TEHRAN – Some argue that the West, particularly the United States, is behind the political instability in Turkey.
However, Mehran Kamrava, a political science professor, refutes this claim, saying that “the political crisis in Turkey has its roots in domestic developments rather than in U.S.-Turkish relations.”
The crisis, that may unseat Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, erupted after a corruption scandal that led to the resignation of four cabinet ministers. The crisis followed protests in summer that shook Turkey.
Following is the text of interview with Kamrava, the director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar:
Q: Some argue that the U.S. with the help of leftists and secularists in Turkey is seeking to overthrow the ruling government and bring back the army to the political scene. In other words, the U.S. is trying to repeat the Egyptian scenario in Turkey. What is your view?
A: My sense is that the political crisis in Turkey has its roots in domestic developments rather than in U.S.-Turkish relations, or the desire--or ability for that matter--of the U.S. to bring about Erdogan's fall. Erdogan's tenure in office so far can be divided into separate periods. Initially, he oversaw a steady democratization of the Turkish political system, especially by reducing the political power of the military and reforming the judiciary. But he appears to have become over-confident and has overplayed his hand. Since his third election, Erdogan has pursued increasingly more polarizing policies, and with the AK party he has lost much support. In the process, he has alienated many of his former supporters. I see that as the root of the current developments in Turkey, not a change in U.S. policy.
Q: How serious is the possibility of an army coup against the Erdogan government?
A: A few years ago, the army was politically a more powerful than it is now. One of the major developments that have happened during Erdogan's premiership is the depoliticization of the army, and the removal of the army's political influence. I would be very surprised if the Turkish military was in a position, or had any power or intention, to interfere in the ongoing political process.
Q: Until recently, the West tried to show that Turkey can serve as a model of democracy for regional countries but now it has changed its policy. Why? What would be the advantages of overthrowing the Erdogan government for the West, especially the U.S.?
A: Again, I think it is important to look at Turkey's political turmoil as a product of domestic developments rather than as a result of what the West wants to do with and in Turkey. Turkey's political culture has always been divided between a part that is very secular and semi-democratic, and another that is somewhat religious and argues against the separation of religion and politics on democratic grounds. This doesn't mean they are necessarily democratic themselves, but that's how they make their arguments. Initially, Erdogan's initiatives and policies were framed in democratization argument--making the system more democratic, and not seeing it as contrary to Islam. That was extremely popular across the Middle East, and especially in the Arab world, where Turkish soft power and appeal soared. But then Erdogan has acted in less and less democratic ways and has become personally unpopular, especially within the AK party. In fact, from an institutional perspective, many within the AK party are calling for his resignation in order to save the party and make it once again popular. That's more important to look at rather than the West's designs on Turkey.
Q: What is your prediction of Iran-Turkey ties if the AK party is removed from power?
A: Regardless of who or what party is in power, Turkey and Iran are neighbors, are major players in the Middle East and beyond, have two large markets, and need each other. I don't think their relations will deteriorate in the future.