Why Liberals Are Not Taken Seriously On Erdogan

Turkey’s referendum caught sweeping international media attention. However, despite the extensive anti-Erdogan rhetoric, Turkish citizens voted to change their system to a Presidential one.


While many liberals lamented this development, the referendum spoke volumes as to the disconnect between mainstream liberal media and wider public opinion in Turkey.


Below is a hypothetical guide which Liberals appear to follow religiously when analysing Turkey, and one that has significantly undermined their credibility as well-meaning analysts.


The Liberal Guide to analysing Turkish politics:

7 tips on how to come across as an expert

Courtesy of Selim Yeman

There is an unofficially standardized use of language when discussing Turkey in the mainstream media. Here are some key phrases that are fundamental in order to convey some sort of expertise in Turkish politics:


  • “Sultan Erdogan”: This is the most important one because historical background matters. The word “Sultan” will immediately make your readers think that you have a good command of the country’s history. All you need here is to link some of his conservative speeches and increasing power to the Ottoman Empire. You can also add some rituals at Erdogan’s palace as supporting elements. This will help you create an “evil” image and fear of Erdogan, as the Ottomans were centuries-old enemies of Europe and a real global force to be reckoned with. The fact may be that the architect of the neo-Ottoman policies is actually Ahmet Davutoglu, and that’s why he was forced to leave by Erdogan’s supporters. But no worries, your readers won’t know this as long as you don’t say it. Davutoglu must always be referred to as an example of how Erdogan does not listen to other people.


  • “Ataturk’s secularism is dying” Again, this will add historical gloss to your analysis. You can say, for example, that Ataturk’s democratic, modern, and secular Turkey no longer exists, and it is being replaced by ‘Erdoganism’. In this way, you’re creating a black and white image, and now you can put the blame for turning the image to black on Erdogan. Very few people will know that Ataturk ruled the country by a much more authoritarian regime, oppressed minorities, and brought absurd rules for the sake of a brutal secularism. This is called ‘playing on ignorance’. Also, because you already attributed the transition from white to black to Erdogan, you can ignore how the country was ruled undemocratically for decades with military coups used as an important means to protect the status quo.


  • “Erdogan is just like other authoritarian leaders of Middle East Put Erdogan in the same basket with other current/past oppressive presidents of the region: Assad, Saddam, Gaddafi etc. This is the easiest way of telling Western readers that Erdogan is oppressing minorities, jailing or killing all opponents, and manipulating election outcomes. Do not refer to his consistent victories in free and fair elections, and emphasis on the 51% victory in the referendum should be ascribed to vote rigging similar to the 80-90 percent victories of Assad or Sisi.


  • “Erdogan is Turkey’s Trump” These days it has become popular to compare the two leaders as a result of their populist discourse. It may seem a bit strange comparing Erdogan to Trump and Gaddafi in the same breath, so give reasonable space between these references (at least a paragraph). Say, for example, they are both anti-establishment, and they are both using irrationally based arguments and strong emotions to reach out to the ordinary voter. You can also find concrete evidence: major cities in both countries, implying more urban areas and more educated people, voted against them. The major cities in Turkey may have voted for Erdogan in almost all previous elections, and there may be huge negative impacts of mayors at these cities on “yes” vote, but never mind. Don’t forget, liberal arrogance is the new sexy across the world.


  • “Erdogan is using strict nationalist discourse” This actually comes as a gift when you say “Sultan Erdogan” and makes a bridge to “oppressed minorities”, although the minorities are given the most attention during his period in the history of modern Turkey. Refer to Erdogan as a strong advocator of Turkish nationalism, and omit his pre-emptive peace process with the PKK and his prior declaration that “nationalism is under our foots”. Do not, under any circumstance, remind readers that Erdogan ignored fierce critics from nationalist voters throughout the process. Furthermore, do not mention that it was the PKK themselves who broke the deal, and walked away from the peace process to pursue the carving of the foundations of an independent state in Northern Syria. Focus on the Kurdish issue as much as possible and emphasise an alliance with the nationalists. Do not mention however, that nationalists rejected Erdogan’s referendum and overwhelmingly voted ‘no’, and that it was as a result of large Kurdish support that the ‘Yes’ vote won.


  • “Turks are great, but…” Don’t forget to play to the opposition within the country: Say, for instance, that “Turkish culture is magnificent, people are quite friendly, but it is upsetting to see that they voted for the destruction of the democracy.” This will encourage the reader to believe you have a superior moral position. Turkish people are great but deceived, because they are too naïve, and that’s why they are being dragged by a crazy leader. Is it that orientalist? Never mind, orientalism is often applauded these days.


  • “Yes, coup attempt was bad but…” you can fill out the later part as you wish. If you avoid mentioning the coup attempt, the reader will think that you are not quite ‘expert’ enough. The important thing is that don’t try to explain how bad this attempt was. To do so would provide a platform to justify the purges, a phenomenon we must criticise at all costs. Finally, do not seek to explain what the Gulen movement is or the extent of their power in the state. Say that stories of state infiltration are conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are quite normal here, eventually you live in a Middle Eastern country.


Congratulations, you just became an expert on Turkish politics. Remember, you are in prime position to lecture on the true workings of democracy, so feel free to use the orientalist framework while writing or talking about Turkey.


Selim Yaman works at TRT World Research Centre. Yaman received his BSc from the Economics Department of Boğaziçi University. He is currently a graduate student in Political Economy of Development, SOAS.


*views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The International Interest*