Some U.S. policymakers believe that Turkey is the future of Islamic democracy and that no political institution better exemplifies the desired hybrid of Western practice and religious values than the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party. To be sure, the party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, is culturally more conservative than the secularists and military elite who have governed from Ankara since Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, dispensed with the caliphate and made Islam a personal affair in the country rather than a political one. And now the AKP says it’s under siege from its Kemalist rivals in the military and other Turkish institutions—including the judiciary, the press, and non-government organizations—who seek to regain power by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Turkey. Their instrument for doing so, says the AKP, is Ergenekon.
Ergenekon is the name given to a massive clandestine organization that the AKP says has plotted a host of conspiracies including plans to crash airplanes and bomb Istanbul mosques in the hopes of precipitating a military coup. The Turkish authorities have used these allegations to arrest hundreds of people who oppose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government—arrests that have been greeted in the West with confused silence.
However, according to Dani Rodrik, a Turkish academic now based in the United States, Ergenekon is not a threat to Turkey’s increasingly Islamist form of democracy but rather an elaborate political fiction created by the AKP and its ally, the mysterious billionaire religious leader Fethullah Gulen, in order to discredit, imprison, and silence opponents. Rodrik believes that the AKP and the Gulenists are looking to consolidate their power not just with a view to short-term political victories, but as part of a vision to change the nature of the fiercely secular Turkish republic. “You get a different perspective on what they’re doing internationally once you understand what they’re doing at home,” Rodrik told me by phone this week. “The AKP and its Gulenist allies are authoritarian at heart, one by one capturing state institutions and undermining the rule of law. What you’re going to get is not a more democratic Turkey.”