- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey.

It’s an exceptional time in Turkey for political analysts and ordinary citizens alike. Everyone is trying to figure out the real meaning and motive in the re-election of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) by a strong majority. Frankly, it’s too early to make conclusive judgments on how this election will affect Turkey’s secular democracy or its relationship with the West and the region around it.

But there is one certainty. The road ahead is divided along two different paths. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul demands to be Turkey’s next president. In his politically correct way, Mr. Gul hinted that the military’s rejection of his presidential bid and the protests of millions painted him as a victim, securing the AKP’s victory. “I cannot ignore the signal of the streets,” he said. Mr. Gul’s message is that the military lost in the presidential election, and AKP won. Yet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not providing vocal support for Mr. Gul’s re-claimed candidacy. What’s more, the military remains the country’s most trusted state institution.

If and when Mr. Gul becomes president, there will be no obstacle for the covering of women’s heads in government offices. Mr. Gul’s wife covers hers tightly. That would officially change the face of Turkey. It would symbolize the end of the Ataturk era. Note what Iran’s major cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati says about the AKP’s victory: Turks “[w]ant an Islamic government.” Also striking is EU Commissioner Franci Frattini warning the AKP to protect “the rights of the secular minority.” Many Turks vehemently criticized this warning. Only time will show who is right.

The Turks’ real reasons for electing the AKP are anyone’s guess. According to the Pew Global Survey, almost 80 percent of Turks see the United States as a threat, and U.S. policies get only single-digit approval ratings. Turks were highly critical of the “Greater Middle East Initiative,” and of the perception that the United States supports Islamifying Turkey. Yet Turks are supporting that perceived U.S. policy for change in their country by electing the Islamist-rooted AKP for a second term.

On the EU front, Turks increasingly oppose accession. They are frustrated by the EU’s double standards for Turkey, and many admit they don’t care whether Turkey ultimately joins. Therefore, it will be naive to claim that Turks voted for the AKP because of its support for EU membership. Yet Mr. Erdogan’s political adviser, Mehmet Metiner, who served as the deputy chairman of the Kurdish party HADEP, told me in a recent interview that the Kurdish people voted for the AKP because of its pro-EU policies and because Kurds believe democracy will bring them freedom. He also said that the Kurds who voted for the AKP did so because they support a unilateral Turkish state, not separation or federation.

Kurds also may have voted for the AKP because they know Mr. Erdogan opposes a cross-border military operation into Northern Iraq against the PKK, who are separatist Kurdish terrorists. Mr. Metiner argued that the PKK secured the votes of the Nationalist Movement Party to have parliamentary representation in the midst of rising nationalism. He further claimed that the PKK sent a message to the Turkish establishment that it can help weaken the AKP. The Kurds did not buy it.

Mr. Metiner said the PKK must withdraw its armed forces outside Turkish borders and stop fighting Turkish security forces once the representatives of the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) take their seats in parliament. A source with connections to the PKK told me that Sabri Ok, who watches PKK operations in Turkey, chose the list of DTP candidates to serve. More interestingly, Mr. Metiner believes that Mr. Erdogan allowed DTP members with close ties to the PKK to enter the Turkish parliament with the same thought process that guided him to approve Hamas’ visit to Ankara. He also noted that Mr. Erdogan understood he was wrong to receive Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ exiled leader in Damascus. There has been no second Hamas visit to Ankara.

Mr. Erdogan, however, speaks in support of Hamas and Hezbollah, calling Israel a “terrorist state” — in times of crisis. According to Mr. Metiner Mr. Erdogan must use this kind of language for the benefit of his base, which he shares with Necmettin Erbakan, the longtime leader of Milli Gorus (“National Outlook”), a hard-core Islamist group. Mr. Metiner, who has been a close Erdogan confidante for nearly two decades, insists that Mr. Erdogan opposes Hamas’ religious nationalist ideology, and that he is not anti-Semitic. Israel’s Ambassador to Ankara, Pinhas Avivi, agrees with him. “In the time of [the] AK Party, different from what I expected or anybody expected in the past, relations flourished in a way that did not happen before,” Mr. Avivi told me.

If the Turkish prime minister’s suitable rhetoric to his base is the wobbling compromise with Mr. Erdogan’s secular stand — trying to help National Outlook Islamists to become assimilated under his new vision for the country — it’s fair to acknowledge that he is playing with fire. It’s also fair to remain suspicious of his motives.

Yet Turks decided to give Mr. Erdogan a chance. The question is, what does this chance really mean?

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.