TURKEY’S STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY
The interrupted move to the Center: Era of Adnan Menderes
With the Democrat Party’s rise to power in 1950, the periphery had the opportunity of occupying the center for the first time in the history of the Republic. However, in a short time this democratic opportunity was taken away from the periphery. The coup d-etat of 27 May 1960, that was staged with the support and call of judicial bureaucracy, mainstream media belonging to the center and politicians from the center, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), marked the end of the era of Democrat Party. Menderes, who was the chair of the party and prime minister of that period, and deputies Fatin Rustu Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan were sentenced to death by hanging. After this coup d-etat, it became apparent that the center did not regard using military coup d’etat against the “dangerous” consequences of democracy as harmful. Yet, none of the coup d’etat that took place in every decade prevented the members of the periphery from moving to the center.
The Era of Ecevit
Even though this move mainly took place through the political parties regarded by the center as rightist, the CHP, an organic part of the center, made this move possible at certain exceptions: Producing discourses in line with the thesis called “renunciation of inheritance” rejecting the ideology of the center theorized by Turan Gunes and written by Deniz Baykal, Bulent Ecevit gained victory in the elections in 1973 and 1977. Despite these accomplishments, the harshest opposition came from the founders of the CHP, who accused Ecevit of being a communist, and TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association) via countless newspaper advertisements.
The Era of Suleyman Demirel
Suleyman Demirel, who was elected as the prime minister after the 1960 coup d’etat and who presented himself as the inheritor of Democrat Party, was also confronted with resistance from the center. Demiral was despised as a shepherd, and after the military coup d’etat, he could only enter the center after he became a staunch defender of the values of the center. Demirel was one of the two active actors, accompanied by General Staff Cevik Bir, during the process of 28 February coup d’etat in 1997 that resulted in the overthrow of Necmettin Erbakan’s government which attempted to introduce an eastern centered economy (D8) to replace interest in the center.
Turgut Ozal came to power after the 12 September 1980 coup d’etat. As a consequence of his liberalizing policies that intended to integrate Turkey into the world economy, peripheral religious entrepreneurs started to gain power to compete with the secular Istanbul capital owners while the center had begun to be deprived of the opportunities that were provided by the state. The economic success of peripheral actors enabled more overtly religious people, who were exiled to the periphery, to appear in the metropolis dominated by the center in various fields ranging from culture to politics. The center started to produce cultural and racist discourses like “our way of life is under threat”, and tried to segregate and discipline the periphery. The religious masses, who were suppressed in Turkey before Ozal began the process of liberalization, succeeded in becoming organized in the civil and political society, and in the 1990s this helped them constitute the opposition against the established order.
When the current ruling AK Party came to power in 2002, the capital owners of the periphery (called “the Anatolian tigers”) were determined to realize a structural transformation against the tutelage of the center. Through this transformation, the peripheral actors aimed to fulfill a democratic reform to move the periphery to the center and maximize the economic interests of the periphery that constituted 85 percent of the Turkish population. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s firm stance on this transformation led Turkey to come to terms with the tutelage of the center in such a way that had never been done before. He has developed an official civil-democratic discourse that has destroyed almost all the taboos (representation of Kurds, headscarf, religious vocational schools, minority foundations, Alevis’ recognition by the state) of the center’s official ideology that had excluded the members of the periphery from the center. In 2014, the last taboo of the center was eradicated with Erdogan’s election as president by the people (periphery). This also changed the status of presidency that had long served to protect the tutelage of the center.