21 September 2015

Dahrendorf Panel Discussion “Democracy in Turkey: Is Consolidation Possible?”

Location Hertie School of Governance, Berlin
Beginning 17:30  Ending 19
2benny, via Flickr

Monday 21 September 2015, 5.30 – 7.00pm


Bilgin Ayata, Professor of Political Sociology, Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel.

Şaban Kardaş, Professor of International Relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology and President of the Middle East Strategic Research Center (ORSAM).

Soli Özel, Richard von Weizsäcker fellow at Robert Bosch Academy, Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and Columnist at Habertürk daily newspaper.


Dilek Kurban, Marie Curie Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin; Co-Chair of the Dahrendorf working group ‘Europe and Turkey’.


This second Dahrendorf panel discussion of the Europe and Turkey working group “Democracy in Turkey: Is Consolidation Possible?” brought together experts to discuss the consolidation of Turkish democracy and the significance of the current violence and the upcoming elections for its future development. The panel reflected on these latest developments by asking whether the government’s resort to a state of exception in the Kurdish region proves once again that Turkey is a case of failed democracy or whether it is an inevitable but temporary setback to consolidation in the face of terrorism.

With repeat elections to be held in November amidst the protests of the opposition parties and a renewed escalation in the country, the question was posed whether the concept of consolidation of democracies needs to be overhauled. The parliamentary election on June 7 had seen the AKP’s 13-year single-party rule overturned, while the pro-Kurdish party well exceeded the expectation, breaking through the 10% threshold to achieve a record 13% of the votes. Positing Turkey at a constant crossroads, the moderator, Dilek Kurban, probed the speakers’ democratic conceptions, while opening the field to debate on the current developments. A lively discussion ensued between the panellists Bilgin Ayata (Basel University), Saban Kardas (TOBB University & ORSAM), and Soli Özel (Kadir Has University & Habertürk daily) on the interpretation of democratic development against the backdrop of the current political situation in Turkey. This clearly reflected the deep gulf which exists between pro-government and critical voices in Turkey.

On the one hand it was argued that pressure from societal forces, such as the Kurdish movement, has initiated transformations by exposing the problems of exclusionary practices and fostering discussions of pluralism and horizontal democracy. However, the continued denial of the Armenian genocide by the government makes credible democracy-building impossible. A contrary voice claimed that Turkey can already be considered a consolidated democracy and that this temporary setback is just a phase before a next step of deepening democratisation. Finally, it was argued that the current actions by the Turkish president are not in violation of the law, but constitute a grey area that is inherent in the political system, a point that was strongly contested amongst the panelists.

Just weeks after the pro-Kurdish HDP entered the Turkish parliament for the first time, the talks between the AKP government and the PKK were overtaken by renewed escalation in the Kurdish region. Referring to this fact, one panellist was of the opinion that the environment is being poisoned by the PKK, which is trying to wipe out the HDP in order to reinforce its position as the only faction representing the Kurds. But the lawlessness of the government’s actions in the Kurdish regions, where a de facto state of emergency is being put into place, was highly criticized, too. Not only PKK members but also civilians have fallen victim to the military operations and curfew imposed in Cizre.

The significance for Turkey’s democracy in the upcoming repeat elections is manifold. While the result under fair conditions will, according to the panellists, closely resemble the outcome of the June elections, the important question of preventing manipulation remains. While the grassroots movement prevented such interference in the June elections, one of the panellists doubted whether in the current circumstances this will be possible. The counterview argued that voting behaviour of the electorate in the southeast of Turkey may also be subject to pressure by the armed elements of the PKK. With President Erdogan hell-bent on regaining an absolute AKP majority, the democratic future of Turkey is once again plunged into uncertainty.