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I’ve written an article for World Politics Review ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary snap elections on June 23.

In it I try to take a longer view, suggesting that while President Erdoğan’s political grip continues to tighten, long-term social tides in the country are not necessarily moving in the religiously conservative direction many assume.

“Erdoğan towers over all areas of life in the country. State institutions have gradually been subordinated to his will since he first came to office in 2003 … He is almost constantly on television, often delivering three pugnacious speeches in one day, broadcast live on every news channel. Under the state of emergency he has been able to govern through decrees granted the full force of the law. His supporters refer to him as ‘reis,’ or chief.

“The government’s attempts to mold Turkish society have in recent years shaped education, family and cultural policy. Money has poured into the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which now has an annual budget of over 4 billion liras, dwarfing most other ministries. Erdogan has famously declared his aim to ‘raise pious generations.’ In right-wing populist fashion, he frames this as a return to a more authentic and harmonious Turkish order, denouncing liberal and secular currents as alien and unwelcome impositions.

“But despite the AK Party being at the apogee of its power, longer-term trends suggest that things may not be so simple. While the government’s religious-nationalist program, combining modern Islamic conservatism with a populist streak heavy on Ottoman nostalgia, appears firmly in place today, there are growing signs that social tides in Turkey are not necessarily moving in the conservative direction that many assume. The vaunted social revolution ushered in by the current government is not as deep as many observers inside and outside the country commonly assume.”

Click here to read the whole thing. If the link doesn’t bring up the whole article it means you’ll need need to sign up to WPR to read it. But if you write your email address in the box at the bottom right corner of the page you should be given access to read.

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Turkey Book Talk #60 – MAX HOFFMAN of the Center for American Progress on the major recent study “IS TURKEY EXPERIENCING A NEW NATIONALISM?” based on focus groups and polling with the Metropoll research company.

The report finds that Turkey remains a deeply nationalist, conservative country, where the national mood is prickly, defensive and conspiratorial. But it also contains some perhaps surprising details about attitudes to President Erdoğan, levels of religiosity in young people, and the political opinions of Turkish women.

The study can be read/downloaded here. Further analysis of the results can be read here.

Download the episode or listen below.

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Turkish Riviera

As mentioned in the podcast, here’s the episode we published with Max last year on his previous long report about civil society under siege in Turkey:

Become a member to support Turkey Book Talk and get extra content. Members get full transcripts (in English and Turkish) of every interview upon publication, transcripts of the entire Turkey Book Talk archive (in English) and access to an exclusive 30% discount on over 200 Turkey/Ottoman History titles published by IB Tauris.

Turkey Book Talk episode #57 – Karabekir Akkoyunlu, research associate at the University of Graz, on “Exit from Democracy: Illiberal Governance in Turkey and Beyond” (Routledge), a collection of 10 essays he co-edited with Professor Kerem Öktem.

Listen out for details of our brand new Turkey Book Talk membership system – giving members a range of exciting extra perks.

Download the episode or listen below:

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Turkey Book Talk episode #56 – Boğaziçi University Professor Edhem Eldem on “To Kill a Sultan: A Transnational History of the Attempt on Abdülhamid II” (Palgrave Macmillan), which he co-edited with Houssine Alloul and Henk de Smaele.

The book explores a deadly assassination attempt targeting the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul in 1905, and appears at a time when Abdülhamid II is the subject of a growing popular obsession among religious conservatives in Turkey.

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s my review of the book at HDN.

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As mentioned in the podcast, here’s a recent article from me in History Today on this Abdülhamid revisionism and comparisons between him and Erdoğan.

to kill a sultan - Copy

As also mentioned, stay tuned for details of a new membership system coming for Turkey Book Talk. As part of the system, paying subscribers will get access to a range of extra content and benefits. I will post more details in due course, hopefully by the time of the next episode in two weeks.

* SUPPORT *

Remember you can support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it, by making a pledge to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman, Max Hoffman, Andrew MacDowall, Paul Levin, Ayla Jean Yackley, Burak Kodaz and Tan Tunalı.

First Turkey Book Talk episode of 2018 – Arbil-based journalist CATHY OTTEN discusses “WITH ASH ON THEIR FACES: YEZIDI WOMEN AND THE ISLAMIC STATE” (OR Books), a deeply reported account of the suffering of the Yezidi religious minority over the border in Iraq.

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s my review of the book at HDN.

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yezidi women

Recent reporting by Cathy Otten

 

* SUPPORT! *

Remember you can support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it, by making a pledge to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman, Max Hoffman, Andrew MacDowall, Paul Levin, Ayla Jean Yackley and Tan Tunalı.

The Sultan and the Sultan

November 8, 2017

I’ve written a long-ish article for History Today on historical revisionism in Turkey around the figure of hard-line late Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II – who many are keen to imagine as a precursor of President Erdoğan.

Abdülhamid has long been venerated as ‘Ulu Hakan’ (the Supreme Sultan) by conservative ideologues within Turkey, but the reverence has reached fever pitch under Erdoğan. An idealised memory of Abdülhamid, which casts him as the last proudly Islamic Ottoman leader standing up to the West, has become part of the government’s narrative of civilisational ‘restoration’, in which Turkey is once again a great power that shapes history. Abdülhamid is often glorified as a symbolic precursor of Erdoğan – proof that historic forces are at play today. …

When he first became sultan in 1876, Abdülhamid appeared to be an enlightened reformer. He supported the Ottoman constitution, giving the empire its first experience of constitutional democracy. The next year he opened the first session of an elected Ottoman parliament … But the experience of ruling a vast, decaying empire hardened him into an absolutist, and he became convinced that he needed to rule with a stronger hand to protect it from further dismemberment. …

The parallels with Turkey’s current president are obvious. Erdoğan was once lauded in the West as a moderate Muslim reformer, raising the country’s democratic standards and advancing its economy. But his international reputation has since deteriorated badly. Authoritarianism, rent-seeking and demagoguery mark his era. The state administration is subject to the whims of capricious one-man rule. A cult of personality is in full swing, with Erdoğan embodying the frustrations, hopes and grievances of Turkey’s conservative masses, bound by a powerful sense of shared identity. …

Erdoğan’s supporters see the decline in his reputation abroad as part of a dark international plot to halt this forward march. Conspiratorial thinking runs rampant. Orhan Osmanoğlu, a fourth-generation descendent of Abdülhamid, claims that Turkey is today witnessing a ‘repetition of history’: ‘Meddling foreigners now call our president a dictator, just as they used to call Abdülhamid the “Red Sultan.”’ Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman compared last year’s coup attempt to the dethroning of Abdülhamid in 1909: ‘They wanted to do the same as they did when they overthrew Abdülhamid, but this time they couldn’t succeed.’

I’ve been meaning to write this article for ages so do go and read the whole thing (there are also some nice visuals).

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Turkey Book Talk episode #43 – SONER ÇAĞAPTAY on his book “THE NEW SULTAN: ERDOĞAN AND THE CRISIS OF MODERN TURKEY” (IB Tauris).

Download the episode or listen below:

My review of this book is forthcoming in the Times Literary Supplement. Not sure of the publication date so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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New Sultan

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  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
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Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a donation to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman and Andrew MacDowall.

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