Deep Roots of Erdogan-Davutoglu Line: A Brief Analysis of Conservative Leadership


Conservatism which began to take place in history of political thought in early nineteenth century championed the significance of traditional values against positivists. The roots of conservatism in Turkey date back to theTanzimat (reorganization of the Ottoman State, 1839-1876) reforms....

Conservatism which began to take place in history of political thought in early nineteenth century championed the significance of traditional values against positivists. The roots of conservatism in Turkey date back to theTanzimat (reorganization of the Ottoman State, 1839-1876) reforms.

Conservatives avoided criticizing revolutions introduced after the establishment of the Turkish Republic or restricted their opposition to the concept of hastiness and meticulously strived not to clash with the new-established regime. An elitist political culture understanding which had strived to keep the populace away from politics since the Ottoman times was redefined by Republican elites and found support mainly in the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) . Conservative political figures strived to propose their opposition regarding populace’s sensitivity on the basis of cultural conservatism instead of mentioning anti-religious and anti-traditional content of the revolutions.

Considering the framework of historical continuity, the parameters behind new Turkish Republic like rationalism and positivism which were adopted through modernization and secularism did not spread to the lower echelons unlike the Western world and remained in institutional level.

The French Revolution, besides spreading nation-state ideal, created certain effects threatening Ottoman Empire’s territorial integrity and harming its political philosophy. With the Tanzimat Edict, the traditional Ottoman state philosophy began to disappear. However, certain notions in basic state philosophy remained. In Ottomans, the term “din-ü devlet, mülk-ü millet“ (religion and state, patria and nation) is from one of the approaches that highlight state-people solidarity. Republic of Turkey was established on a nation-state basis. However, the powerful and authoritarian “fatherly“ functions of state continued. The “Sacred State“ understanding continued during the Republican era. Despite having different ideologies, the intelligentsia of this era attempted to “save the country“ against the prosperous West. The currents of Ottomanism, Occidentalism, pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism which were shaped during Tanzimat were in the search of an urgent solution.

While the Ottomanists strived to protect the country through the reforms representing Westernization, the Occidentalists proposed full adaptation of Western model. On the other hand, the Pan-Turkists desired to protect and enhance the country through championing of Turkish roots. Pan-Islamists explained the downfall with the deviation from Islamic values and suggested the return to real Islam as a cure against decay.

New Turkish Republic continued its way by taking the competition of these currents over. Conservative movement in Turkey came into the scene as a synthesis of these mentioned currents as well. In this regard, there is a continuity deriving from Ahrar Party to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), from Said Halim Pasha to Turgut Ozal and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: to survive by protecting national values against the West and even go beyond the developed civilizations.

If a historical analysis to be conducted for today’s government, we can notice the core elements that lead the conservative democrat movement to top. Ottoman era ideological currents moved to the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) with the Republic. The Occidentalist and Pan-Turkist was first group of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and its rival Ottomanist and Pan-Islamist second group constituted the government and opposition up to today. The (conservative) parties like DP-AP-ANAP-RP-AK Party are fundamentally regarded as the political actors of the second group; whereas, the (leftist) parties like CHP-DSP-SHP are regarded as representatives of the first group.

When the Republic was founded, second group opposed the Occidentalist positivist policies which determined the societal and political realms. Because of that, they were immediately eliminated. The main problem of first and partially second generations who were thrown outside the Parliament and adopted the tradition of “sacred state“ was the “crisis of representation“.

Until the 1946 elections, the regime which did not allow the political representation of religious masses used to sight self-protection reflexes. The regime took a position against conservatives/Islamists by utilizing state institutions. Despite the championing of separation of powers, the judicial branch which was expected to provide justice worked as a disciplinary institution inspecting citizens’ loyalty to the state.

The 1950 elections became a major breaking point for Turkish democracy. After this date, the politics began to shift from the hands of statists/elitists. The parliament began to obey the motto of “sovereignty belongs to the nation“. Despite military coups during the political crises, parliament used to be restored after at most some few years. The mottos of “bringing the ballot box to the fore“ and “going to nation“ were utilized by right-wing parties in order to struggle against statist/elitist bodies.

With the Democrat Party (DP) rule in the 1950s, the people began to breathe freely. Indeed, the people always liked to go to the elections. However, the participation of Islamists to the legal political system had not been possible for a pretty long time. Even Necmettin Erbakan’s candidacy for parliament membership was declined by the Justice Party (AP). Then, his newly-established National Order Party (MNP) was banned within a short time. He instead founded the National Salvation Party (MSP) in 1972. The representation of conservative masses under the framework of MSP-included coalition governments significantly increased their self-esteem.

In the 1970s, the first generation such as Necip Fazil, Nurettin Topcu, Osman Yuksel Serdengecti, Sezai Karakoc, Sabahattin Zaim, Suleyman Yalcin, Necmettin Erbakan, Korkut Ozal and Turgut Ozal began to be influential on university and youth circles. Besides the facilities supplied by modern institutions, the conservatives also enhanced their identities through the personalities like M. Zahit Kotku, Abdulaziz Bekkine and Abdulhakim Arvasi in the (Naqshbandiyya order) Gumushanevi and Iskenderpasa dervish houses. The foundations like the Milli Mucadele Dernegi (National Struggle Association), Milli Turk Talebe Birligi (National Turkish Students Union), Aydinlar Ocagi (Hearth of Intellectuals), Turkiye Milli Kultur Vakfi (Foundation of Turkish National Culture) and Ilim Yayma Cemiyeti (Association of Spreading Science) are the products of this period; that is, of the first generation.

Aydinlar Ocagi became the intellectual and political platform that the conservatives took place in their anti-Communist struggle. Besides adding religious content into nationalism through the concept of “Turk-Islam synthesis“, Aydinlar Ocagi displayed a significant role in the formation of the so-called Nationalist Front governments.

During the pre-12 September 1980 coup period, in a milieu that polarization peaked, the rightist-leftist clashes harmed the conservative and nationalist clicks. Erbakan partially protected his supporters from dismay by keeping them away from these clashes. Many NGOs, like parties and foundations were severely restricted with the coup of 12 September 1980. In the post-1980 period, in order to reorganize the fractionalized framework, first generation’s leading figures and members of Aydinlar Ocagi, Milli Turk Talebe Birligi and Ilim Yayma Cemiyeti founded the Birlik Vakfi (Unity Foundation).

The Birlik Vakfi became an active framework organization of the second generation Islamic NGOs. Besides supporting the conservative wing under powerful leader of the right Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party (ANAP) in the post-1980 period, it acted as the socio-political and socio-cultural center of the conservative milieu through wise men groups. Today’s leading figures descending from the second generation like R. Tayyip Erdogan, Abdullah Gul, Cemil Cicek, Bülent Arinc, Binali Yıldırım, Mehmet Ali Sahin and the new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were educated as prospect-politicians during this period. Besides representing their identities in their posts, all also strived to increase their popularity through their extraordinary successes.

The economic and political influence of conservatism in Turkey increased in post-1980 period under Turgut Ozal’s leadership. Thanks to Ozal’s liberal policies, Anatolian capital enhanced and major socio-political, socio-cultural and socio-economic transformations were achieved in Turkey. The real address of political conservative ideology was the center-left parties in Turkey. In the right-wing parties like DP, AP, ANAP and the True Path Party (DYP), conservatism was utilized as a means for pragmatist goals rather than a stable political ideology.

In the post-Ozal period, the right-wing began to experience left’s chronic fragmentation problem and was divided into several parties and institutions. The conservatives whose influence declined with Ozal’s ascension to the presidency preferred first generation’s leader Erbakan in 1991 elections. Like Aydinlar Ocagi’s previous actions, Birlik Vakfi leaders played a significant role in the election alliance among Erbakan, A. Edibali and A. Turkes. In this sense, a need for re-cooperation among Islamic NGOs came into the picture and in 1994 the Turkiye Gonullu Tesekkuller Birligi (Union of Turkish Voluntary Organizations) was founded and became the dynamic behind the Refah Party’s (Welfare Party) quick rise. In the post-12 September period and unstable 90s, several attempts were displayed for a consensus ground between nationalist and conservative NGOs and foundations. Triple Alliance failed to continue. However, it is necessary to underline that the Triple Alliance experience was witnessed after Ozal’s attempt of unifying right and left wings under the ANAP banner in the 80s. As Ozal failed to unify Kemalists, Islamists, Nationalists and Social Democrats under the same banner; the Triple Alliance also failed to consolidate the right-wing under a common framework. However, this alliance created long-term benefits. After the ban of Welfare Party which led to uncertainty and crisis, the AK Party appeared as an answer to the unstable milieu and the masses directed their support to the Party’s leader Erdogan. The Post-Ottoman Turkey’s democratic evolution, in other words, all conservative movements between 1920 and 2002 or the experiences from the second generation up to now had a significant impact on Erdogan’s election victory in 3 November 2002.

In conclusion, since the foundation of Republic, conservatism has been regarded as an unlovely concept and underestimated by the revolutionary political culture. Conservative identity has been exposed to accusations like backwardness, zealotry, past-defense and anti-progressivism. When the AK Party assumed power under Erdogan, it proposed the concept of “conservative democrat“ and was successful in granting this concept a positive content through subsequent electoral victories. E. T. Hall claims that national identities are presented with the claim of purity and homogeneity; however, he adds that in fact all these identities are artificial and history gives us “mixed identities“. According to Michael Walzer, in fact identities are historically-constructed “composite“ structures. Erdogan’s concept is as well a “composition“ of ideas championed by currents in opposition to Westernization since Tanzimat.

Second generation who eliminated the participation crisis and significantly achieved its goals with Erdogan’s leadership is about to complete its mission. As the term “state-people solidarity“ is frequently mentioned during Erdogan’s term, it has been a frequently-utilized political discourse adopted by several personalities like Huseyin Avni Ulas, Adnan Menderes, Suleyman Demirel, Erbakan and Ozal. Erdoğan-led governments accomplished several activities that contributed to the state-people solidarity. From now on, it is the time to determine new goals and develop discourses that would bring new accomplishments.

New generation aimed to attain a higher level with Ahmet Davutoglu will act as the leading actor in the determination of new program of New Turkey in its progress and in its socio-political and socio-cultural legalization, and will want to shine during the new era. Each country rises based on its own cadres, new Turkey will also rise based on its new generations.

Davutoglu who has the skills to make and implement policies based on conjunctional milieu and strategic depth rather than rhetoric will aim to go beyond the political utilization of “New Turkey“ concept. He will strive to make history as the powerful successor of Erdogan through his executions that will economically and politically enhance Turkey. While the conservative circles blame Demirel of “seeming as if from us and acting in favor of status-quo supporters“, they praise Erdogan of “seeming from us and acting in favor of us“. We shall look how they will define Davutoglu. He is expected as the brightest academician of new generation to become a leader to accomplish the brightest economic and political developments. New generation will be in the pursuit of a program that will initiate the process which will attain Turkey to the desired level of modernized civilizations expected for 100 years since the establishment of Republic. As Erdogan rises as the leader with periodically increasing his popularity, Davutoglu’s performance will be curiously observed.

Resource : Turkey Agenda

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Continents ( 5 Fields )
 Contents ( 415 ) Actiivities ( 175 )
Africa 66 137
Asia 77 213
Europe 13 29
Latin America & Carribean 12 30
North America 7 6
Regions ( 4 Fields )
 Contents ( 167 ) Actiivities ( 45 )
Balkans 22 92
Middle East 19 56
Black Sea and Caucasus 2 15
Mediterranean 2 4
Identity Fields ( 2 Fields )
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Islamic World 51 143
Turkish World 15 29
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Turkey 54 208

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