By Gökhan Bacık
Jul 10 2018
Regime change is almost complete in Turkey.
Hereafter, we will witness how the new
regime reshapes social, cultural and even economic life in Turkey in line with
its own Islamist ideology.
Nevertheless, there is confusion among
pundits in naming the power holders of the new regime. Some still have the
opinion that, despite revolutionary political changes led by President Recep
Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish state is still dominated by the traditional actors
usually dubbed the “deep state”.
Accordingly, the old state cadres still
safeguard their positions in a kind of cohabitation with Erdoğan.
For instance, in this vein, several experts
interpret the role of ultra-nationalist leader Devlet Bahçeli’s in alliance
with the ruling party as a proof of the old cadres within the state machinery.
But, are such comments plausible? And more importantly,
who does this new state belong to?
Regime change is a complex procedure that
requires a comparatively long time. Therefore, any process of regime change
generates some sort of gray zones where the remnants of the old order
temporarily survive. So, there will also be times when we observe remnants of
the old regime during Erdoğan’s regime change.
Even so, one point is clear: The owners and
real power holders of the nascent regime and state are Islamists. Imagining old
cadres playing critical role or assuming important posts within the state in
Erdoğan’s Turkey is misleading.
A short review of the Turkish state
tradition may help us better understand how Erdoğan is dominating the new
In theory, one can classify state
traditions into two models: Functional and transcendental.
In the former, the state is an instrument
to serve the citizenry. In the latter, however, the state is almost a
metaphysical entity whose prime mission is not to serve its citizens, but
instead to guide them.
Historically, the Turkish state tradition
has been a good example of the transcendental track.
Reflecting that, the Turkish state has
positioned itself above its citizens almost as an autonomous organisation. In
this model, the state is no longer an instrument to serve the population.
Borrowing a term from German philosopher Carl Schmitt, the Turkish state
tradition has its own political theology regulating state and society
As a result of this political theology, the
state assumes a transcendental position and citizens are expected to serve the
state. Meanwhile, the state – usually dubbed the father figure – provides
freedom, jobs and other needs to its citizens as approved by the political
However, there is a critical point not to
be overlooked here: The historical root of such a transcendental state
tradition among Turks is the Turkish people. The Turkish people have
historically demanded their state be organised as a transcendental entity. Put
it differently, the Turkish transcendental tradition is never a top to bottom
phenomenon, instead, a reflection of well-established sociological demand for
such a model.
Turks have been happy to have a
transcendental state showing them what is wrong and right as well as punishing
those who follow dangerous ideas.
In a broader framework, Turks’ admiration
of a transcendental statehood is a reflection of the mainstream Sunni Islamic
thought that calls Muslims to obey ulu’l amr, i.e. those in authority.
Reflecting this sociological enthusiasm for
a transcendental statehood, all political cadres quickly transform into
state-oriented and naturally authoritarian actors.
On this account, what we witness in Turkey
today is not the transformation of the Islamist actors by the old cadres. Quite
contrary to that, we observe how the Islamist actors are now embracing a
transcendental position within the historical standards of Turkish political
Seeing how Islamists maintain several
features of the transcendental Turkish state tradition such as authoritarianism
or nationalism, some mistakenly think the old cadres of Turkish politics retain
their central role and are transforming the ruling party.
Islamists are expected to continue many
typical features of the transcendental state tradition. However, Islamists will
also certainly demand radical changes in the long term. And only observing such
long-term changes, it will be more clear that the Islamists are the real
holders and possessors of the nascent regime.
For example, Islamists will strive for a
complete purge of Kemalist cadres from the state including the Turkish Armed
Forces. Instead, the new central official ideology of the Turkish state will be
an Islamist-nationalist one.
Similarly, it will not be easy to find a
position within the state for people from all shades of the left, including
Meanwhile, some nationalist groups who have
historically differentiated themselves from Kemalism may survive as long as
they recognise the Islamists’ central role. But the Islamists would also want
to weaken their impact in the long term.
Given all the dynamics we observe, the
Islamists are the real possessors of the new regime in Turkey. Yet, time is now
on the side of the Islamists.