Turkey is experiencing great changes these days, and, what kind of changes it is, is a crucial question whose answer has affected, and will affect, the reaction of different political actors of the world. We can pose the question more frankly: Is Justice and Development Party (AKP) is an Islamist movement which aims at destroying the secular system of the country? Or not, AKP’s reform program is a part of Turkey’s long-yearned desire to become an EU member?

There is a theory about this change rooted in some U.S.-based think tanks like CFR and I want to dub it “AK; a Kemalist party”. A recent article published in Foreign Affairs (Kemalism Is Dead, Long Live Kemalism) has this theory in its heart: “The AKP has tried to institutionalize civil liberties, improve minority rights by ending martial law in Kurdish regions, promote civilian control of the military, and further develop the free market. The emerging industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie, most of which is linked to the AKP, in effect accomplishes Ataturk’s grand historical vision. It yearns to be a part of the modern world and -- if allowed -- would want to become a member of the European Union.”


Kayhan International May,13,2010

By: Seyed Yasser Jebraily

The proponents of this theory go further to suggest that “rather than being apprehensive about the AKP and its political, economic, and foreign policies, the West should welcome it.”

There is an interesting presupposition behind this theory which clearly shows us that “the West” not only fears AKP, but also is inclined to see its policies and reform movement in the framework of Westernization process. Here I want to elaborate on this presupposition to show how much the theory is valid.

There is a consensus among political analysts that after AKP came into power in 2002, a series of political and social changes started in Turkey, but we have no evidence to claim that the Westernization process came with AKP’s victory.

Turkey was one of the first countries to become a member of the Council of Europe in 1949, and was also a founding member of the organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1961 and the organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1973. Although the country didn’t join European Coal and Steel Community and didn’t sign Maastricht treaty, it has been an active member of some other entereurope and euro Atlantic treaties and organizations.

Today, turkey wants to become an EU member, but its problem has nothing to do with “civil liberties”, “minority rights” and alike. Ankara’s problem is a political one. For a country to become an EU member the positive vote of all member states is needed and when French president, Nicolas Sarkozy wants to reject Turkey’s membership in the union, he never talks about Turkey’s progress in aligning with EU standards: “enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union, and that I do not accept...I want to say that Europe must give itself borders, that not all countries have a vocation to become members of Europe, beginning with Turkey which has no place inside the European Union”.

So the Turkey’s “EU accession problem” is a one that should be solved behind negotiation tables; so Westernization is not going to satisfy Sarkozy. Here we can easily conclude that the “change process” started in turkey has less –if anything- to do with EU accession process. These changes, regardless of being resulted in EU accession or not, is aimed at satisfying the country’s 98 percent Muslim community.

One of the EU standards is having a secular system and Secularism requires that a political party not be a religious one and not have religious bias in its domestic and foreign policies. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP are Westernizing Turkey, so how his stances like naming “Israel the biggest threat to peace in ME” and crossing the West’s redlines can be justified in terms of secularism? If Turkey is being Westernized these days, why the military treaties between Israel and Turkey are being cancelled and Ankara holds military game with “Syria”? Why the Iranian-Turkish two-way trade has increased from $1 billion in 2001 to $10 billion in 2008?

These are religious bias in foreign policy and this cannot be denied. Besides, one cannot forget that Turkish people have voted for a “Muslim party” – although the party officially cannot be recognized as a Muslim one.

The recent attempts by AKP to review Turkish constitution is aimed at giving some religious freedom to its people and some other changes like decreasing the power of secular institutions, or giving the religious political parties the “right of existence”. Now, if CFR analysts want to name these changes “Westernization” or “a part of EU accession process”, it doesn’t seem that AKP have any problem with this analysis.