The Structural Causes of Political Crisis in Turkey

By Can, Osman | Insight Turkey, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Structural Causes of Political Crisis in Turkey


Can, Osman, Insight Turkey


A contemporary observer of the French Revolution in 1789, Selim III, attempted to modernize the Ottoman army and administration by initiating the Nizam-i Cedid (the New Order) program in the early nineteenth century. He could not have realized that he was creating a motivation for those who wanted to capture state power. Nor could he have imagined that this would determine the dynamics of Turkey's politics for more than two centuries.

Curiously, Selim III did not choose to examine and follow the British model for his "renewal" project. Great Britain had already created participatory economic and political institutions and subsequently started the Industrial Revolution. Instead, he received political, strategic and technical support from France (homeland of Jacobinism, nationalism and rigid centralization) and Prussia (homeland of bureaucratic tutelage). It is likely that he did not know that this was probably the worst combination for the multi-national Ottoman realm, in a way "lighting a match near gunpowder." These two models led to the creation of a rigidly centralized and ideological political structure under the tutelage of the bureaucracy. Struggle for power created a vital incentive to "control" politics and create a new individual and society by capturing the seat of power. The December 17th crisis and similar struggles for power should be considered within this framework.

The tense political atmosphere Turkey has been experiencing since December 17, 2013 has been ongoing with irrational political discourse. The December 17th process was started by a political move by the Gulen movement, which, until recently, had been seen as a religious organization. As the government and the parliament--institutions of democratic representation--countered this move through the use of their constitutional powers, the debate has turned into a totalistic and ontological struggle.

In this process, many have tried to take a political position by debating who is right and who is wrong. However, very few people argue that the problems are actually not independent of the constitutional system of the Turkish Republic, but rather unavoidable consequences of the existing system. If we consider the political steps and strategies pursued by the Gulen movement, we see that we are faced with the most familiar game in Turkish political history, namely the shaping of politics through the use of state institutions. Then, we need to ask this question: why would a religious movement feel the need for such a political strategy? How does a religious movement get transformed into a political opposition attempting to control politics and be in power? In order to understand this, we need to look at the state structure along with its judicial system.

A book published in Germany, entitled Judiciary and National Socialism, opens with the sentence, "Kaiser is gone, his judges remain" When Germany transitioned to democracy in 1918, the state system and its judiciary inherited from Prussia remained untouched. Only a parliament that had legislative power was added to the system. During the 1920-33 period, the Prussian political institutions tried to squeeze the parliament by using the judiciary. In fact, when the Nazis took power in 1933, they did not feel the need to touch the judicial system. The only missing item to be accomplished in the system was to centralize the state. They completed that item through "Gleichschaltung der Lander." States were synchronized with the imperial center and turned into cities. All of the political, administrative, judicial and economic decisions of the state were tied to the central authority. Through the establishment of new centralized institutions, individuals and society were redesigned according to the Nazi ideology.

The Turkish experience is not very different. As the December 17th move was started through the judiciary like similar attempts in the past, we need to discuss the general constitutional structure of Turkey and the judicial system. …

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