Category Archives: TURKEY


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It is official: Turkey’s presidential election will go to a second round. The two candidates, Erdoğan and Kılıçadaroğlu, differ immensely in their domestic politics. What about their foreign policy outlook? Will the opposition candidate promise to break away from Turkey’s assertive foreign policy? How do international dynamics shape this contentious electoral process?

Our co-convenor Begum Zorlu (City, University of London) has written on the role of foreign policy in Turkish elections for the PSA Blog.

When approached with the question: “what’s foreign policy got to do with the Turkish election” one feels the urge to respond: everything. After 20 years in power, and with international spotlight events like the challenging of the Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos or comparing German officials to Nazis, Erdoğan and his party dominates the conversation on foreign policy. 

Contestatory moves like these are more important than they seem. These statements are the backbone of the incumbent’s populist foreign policy, where the party contests what it labels the “unjust” and “broken” international order, embodied in Erdoğan’s famous slogan “the world is bigger than five”.

The expansion of an injustice frame and how it resonates in the world should not be underestimated.

Followers of Erdoğan around the world voice this vision and have repeatedly underlined that he represents the interests of Muslims around the globe or supports “the voices of the repressed”. This contributes to promoting the incumbent’s framing that without Erdoğan, Turkey’s leadership in contesting injustices domestically and globally will be halted. 


Under Erdoğan, Turkey has increasingly followed a confrontational foreign policy. However, this has not always been the case. Throughout its first term, along with its acceptance of EU conditionality as part of its desire for EU accession, the AKP used its foreign policy to advance its domestic power. In particular, the AKP came to present itself as a model democratic and Islamic state in the early 2000s. As Cihan Tuğal’s work uncovered, the US was instrumental in promoting what has been termed the “Turkish model”, which resonated with the democracy promotion agenda of the US.

This context changed in the 2010s with the AKP aiming to have an increased influence in the Middle East in the context of Arab Uprisings and increasing authoritarianism at home. After the Gezi Protests of 2013, the AKP adopted a “fifth column[1] frame” to delegitimise the opposition, accusing them of conspiring with international actors. With the 2016 coup attempt, increasing repression had domestic and international consequences. The AKP’s foreign policy took a more interventionist turn, as it directly interfered in multiple conflicts, and ultra-nationalist voices intensified in foreign policy. Turkey’s military intervention in Syria hampered relations with its Western allies and justified the repression of critical voices at home. This is how we came to 2023, with increased domestic and international polarisation. The blocking of Sweden’s NATO membership for example clearly demonstrates the intersection of the domestic and the global. The AKP accused Sweden of harbouring terrorist organisations, highlighting the distinction between friends and foes on both political dimensions.

However, interventionism is not the sole component of the AKP’s foreign policy, and the party argues it follows a competent foreign policy. In their election campaign, the AKP praised that they could negotiate with both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war, make concrete progress such as the grain corridor and prisoner exchange, and keep the possibility of peace on the table. They frame themselves as peacemakers and have used this mediation role to enhance their legitimacy domestically and internationally.


On the other hand, the political parties that make up the Nation Alliance and Kılıçdaorğlu have been weaker in voicing foreign policy and focused more on domestic issues like Turkey’s economic collapse, democratic backsliding, and justice. When one looks at the electoral manifestos, while foreign policy makes up a small portion of the opposition coalition, it is one of the highlights of the incumbent’s document.

The opposition coalition and their presidential candidate promise a change in foreign policy. Contrasting themselves to the government’s policies, the opposition block’s manifesto claims that they would change Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries in the region and would not interfere in their internal affairs by “taking sides.” The presidential candidate Kılıçdaorğlu, on the other hand, bridges his domestic call for restoring democracy with his foreign policy outlook. The opposition coalition’s manifesto underlines the dangers of personalisation in foreign policy, and Kılıçdaorğlu states that he wants to follow the democratisation processes promoted by the EU.

What about the stance on Russia ?A couple of days before the elections, Kılıçdaorğlu stated in an interview that if he won, he would bring Turkey closer to NATO and the EU and would be willing to impose sanctions on Russia. He has also accused Russia of releasing fake content on social media and criticised the government for maintaining energy dependency on Russia. This has become an area of contestation between the candidates; as a response, Erdoğan stated that Russia is one of Turkey’s most important allies.

Sevgili Rus Dostlarımız,
Dün bu ülkede ortaya saçılan montajlar, kumpaslar, Deep Fake içerikler, kasetlerin arkasında siz varsınız. Eğer 15 Mayıs sonrası dostluğumuzun devamını istiyorsanız, elinizi Türk’ün devletinden çekin. Biz hala işbirlikten ve dostluktan yanayız.— Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (@kilicdarogluk) May 11, 2023

While the opposition has a a pro-Western stance, there is also the framing of dignity from the block in their relations with the West. Their manifesto underlines that there should be a “relationship based on equality” with the US. Similarly, in relations with the EU, the opposition block calls for joint responsibility and burden sharing between Turkey and the EU on refugees and notes its intention to review the Turkey-EU migration deal. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that the coalition’s election manifesto has combined migration policies with foreign policy.

From what can be interpreted at the moment, one of the reasons why the six-party opposition coalition is not bold on foreign policy is that this serves as a strategy to hold the group together. The block consists of different voices, from more nationalist to centre-right parties. While Erdoğan dominates the AKP’s foreign policy outlook, the opposition is more fragmented. Also, even though the pro-Kurdish HDP party was not part of the coalition, the cities where Kılıçdaorğlu’s votes were the highest were Kurdish-majority provinces. As the first round of voting demonstrated, without the Kurds’ support, Kılıçdaorğlu cannot be elected.

The nationalist voices in foreign policy are likely to increase whoever gets elected, as the far-right candidate, Sinan Ogan, has received around five per cent of the votes and is critical in determining Turkey’s new president. He recently spoke to Reuters in an interview stating that he would only endorse Kılıçdaorğlu in the runoff if “he ruled out any concessions to the pro-Kurdish party”. Ogan defines himself as the representative of Turkish nationalists and is a staunch supporter of cross-border military operations. He also voices an anti-migrant agenda, arguing that “they will send Syrian refugees by force if necessary”. Therefore the upcoming debates will reflect the anti-migrant and nationalist framing advocated by Ogan and the far-right.


International policy circles are debating the possible scenarios with the two prospective candidates, evaluating whether there will be a break with Turkey’s assertive foreign policy if Kılıçdaorğlu gets elected. The answer is not straightforward, and the international dimension of the election deserves more attention. The AKP’s populism at home is shaped by its global contestatory frames contributing to a boundary between us and them. Especially the construction of the other has been vital in justifying securitisation, as the AKP elites link the political opposition, especially the Kurdish opposition, with foreign threats through a populist framing.

The elections were not free and fair, and as revelations of voting irregularities come in, there are contentious days ahead. If Kılıçdaorğlu gets elected, he promises to decrease the impact of foreign policy on domestic politics and strengthen diplomatic institutions. As stated, Kılıçdaorğlu associates democratisation with enhanced partnership with Western actors, yet the opposition block does not promote a solid and uniform voice on their interpretation of the international order. While the coalition aims to restructure foreign policy and promote a more “rational” foreign policy, the AKP uses the sphere of foreign policy to bolden its injustice frame at home and around the globe. If Erdoğan stays in power, Turkey’s populist and assertive foreign policy will likely continue.

[1] A fifth column is defined as a group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal.

Commentary: Women From Turkey and Greece Are Still Calling for Peace

Two years ago, we launched a campaign titled “Women Call For Peace” to demand an end to the tension between Turkey and Greece in relation to the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are still making that call.

Begum Zorlu

Equality Justice Women Platform

There is again a worrying escalation of militarist language demonstrated with President Erdoğan’s statement “we can come suddenly in the middle of the night.”

In his statement a couple of days ago the president stated that Greece would pay a “heavy price” if it does not halt military buildup on Greek islands near its coastline. The escalation of the threatening language drew attention regionally as the spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, stated “threats and aggressive rhetoric are unacceptable and need to stop.”

In our weekly meeting for the Equality, Justice and Women Platform, we discussed how the language of escalation mirrored what has been termed the “masculine” style of politics, that disregards the language of reconciliation and conflict resolution. However, this language is unfortunately not new and it can be argued that it emerges when the incumbent wants to distract the public and create an environment to justify its “style” of politics by amplifying a hostile other.

Two years ago, with a joint effort, we wrote a statement to demonstrate that the need for the promotion of a peaceful language along with diplomacy in relation with the Eastern Mediterranean crisis. Our statement rejected the concept of a hostile other and demonstrated the togetherness of women from the two counties.

Our statement underlined that “the rhetoric of conflict and potential conflicts threaten not only the security of the citizens of both countries but also the entire region. We focused on the areas of cooperation between the two countries arguing that it was more important than ever at a time when the global pandemic is deepening inequality, leading to economic crises and increasing the marginalization of women. By amplifying the need for peaceful coexistence we called for Greece and Turkey to negotiate their differences through peaceful diligent diplomacy under the guidelines of international law and equity, if necessary, with observers from international institutions.

I took part in the formation, circulation and the exhibition of this call which was opened to signature on a website that we named “Women Call For Peace.” In an overwhelming and rewarding moment, we received hundreds of messages and signatures, from women living in both countries. The existence of an alternative call and the ties of solidarity created by that interaction has demonstrated to us that another reality and a rejection of the militarist language can be achieved.

So this week again the utilisation of a militarist language again has demonstrated how our endeavour to say “no” to this tone and to promote diplomacy, links between civil society agents is essential to change the conversation.

We believe that women can promote this change.

Onlyherstory: “Sıradan” Kadınların Hikayesini Anlatmak

Eşitlik, Adalet, Kadın Platformu

Onlyherstory (Sadece Onun Hikayesi) Instagram sayfası aracılığı ile Türkiye’deki “sıradan” olarak nitelendiren fakat mücadele ile dolu olan kadınların hayat hikayelerini takipçilerine aktarıyor.

Bugüne kadar fotoğraflar ile birlikte yetmişi aşkın kadının hikayesini aktardı.

Sayfanın kurucularından proje koordinatörü ve yaratıcı yazarlık çalışmaları alanında çalışmalarını yürüten Derya Atlas ile konuştuk.

Onlyherstory sayfanız aracılığı ile Türkiye’de hayatlarımıza dokunmuş kadınların hikayelerini anlatıyorsunuz. Bu projeye ne zaman, nasıl başladınız ? Bu sayfayı kurma fikri nasıl oluştu ?

Ablam Duygu bize arada sırada eski aile fotoğrafları yollamayı çok sever, aile arşivinin çoğu da ondadır. Bundan iki sene önce durgun bir yaz günü anneannemizin fotoğraflarına bakarken “Niye bunları hikayeleştirip paylaşmıyoruz ki?” dedi. Biz, erken yaşta babasını kaybetmiş ve hayatında erkek figürü olmayan çocuklar olarak hep kadınların arasında, genelde bir mutfak masasının etrafında onların hikayelerini, hayatlarını dinleyerek büyüdük. Onlar belki bazıları için “sıradan” olabilirdi ama bizim hayatımıza damga vurmuş kadınlardı. Tez canlılıkla bir Instagram hesabı açtık ve kendi aile kadınlarımızın ağzından onların hikayelerini anlatmaya başladık.

Bu sayfa aracılığı ile “sıradan” olan hayatların aslında ne kadar sıradan olmadığını ve farklı mücadeleler ile şekillendiğini gösteriyorsunuz. Başladığınızda sitedeki içerik ile ilgili düşünceleriniz-planlarınız nelerdi, ilk hikayenizi nasıl yazdınız ve zamanla gelen hikayelerle sayfanız nasıl şekillendi ?

Amacımız hayatımızdaki kadınlardan başlayarak onlara başrol verip seslerini geçmişten duyurabilmekti. Genelde erkeklerin hikayelerinde yan karakter olan ve belli rollerde konumlandırılan tiplemelerin çok ötesinde, girift hikayelerimiz var bizim. İlk hikayemizin başrolü anneannemiz Kâmuran hep güçlü duran, biraz da vakur bir karakterdi fakat hayatının erken dönemini şekillendiren üstü örtülü bir erkek şiddeti vardı. Projemizin ana görseli olarak da kullandığımız Kâmuran’ın hülyalı güzelliği ve Mona Lisa-vari kriptik gülüşünün ardında bir hikaye olduğunu sezebiliyorsunuz. Zamanla, bize sevgili okurlarımızdan gelen her anlatıyla birlikte daha keskin tarihi dönemlere, kimliklere ve deneyimlere bakabilme şansımız oldu. Bu açıdan daha birbirleriyle kesişen ve kapsayıcı hikayeler anlatabiliyoruz artık.

Hikayelerin kadınların sesiyle yazılmış olması aktarımı eşsiz kılan özelliklerinden biri. Size hikayeler nasıl yollanıyor ve yazma sürecini nasıl gerçekleştiriyorsunuz ?

Hikayeler bize okurlarımız tarafından Instagram veya e-posta üzerinden yollanıyor. Geliş sırasına göre oluşturduğumuz epey kabarık bir yayın listemiz var. Bazıları bütüncül bir hikaye olarak geliyor, bu durumda zamanımızı hikayeyi düzenleme ve detaylandırmaya adıyoruz. Anlatı olarak aktarılanlarda ise düzenlemenin yanı sıra birinci ağızdan edebileştirerek yeniden yazım ve hikaye sahibiyle soru-cevap süreci daha yoğun ilerliyor.

Şu anda projeyi Duygu Atlas, Mesut Alp ve bendeniz yürütüyoruz. Biri tarihçi, biri arkeolog ve ikisi de usta hikaye anlatıcıları; bu sebeple her hikayeyi titizlikle, disiplinlerarası bir bağlamda inceliyoruz. En büyük önceliğimiz, ana akım medya ve kültürde yer bulmayan hikayeleri anlatmak ve etnisite, dil, din, yöre ayrımı gözetmemek, dolayısıyla olabildiğince çeşitli kadın deneyimleri anlatmak.

Sizce Türkiye’deki kadın hikayeleri birbirine nasıl bağlanıyor ? Bu hikayeleri aktarırken gördüğünüz benzerlikler ve farklılıklar neler ?

Kadın mücadelesi bu hikayelerin tam ortasında. Bir kere her kadının mücadelesi hep aleyhlerine işleyen ve onu bir gruba koymaya çalışan patriyarkal düzene karşı. Doğdukları dönem, yaşadıkları coğrafya, konuştukları dil ve sahip oldukları inançlara göre daha katmanlı mücadelelere dönüşüyor bu hikayeler. Daha kapsayıcı bir kadın dayanışması için tek tip değil, daha çok farklı kadın deneyimlerini konuşmaya ihtiyacımız var. Onlyherstory’nin ulaştığı kitlenin büyüklüğü ve çeşitliliği görünce bunu bir nebze başarabildiğimizi düşünüyoruz.

Sayfanızı gün geçtikçe daha çok kişi takip ediyor ve çok fazla yorum ve dayanışma mesajı alıyorsunuz. Hikayeleri hem Türkçe hem İngilizce anlatıyorsunuz, Türkiye’de ve Türkiye dışında nasıl bir geri bildirim aldınız ?

Hikayeleri Türkçe yazıyoruz, fakat Türkiye’de otuzu aşkın dil konuşuluyor, Kürtçe başta olmak üzere. Dilin önündeki engeli kaldırmak, anlatılan deneyimi de özgürleştiriyor. Bu yüzden ne kadar fazla dilde yapabilirsek, o kadar çok kişiye ulaşmış oluyoruz. İngilizce anlatmamızın genel nedeni, Türkiyeli kadınların görünürlüğünü arttırmak. Ayrıca, üçümüz de yurtdışında yaşadığımız için gözbebeğimiz bu projeyi evrensel bir dil olan İngilizcede anlatabilmek bizim için çok önemli.

Bundan sonra sayfa ve hikayelerin aktarımı ile ilgili başka projeleriniz var mı ? Nasıl bir yol izlemeyi düşünüyorsunuz ?

Çok yoğun iş tempolarımıza rağmen aklımız fikrimiz Onlyherstory’de. Daha çok vakit ayırıp projeyi büyütmeyi, daha çok hikaye yayınlamayı arzu ediyoruz. Yakında web sitemizi açacağız. Pandemi öncesi daha fiziksel planlarımız vardı, hatta Oxford Üniversitesi’nde bir “yaşamyazıcılığı” atölyesi yapacaktık. Bugünlerde projeyi nasıl kitaplaştırabileceğimiz üzerine kafa yoruyoruz. Genel olarak, projeye anlamlı bir fon bulmak, spesifik coğrafya veya konu odağında detaylı çalışmalar yapmak, sergi ve Youtube kanalı açmak gibi pek çok fikrimiz var. Fakat amacımız hep aynı: sesini duyuramamış kadınların hikayelerini geniş kitlelere duyurmak ve farkındalık yaratarak kadın dayanışmasını güçlendirmek.

Populism and Femicide in Turkey

Photo by Begüm Zorlu

by Balki Begumhan Bayhan & Begüm Zorlu

Pınar Gültekin, a 27-year-old student murdered by her ex-partner in July, whose death began the #ChallengeAccepted movement on Instagram. Source: Ahval/Facebook

On 21 July 2020, 27-year old university student Pınar Gültekin was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, becoming another victim of Turkey’s wave of femicides. Gültekin was declared missing for six days before she was found dead, strangled to death for refusing to reconcile with her former partner.

The news of Gültekin’s murder sparked protests across the country, with women taking to the streets in more than ten cities. The largest demonstrations took place across various neighbourhoods of Istanbul, gathering thousands of people. Smaller-scale protests also took place in less-populous Turkish cities including İzmir, Edirne, Mersin and Malatya.

On more than one occasion, women protesting gender-based violence were met with violence themselves. In İzmir, police officers brutally intervened in the protest and several women were beaten. Videos from the event captured scenes of women being manhandled and dragged away by police officers. 12 were taken into custody, although they were later released.

Women in Turkey have also taken to social media to protest femicides and express support for the Istanbul Convention – an international treaty on preventing violence against women – from which the Turkish government has expressed its intention to withdraw. The social media movement has involved women sharing photos of themselves in black and white on Instagram or Twitter under the hashtags ‘#ChallengeAccepted’ and ‘#IstanbulSozlesmesiYasatir’ (the Istanbul Convention Keeps Women Alive). Although it first started to trend in Turkey after Gültekin’s murder, this movement has now spread outside the country. Millions of women have participated in this social media movement – including high-profile celebrities such as Jessica Biel and Christina Aguilera.

Since the news of the murder of Gültekin, 11 women – Bahar Özcan, Seher Fak, Mücella Demir, Süheyla Yılmaz, Derya Aslan, Emine Yanıkoğlu, Döndü and Beyza Kandur, Gönül Gökçe, Sümmeye Ateş, Şule Bilgin and an unnamed 4-year-old girl – have met a similar fate. These tragic murders are, unfortunately, in no way isolated incidents. They form part of a larger pattern that has been emerging in Turkey under the country’s increasingly authoritarian Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Populism Meets Anti-Gender Discourse

Under the AKP, the number of women killed by men has increased rapidly. Since 2010, more than 3,000 women have been murdered as a result of male violence, with the figure more than doubling over the years. The vast majority of these women were killed for making decisions about their own lives – breaking up with a partner or rejecting men’s advances.

The increasing rate of femicide in Turkey. Source: We Will Stop Femicide Platform

Turkey’s recent controversy around the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention can be interpreted as a manifestation of the broader anti-gender discourse of many right-wing populist parties. Similarly, Poland’s conservative Law and Justice Party government has also been attacking the Convention, framing it as a menace to the family structure – with some of its officials arguing that it promotes ‘gay ideology.’ The debate around Turkey’s possible withdrawal began after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in typical populist fashion, stated that ‘if the people want us to leave it, we’ll leave it.’ The arguments for leaving the Convention have been similar to those in Poland. In both cases they are built upon decades-old anti-feminist discourses, with advocates of withdrawal claiming that it ‘empowers LGBT+ groups’ and ‘destroys families.’

As part of the AKP’s polarising strategies against political opposition, the party’s officials have vocally criticised forms of womanhood that do not fit into the roles envisaged by their conservative understanding of the family structure. With increasing emphasis on women’s traditional roles, in 2011 the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs was rebranded to remove reference to women, becoming the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. In the past, AKP officials and Erdoğan himself have repeatedly made discriminatory statements against women. For instance, the president has been quoted saying that ‘women are not equal to men’ and called for women to have ‘at least three children.’

The Way Forward

The government’s attempt to turn the Istanbul Convention into a wedge issue has backfired. There is no clear segment of society against it, and according to an opinion poll by Turkey Report only 8.8 percent of the population want to withdraw, and 51.7 percent are not even aware of its contents.

While the number of femicides has steadily increased, the Turkish government has failed to implement measures to protect women or introduce any reforms to tackle gender inequality. According to the Judicial Records statistics in 2019, most of the complaints made by women of sexual and physical violence do not result in a prosecution. This year, Turkey ranked 130th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Women’s rights activists are outraged by the deteriorating situation that is worsened by the proposal to withdraw from the treaty, with many arguing that it was never properly implemented in the first place.

Mobilised by outrage and solidarity, the women’s movement has made its presence felt in the mainstream of Turkish society, through both vocal social media campaigns and a tangible presence in the streets through mass protests. Gülseren Onanç – who served as the vice president of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the founder of the Equality, Justice and Women Platform – has told the authors that she is administrating a new project called ‘the Voice of Women,’ which aims to empower women on social media. She, like many feminist activists in Turkey, believes that effective use of social media is crucial to create awareness of, and action on, women’s rights and equality demands.

Tensions rising in the Mediterranean: The interplay of domestic and foreign policy in Turkey

Photo by Pixabay on

The dangerous escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean, stemming from the disagreement over territory in the waters of the Aegean and Mediterranean, has increasingly been on the radar of scholars in Greece and Turkey, as well as international observers. The recent war of words, threats, and increased levels of military mobilization by Athens and Ankara has created fears of an armed encounter. Even though NATO has recently announced that the actors will “establish mechanisms for military deconfliction”, at the time of writing Greece rejected the cooperation.

How did it come to this? The current tensions can be said to be triggered by the recent alignment between Greece, Cyprus, Israel which indicated their willingness to cooperate on exploiting natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Regional cooperation resulted in the establishment of Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum last year which also included Italy, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

The exclusion of Turkey from this alignment resulted in the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan beginning to carry out its search for natural resources in waters where jurisdiction is contested. Confrontation intensified in November 2019, when Turkey signed a controversial maritime accord with Libya’s government which was viewed illegal by Greece. In February, even when Turkey’s insistence on continuing its drilling activities resulted in minor sanctions from the EU, Turkey did not back down. Greece and Egypt recently concluded a bilateral demarcation treaty of their maritime territories in the eastern Mediterranean which infuriated Turkey.

The tensions between Greece and Turkey were intensifying outside the Mediterranean as well. In March, Turkey opened its borders and threatened to effectively end its refugee deal with Europe by allowing refugees to enter into the European Union. Next, the transition of Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church and later Ottoman mosque, which had been turned into a secular museum in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, back to a mosque, was perceived as a provocation by Greece. In a recent statement, the foreign minister of Greece, Nikos Dendias, also accused Erdoğan of attempting to “implement expansionist aims.”

Populist foreign policy

It is important to underline that Turkey’s disagreement over its share of natural resources is not new. Even though natural resources were discovered in the region years ago, and Turkey has been opposing the agreements that the other parties have signed for more than ten years, the current tension demonstrates that the territorial control of the waters is not the only prime reason of the current contention. What marks this novel tension is Turkey’s increasing isolation in the regional and international arena, confrontational and threatening tone in the foreign policy along with increasing authoritarianism at home.

Even though Turkey is following a confrontational and interventionist foreign policy, mainly manifested in Turkey’s intervention in Syria and Libya, Turkish elites, and primarily Erdoğan, utilise an injustice frame to explain their international position, especially in the case of the eastern Mediterranean.  

Under a populist foreign policy, similarly to its domestic policies at home, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has tried to forge a common identity by constructing a foreign “other”. The populist foreign policy has been concurrent with changes in political institutions which led to the domination of the president and his populism both at home and at the international level. Labelling rivals as “others” is a strategy that is frequently deployed by the ruling elites in domestic politics, since all those who challenge the government can be presented as being associated with this foreign “other” and hence be de-legitimised. This populist rhetoric in foreign policy also makes it harder to handle technical issues which also feeds into the conflict escalating tone and is an obstacle to nuanced diplomacy.

Erdoğan’s populist foreign policy is shaped by and shapes domestic politics in Turkey. Last year, hundreds were arrested in a crackdown on critics of the military offensive in Syria, called Operation Peace Spring by the Ankara. This demonstrates that those who advocate a counter-narrative to the government’s aggressive foreign policy actions risk being framed as a traitor and face imprisonment.

In this crisis, except for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the political opposition seems to pile behind the government. There are no clear proposals for peacefully resolving Turkey’s international quarrels from the political parties with few exceptions as they are following the agenda set by the incumbent. The statements made by the nationalist opposition Good Party (İYİ Parti) even provokes further escalation as one official from the party stated: “if any threats are made to the Turkish military, whoever makes these threats must and will receive a harsher response”, thereby maintaining a militarist tone.

Throughout this crisis, although the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) claims to be a part of the social-democratic left tradition in Turkey, the party has failed to live up to the legacy of İsmail Cem who was Turkey’s foreign minister under the similarly aligned Democratic Left Party (DSP) in the 1990s. Cem, a successful diplomat, was able to disentangle domestic and international rhetoric, thereby ultimately establishing good personal relations with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou.

Today the CHP is divided in its attitude. The spokesperson for the CHP has expressed support for the government’s policy by underlining that Turkey “should not take a step back” even though he acknowledges the need for a diplomatic resolution. Another CHP MP has underlined for example that “Turkey is a great state and will not comply as it did not in history.” However, there are other voices from the CHP like the Deputy Chairman Ünal Çeviköz who has been calling for the prioritisation of a peaceful resolution and provides diplomatic analysis on the framework. Çeviköz’s vision seems to be mirrored by the leader of CHP, Kılıçdaroğlu’s recent address in which he promoted a peaceful resolution by stating “both of our peoples do not want war.”

It is important to underline that Cem and Papandreou’s ability to put in place mechanisms that averted a conflict between the two states in the 1990s also demonstrate that under Turkey’s populist foreign policy, there is no room for diplomats that could act similarly. However, instead of following an approach dedicated to conflict resolution, the political opposition is not capable of making solutions heard and from time to time supports the incumbent in its confrontational tone.

Way ahead

Many of the analyses seem to forget that the global pandemic and the climate crisis is continuing and that there is a need for further cooperation rather than animosity between states. Accounts of energy or power politics also miss the environmental consequences of the quest to acquire natural resources. The utilisation of refugees as bargaining chips, the increasing militarisation in the public sphere are also perilous in the way ahead. 

In a time where such tensions are rising, international and regional assistance is needed more than ever to maintain the channels of dialogue that can prevent armed escalation. There also seems to be no consensus from the European actors on how to respond, as France is utilising a more assertive position against Turkey, with military backing and a continuous call for sanctions, while Germany’s approach involves bringing actors together. Time will show what will happen.

This article was published at Political Studies Association Blog.

When Leftists Ruled the Airwaves: İsmail Cem, TRT, and a Divided Turkey

Reuben Silverman


İsmail Cem was thirty-three in 1974, youthful and handsome, educated at the best schools in Turkey and Europe, president of the Istanbul Journalists Union and a famous columnist in his own right. He was also the author of several books on Turkish politics with a pronounced socialist-bent. He was, in short, an ideal candidate to head the Television and Radio Institution of Turkey (TRT) when the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) came to power, and under his leadership TRT did indeed embark on some of its most important and artistic ventures. Yet his fifteen months in office were also marked by bitter disputes, accusations and legislative maneuvering that reflected an increasingly divided society where opposing factions saw themselves as representing the popular will and their opponents as having no legitimacy at all.


I. I: A History of Turkish Radio Television Underdevelopment

II. Mr.Cem Goes to Ankara

III. The “Sultan…

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Protesting the Death of Tahir Elçi

Tahir Elçi, a celebrated human rights lawyer and activist promoting peace, was killed in Diyarbakir after a gun battle between the police and unidentified shooters.

He was issuing a press statement, calling out for an end to violence between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) when he was shot dead. He was 49 years old.

Masses gathered after hearing the news of his death in Istanbul by organising a vigil at Istiklal Street.

It can be said that the vigil happened spontaneously as over the years Istiklal Street became the main venue to protest injustice.

His death incited anger as he was an advocate for peace and reconciliation.

Almost everyone who knew him stated that “he was a good man that helped everyone around him.”

The protestors held photos of Elci and stayed in silence to commemorate him, then chanted slogans to express their outrage.

The following slogans were chanted: “Murderer State”, “You can’t kill us all”, “Şehîd Namirin” which means martyrs never die in Kurdish.

The police tried to disperse the crowd by driving armoured vehicles towards them and fired water cannons.

Yet the crowds remained.

It was a sad day for peace in Turkey.

It was a sad day.

Testimonies: Remembering Hrant Dink

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Jonathan Fryer had defined Hrant Dink in his obituary in the Guardian as “a warm, sensitive man, who would greet an old friend with a bear hug…”

He notes how Hrant Dink experienced harassment and threats, what Dink names and Fryer records as “psychological torture.”

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Fryer further reflects on Dink’s words: “I am just like a pigeon, obsessively looking to my left and to my right, in front of me and behind me.”

This quote is remembered every year, transferred to generations.

I learned about Dink by joining these protests.

I knew little of him when I first joined and over the years got to know what he stood for and what he did.

Younger people are also learning about him by accompanying their families, friends or just turning up after hearing about this unjust death.

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Being there makes one aware of the networks of solidarity and gives the feeling that one is not alone to stand up to injustices.

Thousands march to commemorate this sincere writer who was killed due to the predominance of hate, institutional hate.

Yet the hate that is maintained in institutions is being countered by the masses, with solidarity and objection.

These photos were taken on the 19th of January, 2015.

This is the day that the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed eight years ago.

The march again was commemorating the life that had a lot to give, experience and was lost in an unjust and sudden way.

Hrant Dink has become a symbol of peace for many, every year thousands remember him and chant “Never Again”, “We are here!”


Articles and Sources on Hrant Dink

Hrag Vartanian (2006). A Voice in the Wilderness

Hrant Dink Foundation

Section from his book “Two close peoples two distant Neighbours”


A Year of Terrorist Bombings in Turkey (2015)


“While the ruling elite remains emotionally and physically unaffected by the bombings, this year of violence has left thousands dead and injured, broken dozens of families, and shattered the previously fragile peace in the country’s southeast.

In a state where funerals and lawlessness have become common, the victims of these mass atrocities feel isolated.

At a time when Turkey should be protecting and defending its citizens, there is a profound lack of justice for those who are most deeply affected by the country’s many, recent tragedies.”

See full text at

Gülseren Onanç’tan Barış İçin Kadın Koalisyonu Önerisi

Bu yazının bir kısmı Bianet’de yayınlanmıştır.

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Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi Meclis Üyesi ve eski Genel Başkan Yardımcısı Gülseren Onanç Kadın Forum’unda Kuzey İrlanda’da kurulan kadın koalisyonunun Türkiye’de barışın tesisinde önemli bir örnek olacağını belirtti ve ısrarla diyaloğun altını çizdi.

Diyaloğun önemi

Onanç konuşmasına kendi deneyiminden yola çıkarak, kadın hareketindeki deneyimin onun dönüşümünde önemli rol oynadığının belirterek başladı. 10 yıl önce kadın ve Kürt meselelerinin beraber tartışılmasının bugün Kürt sorununa empati kurmasına katkıda bulunduğunu belirtti ve diyaloğun sadece kendileri gibi düşünenlerle değil karşı taraflarla da yürütülmesi gerektiğini söyledi.

AKP’li kadın vekiller sürece katılmalı

AKP’den de vekilleri sürece katarak kadın kimliği üzerinden bilinci arttırmanın değişimini tetiklenebileceğini söyleyen Onanç uzun dönemli barış için karşı taraftakileri kendi saflarına çekmeleri gerektiğini belirtti.

Kadın koalisyonu fikri

Bu Mart ayında hem siyasi partilerinde hem de sivil toplum örgütlerinin katıldığı , DPI’ın (Democratic Progress Institute) ev sahipliğinde Kuzey İrlanda’ya giden ve kadınların barış sürecindeki rolünü inceleyen Onanç İrlanda’dakine benzer bir koalisyonun Türkiye’de oluşabilmesinin imkanlarını sorgulayarak, girişimlerini belirtti.
‘IRA ile İngiltere arasındaki süreçte kadın koalisyonu bir oyuncu olarak geliyor ama kurulurken kendine prensipler belirliyor
  1. Çatışmaların silahla değil müzakere ve diyalog ile çözülmesi
  2. İdeolojiler üstü bir siyaset zeminine duyulan ihtiyaca cevap verme
  3. Ayrıştıran siyaset yerine uzlaştıran, ilkeler yerine iş yapan siyaset anlayışın tesis edilmesi
  4. Kadınlar çatışmaların mağdurudur ve dayanışma içinde olmalıdır ilkesi
  5. Dünyada çözülemeyecek hiç bir çatışma yoktur yeter ki diyalog ve müzakereler olsun anlayışı.’


‘Diyalogu bizim başlatmamız gerekiyor’

‘Çatışma çözümlerinde etkili olmanın yolu ayrım yapmayan kapsayıcı bir iletişim ve ilişki sürdürmek adına önyargıları kırmaktan korkmamalıdır. Öncelikle önyargılarımızı kırmak üzere diyalogu bizim başlatmamız gerekiyor. Diyaloğun çok  önemli olduğuna inanıyorum ve insanı kadını ve sistemi değiştirebileceğine inanıyorum.
Uzun dönemde yapılacak barış görüşmeleri içerisinde kurulacak bir kadın koalisyonunun, fakat bütün siyasi yelpazeyi içeren bir koalisyonun yarın kurulacak her hangi bir masada yer alması gerekiyor’ dedi.