national security.
The AKP simultaneously faced persistent criticism for its economic
policies, particularly as unemployment still consistently hovered above 13
percent. It became clear that the Ministry of Labor’s regulation requiring
businesses to provide jobs for five Turkish citizens for every foreign worker
they employed, for example, had done little to solve this problem.8 The
education system was not producing workers with the skills to work in
higher-end manufacturing or services industries, and vocational training
schemes were neglected. Calls to increase compulsory education
from eight to ten years had not been answered; close to 40 percent of
Turkish youth was not attending school.
Frustration with the lack of economic
opportunity led many youth to feel
excluded from society.9
By 2015, the AKP’s policy failures had
brought about a sharp decline in its
popularity. The primary beneficiary was
the CHP, which had gradually honed its ability to capitalize on the public’s
growing dissatisfaction with the AKP’s religious policies, foreign relations,
treatment of the Kurdish issue, and economic management. Learning
from its loss in 2011, the CHP reorganized. Kemal Kılıçdarog˘lu was forced
to resign from his post as party chairman as his poor electoral results were
viewed as evidence of the ineffectiveness of his conciliatory approach.
Kılıçdarog˘lu was replaced by a staunchly secular leader who immediately
began to assess how the party could best expand its support base. Under
new leadership, the party worked to consolidate formerly dissociated
and disorganized sentiments of opposition to the AKP into a single,
unifying message.
The CHP’s reinvented message catered to the public’s rising fears of
insecurity and stressed their commitment to protecting security, national
By 2015, the AKP’s policy failures
had brought about a sharp
decline in its popularity.
The CHP’s reinvented message
catered to the public’s rising
fears of insecurity.
CGA Scenarios
30 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 31
Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularism
and the government kept pressure on the Supreme Council of Radio and
Television to block broadcasts it perceived as negative. Humanitarian
NGOs became subject to new, cumbersome restrictions, which in many
cases limited access to areas where the government and military were
undertaking “national security” operations.
The government’s actions elicited condemnation from abroad. The EU
parliament called for increased political freedom for all Turkish citizens
and an end to media censorship and restrictions on speech. Such
concerns about the rule of law and individual and collective human rights
had long been a sticking point in EU-Turkish relations. However, with
nationalist sentiment at a high following the military actions against the
PKK, the government saw no incentive for yielding to outside pressure.
Instead, it rejected the EU’s criticisms as interference in internal matters.
The government further hinted that the U.S. should be at least partially
blamed for the instability plaguing Turkey because of its failures in Iraq, not
to mention its continued meddling in the Armenia issue and over Cyprus.
The CHP’s and MHP’s stance against the EU and the U.S. was popular among
Turks and polls showed waning support for EU membership. The regime
capitalized on public sentiment by announcing that the EU must get its
own budgetary house in order before making further demands on Turks.
This diplomatic estrangement was reinforced by increasing commercial
disengagement. Europe was suffering a half-decade of slow growth and,
although a double-dip recession had never materialized, Turkey’s trade
continued to drift away from Europe. Turkey was on good terms with both
Russia and China, and had signed a series of bilateral trade and investment
deals. Lulled into a sense of security regarding its popularity, the CHP
government continued to claim that its policies were strengthening Turkey
and returning it to the greatness once imagined by Ataturk.
2020: Illiberalism
Shortly before the 2019 parliamentary elections, two car bombs exploded
simultaneously in Istanbul and Ankara, killing 28 civilians and injuring 40,
including several Western tourists. A fringe Islamist group, affiliated with
the al-Qaeda network, seeking to destabilize the country in advance of
the elections, had perpetrated the attack. The government responded by
launching an investigation into Islamist parties more broadly, strengthening
the image of secularists as the necessary guarantors of national security.
including as senior bureaucrats in the justice ministry. Government
officials’ speeches promised modernization through economic reform,
improved social welfare, and new educational prospects. This approach
appeared popular with the Turkish electorate.
On religious issues, such as allowing the headscarf, the CHP, whose
politicians had previously demurred with statements like “the need for
social consensus,” began to pursue a more traditionally secularist line.
The new government announced its intent to reverse the rule allowing
women to wear the headscarf in public universities. The review of the
taxation system singled out Islamic banking for special scrutiny. Some
commentators went as far as arguing that the tax review was a plot to
undermine the rising Islamist class that had prospered under the AKP.
The CHP countered that these measures were essential to Turkey’s
modernization. Such ideas were not just for a secularist elite but for all
Turks. The government also stopped all prosecutions of military generals,
trying to develop an amicable relationship between the army and the
government—a move that the CHP
considered necessary for containing
incessant PKK terrorism and attacks by
guerilla fighters.
The CHP’s strategy of pacifying the
Kurdish regions through heavy reliance
on federal police and military forces
was unsuccessful. The simmering conflict with the PKK and frequent
skirmishes between Kurdish demonstrators and the police in the streets
kept the country constantly on the verge of open, large-scale conflict. The
CHP also suspended the previous government’s approach of engaging
neighboring countries affected by the Kurdish issue, namely Iraq, Iran,
Syria, and Armenia, instead prioritizing the desire to protect Turkey’s
territorial integrity.
The CHP-led government’s illiberal approach to the Kurdish question
was mirrored in its general style of governance. The party’s opponents
found themselves increasingly antagonized, and observers began to
raise questions about the future of Turkey’s democracy. The government
rebuked media editorials critical of its policies—a practice commonly
used by the AKP and criticized by the CHP while it was in the opposition.
The numbers of prosecuted journalists and publishers continued to grow,
The CHP-led government’s illiberal
approach to the Kurdish question
was mirrored in its general style of
CGA Scenarios
32 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 33
Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularism
Concerns about the politicization of national security, however, cast a
shadow over the government’s response.
One manifestation of this was that EU leaders openly threatened suspension
of Turkey’s EU accession process on the grounds of ongoing restrictions
on civil liberties. An emboldened Turkish government countered that this
was another sign that the EU never intended to let Turkey join the Union
and that it was imperative for Turkey to create a future independent of the
EU. Thus both the EU and Turkey agreed to halt the accession negotiation
process indefinitely. With little to be gained from supporting EU accession
at this juncture, Turkish opposition parties did not protest. It seemed that
the long-standing ideal of a formal union between Turkey and Europe had
been buried, though no grander vision had emerged to replace it.
Turnout was low in the 2019 elections. Turks were disengaged from
politics, since none of the main parties represented a dynamic future for
the country. The CHP again eked out a victory, but it was clear that the
changes to which it aspired were not the type that voters were hoping
for. As 2020 dawned, Turkey appeared a more illiberal country than in the
prior two decades. Turkish leaders continued to play on fears for Turkey’s
territorial integrity, once again elevating the idea of Turkishness as
intrinsically vulnerable and fragile. Turkey’s historic system of governance,
wherein those new to power eventually become co-opted by the country’s
institutions, showed no signs of changing. The end of the EU accession
process had hurt Turkey’s economy, reducing its ability to attract foreign
investment, while its import-dependent manufacturing sectors remained
unreformed. In 2020, unending confrontation haunted Turkey’s society
and politics, with no sign of abating.
The consequences for the U.S. in this scenario bear some resemblance
to those associated with the Illiberal Islamist scenario. Turkey has lost
its EU anchor, veers strongly towards (secular) authoritarianism, and as
such falls out of step with the liberal orientation of U.S. foreign policy.
Beyond these similarities, its crackdown on the Kurds, particularly as this
extends into northern Iraq, and its worsening relationship with Greece,
are especially damaging to Turkey’s ties with both the EU and the U.S.
The renewed power of the military undoes years of democratic reform.
Turkey’s influence as a link between the West and Islam, compromised
in the first scenario by a tilt towards its Islamic neighbors, now succumbs
both to fear of Iran and radical Islam in the Arab world, and the West’s
rejection of its illiberal politics.
Turkey is, in these circumstances, more dependent on its traditional
security relationships with the U.S. and with NATO, and potentially more
subject to U.S. leverage on limiting Iran’s nuclear development, resisting
pressure on Israel, and containing radical political trends among the
Arab states. But its high level of insecurity and extreme nationalism make
it an unreliable partner at best, a source of escalating regional conflict
at worst. Its internal governance produces friction with a U.S. foreign
policy increasingly subject to domestic
pressures. And its economic weakness
and deteriorating relations with neighbors
make it at best useless, at worst a liability
for any U.S. effort to reach out to the Arab
world, improve regional security, or more
generally to protect its interests in a multipolar
With these consistently negative implications for U.S. interests, our
focus should be on prevention, not mitigation. As with the first scenario,
maintaining the external pressures and incentives for democratic reforms
would be helpful, a process that is most effectively pursued by the EU. Yet
no one should be optimistic about the EU’s interest or capacity to play
this role, at least over the short term. More to the point is that regional
security drives this scenario. Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors”
foreign policy depends on a relatively benign regional environment that is
now deteriorating, which Turkey acting on its own cannot reshape. Turkish
‘strategic depth’, its ability to take full advantage of its power and position in
a pivotal region, depends on an external environment that is impossible to
imagine without an effective U.S. presence and at least implicit U.S.-Turkey
collaboration. A rising and nuclear Iran, chaos in the Gulf and North Africa,
U.S. troops withdrawing from Iraq and, soon, from Afghanistan, place the
AKP’s current strategy at risk and create a deep sense of insecurity that
undermine its credibility and precipitate Illiberal Secularism. These potential
outcomes, negative for both countries, should permit a meaningful strategic
dialogue between them in the medium term.
With these consistently negative
implications for U.S. interests, our
focus should be on prevention,
not mitigation.
CGA Scenarios
34 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 35
Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
Scenario Three:
In this scenario, the AKP gains control over all branches of government
through constitutional amendments, and has a seemingly unobstructed
path to implementing its agenda. While this continues for several years,
the gap between public expectations and the AKP’s performance grows
when it begins to pursue policies easily identifiable as “Islamist” and
neglects crucial socio-economic problems (income inequality, regional
disparities, corruption, Kurdish resentments) and EU negotiations. Rising
opposition in the form of reorganized minority parties (the CHP and BDP)
and an invigorated civil society strengthen political competition and the
constraints on AKP authority.
When no party wins a parliamentary majority in 2015, the political
system faces gridlock from which it emerges in 2017 after a split within
the AKP and early parliamentary elections. In the new parliament, the
AKP competes with a reinvented CHP for the support of smaller parties
needed to push through its preferred policies. Both parties, in an
effort to win over the electorate, attempt to distance themselves from
ideologically charged policies—which proved detrimental to the former
AKP government’s popularity—and now identify themselves as capable
of pragmatically remedying pressing socio-economic problems. With
reinvigorated EU membership negotiations providing the guiding vision
for reforms and with civil society actively articulating public concerns,
policy priorities become increasingly clear. In 2020, public demands and
external pressures have created the conditions for political pluralism to
produce constructive results: more effective governance, expanded civil
liberties and human rights guarantees, and more equitably distributed
economic growth.
n Political Competition: Controversial AKP policies generate increased
political resistance. Simultaneously, opposition parties manage to
reinvent themselves after years of attrition and begin to expand their
support base. By the end of the decade, the CHP competes directly with
the AKP for both public support and alliances with the minority parties
whose backing they need to implement policies. Since citizens of all
ethnicities and religions grow more concerned with socio-economic
problems throughout the decade, political parties’ platforms begin to
converge, and political competition revolves around bringing about
tangible improvements.
n Civil Society: Civil society plays a central role in this scenario. The
AKP-led government’s attempts to suppress dissent early in the decade
energize civil society organizations. While such organizations represent,
as always, a diverse range of views, many find common ground in their
opposition to the AKP and as they ally with other groups, they grow in
strength. Their ideas reflect the growing concerns among the populace
that their well-being and rights are being neglected.
n The Kurdish Question: Among those most disappointed by the
AKP’s policies early in the decade are the country’s Kurds, who feel the
party’s promises remain unfulfilled. The pro-Kurdish BDP party garners
Kurdish votes formerly committed to the AKP and becomes a vehicle for
advocating the rights of the country’s minorities in general. The political
success of the BDP provides a newly effective outlet for Kurds’ concerns
and prevents their discontent from fueling violent movements. When
the BDP eventually secures a substantial number of seats in parliament,
it becomes a prize ally for both the AKP and the CHP, who each offer
significant concessions to Kurdish regions. The human rights, economic,
and security situations of these regions improves.
n The EU Accession Process: With the EU initially distracted by its own
internal issues and with Turkey concentrating on other foreign policy
objectives, Turkey’s EU membership negotiations stall, causing many to
give up on Turkey’s membership. However, by mid-decade, the EU has
stabilized internally and refocuses on Turkey’s accession, conditional
on resumption of reform. To revive progress in EU negotiations, many
politicians firmly reassert their support for membership in an attempt
to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular AKP leadership.
By the end of the decade, EU membership appears a real prospect for
Turkey and a powerful driver of national reforms.
CGA Scenarios
36 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 37
Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
Erdog˘an maintained that these amendments were essential for making
the 1982 constitution suitable for a democracy, but he faced criticism from
several fronts. The CHP and its supporters criticized the amendments
as an attempt by the AKP to gain power and realize its Islamist agenda.
The Kurdish BDP, which had led a surprisingly successful boycott of the
referendum, argued the changes neglected Kurdish interests12 by failing
to extend guarantees of rights and liberties, such as language rights and
freedom of speech, to the minority. Various civil society groups, including
those that supported the amendments, such as the “Not Enough, but Yes”
Platform (Yetmez ama Evet), argued that the AKP’s reform package should
have included greater guarantees of pluralism and freedom and removed
racist and extreme nationalist language from the constitution.13 Overall,
the opposition suspected that the party’s primary objective in reforming
the constitution was extending its own influence over the levers of power
and silencing critics.
As the AKP spearheaded implementation of the approved reforms, its
opponents’ dissatisfaction grew. Increasing the number of constitutional
judges from 11 to 17 proved especially controversial. The parliament
and president heavily influenced the appointment of the 6 new judges
who were, unsurprisingly, overtly pro-AKP. Political opposition decried
the erosion of judicial independence although observers noted that the
judiciary had not been convincingly independent to begin with and that,
in fact, their real concern was the threat to the Court’s traditional role as
protector of Kemalist principles of secularism and national unity14.
Changes to the judicial system exacerbated disagreements on another
controversial subject: the role of the military in civilian affairs. By the time
of the constitutional reforms, the military had already been weakened
considerably, convincing many observers that its tendency to intervene in
politics was a relic of the past.15 However, military-civilian relations—and
the secularist-Islamist divisions they ostensibly embodied—remained in
the public eye due to ongoing trials of retired and active military officers
accused of plotting coup attempts in the “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer”
cases.16 These trials had divided public opinion since their inception but
they became even more divisive when judicial reforms were implemented
in 2011. The 2010 amendments included provisions to making military
personnel liable in civilian courts in cases concerning “crimes against the
security of the State, constitutional order and its functioning”17 and in
preventing civilians from being tried in military courts, except in times
n The Economy: GDP growth remains fairly strong through the
decade. However, without effective policies to improve the regulatory
environment, stimulate new investment, and build workforce skills,
growth fails to meet public expectations for rising living standards and
employment opportunities (a particularly pressing problem, given the
swelling ranks of unemployed youth). In addition, the AKP government
neglects its commitment to expanding commercial relations with a
broad range of countries, alienating the business community. Opposition
parties consequently demand improved economic management and
invigoration of the reform process. As politicians reap political rewards
from meeting such demands, governance of the economy improves.
n Foreign Policy: Growing dissatisfaction with an AKP strategy viewed
as ideologically motivated peaks in the latter half of the decade when
the stagnation of negotiations with the EU becomes a central concern,
and a central point of resistance to Erdog˘an’s leadership. Following the
2017 election, coalition governments lead Turkey back into EU accession
negotiations, but retain AKP’s multi-directional strategic orientation.
2010–2011: AKP’s Influence Peaks
On September 12, 2010—the 30th anniversary of the country’s last full-scale
military coup—Turkish voters approved an AKP-sponsored constitutional
amendment package by a wide margin.10 The AKP and Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an interpreted this outcome as an endorsement of
their leadership and claimed it as confirmation that citizens wished to
leave behind the military interventionism of the past.11
The approved constitutional amendments were implemented over the
course of the following year. Many of these, such as laws protecting the rights
of women and children, personal data, and collective bargaining rights
for civil servants, were relatively easily adopted and measurably improved
human rights and civil liberties in the country. Other amendments, such
as the restructuring of the judiciary, changes to the constitutional reform
process, revisions to procedures for banning political parties, and the
institution of civil liability for military generals, were viewed with alarm as
an effort to lock in the AKP’s political ascendency.
38 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 39
CGA Scenarios Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
of war. While the AKP argued that subordination of the armed forces
to civilian authorities was essential for democratization—an argument
supported by the EU18—detractors maintained that these reforms were
an ill-disguised effort by the AKP to silence its critics in the military so it
could pursue its own agenda unchallenged.
By the end of 2011, it was clear that by succeeding in amending the
constitution, the AKP had emasculated its most formidable institutional
opponents—the historically secularist-dominated Constitutional Court
and the military—and secured a dominant position in all three branches
of government. Its popularity still appeared remarkably resilient, and in
the 2011 national elections, it extended its unbroken record of electoral
success since 2002, once again winning a solid majority in parliament.
Although the elections did not drastically change the balance of power in
the Grand National Assembly (GNA), they were significant in that the pro-
Kurdish party, BDP managed to secure 30 seats. AKP leaders dismissed
these results as a temporary aberration resulting from Kurdish voters’
dissatisfaction with the constitutional reforms and predicted that they
would soon return their support to the AKP.
2012–2015: Disappointing Performance,
Growing Opposition
As the AKP approached its tenth year as dominant player in Turkish
politics, challenges to its hegemonic position were growing, in part
as a consequence of its own failures to meet the expectations of the
electorate, in part due to its constitutional overreaching and a resurgence
in the opposition.
Having gained power in the wake of a financial crisis and then positioned
itself as an economic reformer, the AKP depended heavily on strong
economic performance to maintain its legitimacy and popularity. Robust
GDP growth prior to the 2009 global financial crisis—averaging 6 percent
between 2002 and 2008—had created ongoing expectations of rising living
standards and expanding business opportunities. In addition to effective
macroeconomic management, meeting these expectations would require
a wide array of reforms to improve the business climate, curb corruption,
reduce income inequality, upgrade the education and health systems, and
boost the technology sectors that would facilitate a much-needed move
“up the value chain.”
Although the AKP’s platform had long centered on delivering such
reforms, by 2012 it was clearly falling short of what it had promised. The
constitutional reforms and general elections had assumed higher priority,19
and foreign investors expressed increasing reservations about entering
the market, despite forecasts of robust growth. More seriously, although
annual GDP growth averaged 5 percent, unemployment remained above
12 percent—and substantially higher for women, youth, unskilled workers,
and residents of eastern regions. Voters’ patience was growing thin with
the government’s (much-touted) job-creation programs underperforming
and employment opportunities remaining insufficient to accommodate
the country’s burgeoning working-age population.
The negative effects of stalled economic reforms were compounded by
several AKP missteps that fanned its critics’ worst fears—that Erdog˘an
and the AKP had authoritarian and radically Islamist designs. In 2012,
following through on Erdog˘an’s promises, the government attempted
a complete overhaul of the constitution in an effort to bring it in line
with prevailing models—namely, those of Europe and the United States.20
When Erdog˘an announced his intention to push for the replacement of
the parliamentary system with a presidential system—a radical change,
understood by many as playing into Erdog˘an’s personal plans to eventually
become president—a fire storm of criticism erupted. Restrictions on the
media were tightened in an attempt to contain the debate, but this only
served to further radicalize and harden the positions of those who felt
their views were being suppressed.
Resistance to the rewriting of the constitution surprised the AKP, which
had expected that, as with the referendum of 2010, it would be able to
override criticism and win support for its proposals. Most surprising for
the leadership was that its own ranks only expressed weak support. This
signaled that a shift was underway within the party. Disillusioned by the
leadership’s neglect of economic reforms and increasingly heavy-handed
tendencies, many moderate voters and politicians (whose support for the
AKP rested on its image as the country’s best hope for democratization
and prosperity) had begun to distance themselves from the party, either
joining the opposition or simply withdrawing from political debates.
Conservative, Islamist voices were also growing stronger within the AKP.
Policies began to be framed in ideological terms and included various
40 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 41
CGA Scenarios Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
explicitly religiously motivated measures, such as the lifting of the headscarf
ban at universities and increasing the taxation of alcoholic beverages.
Unfortunately for the AKP, this strategy did not necessarily guarantee
broader popularity, as even pious Turks were primarily concerned with
lingering unemployment and the poor quality of public services, especially
health. Consequently, the government relied ever more heavily on
patronage as a political tool, causing the level of corruption and cronyism
to escalate further.
A priority shift was also evident in the government’s foreign policies.
Ahmet Davutog˘lu, who remained foreign minister, continued to espouse
the government’s commitment to a “zero problems with neighbors”
outlook. However, skeptics (who had long accused the AKP of Islamizing
the country’s foreign policy) could point to the concentration of the
foreign ministry’s efforts on deepening relations with Iran, Syria, and Iraq.
When combined with the prime minister’s habit of playing the “Islamic
card,”21 this trend led many to believe that the country’s foreign policy was
becoming distinctly “Islamic.” Among the most disappointed were Turkey’s
business leaders, who, while welcoming deeper trade relations in Iran,
Syria, and Iraq, felt the government was neglecting crucial negotiations
with other regional powers, such as the EU, and corresponding projects,
such as the construction of the Nabucco pipeline. A slow response by the
AKP to the revolt in Libya in 2011 only compounded criticism towards its
foreign policy.
As dissatisfaction with AKP policies grew, opposition parties found
the means to reestablish themselves in Turkish politics. By 2013, the
revival of the CHP under the new leadership Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was well
underway. Disappointed by its poor performance in the 2011 elections,
the party had undergone a much-needed process of introspection and
reorganization. Recognizing widespread disappointment with the AKP’s
economic policies, the CHP had developed an economic platform which
emphasized social democracy. While few believed the CHP could become
the next “reformist” party, its prioritization of socio-economic issues and
seemingly less corrupt management played to its advantage. In addition,
under Kılıçdarog˘lu’s leadership, the party’s support for EU membership
The most significantly transformed party was the BDP, whose popularity
had increased immensely. Its new role in Turkish politics stemmed
from the spectacular failure of the AKP’s management of the “Kurdish
question.” Enthusiasm for the AKP’s “Kurdish opening” launched in
2009 had waned as early as the 2011 elections.22 The PKK’s unilateral
ceasefire announced in late 2010 was broken soon after the elections,
and military and federal police presence in the Kurdish-majority regions
of the country grew dramatically. At the same time, Kurdish demands
for increased freedom of speech and assembly remained unmet and
the socio-economic consequences of the escalating violence—such as
widespread displacement of Kurdish families—remained unaddressed.
When the AKP’s proposals for the new constitution did not remove the
language of Article 166 (which stipulated
that all inhabitants of Turkey were Turks),
Kurdish voters became convinced that
the party would neglect their concerns
indefinitely. As a result, their withdrawal of
support from the AKP, evident in the 2011
elections, became permanent. Some—
especially the children of internally
displaced families who had grown up in Ankara, Istanbul, and other
bigger cities—took up arms against the Turkish state,23 guaranteeing that
the situation would remain explosive for the foreseeable future. Most,
however, committed themselves to increasing their political voice through
the BDP’s representation in parliament. Thus the BDP saw its ranks swell
while it attracted support from non-Kurdish center-left voters and other
disappointed former AKP constituents.
Growing political opposition to the AKP was magnified by new activism
within civil society. Individuals with strong opinions on Turkey’s socioeconomic
problems and the role of religion in politics were organizing
into civic groups, many of which had links to political parties. While media
censorship remained a well-practiced AKP tactic, cracks in the party’s
support gave dissenters a feeling that change was possible and that the
rewards from challenging the AKP were increasingly worth the risks.
This growing opposition found common ground in their determination
to address problems of swelling youth unemployment, deteriorating
quality of health and education, the poor condition of low-income
urban neighborhoods, the frequency of prison abuses, and skilled
labor shortages. As civil society organizations developed their ideas
and improved organizationally, they gained supporters. The youth and
Growing political opposition to the
AKP was magnified by new activism
within civil society.
42 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 43
CGA Scenarios Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
student movement “Genc Civiler” (Young Civilians),24 for example, grew
in number and strength by advocating the idea of a non-authoritarian,
pluralist society. Having achieved visibility during the constitutional reform
referendum, the “Yes, but it’s not enough” campaign turned its attention
to broader advocacy of democratic reform, gaining public support from
intellectuals like Orhan Pamuk. But by far the most active civil society
organizations were those working to secure the rights and freedoms of
Turkey’s minorities, including Kurds, Alevi, Armenians, Christians, and
Jews, who managed to gain national attention for their causes (although
certainly not consensus around their views), in part due to well-known (if
under-reported) attempts by federal authorities to shut them down.
In the lead up to the 2015 elections, it was clear that political competition
was intensifying, and that the AKP lacked the means to stem it. Election
campaigns were intense and the journalists covering them ever more
defiant of the government’s threats to punish those who criticized the
ruling party.
External change was also underway: the EU, having recovered from the
internal struggles evident early in the decade, began showing renewed
interest in Turkish accession. It reiterated the concerns of earlier in the
decade—that the reform process had slowed compared to the 2002–
2005 period and that democracy was eroding.25 Perhaps inspired more
by worries that a destabilized Turkey could endanger Europe than by an
overwhelming desire to see Turkey as part of the EU, European officials
urged Turkey to refocus on democratization and economic reform in
return for renewed prioritization of membership negotiations.
2015–2017: Political Stalemate Ends in
Pragmatic Compromise
The 2015 elections took place in the context of intense political competition
and external pressure to tackle the country’s mounting challenges. The
campaign period was rife with speculation that the AKP would not secure
the majority—or even the plurality—of seats.
In the end, the AKP lost a substantial number of seats, but remained as
the strongest party in the parliament. The CHP and BDP both gained
seats, as did independent candidates of other parties. Only the MHP’s
representation remained more or less unchanged. Without an outright
majority for the first time since 2002, the AKP was not able to act without
the support of at least one additional party. Because its relations with
opposition parties had deteriorated so sharply in recent years, it was not
clear with whom it could partner. With no grand coalition, Turkey fell into
acrimonious political stalemate.
A multiplicity of views and agendas gained currency in the new parliament.
The BDP pushed for public investment in Kurdish regions and guarantees
for human and civil rights; the CHP advocated retrenchment of the AKP’s
“Islamist” policies and greater attention to socio-economic problems; the
MHP focused on wooing nationalists in the AKP and the CHP. The AKP
was on the defensive. Parliamentary debates were long and tough, often
ending without consensus. Although
debates were often dominated by radical
voices, the incentives for each party to
appear more competent and relevant
were strong enough to help moderate,
pragmatic politicians to begin to gain
Political stalemate finally ended in 2017 with a split in the AKP and early
elections, both of which were triggered primarily by renewed argument
over the Cyprus conflict. The AKP split was precipitated by Ali Babacan,
Deputy Prime Minister Responsible for the Economy and chief negotiator
in Turkey’s EU accession talks, who openly turned against Erdog˘an and
accused him of stalling the EU-accession process by neglecting the Cyprus
question. AKP politicians who had been looking for an opportunity to
distance themselves from Erdog˘an seized this opportunity to break with
him on this politically sensitive issue. They declared that Erdog˘an and his
supporters had willfully undermined Turkey’s EU membership prospects
by focusing on their personal ambitions instead of resolving the Cyprus
issue and implementing the political and economic reforms needed
for membership. Babacan also found support among many politicians
in the BDP and the CHP, since both parties had made EU accession a
central component of their platforms in the 2015 elections. As AKP MPs
shifted their support to Babacan, Erdog˘an’s support base came to rest on
staunchly conservative Islamist MPs.
The disagreements emerging within the AKP received significant media
attention and censorship wilted. The public had begun to take an eager
interest in the dynamics of this new competitive environment, wondering
A multiplicity of views and agendas
gained currency in the new
44 CGA Scenarios
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Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
how it would affect daily life. The details of parliamentary debates were
widely disseminated, increasing pressure on politicians to make cogent
arguments. Babacan’s criticisms paved the way for a flood of discussion
about the relative merits of the AKP’s policies in recent years. The
“Islamization” of public and foreign policy came under heavy fire, both
for being a distraction from pressing socio-economic matters and for
undermining religious freedom.
Parliamentary debate on the opening of Turkish ports to Cypriot vessels
grew extremely heated. When they reached an obvious impasse, Erdog˘an
called for a vote of confidence, which he lost, leading to early elections.
Election results revealed that the AKP’s support base had shrunk
substantially and that its losses had benefited a wide range of parties,
from small radical Islamic parties that attracted voters dissatisfied with
the shift of policy debates away from Islamic policies to larger opposition
parties, especially the BDP and the CHP, who seemed to offer voters more
convincing approaches to tackling Turkey’s problems.
2017–2020: Pluralism Drives Democratic
Undoubtedly the most significant outcome of the 2017 general elections
was that the CHP found itself roughly on par with the AKP in terms of
parliamentary seats for the first time in more than a decade. Both parties
held more than 180 seats. While observers expected the deadlock of
the previous parliamentary session to be repeated, they were pleasantly
surprised that the relatively equal positions of AKP and CHP had positively
changed the dynamics of competition in parliament.
The AKP and CHP challenged each other
to win minority MP support (especially
from the BDP, the largest minority party)
in order to push through their preferred
policies. Consequently, ideologically
charged rhetoric gave way to more
moderate policy-oriented discussions.
The AKP’s internal divisions had enabled reform-oriented politicians
to assert a dominant position in the party, and, under the leadership of
Babacan, it decisively returned to its former program of pro-EU policies
and market liberalization. Meanwhile, a new generation of politicians had
asserted itself within the CHP, solidifying the party’s new image as a social
democratic party that emphasized the democratic aspects of Kemalism
over its polarizing ideological aspects.
At the heart of this change was a realization on the part of each party
that—given the severity of Turkey’s socio-economic challenges, the
renewed lure of the EU, and the high expectations of the public—their
relative performance in the coming years would determine their fate.
The rapid shifting of supporters between parties in recent years had
convinced politicians that no sector of the Turkish public was beyond
their reach: issues such as employment, health, education, security, and
EU membership resonated with voters from all religions and ethnicities.
While parties’ overlapping goals frequently caused bitter disputes among
rival MPs over credit for successful policies, the net effect was to improve
governance because no party could afford to be seen as opposing the
publically popular reforms being undertaken. The relentless involvement
of civil society in national political debates helped maintain pressure on
political parties to perform.
Babacan, as the AKP’s new leader, presented himself as chief advocate
of Turkey’s EU accession. In 2018, the first Cypriot freighter docked in
a Turkish port, signaling not only that resolution of the Cyprus conflict
was possible, but that Turkey was ready to reopen the frozen chapters of
its EU accession negotiations. Significant obstacles remained of course,
but EU membership appeared an achievable rather than aspirational goal
for Turkey.
EU pressure helped to shape politics. Anti-corruption measures eventually
improved the quality of public services and the business environment
generally, which leveled the playing field for the country’s entrepreneurs
while raising foreign investment. When GDP growth reached 7 percent
in 2019, it seemed the government’s new reform-orientation was
paying off. In addition, the EU’s insistence on guaranteeing human,
civil, and minority rights—combined with the pivotal role of the BDP
in parliament—fostered a marked improvement of the government’s
approach to the Kurdish question. Public investment in infrastructure and
services in Kurd-dominated regions increased rapidly, creating hopes of a
more prosperous future. Language rights for Kurds expanded as well, with
many official forms and documents available in Kurdish. Other minorities
also benefited from this new approach, particularly as a result of several
measures to increase religious freedom.
The relatively equal positions of AKP
and CHP had positively changed
the dynamics of competition in
46 CGA Scenarios
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Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
While reengaging with the EU, successive Turkish governments maintained
the AKP’s earlier emphasis on improved relations with all its neighbors,
and with powerful states outside the region. The economic and strategic
opportunities for large, rapidly growing countries such as Turkey,
had expanded in a more multipolar world, and Turkey’s competitive
democratic politics and improved EU prospects had positioned Turkey
to seize these opportunities. It could now credibly position itself as a
gateway between East and West, between the Muslim Middle East and
the secular states of Europe and North
America. Attractive to the East for its
economic and political access westward,
and to the West as a successful, moderate
Muslim democracy, Turkey could now
reap benefits in both directions.
By 2020, Turkey’s political landscape was dramatically different than in
2010. The polarizing tensions that defined the political system earlier
in the decade—between secularism and Islamism, between elites and
the masses, between the majority and minorities—had given way to a
greater diversity of debates on a wide variety of issues. As incentives for
cooperating with opposition parties increased, politicians found common
ground in advocating pragmatic policies. A robust, diverse civil society
played a crucial role of communicating voters’ policy preferences to
politicians. Ideological differences and radical, polarizing views did not
disappear but were marginalized. As the decade drew to a close, Turkey
faced a bright future.
This represents the most favorable scenario, both for Turkey and for the
U.S. It describes a moderate politics and a pragmatic/realist foreign policy
devoted to maximizing Turkey’s influence in its region and beyond, but
aware of its own limitations and vulnerabilities, and prepared to partner
with the U.S. on at least an ad hoc basis to address threats and create
conditions favorable to its interests. A moderate, pluralist domestic
politics arise not from an implausible self restraint of a dominant AKP,
but from a competitive political process ignited by diminishing returns
to AKP policies, both domestic and foreign, the revival of other parties
and increasing civil society dynamism, all of which promote a competition
that rewards compromise and pragmatic problem solving.
This more competitive politics has seemingly contradictory effects
on Turkish foreign policy, and on its U.S. relationship. Foreign policy
becomes more a product of domestic politics – among parties, and
between parties and civil society – and less the expression of a dominant
AKP grand strategy. This implies incoherence. Yet a strengthened liberal
politics positions Turkey for renewed EU accession negotiations (during
the latter part of the decade), reduces friction with the U.S., contributes
to a successful “Kurdish opening” and permits an effective execution
of “zero problems with neighbors” approach, which is indeed the most
rational posture for a country with Turkey’s size and location. As the door
to EU membership reopens, Turkey’s economic opportunities grow, and
its appeal to Arab states as an avenue of diplomatic and economic access
to the West is enhanced. With its Muslim population, pluralist politics,
growing economy and positive relationships with most regional and
global powers, it is able to fully realize its potential influence.
This is most certainly a positive outcome for the U.S., as it positions
Turkey to reinforce regional stability, help in managing specific conflicts
in the region, provide an example and material support for more effective
governance in the Muslim world, respond to common threats (rising Iran,
spreading terrorism, chaos in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya) through ad hoc
cooperation or through NATO, and generate commercial opportunities for
U.S. business. These common interests become more compelling should
accelerating change in the Arab world produce potentially damaging
consequences for both countries.
But these opportunities could be easily squandered by unrealistic U.S.
expectations for a “liberal” Turkish foreign policy. Turkey, as it emerges
towards the later part of the decade, is successful, stable, self confident,
with a pivotal position in a critical and transforming region. The substance
of its strategy will remain the maximization of its power regionally and
globally in circumstances that offer great opportunity. While its threat
environment will sometimes create common interests with the West, and
with the U.S. in particular, it will not operate as a surrogate. How much
it serves as a link to the Muslim world will vary with the messages we’re
trying to deliver. Cooperation in confronting threats will depend on the
circumstances, and on both states’ willingness to compromise on issues
they will often view differently. One should expect potentially conflicting
responses to containment/deterrence of Iran, questions of outside
intervention in the evolving revolutions in the Middle East, managing
Polarizing tensions had given way to
a greater diversity of debates on a
wide variety of issues.
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potential turbulence in Northern Iraq as the U.S. presence recedes, and the
substance and process of any Israeli-Palestinian settlement. These issues
also complicate U.S.-Turkey relations in other scenarios. Here, Turkey is
not a precipitator of conflict and insecurity, and has important leverage
to bring to regional stabilization, but acting in a cooperative, or at least
mutually reinforcing way, will require a long term view of our common
interests, a degree of patience, and adept diplomacy on both sides.
One area of likely conflict in this scenario arises from the increasingly
mercantilist character of Turkey’s foreign economic policies. This is
a product of the democratic nature of Turkey’s foreign policy decision
making, its robust growth and its globalizing commercial and financial
interests. Competition for markets, capital, and resources will frequently
threaten to overwhelm cooperation with the U.S., and with other liberal
trading states. Turkey will find common purpose with other rising powers
that question the legitimacy of the liberal
trading system. EU conditionality may
curb the worst excesses in commercial
practice, but the EU is just as likely to
accommodate these practices in the
interests of membership.
Getting the most out of a relationship
with a strong, independent regional
power with a Muslim population and
competing economic interests will be
difficult, often producing unsatisfying compromises and agreements to
disagree. U.S. contribution to Turkey’s development will be modest, but
not trivial: supporting the EU accession process; working to build regional
security by encouraging Turkey’s mediation efforts in Middle East conflicts,
and in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan; leveraging Turkey’s synthesis of
Islam and pluralism in shaping political change in the Arab world; and,
when necessary, pursuing our interests vigorously and independently,
counting on multiple common interests and effective diplomacy to
contain the damage.
Drivers of Change in
Turkey has long been seen as a pivotal state for U.S. foreign policy due
to its geo-strategic location between Europe and Asia and its proximity
to trouble spots in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.26 As
a neighbor to Iran, Iraq, and Syria, Turkey’s regional profile is garnering
international attention.
The Turkish Republic is unique in a number of ways. It is the only
predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East that is a secular
democracy. As a member of NATO and a European Union candidate,
Turkey has often been described as a model for other countries in
the Middle East that could confute the “Clash of Civilizations” theory,
proving that Islam can be compatible with Western values of liberalism
and democracy.
While its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire, was long ill-reputed as
“the sick man of Europe,” today’s Turkey is confident, playing an influential
role in regional and international politics. With growing economic success,
Turkey has evolved from being a recipient of economic aid to a donor
country. As an energy transit country, Turkey is pivotal for Europe’s resource
security. Domestically, however, it suffers from intense divisions between
secularists, Islamists, and nationalists and between Kurds and Turks, which
have the potential to jeopardize Turkey’s newfound influence.
Turkey’s future is thus subject to a high degree of variability. How will
it evolve? Toward Western-oriented liberal democracy? Toward Islamist
Drivers of Change
Many scenarios are possible for Turkey in the year 2020 depending on
how political, economic, and social forces evolve over the next decade.
Getting the most out of a relationship
with a strong, independent regional
power with a Muslim population
and competing economic interests
will be difficult.
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Scenarios Initiative: Drivers of Change in Turkey
This paper identifies five key factors that could act as “drivers of change”
in Turkey, each characterized by a range of variability. What could enable
or prevent these drivers from trending in a particular direction? How
could these drivers interact with one another to shape the course of
Turkey’s future?
Secularism and Political Islam
The rise of political Islam is one of the most closely watched developments
by scholars and observers of Turkey. Will the country remain a strictly
secular Republic; can a moderate influence of political Islam make Turkey
a model for the Muslim world; or is there potential for Turkey to undergo
a fundamental transformation towards an Islamic Republic following the
example of Iran? While opinions about the current influence of religion in
Turkish politics diverge, it is clear that future dynamics between secularism
and political Islam are a decisive factor in Turkey’s future.
In Turkey’s short history as a secular Republic since 1923, Islamist parties
have continued to emerge despite regularly being shut down by the
judiciary or pushed out by the military. The Justice and Development
Party (AKP) has governed Turkey since 2002. The AKP describes itself as
conservative democratic party, whereas outsiders generally characterize
it as a “moderate Islamist” party. With support from the growing, largely
provincial, pious middle class and liberal businesspeople, the AKP prevails
as the most influential political movement in the country.27
The Constitutional Court and the Turkish military, two institutions
considered bastions of the secularist establishment, have viewed the AKP
critically since the party assumed power in 2002. They are suspicious of
the AKP’s Islamic roots, as well as the political pasts of some of its leaders,
including those of Prime Minister Erdog˘an and President Gül. A number
of the AKP’s actions while in government have further fueled mistrust. For
example, in 2008, the AKP pushed through legislation lifting the ban of
Islamic headscarves in Turkish universities, a controversial move that led
to large-scale protests before the ban was re-instituted four months later.
Nevertheless, a 2008 Constitutional Court indictment of the AKP failed
to prove that the party had become a center of anti-secular activities in
Turkey, and its dominant position in the political system endures.28
While the AKP undoubtedly has Islamic roots, the party differs significantly
from previous religious-right parties in Turkey. The Welfare Party (RP) and
the Virtue Party (FP), predecessors of the AKP, pursued explicit religious
agendas before being banned in 1998 and 2001, respectively. These parties
were overtly anti-Western, strongly opposing Turkish membership in the
EU and considering Islam incompatible with Western values. By contrast,
the AKP has promoted seemingly Western ideas, such as liberal market
policies, democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law and
has made significant progress towards EU membership by implementing
a number of Brussels-demanded reforms.29 However, there is no doubt
that certain elements of the party would prefer that the AKP deepen its
religious orientation.
Current debates about political Islam in Turkey primarily focus on the AKP,
but it is not the only expression of political Islam in Turkey. Constitutional
bans have not eliminated more radical Islamist movements. In fact, the
“real” Islamist movements appear to be the Milli Görüs¸ movement, led by
former Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, and the Felicity Party
(SP), the ideological heir of the Welfare and Virtue parties. Nonetheless,
the future of political Islam in Turkey is linked to the AKP.30
The future of both the AKP and political Islam in Turkey are uncertain
and subject to wide variability. Could more radical members of the AKP
get the upper hand to promote an Islamic political agenda? How could
further “Islamization” of the Turkish Republic evolve, and what would
it mean for democracy in Turkey? What conditions are required for the
AKP to continue its democratic reform agenda in line with EU demands?
What could catalyze greater support for opposition parties? Under
which conditions could other Islamist movements gain greater support
in Turkey?
The Military
The Turkish military, the second largest in NATO, has traditionally been a
stronghold of Turkey’s secular elite. With a watchful eye over government
policies, the military has long been a central and active institution in the
Turkish political system. Considering itself the guardian of secularism
in Turkey, it has regularly intervened against governments seen as
threatening the founding principles of the Turkish Republic, including
through coup d’états in 1960, 1971, and 1980, a so-called post-modern
coup in 1997, and an “e-coup” in 2007. Democratic reforms have led to
a gradual decline in the political influence of the Generals; however, it is
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not yet clear whether this trend has solidified or whether the military will
reclaim its interventionist role in civilian affairs.
Over the past decade, the military has undergone fundamental changes. In
accordance with demands made by the European Union, the AKP enacted
a number of reforms to limit the powers of the military in domestic and
foreign policies. Among the most drastic reforms were the changes to
Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) in 2004, which reduced the
number of military members from five to one. In addition, legislation
was introduced requiring that the position of the Secretary-General,
traditionally reserved for a military officer, be held by a civilian member
of the Council.31 The frequency of MGK meetings was reduced and its
budget put under the direct control of the Prime Minister. Taken together,
such reforms have significantly altered the political landscape in Turkey,
downgrading one of the most important Turkish executive institutions
to a purely advisory body and limiting the influence of military officials
in civilian affairs. Importantly, they occurred in accordance with EUmembership
criteria, which garnered public support for the changes and
minimized resistance from the military itself.32
In addition to significant legal reforms, the power of the Turkish military
since 2007 has also been strained by accusations and litigations against
a large number of officers. In the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, the
Prosecutor seeks to uncover alleged military plans for a coup d’état against
the AKP in 2003. To date, investigators have made more than 200 arrests,
searched several hundreds of houses, and wiretapped several thousand
people. Initially, the investigation was perceived as a positive move towards
democratic consolidation, but concerns are growing that Ergenekon is a
really political tool of the AKP to silence its opposition. In addition to
military generals, the investigation has targeted journalists and members
of the judiciary critical of the AKP.33 Several conspiracy theories revolve
around the Ergenekon case. Many military experts consider the 5,000-
page document published by the investigators in early 2010–allegedly the
detailed plan for the coup d’état drafted by the military–staged.34
As an institution that enjoys the respect and trust of the public despite
recent changes, the military could significantly influence Turkey’s
future. Will the Generals quietly accept further suppression of their
political influence, or might the military seek to reclaim its position in
civilian affairs? Under which conditions would the military abandon its
commitment to protecting secularism? Given recent developments, does
a coup d’état remain a realistic possibility for the overthrow of an Islamist
government? What will be lasting effects of the Ergenekon investigation?
Would further weakening of the military endanger national security and
Turkey’s reliability in NATO?
The Economy
Although often marred by boom and bust cycles and vulnerability to
external shocks, the Turkish economy has grown rapidly for much of the
last decade. Turkey is a middle-income country with an economy smaller
than the BRICs’ but larger than second-tier markets such as Poland,
Indonesia, and Vietnam; GDP grew to US$730bn in 2008. Although
Turkey trades predominantly with Europe, it has signed a number of trade
agreements with other countries in recent years. It benefits from a large,
young labor pool, but remains beset with inequality, uneven educational
opportunities, and other structural economic weaknesses.
Turkey began liberalizing its economy in the 1980s when it shifted from
an import-substitution to an export-intensive growth model. Entry into a
customs union with the EU improved Turkey’s production structure and
made it more resilient to global volatility. Increased competition from EU
imports forced greater efficiency in the manufacturing sector and raised
productivity. The original “Anatolian tigers”, labor-intensive manufacturers
that benefited from Turkey’s initial liberalization, have grown into some
of the country’s largest companies. Their success has underpinned the
growth of Turkey’s burgeoning middle class, which is largely “provincial
and pious” and supports the AKP.35
After back-to-back economic crises in 2000–01, IMF-led reforms helped
Turkey reduce public sector deficits and debt. Structural reform of the
banking sector increased competition and enabled banks to benefit from
strong global liquidity conditions. The AKP has presided over a considerable
reduction in the government’s interest burden and raised over US$26bn
from privatization initiatives between 2005 and 2008.36 Turkey did not
completely collapse during the global financial crisis (though GDP growth
plummeted by 6 percent in 2009), and, to date, none of its banks have
collapsed. The AKP government eschewed a new IMF rescue plan, which
leaves less room for policy error in the next few years.
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of the Turkish Republic, Ankara has pursued an assimilationist policy
toward the Kurds, neglecting minority rights in favor of a unified,
culturally homogenous Turkish national identity. Kurds have actively
resisted such policies, pursuing alternative goals ranging from greater
cultural and political rights to separatism. The growing socio-economic
disparity between Kurdish communities and the rest of the population
has prompted concerns about potential radicalization, especially given
the size of the unemployed Kurdish youth population.
The Iraq War brought about a resurgence of Kurdish nationalism. In
2004, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which had renounced violence
after the capture of its leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, launched a new
insurgency from the border region inside Northern Iraq. Violence escalated
in 2006 and 2007, as did tensions between the Turkish government and the
Northern Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which was seen as
protecting the PKK. The Turkish military has since carried out a crossborder
operation in Northern Iraq, and in 2007, a U.S.-brokered agreement
with the KRG began to calm Turkish fears and improve relations. Turkey
has become the KRG’s most important economic partner: more than
1,200 Turkish companies are doing business in Northern Iraq. In October
2009 Turkey opened a consulate-general in Erbil.40
The AKP’s emergence has transformed the Kurdish question. Dealing with
the PKK and the demands of the Kurdish community is no longer subject
to the strategic considerations of the military alone, but also central to
political debates. Under the leadership of the AKP, the “Kurdish question”
has been increasingly viewed as requiring socio-economic solutions, not
simply military suppression. The AKP initially appeared to be reorienting
government policies toward the Kurds along these lines, and the situation
of Turkey’s Kurdish community improved. In line with demands made by
the EU, the AKP sponsored reforms that eased restrictions on publishing
and broadcasting in the Kurdish language, a significant improvement
in terms of human rights. Prime Minister Erdog˘an’s acknowledgement
in 2005 that “mistakes” had been made in dealing with the Kurds was
seen as a major step towards reconciliation.41 Nevertheless, human rights
violations and impunity for Turkish security forces remain prevalent in
Kurdish-populated areas. The latest EU Progress Report on Turkey states,
“Allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and impunity for perpetrators are
still a cause for great concern, and need to become a priority area for
remedial action by the Turkish authorities.”42
Despite signs of improving economic health, structural weaknesses in the
economy remain formidable. With half of its population under the age of
twenty-nine, Turkey urgently needs to spur new job creation. Doing so will
require “moving up the value chain” into technology- and skill-intensive
sectors and increasing the output potential of all sectors. However, this
process is hampered by relatively low levels of long-term investment, the
product of an increasing current account deficit since 1995 (6 percent of
GDP in 2007)37 that has driven up real interest rates to an average of 13
percent (2002–2007).
Although the government has been praised for reducing the public
debt-to-GDP ratio, there are concerns that high interest payments have
displaced spending on other projects critical to long-term development.
For instance, although Turkey has the lowest share of university graduates
in the working-age population of all OECD countries (15 percent),
investment in education has not been prioritized.38 Gender inequality is
also a pressing concern, since the labor-force participation rate of urban
women is estimated at around a strikingly low 21 percent. Corruption
is prevalent and siphons off potential government tax revenues. Tax
revenues are further dampened by the large proportion of grey-sector
activity in the economy, estimated to comprise about one-third of official
GDP. Lack of transparency and a patchwork of fragmented legislation and
bureaucratic complexity make it difficult for small business to thrive or
gain benefits of scale. In 2010, Turkey ranking in the World Bank’s Doing
Business index dropped by ten places, to 73rd out of 183 countries.39
Given the range of structural challenges facing the Turkish economy, its
future course is subject to variability. Is the EU-accession process vital to
future economic reform? What must the government do to raise the living
standards of its citizens? Can the Turkish economy remain resilient in an
environment of prolonged infighting between a rising Islamic middleclass
and the traditional secular elite? How resilient is the economy to
political shocks, such as a Kurdish declaration of autonomy?
The Kurdish Question
The Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority group, comprising
approximately 20 percent of the country’s population, or about 14
million people. While the majority of Kurds reside in Turkey, large Kurdish
communities also inhabit Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Since the establishment
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have on Turkey’s Kurdish problem? What effects would a strengthening of
Hizbullah have on the situation of Kurds in Turkey and beyond?
Foreign Policy Orientation
Turkey has significantly changed its foreign policy strategy during the
last decade by diversifying its relations beyond its traditional allies, the
U.S. and the EU. While many welcome Turkey’s policy of “zero problems”
with its neighbors (e.g., in the form of reconciliation with Armenia and
Greece), greater engagement with players such as Iran, Syria, Hamas, and
Sudan have raised concerns that the West might be losing Turkey.46
The European Union
In 2010, prospects for Turkish EU membership are grim. Identity debates
and economic overstretch are the main reasons for limited support
for Turkey’s accession among the European public. In view of current
political and financial difficulties resulting from the global recession, it
remains doubtful that the EU would be inclined to absorb a new member
as large as Turkey. Were Turkey to obtain full membership, it would bypass
Germany as the most populous European country by 2020, receive
the greatest number of MEPs in the EU parliament, and, as such, gain
significant influence in EU affairs.47
During the first years of the AKP administration, Turkey made significant
progress in implementing EU-required reforms, leading to the official
commencement of membership negotiations in 2005. However, to
date only 12 out of 35 chapters of the EU Association Agreement have
been opened, and reform progress has slowed. Nevertheless, many
commentators continue to view the EU membership process as integral
to Turkey’s internal reform process, as well as underlying Turkey’s appeal
and stature in its region.
The Cyprus conflict is a progenitor of the reform stasis. After the Greek-
Cypriot rejection of the Annan Plan to re-unify the island in 2004 and
Cyprus’ EU accession in 2005, Turkey faces additional obstacles in its EUmembership
bid. Turkey continues to keep its ports closed to vessels from
the Republic of Cyprus and has made no progress in normalizing relations
with the Greek part of the island. The April 2010 election victory of Turkish-
Cypriot hardliner Dervis Eroglu has lowered the odds a settlement will be
reached in the near future.
Due to its democratic reform agenda, the AKP received strong support from
the Kurdish population in the 2007 national elections. Kurdish support
for the AKP has also been used as a means of accessing political power.
Historically, Kurdish parties have been unable to surpass the minimum
vote threshold (10 percent of total votes cast) for election to parliament.
Furthermore, Kurdish parties have frequently been banned from politics
due to alleged association with the PKK. Most recently, on December 11,
2009, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the Democratic Society
Party (DTP). The DTP has since reconstituted itself as the Peace and
Democracy Party (BDP), which is already under investigation.43
Especially in light of the banning of the DTP, optimism about the potential
for reconciliation with the Kurdish community under the AKP has begun
to wane. The AKP’s policy of “Kurdish opening,” which also includes
reconciliation efforts between PKK activists and the Turkish state, has
been complicated by opposition from Turkey’s secular and nationalist
movements, which denounce it as way of caving into “terrorist demands.”
These movements will not tolerate direct negotiation with the imprisoned
PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, but his lingering influence makes it difficult to
conceive a peace process excluding him. In addition, the conflict appears
to be broadening from tension between the Turkish state and the PKK to
polarization between Turks and Kurds themselves.44 In late 2009, after a
heavy PKK attack in the northern province of Tokat, the peace initiative
became the foundation of ethnically motivated hostilities in several parts
of the country, including in Istanbul. Clashes between pro-PKK Kurds and
supporters of the Kurdish Hizbullah group, which opposes the PKK’s
socialist orientation and aims for an Islamist Kurdistan, have also fueled
fears of a future resurgence of Hizbullah in Turkey.45
The evolution of the “Kurdish question” will play a decisive role in Turkey’s
future. Will the AKP manage to revive the Kurdish peace initiative? Will
it maintain its orientation toward socio-economic solutions or return to
security-oriented strategies? How will the cultural and political demands
of the Kurds be treated? How will the government’s management of
polarization between Turks and Kurds affect polarization between
secularists and Islamists? How can it simultaneously appease Abdullah
Öcalan and refrain from “negotiating with terrorists”? How could an
escalation of violence affect the support for the AKP and political stability?
What effect would a move towards formal independence of Iraqi Kurdistan
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The United States
The U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003 caused a split in the U.S.-Turkey
relationship. Turkey’s refusal to allow American troops to access Iraq from a
Northern Turkish front came as a surprise—with significant consequences
for U.S.-Turkish cooperation. Additionally, the U.S. has faced increasing
restrictions in accessing the strategically important military base, Incirlik,
in South Eastern Turkey.48 Under the administration of Barack Obama,
who chose Turkey as the destination of his first official visit as president,
the relationship has improved. However, disagreements about Cyprus,
Iraq, Armenia, and Iran continue to reflect tension. On March 4, 2010, the
U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed a nonbinding
resolution recognizing the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians
during World War I as genocide. Turkey’s reaction was to withdraw its
ambassador to the U.S., who eventually returned.49 Should relations
deteriorate further in the future, Turkey might deny the U.S. access to the
Incirlik base altogether, reducing U.S. armed forces’ maneuverability in
the region.
Turkey and Russia share a century-long history of rivalry. During the Cold War,
Turkey was a crucial ally of the U.S., serving as a bulwark against the Soviet
Union and communist influence in the Middle East. However, the dismantling
of the Soviet Union meant that Turkey and Russia no longer share a common
border. The dwindling threat of direct confrontation has ushered in a new era
of economic cooperation between Turkey and Russia.
During the past decade, rapprochement between Turkey and Russia has
advanced rapidly, not least due to the personal relationship between
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Erdog˘an.50
In 2010, Russia surpassed Germany as Turkey’s largest bi-lateral trade
partner; Turkey now places seventh among Russia’s trading partners.51
Russia supplies 65 percent of Turkey’s natural gas and 40 percent of its
crude oil imports.52 Simultaneously, Turkey has been cooperating with
Moscow to diversify Russian energy transit routes to Europe, as well as
welcoming Russian investment into its own energy sector. A Russian-
Turkish consortium will build the country’s first nuclear plant.53
Despite rapprochement, a degree of rivalry over geo-political influence in
the Turkic Republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus remain. The Russian
invasion of Georgia in 2008 revived Turkish mistrust against its former
rival.54 Pipeline politics could also provide for future conflicts. Russia has
opposed projects such as the Transcaspian and Nabucco pipelines, which
would transport energy resources of Central Asia and the Caucasus via
Turkey (and not Russia) to Europe.55 With Russia a large supplier of oil and
gas to Turkey and looking to expand its own regional influence, energy
geopolitics could become more volatile in the next decade.
The Middle East
Historically, Turkey’s foreign relations have been closely aligned with the
West. In the Muslim world, the secular Republic faced skepticism due
to its role as former colonial power and its close ties with the U.S. In
return, Turkey’s Kemalist establishment perceived engagement in Middle
Eastern affairs as danger to Turkey’s secular, Western-oriented identity.
While Turkey attempted to maintain a balanced and neutral role in the
Arab-Israeli conflict for decades, it intensified cooperation with Israel,
including through several military agreements, during the 1990s.
Since the AKP assumed power in 2002, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s
“zero problems” policy has catalyzed closer engagement with several
Middle Eastern countries. Turkey has become Syria’s most important
economic partner, and its relations with Iran are flourishing. After Russia,
Iran is Turkey’s second largest supplier of crude oil and gas,56 with bilateral
trade growing rapidly, reaching an approximate US$10bn in 2008. Prime
Minister Erdog˘an hopes to double this number by 2011 and plans to triple
it to US$30bn in the future.57
Politically controversial rhetoric from Turkey has heightened Western
perceptions of a shift in Turkish foreign policy. Prime Minister Erdog˘an was
among the first to congratulate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
for his disputed election victory in June 2009. He has repeatedly described
the Iranian leader as his “friend,” dismissed allegations of an Iranian nuclear
program as “gossip,” and refused to support sanctions against Iran in the
UN Security Council. Additionally, Turkey has increasingly interacted with
Hamas and entertains good relations with alleged genocidaire Omar al-Bashir
of Sudan. Simultaneously, Turkey’s relationship with Israel is deteriorating.
Since the Israeli operation in Gaza in 2008–2009, Prime Minister Erdog˘an’s
aggressive rhetoric, most prominently during the 2009 World Economic
Forum in Davos, and the exclusion of Israel from the multinational military
air-exercise Anatolian Eagle, have raised concerns about the future of the
former alliance and prospects for Turkey’s role in the region.
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1 Such symbolic acts also included the wearing of the headscarf of the daughters and wives of Prime
Minister Erdog˘an as well as President Abdullah Gül, amongst other AKP politicians. Gül’s wife wore
a headscarf at the President’s Republic Day reception on October 29, 2010, which was considered
a harsh provocation by many secularists and led to the boycott of this event by members of the
military; cf. “President Gül feels no resentment over Oct. 29 snub,” Today’s Zaman, Dec. 03, 2010,
online (
2 Since the AKP and SP once again held the majority in parliament, Erdog˘an was elected president in
the 2017 presidential elections.
3 “Exports remain strong amid European crisis woes,” Today’s Zaman, June 02, 2010, online (http://
4 “Poll: Turkish opposition party ahead of ruling AK,” Reuters, May 29, 2010, online (http://www.,7340,L-3895758,00.html).
5 Strauss, Delphine & Blitz, J. “Turkey says NATO move on Libya absurd”. Financial Times. 1st March
6 Barkey, Henri J., “Turkey’s New Global Role,” Interview, Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, November 17, 2010, online ( publications/index.
cfm?fa=view&id= 41952).
7 Kurdish youths, 18 and younger, who had been put on trial for having attended pro-PKK
demonstrations, chanting a slogan, or throwing a stone. “The Stone-Throwing Kids,” The New York
Times, July 30, 2010, online (
8 “Firms to employ 5 Turks for every foreign recruit,” Today’s Zaman, Aug. 04, 2010, online (http://
9 Turgut, Pelin. “Youth: The kids aren’t all right,” The Financial Times, June 28, 2010, online (http://,dwp_uuid=baf4928e-7fec-11df-91b4-
10 The actual results were 57.88 percent in favor to 42.12 percent against, with 73.71 percent of
registered voters participating.
11 Aliriza, Bulent & Koenhemsi, D. “Erdogan’s Referendum Victory and Turkish Politics”. CSIS Turkey
Update. October 15, 2010.
12 Barkey, Henri J., “Turkey’s New Global Role,” Interview, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
November 17, 2010. ( publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=
13 Turan, Mustafa. “Thousands Voice Support for Reform in Major Rally”. Today’s Zaman. August 30,
14 Taspinar, Omer. “Judicial Independence and Democracy in Turkey”. Brookings Institution. July 12,
15 The Economist. “Coups Away”. The Economist. February 11, 2010.
16; “Next
hearing in Turkey’s Ergenekon case to be held in 2011,” Hurriyet, Nov. 12, 2010 (http://www.
17 The new version of article 145’s first paragraph reads: “Military justice shall be exercised by military
courts and military disciplinary courts. These courts shall only have jurisdiction to try military
personnel for military offences related to military services and duties. Cases regarding crimes against
the security of the State, constitutional order and its functioning shall be heard before the civil courts
in any event;” Draft Constitutional Amendments Proposal, The Secretariat General for EU Affairs,
Translated by Secretariat General for European Union Affairs, effective 30 March 2010, Article 145,
page 17.
Turkey as a Regional Power
Turkey has raised its profile in multilateral diplomacy in recent years.
It increased its involvement in inter-governmental organizations, was
elected to a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and has
hosted several international conferences and summits. Turkey also holds
the post of Secretary General in the Organization of Islamic Conference
(OIC) and has become an observer to the Arab League.58
Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s policies have expanded Turkey’s relations
with the Middle East and attempted to position Turkey as a mediator
in the conflict-ridden region. Turkey initially succeeded in mediating
proximity talks between Israel and Syria in 2008, but contacts were broken
off with the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in December 2008. Under the
AKP, Turkey has also facilitated talks between Syria and Iraq, Syria and
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Croatia and
Bosnia, and Serbia and Bosnia.59 Having a closer relationship with Iran
than any of the P5+1 members, Turkish officials have repeatedly offered
their assistance in the Iranian nuclear crisis.60
The future will show whether regional ambitions in the Middle East can
complement Turkey’s traditional ties with the EU and U.S. or whether they
will entail a shift away from the West. Entertaining good relations with the
majority of regional actors, Turkey undoubtedly has great potential as a
mediator (though it tends to over-amplify its role).61 However, continuous
fierce rhetoric against Israel could jeopardize its role as an “honest
Moving forward, will Turkey continue on its path toward EU membership,
and how would domestic development be altered if it did not? Could the
Republic turn away from the West and replace its traditional relationships
with even closer ties with the Arab world and Iran? How would greater
cooperation with Russia and Central Asia alter Turkey’s dependence on
the EU? Could we imagine Turkey’s involvement in regional conflicts or
a fierce competition over regional dominance with Iran or Russia? How
would shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy orientation affect its internal sociopolitical
divisions and economy?
CGA Scenarios
62 CGA Scenarios CGA Scenarios 63
43 Zaman, Amberin. “Turkey’s Kurdish Opening: Shifting Into Reverse Gear?” German Marshall Fund of
the United States. 19 February 2010.
44 Park, Bill. “Iraq’s Kurds and Turkey: Challenges for US Policy.” Parameters 34.3 (Autumn 2004): 18-
45 Uslu, Emrullah. “PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan Challenges Omission from Peace Initiative from His
Prison Cell.” Terrorism Monitor 7.37 (3 December 2009).
46 Gordon, Philip, H. and Omer Taspinar. Winning Turkey. Washington, DC: Brookings Institutions
Press, 2008.
47 “The Ins and Outs: The EU’s Most Effective Instrument has been Enlargement. But How Far Can it
Go?” The Economist 17 March 2007.
48 Larrabee, F. Stephen. Troubled Partnership. U.S.-Turkish Relations in an Era of Global Geopolitical
Change. Rand Project Airforce, 2010: 82-3.
49 Cook, Steven A. “Congress, Genocide, and a Turkish Rift.” Council on Foreign Relations. 5 March
50 Turkey’s Evolving Dynamics. Strategic Choices for U.S.-Turkey Relations. Center for Strategic and
International Studies, March 2008. 64
51 “Turkey, Russia Target $100 bln-Trade Volume in Five Years.” World Bulletin. 14 January 2010.
52 Larrabee , Stephen F.: 48-9.
53 “Russia to build Turkey’s first nuclear plant.” BBC 12 May 2010.
54 Lesser, Ian. “After Georgia: Turkey’s Looming Foreign Policy Dilemmas.” German Marshall Fund of
the United States. 26 August 2008.
55 Larrabee, Stephen F.: 50.
56 Larrabee, Stephen F. “Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East.” Foreign Affairs 86.4 (2007):103-114.
57 Athanasiadis, Iason. “Erdogan hits West over Iran nuke pressure.” The Washington Times 27 October
2009. and “Iran, Turkey Plan to Triple Trade Volume to $30bn.” Press TV 23 March 2010.
58 Turkey and the Middle East: Ambitions and Constraints. International Crisis Group, 7 April 2010:
59 Ibid. 14.
60 Bonap, Rahman G. “Turkey’s Emerging Role as a Mediator on Iran’s Nuclear Activities.“ Insight
Turkey 11.3. (2009): 161-175.
61 Kirisci, Kemal, Nathalie Tocci, and Joshua Walker. “A Neighborhood Rediscovered: Turkey’s
Transatlantic Value in the Middle East.” Transatlantic Academy. March 2010.
18 Cf. proposed changes in article 145, as well as 125, among other articles; Draft Constitutional
Amendments Proposal, The Secretariat General for EU Affairs, Translated by Secretariat General for
European Union Affairs, effective 30 March 2010.
19 The Economist. “In It For the Long Haul”. The Economist. October 21, 2010. http://www.economist.
20 As explained by Henri Barkey:
21 Playing the “Islamic card” imagines populist and media intensive statements and appearances of
Prime Minister Erdogan, as seen, for example, at Davos in 2009 or, in the context of the conflict in
Darfur, when he claimed that Muslims would not commit Genocide; cf. Freedman, Seth, “Erdogan’s
blind faith in Muslims: The Turkish leader’s support of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir while condemning
Gaza ‘war crimes’ play to fears on the Israeli right,” Guardian, Nov. 11, (http://www. /2009/nov/11/erdogan-muslims-turkish-sudan-gaza/print).
22 Turkey Country Report. Economist Intelligence Unit. January 2011.
23 Barkey, Henri J., “Turkey’s New Global Role,” Interview, Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, November 17, 2010, online ( publications/index.
cfm?fa=view&id= 41952).
24 Cf. Tavernise, Sabrina, “Turkish Group Wields Wit as Tool for Political Change,” The New York Times,
July 22, 2007, online (
25 See, for example, Turkey 2010 Progress Report, published by the European Commission, Brussels,
November 9, 2010.
26 Chase, Robert S., Emily B. Hill, and Paul Kennedy. “Pivotal States and the U.S. Strategy.” Foreign
Affairs 75.1 (Jan/Feb 1996): 33-51.
27 Boyer, Spencer P. and Brian Katulis. “Why Turkey Made the Right Decision,” Center for American
Progress. 1 August 2008.
28 “Turkey Crisis Over, For Now: Interview with Steven A. Cook.” Council on Foreign Relations, 30 July,
29 “Interview with Former EU-Enlargement Commissioner Günther Verheugen.”, 16 April
30 Rasaba, Angala and F. Stephen Larrabee. The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey. RAND National Defense
Research Institute, 2008.
31 Cook, Steven A. Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Developments in Egypt, Algeria
and Turkey. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 128.
32 Cook, Steven A. “The Weakening of Turkey’s Military.” Council on Foreign Relations. 1 March 2010.
33 Cagaptay, Soner. “Who Lost Ergenekon: The View from Washington.” Hurriyet Daily News 7 March
34 Cagaptay, Soner. “Turkey’s Republic of Fear: The Islamist Government Continues its Assault on the
Military and the Press.” The Wall Street Journal 4 March 2010.
35 Abramowitz, Morton and Henri J. Barkey. “Turkey’s Transformers: The AKP Sees Big.” Foreign Affairs
88.6 (Nov/Dec2009):118-128.
36 Atiyas, Izak. “Recent privatization experience of Turkey—A Reappraisal.” Turkey and the Global
Economy: Neo-Liberal Restructuring and Integration in the Post-Crisis Era. Ed. Ziya Onis and Fikret
Senses. New York: Routledge, 101.
37 Ibid. 16.
38 Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators (2007 statistics).
39 Doing Business 2010: Reforming through Difficult Times. IFC, The World Bank, and Palgrave
MacMillan, 2009.
40 Zaman, Amberin. “Turkey’s Kurds: Toward a Solution?” German Marshall Fund of the United States.
4 June 2009. and Zaman, Amberin. “Turkey’s Kurdish Gambit: The Road to Peace.” German Marshall
Fund of the United States. 13 Nov 2009.
41 Zaman, Amberin. June 2009.
42 Turkey 2009 Progress Report. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. 14 October
2009. 16.
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