Nationalism may bring Turkey back to its course
Nationalism, once again, will play the most crucial role in Turkish politics regarding the forthcoming presidential elections. While Erdogan and Russia seem to be investing in it, NATO's stance is on the contrary, which may result in losing Turkey forever.
The word "nationalism" has a negative whiff in the Western World due to historic reasons. Moreover, the phenomena such as Brexit and the rise of xenophobia, strengthening the anti-globalist, anti-immigrant and anti-union sentiment in the EU are usually associated with a new kind of nationalism that has a curious "international" foundation, evidently led by, or at least funded by to undermine the unity in transnational bodies such as NATO and EU; Russia. Under these circumstances it might not be wise to advocate nationalism before a western audience, yet each nation's story is different. As Gellner states, some kinds of nationalism may be utilized to modernize a country and establish a secular, democratic society - the most prominent example being Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey.
Turkey's nationalistic vision in the early 1900s made it become the only –relatively- secular, stable, and constitutional republic that experienced regular elections while also striving to be part of the "western civilization" in the Muslim world. Nationalists established the republic, started the great endeavor to homogenize the country in terms of education and access to social services, and introduced the universal suffrage even before many European countries.
As Turkey has transitioned from its century-old goal to "be a part of western civilization" to its current anti-NATO sentiment, NATO should reconsider its attitude toward Turkey and Turkish nationalism. The coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which was orchestrated by Fethullah Gülen, a former priest living in USA voluntarily, and his followers known as "Gülen Movement," marked a milestone in the recent history of Turkey. Although Turkish claims are questioned by the West, there is a consensus that Gülen's followers were involved in the coup attempt. Following the coup attempt and the state of emergency that was instated directly after, government institutions were purged of members of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), a process which is still ongoing. However, there are serious claims by leading opposition party, CHP (Republican People's Party), that Erdogan has taken advantage of the situation and purged his opponents, branding them as supporters of FETÖ.
Besides its tremendous impact on domestic politics and policies, the coup attempt undoubtedly affected Turkey's foreign policy which had already been on the verge of a change. Although NATO officials and representatives of the member countries eventually condemned the attempt, the public opinion and the government's stance in Turkey demand more from the alliance to prove NATO's support for Turkey in its war against terrorism. Moreover, NATO's and US-led Coalition's warm relations with PYD in Syria, which Turkey sees as an offset of PKK (the Kurdistan Worker's Party, a group designated as terrorist by Turkey, NATO, the EU, and the USA, which has active armed militants within Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran and is involved in drug trafficking throughout the world), aggravate the situation.
In this regard, Turkey's reconciliation with Russian Federation was interpreted as a shift of Turkish foreign policy to grant Turkey a wider maneuverability and a signal to NATO that Turkey is not dependent on the organization. Because Fethullah Gülen lives in the USA, Turkey sees this as a violation of alliance and international war against terrorism. However, recent statements by President Erdogan indicate that Turkey still sees itself as part of NATO and is ready to collaborate with its allies to find solutions to regional problems.
On the other hand, President Erdogan's policies and the paradigm shift in Turkey meet a serious resistance. Among the opinion-leaders who personify this opposition, Meral Akşener, former MP who has held various posts for Nationalist Movement Party, shines as a serious contender allegedly seen as the most serious threat by Erdogan. Similar to the rest of the world, nationalism is on the rise in Turkey, and Erdogan, contrary to his former Islamist, anti-nationalist views, utilizes a nationalist rhetoric. Yet, Mrs. Akşener's and her followers' opposition restricts the efficiency of his rhetoric; while Erdogan uses nationalistic tendencies to justify his actions that cause condemnation and discontent amongst international community in the eyes of his voters, and tell voters that he is the sole hope of nation against an international conspiracy, the nationalism represented by Mrs. Akşener advocates human rights, democracy, rule of the law, integration and harmony with the international community. Two kinds of "nationalisms" clash in Turkey, and the winner will influence the outcome of the recent change in the constitution, once again.
However, NATO countries seem to be strengthening Erdogan's rhetoric by their actions; the support for the terrorist groups affiliated with PKK in Syria gives Erdogan a strong point to convince the voters. While Russia tries to seize the chance to increase its influence and soft power in Turkey by infiltrating this rise in the nationalism by establishing a small, but influential cadre called "Eurasianists," members of NATO just push the public opinion further away from the West, strengthening Erdogan and allowing him to consolidate his power within the country. In 2019, Turkey will have a Presidential election under new constitution, which gives far-reaching authority to the President and makes it practically impossible to make him accountable for his actions. As it requires 50% +1 vote to be the President now, nationalism will play the key role to convince voters beyond one's traditional supporters. If Erdogan's nationalism prevails, it will drastically change the route of Turkey and is sure to affect Turkish foreign relations long after Erdogan, but if Ms.Akşener's vision of nationalism wins, it may bring Turkey back to the course envisioned by Atatürk.
Turkey's future will surely be forged by a nationalistic hammer once again. Whether it will be Erdogan's, Eurasianists, or those led by Akşener, it is not decided yet. The global player who invests the most in the nationalism in Turkey will surely be the most beneficial.
M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan is a Turkish journalist, Director for Turkey for Crimean News Agency. Besides serving as YATA Turkey President, he is a communications expert with academic interest in propaganda, has published two books and the third one, "American Civil War: The birth of modern warfare" will soon be published in the autumn, 2017.