With the main opposition party gaping, Erdoğan launches ‘cultural revolution’

”The constitutional referendum and the authorities’ handling of the campaign that preceded it have reinforced concerns that Turkey is descending ever deeper not only into authoritarianism but into lawlessness.

Indeed, the refusal to provide the referendum result with a patina of legality – such as by promising to investigate the alleged irregularities and then declaring that no evidence of wrongdoing had been uncovered – suggests that the regime no longer feels the need to maintain even the semblance of the rule of law.

For Erdoğan’s diehard followers, his victory on April 16 was proof of his strength and resilience in the face of what they imagine are the foreign conspiracies that are constantly seeking to undermine him.

In reality, it was another sign of his growing weakness, proof that – amid his continuing attempts to suppress any expression of dissent – he can no longer remain in power by democratic means.”

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This is how Gareth Jenkins – a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies – in his latest blog, summarizes the post-referendum mood in Turkey.

Recently, at a meeting with the AKP board members, Erdoğan had revealed in a nearly perfect summary how he has seen the past four years of Turkey:

”We are talking about a process which began in May 2013 with Gez events, continued with the ‘coup attempt’ in December 17-25 (the same year) against the police and judiciary, which was followed up by local and presidential elections in 2014, and with the parliamentary elections in 2015, gaining later a bloody dimension by the PKK’s ‘street trenches’ and attacks by DAESH, reaching a peak, as it were, by FETO’s coup attempt in July 15; and having a ‘finale’, for the time being, in the referendum in April 16.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, protests of the opposition after the allegedly rigged referendum died down quickly. Only a few pockets of people took to the streets, and they had not much sympathy from the main opposition party, CHP, for their spontaneous actions. When also Europe failed to make enough noise about the result, despite the report of the international observers, their joy faded quickly.

The overall mood in Turkey is a deep sense of despair; helplessness.

‘No’ camp was never united within, and each segment delivering its own ‘no’ – be them secular Kemalists, Kurds, some disconented Turkish nationalists or leftists – it dispersed as quickly as it had assembled. What’s left is only a weak debate – limited to some circles in Istanbul and Ankara – about how to make the ‘no’ camp stronger in the nest elections – in 2019.

At the moment, it lacks subtance; nobody, it seems, have any idea how the CHP and its seculars can get together at the same table with the Kurdish Politiical Movement, and with anti-Erdoğan Turkish nationalist groups, for example.

Erdoğan, the grandmaster of Machiavellian politics, knows this: It’s an unchanged picture of the opposition, which he sees as very encouraging for the next steps – leaps, indeed – he intends to take as the finalization of the autocratic architecture by the end of 2019.

He has most recently made it clear that the road map will have two parallel paths:

  • Further consolidation of AKP-MHP ‘Islamo-Nationalist Coalition’ in Government, Parliament and Judiciary
  • AKP-branded ‘culture revolution’: Massive campaign to Turkify and Islamify the society and its lifestyle

In an apperance at the conservative foundation Ensar – which was earlier accused of child abuse – Erdoğan said the following:

”It is one thing to have the political power, and another thing to have social and cultural power. We are in political power for 14 years, but still have some issues with social and cultural power. I very well know that in many areas ranging from technology to law, from media to cinema, there are individuals and groups and teams and flanks in influential positions whose mentality are alien to their country and people. I am deeply saddened by this.”


This is a declaration of a ‘cultural revolution’, by a leader who no longer sees large obstacles for a social engineering he for so long yearned for.

Interestingly, Erdoğan conceptulaizes his vision, putting it into a context.

‘Vision of 2053’ he calls it.

It is symbolized by a ancient Turkish myth: ‘Crimson Apple’.

In a meeting with some youth representatives in his palace he said a week ago:

”We are building Turkey of 2013 for you and with you. And Turkey of 2053, which is our next ‘Crimson Apple’ is entrusted to you in full.”

Crimson Apple is a term associated with the ancient Turkish tribe, Oguz, believed to be the founding group of the Ottoman Empire, which symbolizes a dream of a state, or endless series of conquests. It is an age old ideal of global expansion, glorified by the ultra-nationalist republican Turks as well as those who look at Ottoman era with nostalgia.

In many interpretations, Crimson Apple, came after the conquest of Istanbul to symbolize all the European cities within reach, to be sieged and conquested. In this context, ‘Vision of 2053’ corresponds to the 600th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman troops.

The picture taken at the construction site of the new airport of Istanbul, with 1453 trucks last week must therefore be taken as a clear message as where Erdoğan, not only politically but also culturally – with the help of education and usage of religion – wants to take Turkey.

This, it seems, he will be able to do without much resistance.

With such a weak, divided and confused opposition, his ride remains an easy one.




About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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