April 16, 2018
In this article, I will apply one of the important sociological theoretical frameworks namely “center-periphery” to Turkish political life. The concept of “center-periphery” was firstly coined by Edward Shils.Shils regarded Center as the center of the order of symbols, of values and beliefs.
The Center is also a phenomenon of the realm of action. It is a structure of activities of persons and roles within a network of institutions. It should also be emphasized that the central value system is the central zone of the societal segment. It is important to note that within that sociological framework of the “center and periphery”, the center can be defined as the constitution of the value system provided by the elites.
In order to make reference to this notion of “center & periphery” while analyzing Turkish politics, a short historical context of Turkish political life will be made. But before making such an analysis, it must be noted that the renowned Turkish sociologist Şerif Mardin who passed away in 2017 used the concept of “center-periphery relations” for analyzing Turkish sociological and political structure. From then on, many academics have made reference to his studies while making research on both the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey
In order to scrutinize how an analysis based on center-periphery relations can be made, first the historical background of Turkey will be taken under consideration. In the Ottoman Empire, there had been a sharp division between the rulers (the Sultan) and the ruled (the Reaya). With the weakening of the political authority, the periphery (the ruled) gained some political rights and the compact structure of the center began to get abandoned.
The establishment of Turkey in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire symbolized a turning point in many angles such as cultural, economic and social issues. After the establishment of a nation-state, Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and his close associates developed Turkish-style nationalism and secularism. This step was taken by a small group of people and they can be evaluated as the members of the center as their worldview and economic status played a key role in shaping the nature of Turkish nationalism and secularism.
Turkish style secularism has excluded some segments like the Alevis or non-Muslims in terms of letting those who have such identities perform their religious practices freely. In a similar vein, Turkish nationalism has promoted an exclusive nationalism understanding and treated Kurdish citizens as secondary-class citizens. Turkish modernity has faced serious legitimacy crisis while dealing with the Kurdish question. These state policies both play a major role in impeding democratic consolidation.
After the foundation of modern Turkish state, the Kemalist elites positioned in the center, known as the political and intellectual elites of the society shaped the lifestyles and value system of the masses (the periphery). The Kemalist reforms such as the dress reforms drastically changed the traditional structure of the society. The periphery had been positioned at the lower layers of the society and most of them reluctantly accepted the transformation of the system because there were strict enforcements for them like the Tribunals of Independence
In the mid-1950s, the Republican nation-building project has been challenged to an important degree. In line to that, the first political party of the new regime, the Republican People’s Party (RPP) had faced its first electoral loss in 1950. The masses (the periphery) had really major complaints regarding the strict state-religion relationship as there was no secularism similar to the Anglo-Saxon type. It can be argued that this was one of the most influential factor in making the RPP lose legitimacy in the eyes of the masses.
The victory of the Democrat Party (DP) which got the 55.2 % of the votes in the 1950 elections can be regarded as the transformation of center-periphery relations in Turkey. However, the military coups which broke down almost once in every decade changed the structure of the relationship between the center and the periphery in favor of the state elites (the center).
It is noteworthy to state that, in the 2000s, Turkish political landscape has changed significantly. Firstly, the political autonomy of the military bureaucracy has been eroded to an important degree thanks to the European Union Harmonization Process. In addition, the one-party rule of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has contributed to the change in center-periphery relations a lot throughout the 2000s.
The AK Party’s success can be seen as the move of the periphery to the center. Because, the religion most of the time has been regarded as an element of backwardness in the history of Turkish Republic. However with the AK Party rule, this understanding has been eliminated and Islamic values seen as one of the major elements keeping many citizens engaged in the same political orientation have moved to the center.
It should also be noted that in today’s Turkey there is no clash between the center and the periphery. Apart from that, a particular segment of the society who adheres to the French type of secularism and sees the RPP (the main opposition party) as the one and only guardian of the secular regime are not happy with this transformation seen in the center-periphery relations.
As a result, it would not be a surprise to harbor a stronger democracy in the following years as the elites are not in quarrel with the values of the masses. This harmony will contribute to a more democratic system if the liberties like that of press freedom are empowered more. Lastly, it should be said that, after the coup attempt on July 15 in 2016, the press freedom has weakened and the government is criticized for the measures it has taken after this attempt. It’s widely believed that these measures have undermined democratic consolidation.