June 20, 2019

Turkey and the Ottoman dream

By Corneliu Pivariu.

President Tayyip Recep Erdogan declared once: “Democracy is like a taxi. One gets off of it once the destination is reached.” It seems that after becoming the AKP leader, president Erdogan got off, he and the party, of the taxi before reaching the destination.

Nevertheless, no one can say that president Erdogan’s achievements are not remarkable since he won the elections in November 2002, although he had to wait until March 2003 to assume the position of prime minister.

Contrary to other parties that wanted to represent political Islam in Turkey, AKP showed interest in the evolution towards democratic values and human rights, backed the status of NATO member and joining the European Union, and all that allowed him to attract an increased number of votes and, although he got only a third of the votes, it was enough to secure two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. That was due also to increasing the electoral threshold to 10% (for preventing the Kurdish formations to join the parliament), a threshold other numerous parties were not to reach either.

In his 15 years in power, Erdogan and AKP succeeded in making substantial changes in Turkey. Firstly it is about the standard of living, from a society made up in its majority of poor people to a society with a strong middle class. It is likely that Erdogan’s most important political achievement domestically was the gradual removal of the influence the military have had in politics.

As of 2013, important changes in domestic policy started to take place and Erdogan’s leadership became more and more authoritarian with totalitarian elements; as Atatürk before him, Erdogan wishes to change the society yet in a different direction. He intends that women return to the traditional role and he told them even how many children they must have. Also, the religious schools outgrew the secular and universal school system devised by Atatürk. The number of the religious students increased from 60,000 in 2002 to around 1.5 million in 2016.

The so-called coup attempt of July, 2016 allowed president Erdogan to proceed with an extended purge of the army, the judiciary, public administration that went on until the end of 2017, when several hundreds of civil servants and military were discharged from office for strengthening the control of the presidency over important sectors. It remains to be seen how quickly valuable replacements for those arrested or discharged can be found, especially in the military field as there is no solution yet guaranteeing the same efficiency of the army corps. It is the reason we witness undertakings for increasing the role of gendarmerie outside the country, especially in coordination with othe Euro-Asian police forces.

Turkish Gendarmerie had around 180,000 military at the end of November 2017 (60% of them professionals, officers included, and 40% conscripts). The Gendarmerie General Command has a close co-operation with similar bodies in Italy and France, training programs and joint equiping with Macedonia, Gambia and Somalia. Turkey is an active member of the Association of the European and Mediterranean Police Force and Gendarmeries with Military Status (FIEP), observer in the framework of the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF). In 2018 it is intended to reactivate the Organization of Law Enforcement Agencies with Military Status – TAKM (according to the names of the founding states – Turkey, Azerbaidjan, Kyrkystan and Mongolia) established in 2013 in Baku.

By the end of 2017, president Erdogan paid a visit to Africa and, in the Sudan he agreed with the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir the lease of the Suakin island for building there a military base which will be added to those in Somalia (opened in September 2017) and Doha (100 military now, and the forces will increase to 3,000 in the end). Since 2005, the number of Turkish embassies in Africa increased from 12 to 38 now.

On December 24th, 2017, president Erdogan signed a decree stipulating the whole process of army’s endowment is taken over by his direct authority.

Will the developments in the economic field contribute to the achievement of the Ottoman dream? They do not exclusively depend on president Erdogan.


About the author:

Corneliu Pivariu, former first deputy for military intelligence (two stars general) in the Romanian MoD, retired 2003. Member of IISS – London, alumni of Harvard – Kennedy School Executive Education and others international organizations. Founder of INGEPO Consulting, and bimonthly Bulletin, Geostrategic Pulse”. Main areas of expertise – geopolitics, intelligence and security.


Photographer Ionus Paraschiv


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