This article is intended to analyze the political strategies of two major political movements of Turkey – Sa’adet Party and AK Party. The study has been conducted in a 10 days visit to Turkey. During my visit, leadership of both parties, the Islamists and political analysts of Turkey were interviewed. Those people who were in the leadership of Refah Party under Nejmuddin Erbakan but after the division had not formed part of either of the parties were also consulted. The study on Milli Gorush movement of Turkey and its experiments is inevitable for an Islamic movement who is working in a secular (laicist) country. Before trying to understand the policies, approaches and transformations of the parties, it is very important to know the social, historic and political realities of Turkey.
Turkey - the country where the Islamic Khilafat last existed and was abolished on March 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Ottoman Empire was a Muslim empire which was also called the ‘empire of faith’, lasted from 1299 to 1922 (more than Seven Centuries). Its power spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa- almost the two by third of the whole globe! Istanbul, the commercial and cultural capital of modern Turkey was the centre of the great Ottoman Empire. Turkey is the country which connects east and west culturally, politically and geographically. It holds a highly strategic position in the world map and history.
‘Modern Turkey’ founded by Mustafa Kemal Pasha is secular despite the fact that more than 99 percentage population comprises of Sunni Muslims. There is a notorious history behind the drastic transformation of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal declared that only if the authority of Islam is completely eliminated, could Turkey progress into a ‘modern’ nation. Kemal ordered to strike out the constitutional provision stating that Islam was the official religion of the state. Thousands of ulema and those who sympathized with them had to sacrifice their lives under Kemal’s dictatorship. In 1926 when the Kurdish tribes in the mountains staged an agitation against the Kemalist regime, all Turkish Kurds were ruthlessly eliminated, villages were burned, animals and crops destroyed, women and children raped and murdered. Forty-six of the Kurdish chiefs were sentenced to be publicly hanged. All opposition leaders were arrested. An independent tribunal was nominated to try them. Without bothering about procedure or evidence, the court sentenced them to be hanged.
A series of political, legal, cultural, social and economic reforms were implemented to transform the Republic of Turkey into a nation-state with Kemalist ideology. The republic of Turkey even after the setback of Ottoman Empire, its Islamic traditions and cultural symbols remained active among the people. Ataturks political reforms were aimed at ending this traditions and carefully planned program of political change was implemented to unravel the complex system that had developed over the centuries. Not only were all the social institutions of Turkish Society reorganized, but the social and political values of the state were replaced as well. After abolishing the office of caliphate several laws were enacted. Even the headgear which is the distinguishing dress code of ulema was made illegal as per the Hat Law of 1925. A new Turkish alphabet was introduced replacing the previously used Arabic alphabets. Within a day, the whole population was made illiterate! In 1932, the Azan from mosques was banned in Arabic, and the call to prayer was made in Turkish instead. Muezzins have only been heard in Arabic again since 1950. Educational reforms played the most vital role in the process of this change. European laws and jurisprudence has been adopted at the time of Kemalisation. Wearing of religious head cover and Theo-political symbolic garments for both genders in government buildings, schools, and universities is prohibited by law. Today in Turkey, no office, restaurant or public square is complete without a photograph or statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This top-down change was brought by Kemal Ataturk within a time span of 14 years (1923-37).
Milli Gorush movement
The religious people of turkey stayed away from politics and believed that their responsibility was confined to their individual religious rituals, looking after their family and giving necessary education for their children. But later on people started to realize that if there is no representation in the national assembly the secular regime may seize their basic religious rights too and their freedom to live according their beliefs is in danger. With this consciousness and with the leadership of Nejmuddin Erbakan, they entered the political arena in 1969. People began to ask what their political identity is – is it left, right, liberal or conservative. They answered that we have the mentality of Milli Gurush. We are people who carry the history of legendary ancestors who established the greatest civilizations like Endulus, Selcuklu and Ottoman civilizations who were neither leftists nor rightists. Milli Gorush is the mentality of heroes who conquered İstanbul and who won the war of Independence. The meaning of the term ‘Milli Gorush’ could be literally translated as National Outlook. Milli Gorush in its actual meaning is a native and civil political movement whose base is love and compassion and which favors not the power but the truth. It represents a stand which is not left or right but Milli Gorush. It is based on the values of unity, truth and justice. The social system aimed by Milli Gorush is those reflected by Abraham in Mesopotamia, Musa and Isa in Palestine in Middle East and finally Muhammad in Arabia.
The movement went to people with these slogans:
• Morality and spirituality first,
• Spiritual and financial development,
• Human rights and freedoms especially freedom of religion and conscience,
• National education, national culture,
• Not imitation but Milli Gorush,
• Not imperialist but developing a country of leadership,
• Turkey with sovereignty in politics and economy,
• Full co-operation with Muslim countries.
• Fair distribution of income among regions and among communities
Erbakan, who fought the general elections in 1969 as independent candidate won with massive majority. He formed a party named ‘National Order Party’ which was dissolved by the ultra secularist Kemalist military in 1971 because of its Islamist identity.
National Salvation Party
In 1972 Erbakan formed ‘National Salvation Party’. This party became the member of the coalition of ruling alliance led by Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 1974. Erbakan twice served as the deputy prime minister.
During that period many auspicious services, which could not even be imagined till that time, were fulfilled.
• At that period nobody was oppressed because of their beliefs.
• A huge number of Imam Training schools, Quran courses and Islamic institutes were established.
• Muslims were provided opportunity to go to Hajj
• Masjids were built as government’s official services
• Thousands of temporary imams were converted into permanent ones.
• Large scale industries were initiated – The Turkish Engine Industry, Electronic Industries, Airplane Industries, Iron and Steel Industries, War Industries were constructed
• In addition to these, new sugar factories like cement factories, fertilizer, paper, textile, milk, meat factories and free trade zones were constructed.
• With Cyprus military operation, the genocide done by Greeks in Cyprus was prevented.
After the coalition which lasted for one year, a new government with rightist parties was formed. This new government stayed in power until the end of 1977.
But the military took over the country and declared coup in 1980. National Salvation Party together with all other parties was dissolved and seized by the constitution court. Erbakan was imprisoned.
Welfare Party (Refah Party)
When the freedom to form party was granted in 1983 Erbakan again formed another party which was called the Welfare Party (Refah Party - RP) which turned out to be the most successful party till then. The period from 1983 to 1998 welfare party was at its peak. In 1994, in the local elections, 65% of the voters gave their votes to Refah Party. In 1995 general elections welfare party became the largest party of Turkey winning 158 seats of the total 550 seats (29%). RP became the first Islamic party to win general elections in the history of Turkey. The people’s trust in Erbakan’s party and the corruption of the leaders of the established parties played a major role in this success. But the president did not give permission to the party to form a government alone, instead arranged a coalition with True Path Party (DYP) of Tansu Chiller. The new government with Erbakan as the Prime Minister was formed in June 28, 1996.
The rule of Erbakan made a number of reforms which was very much appreciated by the people of Turkey. During this period, the external debts of Turkey decreased from 48 billion us dollars to 28 billion dollars. The first order of Erbakan to the members of the government was “no relation with IMF, no debts any more no taxes and no price increase.” The GDP rose. Farmers, workers, civil servants and retired persons were paid better than before. Agricultural production was supported. The demand increased; so the economy started to get better. Investments were increased to a large extend, particularly the facilities of energy and transportation were given importance. Unemployment decreased. Iraq petroleum pipeline, which had been closed before was re-opened. The foreign policy of Turkey plays a vital role in Turkish politics. D-8 Project with the slogan “A new World” was the first target of government. 8 Muslim Countries whose populations were more than 60 million which included Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Nigeria signed an agreement in Istanbul which aimed to cooperate in cultural, political, and economical fields.
‘Postmodern coup’ of 28 February, 1997
Things started to change. The ‘power centers’ of Turkey – general staff (army), bureaucracy joining hands with coalition party – DYP started to fumigate the political environment. The centre of the crisis was the allegation that Erbakan Government has deviated from secular ideology of state. As mentioned earlier, secularism is the soul of modern Turkey. Armed force, Bureaucracy, Constitution court and the media are the power centers which safeguard the secularist and Kemalist principles of the country.
The constitution of Turkey which was totally restructured by Kemal Pasha and later by his successor Celal Bavaria gives the army excessive powers. With the amendments on 1961 the armed force of Turkey attained constitutional powers to such an extent that the decisions of National Security Council (MGK) formed part of the government and its decision making. MGK advisory board comprises of the chief of general staff, the president of Turkey, selected council of ministers, the commanders-in-chief from the army, navy, air force and police. MGK acts as advisory function to the prime minister, his deputy, the minister of foreign affairs, internal affairs, defense and the president. It is this excessive constitutional power of the military that they were able to topple down three governments of Turkey. In 1960, against government of the Democratic Party; in 1971 following economic recession, social unrest and political assassinations and on 12 Sept 1980, following the armed conflicts of the left-wing and right-wing.
In the same way, the military planned of new method of coup against the Nejmuddin Erbakan’s government in 1997. But this coup was unique in the series. Instead of dissolving the parliament or withdrawing the constitution, the Turkish Military in the National Security Council by a 55 point mere memorandum (Irtica) pressured Erbakan to step down. For this reason, the incident was labeled as "postmodern coup". It is also known as “soft coup”. The 28 February process till now, maintains its grip on contemporary politics of Turkey.
A massive propaganda was done against Erbakan’s government. Even polling companies were employed to produce false survey results, suggesting that the great majority of people believed that secularism was at risk. The military urgently called on civilians to take action. Mesut Yılmaz (leader of opposition – Motherland Party) made a statement in which he said Turkey was heading toward chaos. He said: "We acknowledge that the fundamentals of the republic are under threat. We have to consolidate our powers despite our differences”. Deniz Baykal (CHP) argued that the RP had established a partnership with Iran to eliminate the secular democratic regime in Turkey, calling for resistance against this attempt. Mesut Yılmaz even alleged that the RP was getting weapons and that the RP's support base was becoming more militant. He further asserted that Erbakan would rely on anti-democratic means to achieve his goals. Many reports arguing that arms sales were on rise were made. The military tanks started to patrol through the streets giving indications of a coup.
On 28 February 1997, a historical National Security Council (MGK) meeting was held. On the day before this meeting news reports indicated that it was to be a sensitive and important date. The decisions made at the meeting were reported to the government, which was asked to comply with legislation on secularism. The measures announced after the meeting included: Schools controlled by religious sects should be inspected and transferred to the Ministry of Education; a transition should be made to eight-year obligatory elementary education; Quran courses should be inspected and supervised; media actors supporting military personnel fired because of involvement in fundamentalist activities should be placed under scrutiny; codes on attire should be observed; acts and statements insulting Ataturk should be punished. After five days of resistance, Prime Minister Erbakan signed the decisions. A committee was set up to effectively implement the MGK's decisions. The welfare party was finally dissolved by the constitution court. A strict vigil was arranged by the ‘vanguards of secularism’ that no signs of Islamism is to be seen anywhere.
Welfare Party (Refah Party - RP) was dissolved by the constitution court on 1998, alleging that the party has violated the principles of secularism and Nejmuddin Erbakan was banned from politics for five years. The crackdown did not stop in just banning the party. The authorities have done their utmost to cut the Islamists down to size.
The issue of headscarf which has been an issue of hot controversy starting from the secularization process imposed by Ataturk was again stirred during the 28th February process. Ataturk viewed scarf as an obstacle to the secularization of Turkey. The headgear act was passed in 1925 which initiated the process of costume modernization. Fez caps which was the identity of Turkish culture, headscarf and beard was banned in parliament, government educational institutes and courts according to this law. To avoid the physical and silent risk of wearing the dress code, ladies started to abandon scarves. But with the rise of Islamic movements in 70s the number of ladies wearing headscarves especially the university students increased substantially. A law was again passed in 1982 strictly banning headscarves in universities.
Following the soft coup of 1997, the media of Turkey made headscarf a political tool and picturised it as a symbol of political Islam. Massive agitations rose against the law, on the streets of Ankara and Istanbul. There was even martyrdom on the issue. They started propagating headscarf as a symbol of hypocrisy by projecting prostitutes wearing headscarves. This confrontation between the religious and secular elements led to a change in the political formulations in Turkey. True Path Party (DYP) divided into two. The coalition of Refah Party and True Path Party was dissolved.
Virtue Party (Fazilet Party)
After the dissolution of Refah Party by the constitutional court Nejmuddin Erbakan made a historical speech in the party convention and stated that the dissolution of Refah party was a black dot on the path towards our goal. But we need to go forward with new strategies. Again a new party named the Virtue Party (FP) was formed on December 1997 with Rejai Kutan as its leader. It became the third largest party in the parliament after the 1999 general elections. Erbakan became very popular by this time and polls showed that the party would win the next elections. But the constitutional court ruled out that the party is unconstitutional since it has an Islamic agenda and alleged that the new party is the same as Refah party which was banned earlier. Ban was imposed on Fezilet Party on June 2001.
Division of Milli Gorush Movement
Nejmuddin Erbakan led Milli Gorush movement had to face the third oppression by the Kemalist authorities after 28 February process. This indeed created desperateness and unrest inside cadres. All the organisational assets got dissolved multiple numbers of times, all the properties attained by years of hard works and efforts were seized, not once. Dissolution of Refah Party was the third; starting from National Order Party and National Salvation Party. This created a turning point in the Milli Gorush Movement. Internal problems started in virtue party.
Rajab Tayyib Erdogan, Abdullah Gul, Bulant Erenge and Abdul Latif Shener who were the most popular leaders of the Milli Gorush movement and the young leaders of the party, started to express their differences of opinion with the way of thought of Erdogan and Rejai Kutan. They were of the opinion that the present strategy of party is not the way it should be. Party always overplayed and that was the reason the Kemalist generals pushed them out. They were also of the opinion that the Turkish foreign policy must never be against the US, Israel and the European Union rather take them into confidence. They insisted that the party leadership must be from younger generation. In the party congress of May 14th, 2000 Abdullah Gul stood as a candidate for party leadership. Rejai Kutan who was in the opposition and who was supported by the ‘traditionalists’ in the party including Nejmuddin Erbakan, won the election and was elected as the president of the virtue party. This paved way for the division of Milli Gorush movement which gave rise to two parties: Saadet Party and AK Party in 2001.
Saadet Party (Happiness Party)
Saadet Party was formed on 20th July 2001 with Rejai Kutan as president of the party. Saadet Party is the proof of strong political will and determination of Nejmuddin Erbakan. It strongly affirms that there is no compromise in the basic ideals of Milli Gorush. Though at the time of division, many experts and specialists have gone to AK Party, Saadet party has a strong Organisational structure. It now has a strong youth wing named Anadolu Gençlik Derneği (Anatolia Youth Foundation). The party conducts weekly meetings which also gives priority to tazkiyyah of cadres and members. The party owns hundreds of schools. Milligazette, a news paper daily with strong subscription base is run by Saadet Party. The party also has formed 22 NGOs which includes technical consultancies, lawyers, Doctors networks, Labor union, Human rights organization, business organizations, construction and training companies etc. The major reason of the Milli Gorush’s massive support was its honest, efficient and productive services in local governments.
The manifesto of Saadet party says: “A developed and free Turkey cannot be attained by the existing constitution. With this constitution whose preparation and acceptance is controversial and which is full of prohibitions and restrictions from the beginning to the end, the complete and perfect democracy cannot be formed… Therefore the Saadet party considers its basic duty is to work urgent enactment of a constitution, which will be suitable for the conditions prevailing in the 21st century… The role of the National Security Council will be transformed into an advisory body, as it is the case with other democratic countries.”
Regarding the legislations it says: “In the present situation, the legislative body is under domination of the state’s administrative organ (enforcement). Drafts of laws are prepared mostly by the bureaucracy and even by the foreign economic forces and the Turkish Grand Assembly are forced to sanction them by the government institutions. With the changes, which it will make in the constitution, out party will enforce separation of powers and it will make the legislature dependent entirely on the will of the nation.”
“For the happiness of the people the right not the wrong; beautiful and good not beast and bad; beneficial not harmful should become dominant. Therefore we consider working for the domination of right, good, beautiful and beneficial and justice with our entire energy as a duty necessitated by being human. Inorder to reach this goal The movement consider it mandatory to comply with the following basic principles:-
· No conflict no confrontation and no tension; but dialogue compromise and peace.
· No double standards and no discrimination; but equality and justice.
· No exploitation; but equitable sharing and sincere solidarity.
· No pressure and no coercion; but democracy and human rights.
· No superiority of selfish interests and no materialism; But ethics and morality.
· No anarchy and no disorder; but compliance with agreements”
It is also very important to mention the importance given to women in the party. The women are organized under the Women’s wing named Saadet Party Women Presidency. Strength of women in the party comprises of more than half the party’s total strength.