Photo: Begum Zorlu

Turkey’s 2023 elections granted President Erdoğan another victory. Not only did he secure another five-year term as president, but the People’s Alliance he led obtained the majority of parliamentary seats. What are the fundamental dynamics and outcomes of the election process? How did Erdoğan and his coalition manage to claim victory? The view from PSA Turkish Politics for the PSA Blog.

Seda Demiralp (Isik University) argues that the election results were quite disappointing for opposition parties. She proposes that “opposition parties hoped to see that even in hybrid regimes where elections are not entirely free and fair, it is possible to change autocratic incumbents via elections.”

“Also, most observers had thought that Erdoğan had never been this close to losing an election over the past 20 years, mainly because of the major economic crisis Turkey has been going through and the February earthquake that destroyed various cities and took nearly 50,000 lives.”

Demiralp also proposes that many observers wrongly assumed that the structural conditions were so ripe for change that any opposition candidate could win.

She adds: “The opposition’s decision to form an alliance and pursue a campaign that focused on economic problems was promising. This new focus on economic issues contrasted with former campaigns prioritising a return to republican principles (such as secularism) and Western values, which hardly brought new voters in the past. However, the campaign had important shortcomings too. 

Too many and diffused promises, lack of coordination among opposition leaders, and perhaps most importantly, opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu’s lack of charisma to beat Erdoğan were among the main disadvantages of the opposition campaign.

Furthermore, Erdoğan’s campaign appeared relatively weak to many observers, raising hopes for the opposition. The massive economic crisis limited Erdoğan’s ability to focus on daily economic needs, in contrast to his past campaigns. Instead, he pointed at past accomplishments and presented himself not as a mere political figure but as a subject of love. Campaign videos asked voters to choose love (for Erdoğan) over material benefits and emphasised that Erdoğan could still pull the nation out of the economic crisis. Yet, Erdoğan’s killer move came later. In a rally one week before the elections, Erdoğan showed a doctored video demonstrating PKK militants cheering for Kılıçdaroğlu. Erdoğan claimed that Kılıçdaroğlu had allied with the PKK. His new message was that voters faced a choice between national survival and other issues. Kılıçdaroğlu failed to react to these accusations in a timely and effective manner. On May 14, to the surprise of many polling companies, Erdoğan and his People’s Alliance took the first-round lead.”

To end, Demiralp states that “with a desperate effort, Kılıçdaroğlu made a radical turn before the runoff. Not only did he adopt a harsh nationalist discourse, but he also embraced a negative campaign targeting Erdoğan. Yet, with his ill-prepared speeches, awkward masculinity performance and overly eclectic messages that made him look spiritless, he failed to turn the tables and lost in the second round.  

Turkey’s 2023 elections failed to provide a model to change autocratic incumbents via elections. Yet, it provided important lessons about limits of economic voting, the role of agency, and the power of emotions over reason.”

Buğra Güngör (Geneva Graduate Institute) proposes that migration has shaped the debate. He argues that: “Even though millions of registered refugees and thousands of irregular migrants constitute one of the most simmering public and political debates, we observed that both incumbent and opposition leaders did not significantly bring them forth before the first round of the presidential elections.

However, as Dr Sinan Ogan, an opposition candidate who the right-wing and nationalist Ata Alliance nominated, has received more than five per cent of the votes that Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu could not secure the majority in the first round, Kilicdaroglu and other leaders of the Nation Alliance drastically switched to an anti-irregular migrant/refugee rhetoric to garner the support of the nationalist electorate – especially in Central Anatolia and Black Sea.”

“Although this strategy did not help Kilicdaroglu to win, it is highly likely that policies and rhetoric concerning the repatriation of irregular migrants and refugees will come back before the March 2024 municipal elections.”

“The existing level of political polarisation in the country would extensively shape the discourse surrounding the millions of refugees and thousands of irregular migrants. Therefore, certain parties would further use the migration issue in Turkey, making a better electoral performance.””

Begum Zorlu (City, University of London) argues that the international dynamics that shaped the electoral process deserve more attention. She states that: “especially how populism transcends borders and foreign policy becomes an arena where the incumbent claims competence has been vital in this electoral cycle.” 

She underlines that primarily “the AKP’s populism at home is shaped by its global contestatory frames contributing to a boundary between us and them. Since the Gezi Protests of 2013, but especially after the 2016 coup attempt, the construction of the other has been vital in justifying securitisation, as the AKP elites link the political opposition with foreign threats through a populist framing.” 

She adds: “Furthermore, the AKP elites repeatedly underlined how they had transformed Turkey into a global player and praised that they could negotiate with both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war.

While Erdoğan dominates the AKP’s foreign policy outlook, the opposition was more fragmented in raising a strong voice on where they stand on foreign policy.

This contributed to the incumbent framing itself as the solo agent that can maintain Turkey’s national interest. 


It is official: Turkey’s presidential election will go to a second round. The two candidates, Erdoğan and Kılıçadaroğlu, differ immensely in their domestic politics. What about their foreign policy outlook? Will the opposition candidate promise to break away from Turkey’s assertive foreign policy? How do international dynamics shape this contentious electoral process?

Photo by Burak Bau015fgu00f6ze on Pexels.com

Our co-convenor Begum Zorlu (City, University of London) has written on the role of foreign policy in Turkish elections for the PSA Blog.

When approached with the question: “what’s foreign policy got to do with the Turkish election” one feels the urge to respond: everything. After 20 years in power, and with international spotlight events like the challenging of the Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos or comparing German officials to Nazis, Erdoğan and his party dominates the conversation on foreign policy. 

Contestatory moves like these are more important than they seem. These statements are the backbone of the incumbent’s populist foreign policy, where the party contests what it labels the “unjust” and “broken” international order, embodied in Erdoğan’s famous slogan “the world is bigger than five”.

The expansion of an injustice frame and how it resonates in the world should not be underestimated.

Followers of Erdoğan around the world voice this vision and have repeatedly underlined that he represents the interests of Muslims around the globe or supports “the voices of the repressed”. This contributes to promoting the incumbent’s framing that without Erdoğan, Turkey’s leadership in contesting injustices domestically and globally will be halted. 

The AKP and the International

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has increasingly followed a confrontational foreign policy. However, this has not always been the case. Throughout its first term, along with its acceptance of EU conditionality as part of its desire for EU accession, the AKP used its foreign policy to advance its domestic power. In particular, the AKP came to present itself as a model democratic and Islamic state in the early 2000s. As Cihan Tuğal’s work uncovered, the US was instrumental in promoting what has been termed the “Turkish model”, which resonated with the democracy promotion agenda of the US.

This context changed in the 2010s with the AKP aiming to have an increased influence in the Middle East in the context of Arab Uprisings and increasing authoritarianism at home. After the Gezi Protests of 2013, the AKP adopted a “fifth column[1] frame” to delegitimise the opposition, accusing them of conspiring with international actors. With the 2016 coup attempt, increasing repression had domestic and international consequences. The AKP’s foreign policy took a more interventionist turn, as it directly interfered in multiple conflicts, and ultra-nationalist voices intensified in foreign policy. Turkey’s military intervention in Syria hampered relations with its Western allies and justified the repression of critical voices at home. This is how we came to 2023, with increased domestic and international polarisation. The blocking of Sweden’s NATO membership for example clearly demonstrates the intersection of the domestic and the global. The AKP accused Sweden of harbouring terrorist organisations, highlighting the distinction between friends and foes on both political dimensions.

However, interventionism is not the sole component of the AKP’s foreign policy, and the party argues it follows a competent foreign policy. In their election campaign, the AKP praised that they could negotiate with both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war, make concrete progress such as the grain corridor and prisoner exchange, and keep the possibility of peace on the table. They frame themselves as peacemakers and have used this mediation role to enhance their legitimacy domestically and internationally.

What about the Opposition and Kılıçdaorğlu ?

On the other hand, the political parties that make up the Nation Alliance and Kılıçdaorğlu have been weaker in voicing foreign policy and focused more on domestic issues like Turkey’s economic collapse, democratic backsliding, and justice. When one looks at the electoral manifestos, while foreign policy makes up a small portion of the opposition coalition, it is one of the highlights of the incumbent’s document.

The opposition coalition and their presidential candidate promise a change in foreign policy. Contrasting themselves to the government’s policies, the opposition block’s manifesto claims that they would change Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries in the region and would not interfere in their internal affairs by “taking sides.” The presidential candidate Kılıçdaorğlu, on the other hand, bridges his domestic call for restoring democracy with his foreign policy outlook. The opposition coalition’s manifesto underlines the dangers of personalisation in foreign policy, and Kılıçdaorğlu states that he wants to follow the democratisation processes promoted by the EU.

What about the stance on Russia ?A couple of days before the elections, Kılıçdaorğlu stated in an interview that if he won, he would bring Turkey closer to NATO and the EU and would be willing to impose sanctions on Russia. He has also accused Russia of releasing fake content on social media and criticised the government for maintaining energy dependency on Russia. This has become an area of contestation between the candidates; as a response, Erdoğan stated that Russia is one of Turkey’s most important allies.

While the opposition has a a pro-Western stance, there is also the framing of dignity from the block in their relations with the West. Their manifesto underlines that there should be a “relationship based on equality” with the US. Similarly, in relations with the EU, the opposition block calls for joint responsibility and burden sharing between Turkey and the EU on refugees and notes its intention to review the Turkey-EU migration deal. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that the coalition’s election manifesto has combined migration policies with foreign policy.

From what can be interpreted at the moment, one of the reasons why the six-party opposition coalition is not bold on foreign policy is that this serves as a strategy to hold the group together. The block consists of different voices, from more nationalist to centre-right parties. While Erdoğan dominates the AKP’s foreign policy outlook, the opposition is more fragmented. Also, even though the pro-Kurdish HDP party was not part of the coalition, the cities where Kılıçdaorğlu’s votes were the highest were Kurdish-majority provinces. As the first round of voting demonstrated, without the Kurds’ support, Kılıçdaorğlu cannot be elected.

The nationalist voices in foreign policy are likely to increase whoever gets elected, as the far-right candidate, Sinan Ogan, has received around five per cent of the votes and is critical in determining Turkey’s new president. He recently spoke to Reuters in an interview stating that he would only endorse Kılıçdaorğlu in the runoff if “he ruled out any concessions to the pro-Kurdish party”. Ogan defines himself as the representative of Turkish nationalists and is a staunch supporter of cross-border military operations. He also voices an anti-migrant agenda, arguing that “they will send Syrian refugees by force if necessary”. Therefore the upcoming debates will reflect the anti-migrant and nationalist framing advocated by Ogan and the far-right.


International policy circles are debating the possible scenarios with the two prospective candidates, evaluating whether there will be a break with Turkey’s assertive foreign policy if Kılıçdaorğlu gets elected. The answer is not straightforward, and the international dimension of the election deserves more attention. The AKP’s populism at home is shaped by its global contestatory frames contributing to a boundary between us and them. Especially the construction of the other has been vital in justifying securitisation, as the AKP elites link the political opposition, especially the Kurdish opposition, with foreign threats through a populist framing.

The elections were not free and fair, and as revelations of voting irregularities come in, there are contentious days ahead. If Kılıçdaorğlu gets elected, he promises to decrease the impact of foreign policy on domestic politics and strengthen diplomatic institutions. As stated, Kılıçdaorğlu associates democratisation with enhanced partnership with Western actors, yet the opposition block does not promote a solid and uniform voice on their interpretation of the international order. While the coalition aims to restructure foreign policy and promote a more “rational” foreign policy, the AKP uses the sphere of foreign policy to bolden its injustice frame at home and around the globe. If Erdoğan stays in power, Turkey’s populist and assertive foreign policy will likely continue.

[1] A fifth column is defined as a group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal.

Virtual Book Launch: Spyros Sofos on Turkish Politics and ‘The People’

PSA Turkish Politics Specialist Group is inviting you to its virtual book launch event in which Dr Spyros Sofos will present his new book Turkish Politics and ‘The People’ Mass Mobilisation and Populism, published by Edinburgh University Press.

The event will take place on Zoom on Thursday 8 June 2023, 13:00 – 14:00 BST.

The book will be discussed by Dr Evren Balta (Özyeğin University) and Dr Toygar Sinan Baykan (Kirklareli University).

The presentations will be followed by feedback from discussants and a Q&A session.

Registration can be made via Eventbrite.


Spyros Sofos is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre.

He has previously worked as a Research Officer at the LSE Middle East Centre on the Kuwait programme Ecologies of Belonging and Exclusion: An Intersectional Analysis of Urban Citizenship in Kuwait City project. Prior to joining the LSE, he worked as Lecturer and Research Coordinator at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University; Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University; Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth and held visiting positions at Siena, Tartu and Istanbul Bilgi Universities.

Book Launch with Dimitar Bechev: Turkey Under Erdogan

PSA Turkish Politics Specialist Group is inviting you to its virtual book launch event in which Dr Dimitar Bechev will present his new book“Turkey Under Erdogan How a Country Turned from Democracy and the West” published by Yale University Press.

The event will take place on Zoom on Thursday, 12 January 2023, 15:00 – 16:00 GMT.

The book will be discussed by Lauren McLaren, Professor of Politics at the University of Leicester and Dr Marc Sinan Winrow (LSE).

The presentations will be followed by feedback from discussants and a Q&A session.

Registration for the event can be made on Eventbrite.

About the speaker

Dr Dimitar Bechev is a lecturer at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA), University of Oxford.

He specialises in the international politics of Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Bechev is the author of Turkey under Erdogan (Yale University Press, 2022), Historical Dictionary of North Macedonia (Rowman, 2019), and Rival Power: Russia in Southeast Europe (Yale UP, 2017) as well as co-editor of Russia Rising: Putin’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East and North Africa (Bloomsbury, 2021).

To access more information about Turkey Under Erdogan How a Country Turned from Democracy and the West” click here.

Our PSA 2022 Programme is Out

As PSA’s specialist group for Turkish Politics, we are hosting four panels on Turkish Politics at the 2022 PSA Annual Conference. Please find below the programme of our panels that focus on multiple and timely issues on Turkish politics. The conference is taking place both at the University of York and digitally. There is still time to register and join the discussion even if you are not presenting a paper.

PANEL 1 – State Formation, Identity and Emotions in Turkish Politics

The map of Sèvres Agreement
Source: Foreign Policy

12 APRIL 2022, TUESDAY, 9:30-11:00

Summary of Panel: A specific state identity, drawing on a specific vision of Turkish nationalism, was institutionalised at the foundation of the Turkish state. This process set a path that embedded certain emotions into Turkish politics and ensured that the Turkish state represented itself, and understood itself, in a particular way. This panel examines how the process of state formation led to particular visions of the Turkish state, often relying on a sense of Otherness, and how deeply embedded emotions around Turkish political identity play out in politics today.

Chair: Matthew Whiting

PAPER 1 – State Formation and Civil War on the European Periphery 1917-1923: an essay on Turkish exceptionalism
Bill Kissane
PAPER 2 – Continuity in Change: Anxiety in Turkish Politics Through Sèvres and Lausanne Syndromes
Erman Ermihan and İrem Karamık
PAPER 3 – “Victorious Victims”: The Analysis of the Nationalist Poems Which Are Written by the Ordinary People
Tuğçe Erçetin
PAPER 4 – Ontological Security, Emotions, and the Turkish-Israeli Rapprochement
Özlem Kayhan Pusane and Aslı Ilgıt
PAPER 5 – Political Agency in Agonistic Contexts: Turkey and Politics of Disaster
Senem Yıldırım Özdem

PANEL 2 – The “Local” and the State in Turkey

Photo by hilal on Pexels.com

12 APRIL 2022, TUESDAY, 13:30-15:00

Summary of Panel: The importance of the “local” is often overlooked given the prominence of the central state to Turkish politics. This panel reasserts the importance of the local level by examining how local dynamics, local identities and local politics have been an important aspect of Turkish politics, both at the foundation of the state and today.

Chair: Matthew Whiting

PAPER 1 – ‘Hybridity by Design’: Between Liberal Norms and Illiberal Peace in Turkey
Esra Dilek
PAPER 2 – Can intervoter contact reduce support for electoral violence? A survey experiment from Turkey
Buğra Güngör
PAPER 3 – State-building and Borderlands: Control of the Turkish State on an Everyday Level
Dilan Okçuoğlu

PANEL 3 – The State and Women’s Rights in Turkey

Photo by Beyza Kaplan

12 APRIL 2022, TUESDAY, 15:30-17:00

Summary of Panel: The AKP has an ambivalent relationship with women’s rights and women’s political participation. After initially supporting women’s rights as part of the EU accession process, more recently the position of women has become increasingly precarious under the AKP. This was further compounded when Turkey withdrew from the ‘Istanbul Convention’ on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. Support from women has been an important component of the AKP’s populist strategy, while the AKP has generally promoted a traditional and conservative view of women’s position within society and encouraged a patriarchal vision of the family. This panel explores the AKP’s policies towards women throughout its time in power, its approach t women’s rights, and its framing of a traditional understanding of family through the state’s institutions.

Chair: Yaprak Gürsoy

PAPER 1 – “Strengthening the Family” through Education in Turkey
Ayça Günaydın Kaymakçıoğlu
PAPER 2 – From Liberalism to Conservatism: Turkey’s Women Policies after 2011
Çağlar Ezikoğlu
PAPER 3 – The Puzzle of International Norm Transfer: Exploration of Women’s Rights in Turkey
Sebahat Derin Atışkan
PAPER 4 – “Uncooperation” for Women’s Rights: Turkey’s Withdrawal from Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention
Tuğba Bayar
PAPER 5 – How AKP Meets with Women: Politics of Party’s Women’s Branch
Nur Sinem Kourou

PANEL 4 – Democracy, Autocratization and Party Politics in Turkey


13 APRIL 2022, WEDNESDAY, 9:30-11:00

Summary of Panel: Turkey is a vital case for understanding the recent trend of autocratization and populism observable in some hybrid regimes. Over its 20 years in power, the AKP has become increasingly centred around its leader, Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan. Yet the longer the AKP and Erdoğan remain in power, the more it raises under-examined questions around how the party maintains its support and how manages challenges from opposition groups that threaten its dominance. This panel examines the populist strategies of the AKP, ongoing autocratization in Turkey, and government-opposition dynamics in this political landscape.

Chair: Yaprak Gürsoy

PAPER 1 – Politicization of Corruption in Turkey: Populists and their Rivals
Seda Demiralp
PAPER 2 – The news media as a conduit and target of “disinformation” in Turkey
Natalie Martin
PAPER 3 – What is in a Bridge? Developmentalist Economic Imaginaries and Partisanship Under Competitive Authoritarianism
Aykut Öztürk
PAPER 4 – Oppositional Unity in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes: A Comparison of Turkey and Hungary
Pelin Ayan Musil

Our Member Muzaffer Kutlay and Her Project Team Nominated For Prestigious Higher Education Award

Our member Muzaffer Kutlay and her Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) COMPASS project team have been shortlisted for the International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2021, widely known as ‘the Oscars of Higher Education’

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) COMPASS project, hosted by the University of Kent in partnership with the University of Cambridge (UK), ADA University (Azerbaijan), Belarusian State University (Belarus), TNU (Tajikistan) and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy (Uzbekistan), has been shortlisted for the International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2021.

The GCRF COMPASS project works with higher education institutions (HEIs) from former Soviet Republics to develop global partnerships and more sustainable learning capacities through resilience in the face of adversity and crisis. Led by Professor Elena Korosteleva, in partnership with Dr Siddharth Saxena (COI, Cambridge), Rosalind Beeching (Project Manager, Kent) and Prajakti Kalra (Research & Communication Officer, Cambridge), the GCRF COMPASS consortium involves six Research Institutions, 24 members of staff and 100 affiliates. For its success it owes especially to the younger generation of scholars including the PSA Turkish Politics Specialist Group member Dr Muzaffer Kutlay, as well as Dr Irina Petrova, Dr Diana Kudaibergenova and Dr Anastasiya Kudlenko for their incredible enthusiasm, dedication and scholarship.

The project has been recognised by the judge’s panel of THE Awards 2021 for its creative collaborations, imaginative communication of research results, and tremendous achievements in difficult circumstances of war, conflict, uprisings, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supported by its International Advisory Board of policymakers, practitioners and academics across the globe, GCRF COMPASS fosters excellence through successful research integration, policy impact and community engagement. Despite the complex challenges both in the UK and the region, the project team, represented in the region by national team leads – Nargiz Ismayilova; Artsiom Nazaranka; Munira Shahidi and Ulugbeck Hasanov – has built close relationships, resulting in new research projects, international training schools for Early Career Scholars, Future Leaders Policy Forums, academic workshops and seminars and signature conferences. The result has been educational partnerships and the project outputs have informed peace and reconciliation between former adversaries and investing in a more sustainable future for the region and beyond.

The project team helped its partners, both in the UK and the region, to nurture signature specialisms to become global hubs in resilience (Kent and Cambridge), migration (Belarus), connectivity (Azerbaijan), regional security (Uzbekistan) and cultural diplomacy (Tajikistan). The project has produced 9 monographs and edited volumes; 6 Special Issues; over 100 journal articles and policy briefs.

The THE Awards 2021 ceremony takes place on 25 November 2021.

Turkish Politics Specialist Group Virtual Book Launch Event with Dr Ayşe Güneş and Dr Çağlar Ezikoğlu

PSA Turkish Politics Specialist Group is inviting you to its first virtual book launch event in which Dr Ayse Güneş and Dr Çağlar Ezikoğlu will present their timely books on Turkish Politics.

The event is on 30 June 2021, 14:00 – 15:45 BST, and will take place on Zoom. 

Dr Ayşe Güneş (Bartın University) will present her book “International Human Rights Law and Crimes Against Women in Turkey”.

Her book will be discussed by Dr Elvira Dominguez-Redondo (Middlesex University).

Dr Çağlar Ezikoğlu (Çankırı Karatekin University) will present his new book “the Logic of Political Survival in Turkey: the Case of AKP”.

His book will be discussed by  Dr Natalie Martin (University of Nottingham).

The presentations will be followed by feedback from discussants and a Q&A session.

Registration for the event can be made on Eventbrite.

Our Member Begüm Burak Launches A Youtube Channel on Ottoman-Turkish History

Our member Begüm Burak has launched a Youtube channel on Ottoman-Turkish History through which she presents literature review and academic comments on Ottoman-Turkish History. She has commented to us that with this channel she aims to reach to young scholars studying Turkish politics in particular.

About Begüm Burak

Begüm Burak is an Istanbul-based independent researcher. In 2015, Ms. Burak got her PhD degree. The main areas of her academic interest include Turkish Politics, Civil-Military Relations in Turkey, Secularism Discussions in Turkey, Discourse Analysis Methodology, Media-Politics Relations and Political Culture.

Between 2010 and 2015, during her occupation as a research assistant, she got engaged in short-term academic activities in Italy, United Kingdom, Bosnia and Spain. In 2018, she became one of the founding members of http://ilkmade.com. She currently writes in her own blog in English and for some web sites besides writing columns regularly for two Turkish websites.

In this latest video Burak discusses the National Independence War and the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

You can follow Begüm on Twitter and see some of her academic work on Academia.

Call for Papers for Panels on All Aspects of Turkish Politics

Photo by Levent Simsek on Pexels.com

The PSA’s Annual International Conference 2021 will be held in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics) and Visit Belfast.

The 2021 PSA Annual International Conference is planned as a hybrid conference which blends the digital world and physical world together to produce the opportunities and interactions of a physical conference, with the added accessibility of an online conference.

Once again this year the Turkish Politics Specialist Group will be organising four panels for the conference. If you would like to be considered for inclusion on one of these panels, please send a 200-word abstract to Matthew Whiting (M.Whiting.1@bham.ac.uk) and Yaprak Gürsoy (y.gursoy@aston.ac.uk).

Deadline for paper proposals: Tuesday, 28 September 2020

Full details of the conference can be found on the PSA website here

Yaprak Gürsoy on Turkey’s Covid19 Response

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Yaprak Gürsoy has written a timely article to the PSA Blog on Turkey’s Covid19 response.

In her article she investigates Turkey’s record in fighting against COVID-19 and traces the political developments since the beginning of the outbreak.

We are republishing her article in our blog.

1_CEgybfUijfp-f_nt2YiTYQ.jpgYaprak Gürsoy



It is undeniable that we are undergoing unprecedented global change with the COVID-19 pandemic and these will have unpredictable political consequences for years to come. What will the winds of change bring to Turkey and to its personalistic regime?

There are two ways to answer this question. One way is to look at Turkey’s record in fighting against COVID-19 and the other is tracing political developments since the beginning of the outbreak. In both counts, Turkey appears to be quite stable. But looks can be deceiving. High tides under water have been kept at bay so far, however, 18 years of rule by the AKP has cultivated its simmering opposition that will only grow in time.

Measures against COVID-19

Turkey has had a total of just over 186,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 22nd June, making it the 11th most affected country in the world. Despite the high number of confirmed cases, its death rate remains significantly lower than other European countries, including countries like France and Belgium that appear to have fewer cases. Comparing the absolute number of confirmed cases across different countries is fraught with difficulties and all caveats around these figures need be kept in mind. Still# the relative success of Turkey begs clarification.

There is no simple explanation for lower death rates. There are still many unknowns about the nature of the virus that might explain Turkey’s statistics from a medical perspective. Certainly, Turkey’s demographics are in its favour – only eight percent of its population is over the age of 65 and most do not stay in care homes. Compare this to the EU average of 20% elderly population, or even higher in badly affected Italy, or consider the fact that in April alone official COVID-19 deaths in care homes in the UK were nearly twice as much as overall deaths in Turkey.

What of more short-term factors that were within the control of political leaders, notably when and to what extent to go into lockdown? Turkey’s approach to lockdown lies somewhere in the middle of a ‘restrictive-liberal’ continuum. It shut down schools and imposed a full curfew on the elderly and on children. It has also introduced a full lockdown on weekends and holidays. But if you were a Turkish citizen between the age of 20 and 65 or if you were working, it has been more or less business as usual, at least during the weekdays. Given this mixed approach that prioritised the economy, it is probably unlikely that curfew measures were what made the difference in death rates in Turkey.

Rather than lockdown, it would seem that Turkey’s success might be more to do with its healthcare system that was relatively well-placed to deal with the crisis. The number of Intensive Care Unit beds in Turkey is four times more than Italy and nearly eight times more than the UK. This is, in part, down to the policies of the government in the past years. Some of these earlier policies, such as building city hospitals, have been controversial because they rest on neoliberal principles and reflect the extent of crony capitalism in Turkey. But in the combat against coronavirus, they have provided the capacity to admit suspected patients immediately, even before test results, and start aggressive treatment, even with the controversial drug of hydroxychloroquine. Also contact-tracing was introduced very quickly that tests patients within a day and notifies and monitors those with whom suspected cases have been in touch.

No matter where the real reason for Turkey’s low death rates lies, the government has been able to capitalise on the pandemic, increase its prestige abroad through supplying medical aid and tout the comparatively low death rates as a success. Although this trend can be reversed with the easing of lockdown measures and a new spike in cases, Ankara has managed to hold firm against the winds of change thanks to its seeming success in containing the virus so far.

Recent Political Developments

One of the major political consequences of the outbreak globally has been the way personal liberties had to be curtailed. The pandemic has led to illiberal policies everywhere with more than 80 countries declaring a state of emergency. Leaders are taking the opportunity to grab more power even in well-established democracies and it is unclear whether and when liberties will be returned to people.

Turkey has not been an exception to this global drift. Some of the political decisions that were made during the pandemic reflect earlier trends, mixed with new opportunities. For instance, around 90,000 convicts were granted an amnesty to prevent the spread of the virus in jails but political prisoners were exempted from the pardon.  Opposition local governments in Istanbul and Ankara were forbidden from accepting donations from citizens to raise funds and distribute supplies to those who were in need. Five elected heads of local districts from the main Kurdish political party (HDP) were removed from office and the impunity of lawmakers were lifted paving the way for the prosecution of HDP MPs.

Centralising power by the ruling AKP and efforts to side-line political opposition are not new in Turkey. Although they might have been accelerated with the outbreak, they have also produced renewed opposition and initiatives, bringing in the potential of change amid seeming stability. For instance, there has been a cabinet crisis over the way curfew was initially introduced, which points at possible future fissures within the AKP government.  There also seems to be an increase in the popularity of recently founded AKP-splinter partiesA recent poll also revealed that public trust toward Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş surpassed that of President Erdoğan.  Finally, the HDP started a new campaign and has held rallies, despite government-imposed restrictions and COVID-19 related constraints.

Turkey has had a mixed record during the pandemic. If the death rates continue as they are, it is a positive case that needs to be acknowledged. However, this accomplishment should not distract from the general political trends of the recent years. For now, the pandemic seems to have brought more political stability than prospects for change. It is difficult to predict what will happen in a couple of years but, as in the anti-racism protests elsewhere, in Turkey too, the pandemic has brought its own dynamics of unforeseen transformation.