By Dr. Ruben Safrastyan
Prime-Minister R. T. Erdogan’s pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (JDP) at the July 22 pre-term parliamentary elections in Turkey, collecting 46.7% of votes, gained a serious victory. Besides the JDP, the left-wing centrist Republican People’s Party (CHP) with 20.9% and the ultra right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) with 14.3% also entered the Turkish Parliament. The prognoses of experts on the victory of the ruling party in these elections have completely come true. In the Turkish history it is the unprecedented case that the ruling party not only has preserved its positions, but also sharply increased the number of supporters by 14%. Usually the parties, coming to power, lose the substantial number of their electorate.
The fact that the JDP enjoys serious authority in Turkey can be explained by number circumstances. First, in the recent several years the country has been getting high rates of economic growth, which reflects on the living standards of the population. Second, the JDP approaches, and in particular, its Islamism, are acceptable for the most part of society in Turkey. In addition, the loss of votes by the main opponent of the JDP – the Republican People’s Party speaks for the significant weakening of the Kemalist principles in Turkey.
It is necessary to note that some deep processes are developing inside the Turkish society, and Ataturk’s project, more precisely, that of the Young Turks and Ataturk, is coming to an end. Kemalism continued the Young Turks’ line, trying to push Turkey inside the Laicism and Westernization Procrustes’s bed, which does not correspond to the nature of the Turkish society. The sociological surveys of the recent years have showed that nearly 75% of population of the country consider themselves as active Muslims, and while up to mid-1990s Kemalism succeeded in keeping Islam within the frameworks of the ordinary ideology, then the process of politicization of Islam got momentum and now it is a real factor of the Turkish domestic and even foreign policy. So, one of the main Kemalist principles – depriving Islam from political functions is now under destruction.
We are witnessing the crisis of the national identity as well: according to sociological polls, held by British and German organizations, nearly 40% of the population do not consider themselves as Turks. The crisis of religious identity is also apparent. The fact is that Kemalism as an optimal system for functioning Turkish society is becoming obsolete: society is more Islamized and less nationalized than the Kemalists would like to see. That is why appearance of Erdogan’s party in power is adequate to the processes, developing in the country.
And while Kemalists consider the elections of Mejlis and President as the last opportunity to prevent the country’s slipping toward Islam, the Islamists hope to use the elections to limit the influence of the military on the state structure of Turkey as according to the current Constitution it is just the Supreme Headquarters is the guarantor of stability of Turkey and it has the right to dismiss the Government.
However, 14% of votes, collected by the Nationalist Action Party (the party of “Grey Wolves”), show that pan-Turkist and nationalist trends are also getting momentum in Turkey. That is why one cannot rule out the possibility of increasing anti-Christian and anti-Armenian moods in the country, which may have its impact on the Turkish foreign policy, which has already displayed some willingness to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim World. A Turkish representative has been Executive Secretary of the Organization of Islamic Conference since 2005, a number of institutions of that organization are situated in Istanbul, which speak for the more ponder able role that Turkey is starting to play in the Muslim countries, and against such backdrop Kemalism is being seriously eroded.
As for the Armenian issue and the policy regarding Armenia, there is no any influential party or public organization in Turkey to have approaches different from that pursued by the ruling circles. That policy is based on pressure on Armenia aiming at getting concessions in a number of issues, which have been formulated by the Turkish leaders the same way for almost 16 recent years – since establishment of the independent Republic of Armenia. Recognition of the borders, giving up the policy of recognition of the genocide of Armenians, unilateral concessions in the Karabakh issue – these are the preconditions put forward by Turks for establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of the borders between the two states. There are no substantial differences in the approaches by the Islamists and Kemalists on this matter. However, the slight difference is that Islamists, not considering themselves as full successors to Ataturk’s, may display some inclination to softening of their policy regarding Armenia and Armenian issue. In summer and autumn of 2002 there were some signs of that, when candidates of R.T. Erdogan’s party during the election campaign spoke about the necessity of introducing the principles of economic reasonability into relations with Armenia; however, coming to power, they forgot about it.
Even more, Turkey has already practically divided the South Caucasian region into two parts, outlining the political alliance Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan, reinforced by such substantial economic factors as “Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan” oil pipeline and construction of the new railroad “Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi” bypassing Armenia, leaving Armenia in full isolation.
As far as cooperation between Georgia and Azerbaijan has been reinforced and strengthened, especially after the so called “gas crisis” in Georgia, when Azerbaijan started to export gas to Georgia and helped much that country, it is possible to state that now there are all preconditions for creation of the political block among Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Based on the above, it is possible to conclude that that Russia has substantially lost its positions in the South Caucasus, and thanks to Turkey’s skillful policy, which is certainly, pushed forward by the United States, the regions has fully got out of the zone of the Russian influence.
Armenia has quite a negative historical experience: as soon as Russia got out from the region of the South Caucasus, Turkey immediately organized aggression. We have to follow up such processes now as well and be ready for addressing the challenges, setting from them. In such context Armenia has only one way out from the situation – to continue the line of developing allied relations with Russia – both bilateral and within the format of the Organization of Collective Security Treaty.
In conclusion, it is necessary to note that today the allied relations between Armenia and Russia have no alternative. In this matter there is no question of being supporter of the West or the East, but just that of the sober perception of reality.
July 24, 2007