Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Blog: "Five ways al-Assad may fail"

Also, please see my new blog in the CNN Global Square:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Turks get a taste of the past in ethnic cuisines

By Suna Cagaptay and Soner Cagaptay
Hurriyet Daily News, May 21, 2011

For some years now, Turkish food has consisted of more than just kebabs for the cognizant. Visitors to Istanbul can try nouvelle cuisine and fusion dishes on terraces overlooking the city’s bridges and spires. Yet, an even newer dining trend is emerging in less chic localities: Turkey’s lesser known ethnic dishes, from “hacapuri,” a cheese-filled warm Georgian bread, to Cretan salad, prepared with pistachios and white (Turkish feta) cheese, are making an appearance in hole-in-the wall restaurants, giving the adventurous a taste of the country’s unbeknownst ethnic diversity.

Although they share a national pride, Turks are, in fact, an amalgam of various Muslim ethnic groups, consisting of Bosnians, Albanians, Tatars, Georgians, and Serbian-, Bulgarian-, and Greek-speaking Muslims, in addition to native Turks.

Almost half of Turkey’s 73 million citizens come from Europe. During the decline of the Ottoman Empire, millions of Turkish and non-Turkish Muslims living in central and southeastern Europe, Russia and the Caucasus fled persecution for the refuge of modern-day Turkey.

Persecution led the surviving Ottoman Turkish Muslims to seek unity in a common Turkish-Islamic identity. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, immigrant Muslims joined with Turks to support Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's nationalist campaign to liberate Turkey from occupation.

However, the focus on religious unity shifted when Ataturk pronounced Turkey a secular state in the 1920s. Ataturk called on Turks to forget the past, including the painful expulsions, and to look forward, uniting around the goal of Europeanization. Whereas Ottoman Christians, such as the Greeks, built their national identity on past grievances, Turks built their identity on the future and the goal of turning Turkey into a modern European state. As a result, the past was glossed over, and the country’s ethnic diversity was mostly forgotten.

Until recently, that is. Communism’s fall allowed millions of Turks with ancestry in the Warsaw Pact countries to reconnect to their roots and relatives. The Internet fostered these connections. Ethnic community websites emerged, such as Vlach for southern Balkan Romanian-speaking Muslims who were expelled from Greece in the 1920s, to connect with one another and discover their shared history.

This ethnic awakening led to a flourishing of ethnic cuisines. Dishes once confined to grandma’s kitchen made an appearance in restaurants. Hence, major Turkish cities now boast Circassian, Bosnian and Cretan restaurants, among others.


One such example is “Ficcin,” meaning meat pastry in Circassian, located in Istanbul’s hip Beyoğlu neighborhood. In the 19th century, expanding into the northern Caucasus, the Russians slaughtered the Circassians of the region. Survivors fled to the Ottoman Empire, settling across territories from Macedonia to Jordan, and subsequently making these areas their home. In Turkey, Circassians make up such a significant part of the population that the saying is, “If you scratch a Turk, you’ll find a Circassian underneath.”

Ficcin represents the rebirth of the Turkish Circassian community. The restaurant sets itself apart with specialties, including award-winning “Gabin,” Circassian-style dumplings, stuffed with potato puree, cheese or beef, smothered in a thick yogurt sauce, and topped with melted butter and red hot pepper flakes. Besides dumplings and various flaky-pastry dishes, the down-to-Earth restaurant also offers a variety of dishes for vegetarians, such as purslane cooked in olive oil, oven-baked zucchini patties served with yogurt-dill spread, and vine leaves stuffed with pine nuts, currants, and fresh herbs. Finish this off with Turkish tea served in distinctive tulip-shaped glass cups, and “kurabiye” (homemade cookies) stuffed with dried fruits, cardamom and cinnamon.

Address: Kallavi Sok. No.13/1-7/1, Beyoğlu

Phone: (+90) 212 243 8353



In working-class Pendik district, on Istanbul’s suburban Anatolian side and not far from the Formula 1 track, Lipa has emerged, bearing testimony to Turkey’s large Slavic Muslim stock from the Balkans. Slavic Muslims (Bosnians) from Bosnia and Serbia have been seeking refuge in Turkey ever since the Ottomans lost the Western Balkans to the Habsburgs in the 19th century. Subsequently, today there are more Bosnians in Turkey than there are in Bosnia, if you ever wondered; this explains why so many Turks are blonde and blue-eyed. The last wave of Bosnians, escaping the Serbian onslaught on Bosnia, arrived in Istanbul during the 1990s and settled in Pendik.

“Lipa,” a Balkan-style neighborhood tavern, offers a wide variety of Bosnian treats, accompanied by “rakija” (Bosnian grappa and a relative of Turkish raki). Among these dishes to try are “suho meso,” dried smoked beef platter (similar to breasole), cracked wheat pilaf prepared with dried meat, juicy meatball casserole topped with Bosnian cheese, “pavlaka” sour cream spread, and “ajvar,” an amazing relish made with roasted peppers, vinegar and garlic. To finish, try Bosnian baklava with walnut and honey stuffing, a wetter baklava compared to its Turkish cousin, but to the delight of diet-watchers, a less-sugary and sweet version.

Address: Mimar Sinan Cad. No.25, Sapanbağlari, Pendik

Phone: (+90) 216 354 2181.

Food opens connections to history

The flourishing of ethnic cuisines is good news for foodies. Until recently, a visit to a Turkish charcuterie would have provided few choices: Turkish feta and “kaşar” – a kashkaval whose name means kosher in Turkish, an Ottoman rabbi blessed this cheese, giving it its name – were the staples. Now, cheese-lovers have dozens of options, from smoky “Abaza” (Circassian tribal) cheese to exotic herbal cheese from the shores of Lake Van. Growing interest in ethnic foods has lain to rest the fear that these recipes would be lost forever. Rather, food is becoming a vehicle for Turks to remember their history. In Turkey, emerging ethnic cuisines are taking the Turks back centuries and reminding them of their country’s sweet and sour history.

* Suna Cagaptay is a professor of art history and architecture at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

© 2011 Hurriyet Daily News

Jinnah's Nightmare: What Went Wrong in Pakistan

By Soner Cagaptay
Hurriyet Daily News, May 22, 2011

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisioned the creation of Pakistan as a secular state for Muslims in the 1940s, he had little idea that his dream country would turn into an Islamist republic that enforces religion over its citizens, a hunting ground in which liberal Muslims are killed and a safe haven for the world’s most wanted terrorist. What went wrong with Jinnah’s vision?

Understanding what went wrong in Pakistan is necessary not only for the country’s sake, but also because it provides us with lessons on the role of religion in politics, especially at a time in which many Muslim-majority societies are busy redefining themselves during the Arab Spring.

Pakistan’s current messy state of affairs, from the assassination of liberal Muslim politicians such as the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, who was killed for saying no to the persecution of Christians – as any good Muslim should do – to the chilling discovery that Osama bin Laden lived in a military suburb of the nation’s capital, is a product of a process of Islamization that started in the 1970s under dictator Zia ul-Haq.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, many in Washington thought, and Zia agreed, that injecting religion into the fabric of Pakistani society and that of other Muslim-majority countries lying on the southern flank of the Soviet Empire, namely Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, would stave off the risk of these countries being taken over by leftist ideologies. Preventing communist takeovers in these countries would serve the larger strategic Cold War goal of blocking Russian access to warmer seas.

Known as the “Green Belt Theory,” this strategy was devised by the Western intelligence community to immunize these four nations against communism. But the strategy, which worked, has had unintended consequences: Religion has become the moral compass of these societies, long outlasting communism. Today, political Islam has penetrated thefabric of each of the four countries in unique ways: Pakistan is an Islamist republic, Afghanistan had become Talibanized, Iran fell prey to an Islamist revolution and Turkey, though a democracy, is under what is slowly becoming the ever-more permanent rule of the authoritarian and Islamist-inspired Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Among the four countries, Pakistan provides the most chilling case of what can go wrong in Muslim-majority societies if religion becomes politicized within the context of global politics. Pakistan’s Islamization started after Zia ul-Haq ousted the leftist leader Zulfiqar Ali Butto. To fight off Butto’s popular ideology, Zia used religion as the antidote. Compulsory religious instruction became part of the national curriculum. Courts, media outlets, financial institutions, nongovernmental organizations and charities guided by and promoting conservative Islam were promoted. The government expected its citizens to observe religion in a narrowly defined way as stipulated by Zia, and religion defined the modus operandi of Pakistan’s foreign policy, including its support for the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and the Kashmiris. Jinnah must have turned over in his grave as Pakistan left its secular outlook and Zia made Islam the moral compass of the Pakistani society.

Though nothing is wrong with conservative values, making religion the moral compass of any society produces unintended results: Religious purity is an ideological beauty competition in which the ugly guy always wins. Centering religion as the moral compass in religiously homogenous societies can produce further unexpected results, as the Pakistan case demonstrates. Given Islam’s frequent emphasis on orthopraxy (defining practice in its orthodox form as the right of passage to being a good Muslim), demographically homogenous Muslim societies lose their secular ethos and divergent forms of Muslimness wither away once a single, narrowly defined form of political Islam dominates. As the recent assassination of Salman Taseer demonstrates, it has become virtually impossible in Pakistan to be a Muslim in any way other than that imagined by the jihadists, the winners of the ideological beauty competition.

Pakistan’s Islamization has produced further unexpected results in the post-Sept. 11 era. The singular role ascribed to religion in politics, domestic and foreign alike, is now a combustive process, triggering radicalization along the lines of al-Qaeda’s rhetoric of a clash of civilizations and war between Islam and the rest of the world.

Mixing religion with politics is an irreversible process with harmful and unexpected consequences. What is more, assigning a key role to Islam in politics can unleash violent dynamics in post-Sept.11 Muslim majority societies. Religion and politics are like fire and powder, better keep them apart – Jinnah was right.

* Soner Çağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of “Turkish Foreign Policy under the AKP: The Rift with Washington” (2011).

© 2011 Hurriyet Daily News

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turkey's New 'Old Kemalists'

By Soner Cagaptay
Hurriyet Daily News, March 20, 2011

The Arab revolts of 2011 awakened interest in the Turkish model, exemplifying an Islamist-rooted party building a liberal democracy. Turkey's experience with the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government since 2002 shows quite the opposite.
When the AKP came to power, some saw it as an opportunity to end Kemalism and liberalize the country. They suggested that the AKP, rooted in Turkey's Islamist opposition, would move beyond rigid Kemalism, creating a truly liberal democracy. Some added that the AKP would also shed illiberal Kemalist traditions, such as its nationalist foreign policy line on European Union accession, as well as its taboos surrounding the Armenian issue.

The AKP did not move Turkey beyond Kemalism. Instead, the party destroyed Kemalists, while at the same time it perpetuated old Kemalism's taboos and attitudes and abandoned its liberal ideals, such as gender equality. Hence, a decade after the AKP assumed power, Turkey has become more illiberal. The old Kemalists are out and the "new" old Kemalists are in. The AKP's "new" old Kemalists do not share any of Kemalism's pro-Western tendencies and have plenty of illiberalism to spare.

Take, for instance, the Armenian issue: When the AKP came to power, some maintained that the AKP could normalize Turkey's ties with Armenia and open a liberal debate on the fateful events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. The AKP initially toyed with the idea of rapprochement -- to the extent of involving U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to broker a deal in 2009, only to break its promise later.

Another illustrative lesson in AKP intentions can be drawn from a recent visit by AKP leader and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Kars, a town on the Turkish-Armenian border. Erdogan commented on a statue, a symbol of Turkish-Armenian friendship depicting two abstract characters in shared agony, calling the statue "a freak show" and requesting that it be destroyed. So much for casting out old Kemalism's taboos: the AKP perpetuates these taboos, even if it eliminated Kemalists.

Nor has the AKP abandoned old Kemalism's nationalist stance in its foreign policy. Rather, the party has maintained this posture, and even moved beyond it to the point of undermining Turkey's historic goal of joining the EU.

Initially, the AKP pursued EU accession, though it now appears this was a tactical choice intended to allay fears about the AKP's political identity as an Islamist party. When Turkey entered membership talks in 2005 and the idea of a liberal society appeared within reach, the AKP backpedaled.

What is worse, the party is now fanning anti-European sentiments. Recently, the AKP's chief negotiator for EU accession warned that Europe risks "emulate[ing] the fascist methods of the 1930s." The power of such rhetoric should not be underestimated: according to a recent German Marshall Fund poll, 74 percent of Turks supported EU accession in 2004 while only 38 percent supported membership in 2010.

The AKP's "new" old Kemalism is painfully un-European. Take, for instance, gender equality: In 1994, 15 percent of executive civil service positions were held by women, according to IRIS, an Ankara-based women's rights group. This number has since decreased to 11 percent. While 33 percent of all lawyers in Turkey are women, not a single woman exists among the nine top bureaucrats in Turkey's Justice Ministry. Contrast this with the large number of female jurists in the country's high courts where, until recently, judges were appointed by their peers rather than the government. Nearly half of the members of the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, are women. A recent amendment to the constitution gives the AKP the right to singlehandedly appoint judges to the high court, which will effectively end judicial independence and further erode women's rights.

Lastly, consider the AKP's record on freedom of expression. Recently, it started an investigation into comments by Suheyl Batum, deputy chair of main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Speaking on the Turkish military's diminishing role in politics, Batum said that the "military is like a paper tiger." The AKP reacted with efforts to press criminal charges against Batum for "insulting the military." Here is the ultimate proof that the AKP enshrines "new" old Kemalism: the party is investigating a Kemalist for criticizing a Kemalist institution!

After nearly a decade in power, the AKP has not eliminated Turkey's taboos, embraced Europe, or increased freedoms. Instead, using its unbridled control over the executive, legislative and now judicial branches and the media, the party has eliminated Kemalists, and now aims to shape Turkish society in its own narrowly conservative and authoritarian image. In other words, the old Kemalists are gone and the "new" old Kemalists are in charge of Ankara.

Turkey and the Arab countries are different in many ways, and it is difficult to draw direct analogies. However, if Turkey's experience under the AKP proves anything, one should not expect Islamist parties to build liberal societies after the great Arab revolt is over.

Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Obama to the rescue

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review celebrates its fifth decade and Turkish democracy its sixth, all eyes are on Turkey. Will the country overcome the political warfare between the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its opponents?

To those who doubt the seriousness of the conflict, a well-informed friend says Turkey’s current polarization makes the divide between Blue States and Red States in the United States look like a monochrome affair. Will Turkey’s six-decade-old democracy collapse under the weight of its warring factions?

Worry not, for there is a way forward. So long as Turkey has true media freedom, it will democratically pull through the current polarized environment. And fortunately for us all, President Barack Obama has significant leverage in this matter.

The AKP government has a rather positive view of President Obama, even if it takes issue with particular U.S. policies. This change resulted from Obama’s April 2009 visit to Turkey, his first overseas trip after coming to power. The AKP has come to view this gesture as a sign of appreciation for the party and its policies.

What is more, the president and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have a close rapport, with Obama regularly calling Erdoğan to exchange views on foreign policy. In recent weeks, for instance, the president has phoned Erdoğan at least a dozen times to discuss the events in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in Middle East.

Finally, as farfetched as it might sound, the AKP has an emphatic, if factually-incorrect, connection with the president. This bond stems from the fact that, as one Washington-based Turkey analyst has put it, “prominent AKP leaders believe that President Obama is a Muslim.” The party leadership also believes that while U.S. government agencies might not like the AKP, the president likes the party and its “religion-based policies.”

The appeal of President Obama to the AKP is such that even though the party might dismiss messages coming from various U.S. government branches, it is quite likely to take advice coming directly from the president. Proof of Obama’s influence on the AKP leadership can be found in the outcome of last years’ crisis over the proposed NATO missile defense shield. Turkish media reported that although the AKP initially objected to the missile shield to be placed under NATO aegis, after the president made it clear to the AKP leadership that the issue was of personal importance for him, the party simply acquiesced.

Economic issues related to the upcoming Turkish elections may also provide the president with considerable leverage vis-à-vis the AKP. Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP government has stayed popular thanks to economic stability. Although the Turkish economy has always been dynamic in nature, up until 2002, Turkey did not experience stable economic growth. The pattern of the Turkish economy was such that growth would always be followed by a downturn, as it happened in the 1993-1994, 1997, 1999, and 2000-2001 economic crisis following a few years of growth, creating a sense of perpetual economic instability.

This has changed under the AKP as Turkey has enjoyed almost a decade of stable growth with no annual downturns, even weathering the 2008 global crisis well. Now, as it prepares for elections, the AKP will be interested in repeating this success. To this end, the party needs to avoid a public row with Washington over its domestic or foreign polices, including the AKP’s position on domestic media freedom. A major conflict with the United States could weaken the markets’ confidence in the Turkish economy, creating politically damaging economic problems for the AKP in the run-up to the polls. If there was one time when the AKP were to heed calls from Washington, it would be between now and the June elections.

What is in this for President Obama? As Turkey faces elections in June 2011 in a polarized landscape between the AKP and its opponents, Washington can help defuse such tensions by taking action on media freedoms.

What is more, in the absence of a free media, the platform offered by the foreign media may become the only one in which the AKP’s voice of disagreement with the U.S. can be heard. At a time when Washington desires Turkish support on a number of issues, ranging from countering Iran’s nuclearization to using NATO assets in Libya, the president would do well to use his leverage to ensure greater media freedoms in Turkey. In a more open media environment, the AKP will be forced to publicly confront divergent views and will also face increasing scrutiny regarding Turkey’s frayed relationship with the United States. In this regard, the current window is a rare opportunity for the president’s voice to be heard by the AKP.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The other Turkish model


To: The Muslim Brotherhood

From: A Fellow Muslim

Dear Brother,

As you prepare to run in Egypt’s first free elections – Inshallah, you will win – I am writing to make recommendations for your success, drawing from the Turkish model. Do not get me wrong; I am not referring to Turkey’s secularism or its earlier march toward a liberal democracy. Rather, I have in mind for you the other Turkish model, namely the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government’s successful crackdown on the media after being elected in 2002, ensuring nearly a decade of unbroken AKP rule in Turkey. I wish the same and more to you in Egypt. So, brother, please follow these recommendations:

First, align with some liberals who will support you and your policies. In 2002, the AKP promised the liberals a paradise if they defended the party’s policies to eliminate the military’s role in politics. Some liberals helped the AKP to this end, supporting the party while it launched the Ergenekon investigation to prosecute an alleged coup plot that was said to be orchestrated by the military, journalists, scholars and others.

Arrest journalists by connecting them to an alleged coup plot or other purported misconduct. This will help you intimidate the media. The AKP has implemented this goal successfully, especially targeting Cumhuriyet, which has been steadfast and often alone in its criticism of the party since 2002. In March 2009, the police arrested Cumhuriyet's Ankara bureau chief Mustafa Balbay in connection to the alleged Ergenekon plot. The government has also targeted Oda TV, the country’s most prominent independent online portal. Soner Yalçın, the portal’s editor, was detained along with three other journalists in February 2011.

Wiretap independent media and journalists. You have intimidated everyone by now, so you do not even need an excuse. The Freedom House Report for 2010 in Turkey states that the police have wiretapped mainstream and independent dailies, such as Milliyet and Hürriyet, as well as Cumhuriyet. The police said that such wiretaps, which took place without a court order, were justified, for “the papers were allegedly connected to the Ergenekon coup plot.” While you are at it, throw in a few wiretaps of your opponents. Under the AKP, the police also wiretapped, without a court order, conversations between Cumhuriyet correspondent İlhan Taşçı and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, in February 2009. The former deputy chief of the national police, Chief Emin Aslan, confirmed that the police have been wiretapping journalists, as well as politicians, judges, and civil servants. Aslan also confirmed that the police wiretapped Milliyet in August 2008. What happened when news broke out that the government wiretapped a major newspaper and judges? Nothing. As I said, at this stage, everyone will be afraid of you.

Then, pass the media into the hands of pro-government businesses. Learn from the AKP, my brother: in 2002, pro-AKP businesses owned less than 20 percent of the Turkish media; today, pro-government businesses own around 50 percent and that percentage will increase further. To this end, the party has used and will use legal loopholes to transfer ownership of the media companies. Take for instance, the story of Sabah-ATV, Turkey's second-largest media conglomerate. The government first charged Sabah-ATV’s owners with improper business practices and then passed control of the company to a national regulator. The regulator then sold the media group at an auction with only one bidder: Çalık Holding, a conglomerate well-known for being an AKP supporter. Çalık then appointed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak as his media group's new CEO. Subsequently, Erdoğan’s son-in-law paid the government $1.25 billion just last year for this deal, having obtained loans from public banks Halkbank and Vakıfbank. The media reported that Qatari investors supported Çalık’s purchase, as well. You see brother; you can do it if you put your mind to it.

Next, pass restrictive media laws. Follow the AKP and adopt an opaque new media regulation law, open to interpretation and abuse. For instance, the new media law, passed by the AKP on Feb. 15, 2011, stipulates that Turkey’s official broadcast watchdog, Radio and Television Higher Council, or RTÜK, a majority of whose board members are appointed by the AKP, “can determine the principles of measuring the percentage of homes watching or listening to the broadcasting services and apply sanctions to companies and organizations that do not comply with the principles.” This gives you the opportunity to not only control the media but also dangle the Sword of Damocles over the Internet – you have to be careful with the Internet!

Trust me; you can have it all in the end. The new law asserts: “In cases where national security or public order is seriously deteriorated, the prime minister or the minister he appoints can temporarily ban broadcasting.”

Finally, arrest the liberals. Since you no longer require their support, you can go ahead and arrest those conspicuous liberals who have served their purpose. On March 3, 2011, AKP-controlled national police arrested a number of prominent journalists, among them Ahmet Şık, whose investigative work in 2007 helped the AKP launch the Ergenekon case. Too bad for him, but he did serve his purpose for us – such is life! At this stage, no target is too big: the police also arrested Nedim Şener, an investigative reporter for daily Milliyet and a recipient of the International Press Institute’s “World Press Freedom Hero” award. The police charged Şener and other journalists for their alleged participation in the Ergenekon coup plot.

By now brother, you have the country under full, unbridled control, and trust me; you will win the coming elections. For while elections will continue to be free, in the absence of independent media, they will be far from fair. Follow my advice, brother, and you are sure to succeed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ending Turkey’s nightmare

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The arrest of prominent journalists in Turkey on March 3, among them a recipient of the International Press Institute’s “World Press Freedom Hero” award, is the nail in the coffin for Turkey’s experiment with Islamists-turned-democrats. Included in the arrests was Ahmet Şık, a journalist whose work enabled the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to launch the Ergenekon investigation in 2007 and pursue purported coup plotters. Şık was arrested for his alleged membership in Ergenekon.

Sound like a nightmare? Indeed. The AKP experience has become a bad dream for liberal Turks who once supported the party because of their belief in its reform platform. And yet, it is possible for independent media to end this nightmare.

When the AKP, rooted in the country’s Islamist opposition, came to power in Turkey in 2002 and declared itself a liberal force, nearly everyone, including the majority of Turkish liberals, gave the party the benefit of the doubt. At that time, the party pushed for European Union accession and followed a reform agenda. The AKP also reached out to non-Islamist constituencies, suggesting it had a pluralist understanding of democracy and alleviating concerns about its Islamist pedigree.

Nearly a decade later, things could not be more different.

The AKP’s tactical transition away from its liberal outlook began in 2005. As Turkey began accession talks with the EU, the AKP decided that the talks necessitated reforms that would erode its popular support and thus shied away from pursuing EU accession. Following its landslide election victory in 2007 when it received 47 percent of the vote, the party redefined its pluralist understanding of democracy in favor of a more majoritarian approach.

The AKP no longer required a tactical liberal platform. It began interpreting its popular mandate as a blank check to ignore democratic checks and balances, cracking down on dissent by intimidating liberal businesses through selective tax audits and harassing its opponents and critics via the Ergenekon case.

The AKP’s attempts to subjugate the media have taken other forms as well. The national police, controlled by the government, wiretap journalists and politicians on the grounds that they are connected to Ergenekon, a group accused of plotting a coup against the government.

The government’s stance toward media is critical for Turkey’s future, especially as the country faces elections in June 2011. Though Turkish media continues to be free, its independence is severely restricted by a ruling party that seeks political subservience. Without independent and free media, upcoming elections may appear free, but they will not be fair.

Then, there is also the Ergenekon case. When the case opened in 2007, AKP watchers saw it as an opportunity for Turkey to clean up corruption and investigate coup allegations.

The case, however, has become much more than that. In a study published by the School of Advanced International Studies, or SAIS, at Johns Hopkins University, Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, described Ergenekon as a case that charges people “with membership of an organization which, as defined in the indictment presented to the court, does not appear to exist or to ever have existed.”

Instead of prosecuting criminals, the AKP is using this fluid case to persecute its opponents. Since 2007, AKP-controlled police have taken more than 400 people into custody, including university presidents, journalists and women’s rights activists, without evidence of criminal activity, only to release them without charge after a few days of harsh questioning. Following their release, most become docile intellectuals. Meanwhile, police have held some AKP opponents for years without charge – a strong signal to Turkey’s intellectuals of the cost of not supporting the AKP.

Wiretaps are another tool for harassing liberal and secular Turks. In Turkey, it is a crime to wiretap private conversations or publish conversations captured by the police. However, pro-AKP media outlets regularly publish wiretapped conversations of the AKP’s opponents, compromising their private lives and even alleging that they are “terrorists” connected to Ergenekon. The AKP does not prosecute these crimes, which terrorize liberal intellectuals.

Ergenekon has devolved into a witch hunt, reminiscent of the McCarthy trials in the United States. Most Turks refuse to even discuss the case over the phone or via e-mail; for fear that even speaking of the case might result in accusations of their involvement.

The state of intimidation has turned into a nightmare. However, things could still end well. Whenever Turkey goes through a political spasm, analysts warn about democracy’s collapse. Yet, Turkey has survived numerous crises in the past, thanks to the media’s ability to balance power. With coup allegations, the arrest of the government’s opponents, and an ongoing media crackdown, only independent media can expose these crimes. Never before has media independence been so crucial to the Turkish democracy.