Turkey’s President Erdogan has referred to Hitler’s Germany as a model for a new presidential system, but this should come as no surprise.
Totalitarian leaders of the 20th century were known variously as Der Führer (Germany), Il Duce (Italy), Generalissimo (Spain) and El Maximo Lider (Cuba) and now neo-Ottoman Turkey has its Reis (leader), Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There will even be a Turkish film about Erdogan with the same title.
After the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in the First World War, Turkish general Mustafa Kemal and his fellow nationalists laid the foundations of a modern, secular republic in 1923, but this process has gradually been reversed since Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002.
The AKP came to power with the promise of clean governance but before long it was business as usual with an amnesty to cover tax fraud and an amended public procurement law to render state tenders opaque.
The AK party set out to redress the imbalance created by Atatürk’s reforms and restore the role of religion in public life. Both the preamble and Article 24 of Turkey’s secular constitution stipulate that no one shall be allowed to exploit religion for the purpose of personal or political influence, but nevertheless this is what they have done.
Four years ago Erdogan stated that it was the AK party’s aim to raise a religious generation, and this is what they are well on their way to doing. There has been an explosive increase in the budget allocated to the Religious Affairs Directorate and in the number of Koran courses. Religious high schools (imam-hatip schools) also play a major role in the AKP’s plans to transform Turkish society.
In 2002 they had 60,000 students but now there are more than one and a half million. Originally planned to train imams, they are intended to provide the cadres for “the new Turkey”. President Erdogan is himself an imam-hatip graduate and their alumni hold key posts in the administration.
The gradual control by the AKP government of all aspects of Turkish society resembles Nazi Germany’s policy of ‘Gleichschaltung’ (coordination). Like Hitler’s elimination of Ernest Röhm and his Brownshirts, Erdogan has turned on his former ally, Fehullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric resident in Pennsylvania, and his followers in the Hizmet (‘service’) movement.
In 2007 the Turkish military declared themselves to be “the absolute defenders of secularism”, but with the support of members of the Gülen community in the police and judiciary Erdoğan crushed military and secular opposition in a series of show trials. However, the revelations of large-scale government corruption two years ago led to accusations by Erdogan of “a judicial coup” by the Gülen movement, which has led to a purge of thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors, who Erdogan claimed formed “a parallel state”.
Like the Nazi ‘Sondergerichte’ (special courts), specially authorized courts were established to deal with the AKP government’s political opponents, but these have been replaced by special criminal courts, where extensive authority is granted to single judges. This move is part of a restructuring of the legal system, which has strengthened the government’s control of the judiciary.
A symbiotic relationship has also developed between Erdogan, the AK party and the business world with a system of “crony capitalism”, where companies are awarded lucrative contracts in return for donations to, for example, the Youth and Education Service Foundation (TÜRGEV), where Erdogan’s son Bilal sits on the board.
Consequently, companies that do not toe the line are made to feel the government’s wrath. In 2009 the Dogan Media Group, Turkey’s largest, was hit by two massive tax fines after coverage of corruption in AKP circles, and Bank Asya, which was connected to the Gülen movement, and the Ipek Media Group have been taken over by the government. There is also an ongoing purge of journalists, academics and anyone critical of Erdogan’s regime, who are denounced as traitors.
The main threat to Erdoğan’s rule is Turkey’s faltering growth together with the increase in unemployment and inflation. There is also the blowback from Syria as a result of Turkey’s ideologically determined support of groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra Front. In addition, Erdogan’s hateful rhetoric and an escalating war against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) now threaten to split Turkey and leave the country permanently divided.
Robert Ellis ia a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.