Feb 4, 2015
Rainer Hermann, the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, begins his talk with a contextualization of what Turkey is now and how it came to be that way. At the fall of ‘old Turkey’ there was a void, with several different types of political groups vying for power. In the end however only republicanism was left unchallenged and what then began was the “golden age of the AK Party”. Hermann discussed the new government’s mission “to bring a homogenous Islam in order to shape a homogenous Turkish nation” (Hermann; 6:10).
The AKP used “pillars” of power to implement its republican ideology: military, judiciary, and bureaucracy. When AKP took control in 2003 after years of economic stagnation, the AKP was a huge success. And, during the “first decade of the AK Party rule, per capita income was tripled” (Hermann 8:02). On the political front, the AKP created a new civil society, brought Turkey closer to the EU, and made large investments in education and health system programs. Based off of these huge gains in growth, the first years of the party were a success; allowing a new middle class to emerge that was “hungry for both education and economic success”.
Overtime, however, maintaining such a high growth rate proved difficult and beginning around 2007 the rate of growth began to decrease. Around this time Erdogan and his party began to experience more opposition; two examples being the military attempt at creating the electronic memorandum and the near constitutional ruling to forbid the ruling AKP. “From then on the leadership of the AKparty went really hard on their internal adversaries” (Hermann; 11:00). This escalated as the leadership, namely Erdogan, sidelined the military and replaced judiciary judges and bureaucrats with his own men. It is at this point where the authoritarian tendencies we now see in Turkey began to flourish. This behavior from Erdogan continues with the protests in the summer of 2013, and further results in a series of hate speeches and witch-hunts. From this escalation we can discern that: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Hermann; 12:30). From Hermann’s impression and past experience with Erdogan, he tells us that the leader was once rather modest and took advice.
Now, however it is clear that Erdogan has become much more bold. As Hermann puts it, Turkey is “now back to square one” (Hermann 13:03). Erdogan has moved Turkey farther away from the European path and is beginning to look more similar to the authoritarian economic rising powers in Asia; perhaps this shift is an attempt to break Turkey out of the “middle-income trap”. Even so, Hermann does not see a likelihood for potential economic changes in Turkey now. However, Hermann does see a potential for change with Erdogan’s character as a leader. Throughout his political history, Erdogan has already had four major changes and therefore “there might be a Erdogan #5, because [he] doesn’t have an ideology. He is a shrewd politician” (Hermann; 16:01). What we are seeing now in Turkey is a one-man show. As Hermann comments, “I think Turkey is off the balance, because everyone is forced to go the way of Erdogan” for lack of another option.
During the Q&A portion of the talk, Hermann touched on the polarization of Turkey, the source of Erdogan’s unopposed power, and the direction Turkey is currently heading in. In response to a question about support for Erdogan in Turkey, Hermann replied, “Turkey is highly polarized with 50% of the population behind Erdogan and 50% against”. It now seems unclear as to whether the future of Turkey will follow along Erdogan’s current path, whether Erdogan will have another ideology change, or if a new coalition of opposition groups will find enough power to lead the government.
Rainer Hermann has been working as a journalist in Turkey and the Middle East for more than twenty years. As correspondent of the national German daily “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” he has been living in Istanbul from 1991 until 2008, then he moved to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Since 2012 he is an op-ed editor at the daily’s headquarter in Frankfurt, Germany. Rainer Hermannhas studied economics and Middle Eastern studies in Freiburg (Germany), Rennes (France), Basel (Switzerland), and Damascus (Syria). He has an M.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies. In Germany he has published most recently “The Gulf States” (2011), in March his new German book “Final Destination Islamic State? State Failure and Religious War” will be on sale.