Is Turkey's 'Islamic Model' Spreading Sunni Sectarianism?

Turkey's "Islamic model” government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party helped inspire other countries caught up in the Arab Spring. But Mohammed Noureddine argues that the Turkish style of governance is spreading Sunni sectarianism.

al-monitor Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the opening of the 28th session of the COMCEC in Istanbul, Oct. 10, 2012. COMCEC is the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

Topics covered

turkey’s syria policy, sectarian, censorship, alawites, akp

Oct 24, 2012

A lot of factors have weakened the image of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. The model that this party's leaders wanted the Arab and Muslim worlds to follow is on the verge of collapsing. The doctrinal rhetoric of those leaders has basically become a reference for most of the radical movements in the Muslim world.

The two leaders of this model, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, are allowing others to take advantage of what they are saying.

From Yemen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of this "model" could only see a sectarian dimension in the assassination of Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, stating, assertively, that the bombing would "spark an unusual Sunni reaction."

This triggered a rapid response on the part of Milliyet newspaper, which published yesterday [Oct. 22] an article by its prominent author Kadri Gursel saying that "it is interesting that Davutoglu only gave the example of the Sunnis, instead of using a neutral language such as saying that the assassination of Hassan could ruin the situation in Lebanon."

Gursel asked if Davutoglu's statement reflects his desires and wishes, rather than facts on the ground, yet left the answer to his readers.

Two days before Davutoglu's statement, from Elazig in southeast Turkey, where the majority is Kurdish and Alawite, the Prime Minister of this "model" [Erdogan] repeated the exclusionary rhetoric when he launched an attack on Zoroastrians, accusing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] militants of being Zoroastrians.

Thus, he was implying that such an affiliation justified fighting against the PKK, forgetting that one of the most important elements of the Turkish “model” is secularism.

In front of crowds of people, Erdogan said that the PKK “has nothing to do with [the region] al-Jarrah [in Syria]. The terrorists' place is clear. They are Zoroastrians. They reveal this themselves. They talk about the Yazidis. Look at what they do and the rituals they practice.”

Erdogan's statement did not go unnoticed. Over the past few days, newspapers have published dozens of articles condemning Erdogan and accusing him of discriminating against people based on their doctrine and ideology.

Mehves Evin from Milliyet said yesterday [Oct. 22] that “it is needless to repeat that the AKP is now practicing what it formerly used to be subject to, doctrinal discrimination against others.”

The writer recalls many of Erdogan's discriminatory practices against the followers of other religions and beliefs, such as an incident in 2011 when he mocked Kurdish MPs who asked that the Islamic headscarf be allowed in parliament.

Erdogan asked them: “Is it possible that Zoroastrians are interested in this issue?”

The author says it's clear that these attitudes reflect “a mentality that does not recognize the rights of those who are not Turkish and religious Sunnis. This is the mentality that currently controls Turkey. Yesterday, they described Armenians as terrorists, [today] they are doing the same with Zoroastrians, and they have always been doing this with with Greeks and Alawites.”

The Turkish model is also violating freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The [US-based] Committee to Protect Journalists, which includes well-known journalists such as Christiane Amanpour, Tom Brokaw and Arianna Huffington, yesterday published a report on press freedom around the world.

In this report, Turkey ranked first in the world in terms of restricting freedom of the press and arresting journalists for reasons relating to their profession. The report states that 76 journalists are detained in Turkey, including 61 who are detained for journalistic reasons.

The report goes on to state that the [ranking] results came after careful and lengthy consideration of each individual detainee. It says that Erdogan placed public pressure on journalists, filing lawsuits against many of them.

This report mentions the very broad campaign of arrests carried out by the government against anyone in Turkish or Kurdish civil society who supported the PKK. The number of arrested persons has surpassed 8,000.

Some say that 2,800 university students have been detained, along with heads of municipalities, lawyers and other artists. This was done with the goal of draining civil society organizations of Kurds and their leaders.

In an interview with the Turkish Taraf newspaper yesterday [Oct. 22], the coordinator of the Center for European Policy Studies at Istanbul Bilgi University, Senem Aydin-Duzgit, said: “In the eyes of the Europeans, Turkey is not a democratic country and democratic standards are regressing in the country. Ankara's ties with Europe are weakening. Turkey currently comes in first for violations of freedom of expression. In 2011, 8,702 lawsuits were filed against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights. France comes second with just 100 lawsuits.”

Duzgit said that the AKP is not implementing reforms, but when it does, these reforms are only partially implemented and in a way that goes in line with the party’s interests.

She added that “Turkey, given today’s [political] climate, cannot be a model in the Middle East. All studies indicate that when Turkey succeeds in progressing along the European path, it can then become a model [for other countries].”

Last Saturday [Oct. 20], tens of thousands of Turkish Alawites came from 14 European countries and protested in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The Alawites’ protest called for Turkey to recognize them as Alawites, something the Turkish model has yet to do.

At the end of the protest, participants gave the PM two awards: The first is a black panel symbolizing Erdogan’s intolerance towards Alawites and the second was a red bottle symbolizing the blood that they accuse Erdogan of shedding in Syria.

In the Islamic Zaman newspaper, prominent Turkish Islamist writer Ali Bolach criticized the violent path that the AKP is taking by supporting the armed opposition in Syria.

He said: “The Islamic movement in Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Tunisia came to power by peacefully resisting tyranny. Why didn't the AKP apply that to Syria instead of adopting a violent approach?”

Many had hoped that the Turkish Islamic model would be adopted by other countries in the region, however, they were greatly disappointed. The problem is that those supporting this model do not want to admit that they have failed. This leads to greater disappointment and endangers Turkey itself.

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