EWI Director Zuhal Kurt discusses Turkish politics

News | July 12, 2011

Recent news in the media -- especially about Turkey’s recently won pivotal power in the region -- indicates that there is a lack of mutual understanding between different camps in Turkey.

Click here to read the article in Today's Zaman.

Some newspapers have been manufacturing anti-AK Party stories, not based on factual evidence but because of the prejudice they hold against the AK Party. Supporters of the government here at home and in the West should make a point to emphasize the untruthfulness in these deliberately misleading stories. Mediators have always had a crucial role in history as people who are able to employ rhetoric understandable to both sides. One such mediator is Zuhal Kurt.

She is on the board of directors of the EastWest Institute, a global think tank and highly effective in the US. She is also the chief executive officer of privately held Kurt Enterprises, whose investments include 6News, a satellite news video broadcast covering Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Kurt Enterprises even owns a race horse training company, Kurt Systems, which uses advanced technology to help improve speed and stamina in race horses.

As an experienced and ardent student of Turkey, she brings valuable insight to understanding Turkish politics and the AK Party’s popularity. She thinks that the AK Party has played a crucial role in solving Turkey’s identity crisis, which she maintains has been in place since the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. She says the country is still experiencing a paradigm shift and undergoing a process of reconstructing its identity. The most effective steps in defining Turkey’s identity have been taken by the AK Party, according to Kurt. Since the time it was founded as a new republic in 1923, Turkey has faced an identity crisis, Kurt believes. She asserts that this crisis has cost the country much in terms of constitutional, political, social and economic development.

Over the past 10 years the AK Party government has constructed a new Turkey where so many constituents are different. That alteration has resulted in new classes and rules. And for Kurt, the new order naturally has its opponents. There is group of people who have a hard time adapting to the new and transformed Turkey. “Change is not an easy thing to accept. But when we look at the overall situation, Turkey is a totally more powerful and dynamic country compared to what it was 10 years ago. In that time Turkey has tripled its national income and attained an economic growth rate that was unimaginable before. Now citizens of European countries are seeking to immigrate to Turkey. Turkey is not only a strong power in its region but one of the pivotal powers in the world. These are very positive indicators,” says Kurt.

Although there are very positive signs in Turkey about the AK Party government, and it has gained half of the voters’ trust, some of the foreign media’s interpretations of the AK Party are in no way positive. Suspicions about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong personality and tendencies toward totalitarianism are hardly comprehensible for supporters of the AK Party. But Kurt thinks Erdoğan should use a calmer rhetoric and embrace the West as well as the East. The harsh attitude he took in his election campaign and on certain occasions may be understood as domineering. Kurt thinks he does not need such an attitude because he is on the right track. She also notes: “He got 50 percent of the vote in his third term. This is unprecedented in Turkey’s political history. If people think that Erdoğan has been in power for too long, they should know that this is normal for Turkey. For instance, the country’s ninth president, Süleyman Demirel, was in power for many years. Turkey’s politics do not produce as many politicians as other countries do. People do not give up political power easily.”

Kurt recalled that in his victory speech Erdoğan sent messages to different parts of the world. “While he embraced the Balkans, North Africa and neighboring regions, he mentioned Europe only once and did not mention the United States at all.” However, Kurt said she believes Erdoğan should embrace the entire world. Kurt said Erdoğan needs to be more realistic and less emotional and populist in his approach to Israel. She claims: “Turkey should see Israel as a pluralistic society not a one-dimensional state. There are so many peaceable people in Israel. When the Mavi Marmara incident happened, many Jewish citizens of Turkey became anxious. But Fethullah Gülen’s statements in The Washington Post [that the flotilla had disrespected Israel’s authority as a state], brought them relief.”

Kurt says that she gets many questions in the US on whether Turkey is becoming a fundamentalist country; she responds: “I totally disagree with this idea. Although Turkey is a conservative country, it will never be fundamentalist. In Turkey the culture of religion has never led to fundamentalism.”

She adds: “What I love most about this government is its policies to break prejudices. Ten years ago we were not able to talk about minorities and their rights. Even though there are no concrete solutions yet, we are talking about them freely. There is discomfort about Erdoğan in the Western media, but I think the prime minister can solve this problem by taking some easy steps.”