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Kaya Uğur, Dynamiques contemporaines en Turquie. Ruptures, continuités (EuroOrient, n° hors-série), l’Harmattan, 2010, 240 p.

Gavin Brockett

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1This volume comprises twelve papers presented by French and Turkish scholars at a 2010 conference in Paris organised by l’Observatoire de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur la Turquie Contemporaine and le Centre d’études et relations internationales. The conference focussed on the economic, social and political realities facing Turkey in the context of the multi-polar globalisation that followed the end of the Cold War.

2Papers at the conference were organised around two axes. The first concerned the diversity of actors in Turkey’s internal affairs and the changing nature of public debate as a result of this diversity. In particular scholars were interested to explore the extent to which Turkey’s move towards a closer relationship with the European Union was contributing to this diversity and dialogue. The second axis concerned Turkey’s foreign affairs, especially the ruling Justice and Development Party’s approach to the Middle East.

3In addressing specific topics, the papers incorporate a variety of themes. These include the ongoing debate between secularism and Islam in Turkey, the role and rights of minorities, and the nature of the political process. Interestingly, none of the papers specifically deals with women as actors in Turkish society, although Demet Lüküslü does present a very interesting paper concerning Turkish youth. In this she explores the question of why, recently, young people have avoided active engagement in Turkish politics. Her conclusion is that their reticence perhaps reflects not an indifference but rather a concern to avoid the extremes and polarization that were such a common feature of Turkish politics in the 1970s. It may also reflect a protest against the processes by which political parties operate in Turkey, for as H. Mine Alparslan suggests, the elite of Turkey’s parties exert considerable control over who represents them in elections, thereby undercutting the democratic nature of Turkey’s party politics.

4Turkey’s minorities have increasingly become the focus of discussion in the last decade, and to some degree this is the result of Turkey’s accession to candidate status forin the European Union in 1999. In his paper, Alper Kaliber examines just how much influence “Europe” has over changes taking place in Turkish society. He notes the varying attitudes of Turkish civil society organizations towards Europe. Some Kurdish groups are very critical of the European Union for failing to encourage enough change in Turkey’s policies towards minorities, while others see reason to be optimistic. Clearly the outcome of the process is far from clear, and as Fazilet Özmen demonstrates, even though the Justice and Development Party initiated a “democratic opening” in 2008 to help incorporate Alevis into society, disagreements within the Alevi community (and Kurdish community for that matter) have contributed significantly to its failure to achieve the hoped-for results.

5Kaliber’s paper is one of four that examines the impact of Turkey’s relationship with the European Union on its politics. As these authors demonstrate, different sectors of Turkish society approach Europe in varying ways that have changed over time. Dilek Yankaya emphasizes the complexities of “westernization” in her examination of the Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (MUSIAD): she explains how this organization changed its attitude and adopted a pro-European perspective after 2000, even though it maintains a critical stance towards European Union expectations of Turkey as well as the treatment of Muslim minorities in Europe. Ayşe Çelenk provides a very different perspective in her examination of how “Europeanization” has impacted local political processes in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri. She documents the many changes that have occurred as a result of increased availability of financial resources from the EU, and stresses that in many ways this has provided local actors with much more legitimacy and independence in relation to Ankara. However when viewed in terms of center-periphery relations, she notes that Ankara nonetheless has managed to find ways to retain both influence and power over a peripheral city such as Kayseri.

6Perhaps the greatest impact of Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union has been a decrease of the army’s influence over the country’s politics. In his paper, Handan Eskiizmirliler shows very effectively the complex and shifting relationship between the military and Europe – in so doing he exposes the fallacy behind the common image that the military is inevitably “pro-Western.” Rather it has had to respond to changing geopolitical realities while putting first its commitment to protecting Turkey. Even as the European Union has required that the military play less of a role in Turkish politics, members of the military have expressed suspicion that Europeans are intent on undercutting the country’s unity by requiring reforms of Turkey. Ultimately, as Kaliber suggests, a distinction must be made between “Europeanization” and “European Unionization.” The former has been at the center of Turkish cultural and political debates since the country’s establishment in 1923, while the latter has come to the fore since 1999. And Turks are by no means in agreement as to whether they should agree to changes that align their country’s laws with those of the European, or whether they should go further and define their country according to European social and cultural norms.

7These, of course, are debates very much at the center of Turkey’s politics today – all the more so since the emergence in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as the dominant political force. Etienne Copeaux’s essay on the Refah-Doğru Yol coalition government in 1996-97 sets the scene for Gérard Groc’s analysis of the AKP: together they address the perpetual debate about Islam in Turkish politics. Importantly, both emphasize that political parties such as the AKP and Refah that are associated with “Islamism” function in the complex social realities that define Turkish politics. In other words, for all that they may be inspired by religious ideals, these parties remain political just as in any other democratic system. This means that not only must they be pragmatic in order to survive, but they are no more likely than any other government to be able to solve the difficult challenges facing Turkish society.

8The same applies with regards to Turkey’s foreign relations, as the final three essays make clear. The AKP is often cast as “neo-Ottomanist” as though it were intent upon reviving an old geopolitical order. However, Emet Dal argues that in fact the AKP’s interest in redefining Turkey’s relationship with other Middle Eastern countries simply follows on from the policies of former president Turgut Özal with regards the Black Sea region. In each case governments determined to pursue an active foreign policy that placed less emphasis on Europe; and while there may be notable differences from Kemalist foreign policy under Atatürk this does not signal a drastic departure or rupture. In the case of northern Iraq today, Merve Özdemirkıran demonstrates very nicely how matters of foreign policy – specifically Turkey’s concern about foreign support for Kurdish separatists and terrorists in Turkey – must be understood in conjunction with economic realities. Thus, Turkish businessmen have been the primary force in the reconstruction of the autonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. The Turkish government has encouraged and facilitated this: they not only see it as integral to Turkey’s efforts at regional integration, but also as a means by which to find a solution to the long-standing Kurdish problem.

9All of the essays in this volume point to the fact that developments in Turkey cannot be understood in isolation from from the international contexts within which it must function. They also do a good job of recognizing that these developments are the product of historical processes of change – we cannot understand the present challenges and debates facing Turkey without reference to the past. Uğur Kaya has done a fine job organizing these thoughtful essays. In his own essay he captures these realities very nicely. He describes how Turkish foreign policy has changed over the decades, and he explores the various international factors that have influenced it. This enables him to argue that in fact Turkish foreign policy associated with the AKP was already well under way before 2002, the product of international realities beyond the control of any Turkish government. Most interestingly, he argues that Turkish foreign policy today is closer to the ideals articulated by the original Kemalist elite between the two world wars.

10It is all too easy to interpret Turkish politics today according to the rhetoric employed by politicians and media in public debate. As this valuable collection of essays demonstrates, it is essential that we understand current developments in light of republican Turkish history, and that we look at the actual evidence before reaching conclusions. It is a reminder to both political scientists and historians that they must continue to work together in interpreting and explaining a country that is of profound importance not only to the Middle East but Europe and the rest of the world.

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Référence électronique

Gavin Brockett, « Kaya Uğur, Dynamiques contemporaines en Turquie. Ruptures, continuités (EuroOrient, n° hors-série), l’Harmattan, 2010, 240 p. », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 132 | décembre 2012, mis en ligne le 02 mars 2012, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL : http://remmm.revues.org/7519

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Gavin Brockett

Chercheur Associé IREMAM, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University

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