Turkey: "An End to an Era of Oppression": Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 8, 2015— For the first time since his Islamist party won its first election victory in 2002, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was nowhere to be seen on the night of June 7. He did not make a victory speech. He did not, in fact, make any speech.
Do the Turkish Elections Offer a Modicum of Hope in Preserving its Democracy?: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2015 — Regardless of the results of the parliamentary election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is probably going to push ahead in consolidating power for himself and his party and continue to Islamize the state.
How the Kurds Upended Turkish Politics: Kimberly Guiler, Washington Post, June 4, 2015 — Turkish voters delivered a crushing blow Sunday to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which lost its 12-year majority in parliament and saw its vote share drop from 50 percent in the 2011 general election to 41 percent.
Young Turkish Jews Trickling Away From Shrinking Community: Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel, June 6, 2015 — Five centuries after Sultan Bayezid II welcomed Sephardic Jewish refugees to Istanbul, Turkey’s Jewish community is slowly dwindling.
Turkey’s Unimportant Election: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, June 4, 2015
President Erdogan’s Growing Grip Faces Electoral Test in Turkey: Joanna Slater, Globe & Mail, June 5, 2015
Turkey's Flotilla: What Was It Really About?: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 4, 2015
Ahead of Polls, Erdogan Slams Foreign, ‘Jewish’-Backed Media: Times of Israel, June 6, 2015
Erdogan vs. the New York Times, and Democracy: IPT News, May 28, 2015
Gatestone Institute, June 8, 2015
For the first time since his Islamist party won its first election victory in 2002, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was nowhere to be seen on the night of June 7. He did not make a victory speech. He did not, in fact, make any speech.
Not only failing to win the two-thirds majority they desired to change the constitution, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority and the ability to form a single-party government. It won 40.8% of the national vote and 258 seats, 19 short of the simple majority requirement of 276. Erdogan is now the lonely sultan at his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in parliament than the AKP: 292 seats to 258.
"The debate over presidency, over dictatorship in Turkey is now over," said a cheerful Selahattin Demirtas after the preliminary poll results. Demirtas, a Kurdish politician whose Peoples' Democracy Party [HDP] entered parliament as a party for the first time, apparently with support from secular, leftist and marginal Turks, is the charismatic man who destroyed Erdogan's dreams of an elected sultanate. Echoing a similar view, the social democrat, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party [CHP], commented on the early results in plain language: "We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression."
What lies ahead is less clear. Theoretically, the AKP can sign a coalition deal with the third biggest party, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], although during the campaign, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli slammed Erdogan harshly for the embarrassing corruption allegations against the president. At the same time, a CHP-MHP-HDP coalition is unlikely, as it must bring together the otherwise arch-enemies MHP and HDP. The AKP management may be planning for snap, or early, polls but there are hardly any rational reasons for it except to risk another ballot box defeat. Parliament may try a minority government, supported by one of the parties from outside government benches, but this can only create a temporary government.
Two outcomes, however, look almost certain: 1) The AKP is in an undeniable decline; the voters have forced it into compromise politics rather than permitting it to run a one-man show, with in-house bickering even more likely than peace, and new conservative Muslims challenging the incumbent leadership. 2) Erdogan's ambitions for a too-powerful, too-authoritarian, Islamist executive presidency, "a la sultan," will have to go into the political wasteland at least in the years ahead.
The AKP appeared polled in first place on June 7. But that day may mark the beginning of the end for it. How ironic; the AKP came to power with 34.4% of the national vote in 2002, winning 66% of the seats in parliament. Nearly 13 years later, thanks to the undemocratic features of an electoral law it has fiercely defended, it won 40.8% of the vote and only 47% of the seats in parliament, blocking it from even forming a simple majority.
Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2015
Regardless of the results of the parliamentary election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is probably going to push ahead in consolidating power for himself and his party and continue to Islamize the state. The question is how fast he will be able to move. If the election results force his AK Party to form a coalition government, it could slow the pace a bit, but many of the state institutions have already been brought under his authority. The oft-repeated Erdogan quote bears repeating – “democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.”
Rachel Sharon-Krespin, director of the Turkish Media Project at MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening that the preliminary results so far, showing that Erdogan’s AKP might be forced to form a coalition government, could provide some hope for Turkish democracy. “It would be an irony if the Kurds would save Turkish democracy,” she said, referring to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which was projected at press time to make the 10 percent threshold and get into parliament.
Sharon-Krespin wrote in a recently released report published by MEMRI that these elections are crucial as they will determine if Erdogan can become an absolute ruler or whether “his era has come to an end.” However, she said that in Turkey it is “highly expected that these elections would be rigged,” adding that a Twitter account, known as a whistle- blower and established to reveal truthful leaks, said a team has been set up by the AKP to rig the elections and have a presence at every ballot box. Asked what would happen if the final results will suggest tampering and rule out other parties making it into parliament, Sharon-Krespin replied that there would “definitely be protests,” particularly in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country.
However, if the Kurdish party is able to make it in, it could be good for minority rights, and that means it would be positive for Turkish Jews. Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post, “Let’s be clear, Erdogan got off the train of democracy several years ago. “The AKP has always been over represented in parliament, sometimes getting twice as many seats as they would have if other parties passed the 10% threshold,” he said.
If the Kurdish HDP and the previous main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) pass the 10% threshold, then the AKP supermajority is over, added Rubin. “But Erdogan has tasted dictatorship and he likes it. He does not care much for elections unless people vote for him,” continued Rubin, adding that just as “we saw in local elections in places like Ankara, he won’t hesitate to fudge the numbers when the votes are counted off site to ensure the right results. “Most Turkish politicians tell me he gets at least a 5% bonus from fraud.” Not only can he manipulate the results, said Rubin, but “Turkey’s democracy may be too far gone” since “Erdogan has staffed the bureaucracy with his cronies so elections may not change much.” “Erdogan looks in the mirror and sees a sultan,” he asserted, going on to say that this may be the last chance for voters “to let him and the world know that the emperor has no clothes.”
Daniel Pipes, scholar and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told the Post that the significance of the elections are being overrated. “Now, it hardly matters how the elections come out, just as it hardly does in Iran,” he said. “Erdogan signaled long ago that he sees democracy as a means to an end. He rode the democracy bus until it brought him to near-dictatorship,” argued Pipes. Asked about Erdogan’s possible foreign policy after the election, he replied that “Erdogan is a brilliant political operator within the Turkish domestic context but far less capable abroad. His confidence leads him to take risks and alienate other governments.” “I expect something in this arena will bring him down,” he predicted.
According to an article by Pipes published in the Washington Times, he sees a possible foreign policy fiasco developing, perhaps with Russia in Ukraine, Israel in Gaza, the civil war in Syria or the gas fields of Cyprus. “And when that moment arrives, hardly a soul will bring up the results of the June 7 election; and none will remember it as a turning point,” he concluded.
Washington Post, June 8, 2015
Turkish voters delivered a crushing blow Sunday to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which lost its 12-year majority in parliament and saw its vote share drop from 50 percent in the 2011 general election to 41 percent. Although the party still earned a plurality of votes in the election, the result has all but doomed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambition to rewrite the Turkish constitution and transform his office into a super-presidency, consolidating his grasp on power.
The elections also represented a significant victory for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which passed Turkey’s required 10 percent electoral threshold, increasing its vote share from 6 percent in 2011 to nearly 13 percent. HDP broadened its appeal by reaching out to secular and liberal Turks, especially those who coalesced during anti-government demonstrations in 2013. In addition, the party appears to have attracted former Kurdish AKP supporters, who had become disheartened by Erdogan’s increasingly hostile attitude towards the Kurdish peace process and disillusioned by widespread corruption and extravagant spending on the part of Erdogan and his inner cadre.
Voters who defected from the AKP may have also been responding to Turkey’s deteriorating economic situation. The country’s growth rate, which was 7.5 percent per year on average between 2003 and 2006, decreased to 2.58 percent by the end of 2014. On April 24, the Turkish lira reached a record low of 2.742 against the U.S. dollar, and levels of foreign direct investment have also been on the decline. These economic issues have been amplified by the erratic behavior of Erdogan, who has been interfering with the independence of regulatory bodies in an effort to determine central bank interest rate policies ahead of the election.
HDP was able to capitalize on mounting dissent by emphasizing a rights-based platform and urging the electorate to vote strategically. In particular, the party’s campaign materials argued that a vote for HDP was a vote against the presidential system and against a single-party AKP government. One campaign poster read, “In this election, a vote for HDP does not have to be a vote for those who comprise HDP. In such critical elections, voters can vote strategically. The most fruitful, most assured and shortest road for those citizens who want to get rid of the AKP and Erdogan regime is to vote for HDP and to help HDP pass the threshold.”
Although Turkey’s Kurdish population expressed jubilation over the election results — setting off fireworks and waving HDP’s flag in the streets of the primarily Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Sunday evening — other voters in Turkey appear conflicted, if not angered, over the result. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas’s post-election speech, in which he openly thanked Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) founder Abdullah Öcalan, set off a wave of incensed comments across social media as some Turkish voters wondered whether HDP’s assurances regarding inclusivity and democracy were just empty promises.
In coming days, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will be tasked with the job of forming a coalition government. Turkish law stipulates that if a coalition is not formed after 45 days, Erdogan will be able to call for a new election. Pundits are already predicting that an early election is likely, as the leaders of the major parties have all stated in public speeches that they will not form a coalition government with the AKP.
Interestingly, whereas the AKP was able to form a single-party government in 2002 with only 34.28 percent of the vote, today the party will be unable to do so with a greater percent of the vote. The AKP’s unlikely rise to power in 2002, despite its relatively small share of the vote, occurred after all existing parties but two failed to pass the electoral threshold. As editor of the English-language Hurriyet Daily News Murat Yetkin shrewdly pointed out, the AKP may have been a victim of its own dependence on the unfair 10 percent threshold rule. If the threshold had been lowered to 5 or 7 percent, argued Yetkin, the AKP still would have been prevented from adopting Erdogan’s presidential system, but its parliamentary majority would have been salvaged.
Whatever the result of the forthcoming coalition negotiations, one thing is clear: Erdogan and the AKP no longer have the enthusiastic, broad-based popular mandate the party enjoyed during its heyday. At the hands of the Kurds, we may finally be witnessing the beginning of the end of Erdogan.
Ilan Ben Zion
Times of Israel, June 6, 2015
Five centuries after Sultan Bayezid II welcomed Sephardic Jewish refugees to Istanbul, Turkey’s Jewish community is slowly dwindling. Faced with rising anti-Semitism, growing authoritarianism and dire economic circumstances, young Turkish Jews have increasingly set their sights on Israel, Europe and North America.
Despite a rich history under the Ottomans — rising to prominence as ministers, traders and buccaneers — and active involvement in public life in the early Turkish Republic, Turkish Jews no longer contribute significantly to the country’s political or cultural life. In 1948 Turkey was home to about 80,000 Jews; three years later nearly 40% had left. Talking with members of the community today, one is likely to hear the future for Jews in Turkey described as “bleak”.
The departure of Jewish youth is by no means an exodus. The numbers are small, but so is the community from which they’re leaving. Officially, 17,300 Jews live in Turkey today, the vast majority in Istanbul, making it the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. A decade earlier, it was closer to 20,000. This much is clear: class sizes in Jewish kindergartens are shrinking, the birth rate is dropping and the community is aging.
Hard statistics concerning the emigration of young Jews, however, are difficult to come by. The official figure, for example, doesn’t account for the rising number of high school graduates who have left for opportunities abroad. Mois Gabay, a columnist for the Jewish Şalom newspaper, wrote last year about the growing trend of young Turkish Jews moving abroad. He told Deutsche Welle in January that “40 percent of Jewish graduates chose to seek higher education abroad” in 2014. In 2013 it was half that figure. He said that number was expected to rise. “I cannot tell you if young Jews are leaving, or how many young Jews are leaving,” he said over the phone. He added, though, that the community couldn’t ignore the fact that collective anxiety was taking hold.
Faced with anti-Semitic rhetoric that’s been given free rein by the government in recent years and amplified by social media, some young Jews have also opted to move to Israel for ideological reasons. Immigration to Israel by Turkish Jews has remained steady at roughly 100 per year since 1980. In the past decade, 1,002 Turkish Jews have immigrated to Israel, according to statistics published by Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
“I always felt I didn’t belong to the Turkish people, I felt like a stranger, like I didn’t belong to them,” Israel Maden, 29, said. He grew up in Istanbul’s Göztepe neighborhood, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, and was an active member in the local Jewish youth club. Like many Turkish Jews, Maden has family living in Israel, and “the idea of leaving and coming to Israel was always there.” In 2009, he immigrated to the country whose name he carries. Maden’s experience compared to that of Lisya Malki, a 31-year-old mother of one who moved to Israel in 2008 and now lives in a small town north of Tel Aviv. “Even though I grew up there, we had our own holidays, our own culture,” she said in Hebrew tinged with a slight Turkish accent. “I was a Jew living in Turkey, that’s what I always felt.”
Alongside the ascendance of Islam and authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the volume of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric in Turkey has grown in state-sponsored media. “Turkey has gained a much more conservative outlook that’s getting stronger day by day,” said Selin Nasi, an Istanbul native and PhD candidate in political science at Bogazici University. Islam has become “a way of conducting policy,” she said, and authoritarianism is on the rise.
Ahead of Sunday’s national elections, Erdogan on May 8 employed a Quran as a campaign prop — an unprecedented move in an officially secular government — waving it around onstage. His move was a cause of concern for Turkey’s religious minorities, including the Jews, and he was speedily accused of exploiting religion for political purposes. Erdogan and his party’s open embrace of political Islam has also translated into strained ties with Israel, and the country’s Jews. Despite largely symbolic gestures, such as the recent restoration of the Edirne Great Synagogue (which has no accompanying community), tensions run high.
“Bilateral disputes between Turkey and Israel have an undeniable impact on attitudes toward Turkish Jews,” Nasi said, referring to tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem over Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.
Previously close ties between Israel and Turkey were frayed nearly to the breaking point in May 2010 after Israeli soldiers boarded the MV Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying activists attempting to break the IDF blockade on the Gaza Strip. In skirmishes between activists and Israeli troops, nine Turkish citizens were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis. Tens of thousands of Turks protested in Istanbul, and hundreds attempted to storm the Israeli consulate.
Similar attacks on the Israeli diplomatic mission took place last summer during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, and latent anti-Semitic propaganda proliferated unchecked. While recent months have been calm compared to last summer, Turkish Jews nonetheless “come across hate speech on a daily basis,” Nasi said. “We know that some of the press, particularly close to the government, is involved in this hate speech and they are not sanctioned at all,” Nasi said. “The government totally turns a blind eye.”
Although anti-Semitism and ideology play a role in bringing Jewish youths such as Malki and Maden to Israel, Turkish Jews are also affected by the same socioeconomic pressures pushing middle class Turks to look abroad for a better life. Turkey’s economic boom in the first decade of the 21st century has slowed, and its currency has lost 20 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year alone. As tuition prices in Turkey’s increasingly competitive universities have skyrocketed in recent years, the quality of education lags behind schools in western Europe, the United States and Canada…
Another indicator of the anxiety pervading the community is the number of Turkish Jews who have jumped at the opportunity to acquire Spanish citizenship. The vast majority of Turkey’s Jews are descendants of Spanish exiles who were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire. Earlier this year the Spanish government announced its intention of extending citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492. Shortly thereafter 5,000 Turkish Jews — roughly a third of the community — applied for dual citizenship, potentially opening the doors to life in Europe, according to a recent Financial Times report.
Leaders from the Istanbul community declined to respond to inquiries concerning the departure of young Turkish Jews. The community’s official organ is notoriously tight-lipped and maintains a low profile. Rifat Bali, a prominent Turkish Jewish native to Istanbul, on the one hand denied there being “an exodus of young Jews” and called reports of one a “baseless allegation.” On the other hand, he acknowledged that since the 1980s young Jews of “more or less well to do families,” like their Muslim counterparts, leave for education abroad. “As with all communities which are demographically so small and aged we will see numbers continuing to decrease,” Bali said by email.
Almost universally, the prognosis for the future of Turkey’s Jews, who have called Anatolia home for nearly 2,000 years, is grim. Malki, the young mother now living in Israel, said there are few Jewish men of marrying age still in Istanbul and, predictably, the birthrate is dropping. “In Turkey, there’s no future for Jews,” she said. “There is racism, there is anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” There are a million and one reasons for Jews to leave, she said.
“We have to admit that even if there is not an exodus of Jews leaving,” Fishman said, in light of its gradual senescence and young Jews trickling away,” the overall future of the community is not looking very hopeful.”
Turkey’s Unimportant Election: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, June 4, 2015— Almost every assessment of the national parliamentary election to take place in Turkey on June 7 rates it among the most important in the republic's nearly century old history.
President Erdogan’s Growing Grip Faces Electoral Test in Turkey: Joanna Slater, Globe & Mail, June 5, 2015—One weekday morning last December, Mehmet Emin Altunses woke up in a predicament familiar to most 16-year-old boys: He had overslept.
Turkey's Flotilla: What Was It Really About?: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 4, 2015—Five years ago this week, on May 31, 2010, a Turkish flotilla with hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists aboard sailed toward the Gaza Strip in order to break Israel's naval blockade.
Ahead of Polls, Erdogan Slams Foreign, ‘Jewish’-Backed Media: Times of Israel, June 6, 2015— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday stepped up his attacks on foreign media a day ahead of legislative elections, telling the Guardian to “know your limits” and lamenting that “Jewish capital” was behind the New York Times.
Erdogan vs. the New York Times, and Democracy: IPT News, May 28, 2015—For 13 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has worked to impose his Islamist vision on Turkey's proud secular democracy, reshaping the country into a neo-Ottoman republic.