By Seckin Baris Gulmez (Royal Holloway University of London, UK)
The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the current main opposition party in Turkey, is renowned for its strict foreign policy understanding which has been recently reflected as euroscepticism with regard to Turkey’s EU membership (Gulmez, 2008), and the hard-line policy stance pertinent to the Cyprus problem (Gulmez, 2007). It could be observed that although generally sharing the official standpoint of the party, many CHP deputies adopted a softer and more optimistic attitude with regard to Turkey’s EU membership bid (Gulmez, 2008: 432-433). Starting from this point of difference, this short piece is going to discuss whether there are substantial differences between the CHP deputies and the party officials concerning foreign policy with reference to an almost unpublished survey conducted in 2006 by the auhtor. Accordingly, the paper will dwell on the perceptions of the CHP deputies over the EU, the role of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) over Turkish foreign policy as well as the Kurdish problem.
Between November 2005 and May 2006, questionnaire sheets including 40 questions were handed out to the deputies and then collected. Regarding the 42 deputies who did not want to answer the questionnaire, the author conducted face to face and structured interviews in order to ask the very same questions directly. Consequently, 102 out of 154 CHP deputies answered the questions. The respondents were free to give more than one answer to the questions; thus, for some questions the total sum of answers exceeds 100 percent. Although some parts of the survey especially concerning Turkey’s EU membership (Gulmez, 2008) and the Cyprus problem (Gulmez & Buhari-Gulmez, 2008) have been published, the most of the survey is still untouched. Hence, this is the aim of this paper to reveal the unknown results of the survey.
First, the survey tried to find out the sources through which the CHP deputies follow Turkish developments with regard to foreign policy. Accordingly, it was revealed that the deputies read more than one newspaper a day with the average of 2. Cumhuriyet, the left oriented newspaper is the most popular with 95%, while the mainstream newspapers Hurriyet and Milliyet follow it with 87% and 65% respectively. The rates of other newspapers are as follows: Sabah (39%), Radikal (38%), Vatan (27%) and Posta (6%). With regard to the content of newspapers, news about foreign policy is read by 57% of the deputies. Therefore, it could be argued that the slight majority of the deputies are regularly following foreign policy news. News about domestic politics on the other hand takes the lead with 100% reading rate, followed by columns (92%) and Economy news (64%). Foreign policy remains in the fourth place given the priorities of the deputies while reading newspaper. This might be perceived as if foreign policy is somewhat neglected by the CHP deputies. However, it should also be taken into account the fact that domestic politics and economics involve most parts of their job in the sub-committees and commissions of the parliament and the most deputies have a tendency to regularly read columnists, while foreign politics is a specialised area represented by single committee in the parliament composed of not more than 15 parliamentary members. In this sense, 57% popularity could be interpreted as significant.
Given the fact that the deputies are more or less interested in foreign policy, the overwhelming majority (75%) also claim that they contribute to the foreign policy undertakings of the party, while 18% believe that they do not generally contribute and 6% state that they never contribute. The undecided vote is 1%.
Concerning the EU membership of Turkey, as previously published (Gulmez, 2008), the survey finds that there is a clear support by the CHP deputies with 97%. Moreover, contrary to the party officials, the deputies reflect a more optimistic view on the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership. Accordingly, 65% believes that Turkey will eventually become an EU member, while 32% don’t believe and 3% undecided. However, since these results are from a 2006 survey, there is a need for a new survey in order to be precise about the current degree of support and optimism in the CHP. On other hand, the deputies seem pessimistic about the future of the EU itself. Accordingly, 42% claim that the EU will enlarge too much and therefore there will be political and economic dissolutions while 11% believe that international terrorism and the Union’s failure in the making of foreign policy will lead to disintegration of the EU. Those believing that the EU will become a world power fulfilling its economic and political integration remain 35%.
As regards the civilian-military relations, the survey asked how the deputies perceived the role of the TSK especially in the making of Turkish foreign policy. The CHP has been from time to time blamed for acting like the party of the TSK. However, with regard to the foreign policy, the majority of the CHP deputies (58%) would like to see the TSK not more than a counsellor to the civilian authority, while 35% believe that TSK should be one of the actors in the making of Turkish foreign policy, not the main actor. Correspondingly, only 3% believe that TSK should be the most important actor determining Turkish foreign policy. In this respect, it could be argued that the CHP deputies clearly do not reflect a tendency to leave the foreign policy making to TSK and in a sense falsify the accusations at least in foreign policy grounds.
The final question to be discussed in this piece is about the Kurdish problem. One of the most critical issues in Turkey, the Kurdish problem has recently been highly pronounced and debated by the media, political elite and the public. It is not only a domestic issue but also carries potential for escalating into a foreign policy matter as visible in the relations with Northern Iraq. In the same token, the steps taken for solving the ongoing problem might play a reconciling role in the relations with Northern Iraq as visible during the AKP government period.
While standing against the Kurdish opening of the AKP government with the claim that it foresees the cooperation with the PKK, the pro-Kurdish terrorist organization, the CHP nevertheless endorses the existence of the Kurdish problem and the necessity of taking steps to solve it with reference to its Kurdish report in 1989. However, according to the results of the survey, by 2006 the CHP deputies were more inclined to deny the existence of the Kurdish problem.
Pertinent to the question, whether there is a Kurdish problem, in 2006 there was a clear inclination in the CHP deputies to reject its existence. 60% agreed with the view that there is not such a problem because every Turkish citizen is Turk regardless of origin and no Turkish citizen faces a systematic discrimination based on ethnic origin. One third of the 60% even defended that to confirm “there is a Kurdish problem” might legitimize the existence of the PKK as an actor, rather than as a mere terrorist organization. Correspondingly, approximately 35% replied there is a Kurdish problem. Although 35% should be seen as a significant ratio, it is also important to witness that by 2006 the majority of the CHP deputies tended to reject the existence of such a problem. In this sense, it is possible to argue that while there is almost no debate about the existence of a Kurdish problem in Turkey today; just four years ago it was still open to debate even among the deputies of the main opposition party. Although this could be interpreted as a progress for tackling the actual problem, the question of how to solve the problem still remains unanswered.
Overall this work aimed to share certain unpublished parts of the 2006 survey conducted to the CHP deputies pertinent to their foreign policy perceptions. Accordingly, it is plausible to claim that the deputies are mainly interested in Turkish foreign policy and believe that they contribute to CHP’s foreign policy stance somehow. While the support for Turkey’s EU membership is significant, there is also pessimism with regard to the future of the EU. Moreover, the CHP deputies mainly want to see a civilian control over the foreign policy making. Although mainly supportive of the official stance of the party, nevertheless by 2006 it was possible to observe differing views in the CHP deputies especially with regard to the prospects of EU membership and the existence of the Kurdish problem. A new survey would enable us to observe to what extent these views remain intact or tend to change.
Gulmez, S.B. and Buhari-Gulmez, D. (2008) “The EU conditionality in the Cyprus problem: Catalyzing Euro-scepticism in Turkey?”, Journal of Cyprus Studies, Vol.14, pp.1-38.
Gulmez, S.B. (2008) “The EU Policy of the Republican People’s Party: An inquiry on the opposition party and Euro-skepticism in Turkey”, Turkish Studies, Vol.9, Number 3, pp. 423-436.
Gulmez, S.B. (2007) “The Cyprus Policy of the CHP: Change or Continuation?”, Insight Turkey, Vol.9, Number 1, pp. 127-138.
Figure 1: Percentage of views on the question whether the CHP deputies contribute to the foreign policy of the Party
Figure 2: Percentage of views on the role of Turkish Armed Forces in Turkish foreign policy
A-In my opinion, TSK should be the most important determining actor of Turkish foreign policy.
B-I think that TSK should only be one of the actors determining Turkish foreign policy.
C-I believe that TSK should limit itself to a mere counselor to the civilian government in the making of Turkish foreign policy.
E-Other (No answer (1))
Figure 3: Views on the question whether there a Kurdish problem in Turkey in numbers
a- Yes. In Turkey, citizens of Kurdish origin are treated as inferiors. They are deprived of fundamental human rights and freedoms. (6%)
b- No, there is not such a problem because every Turkish citizen is Turk regardless of origin and no Turkish citizen faces a systematic discrimination. (60%)
c- Yes, the PKK terrorism is the Kurdish problem. (11%)
d- No, there isn’t. To say that “there is a Kurdish problem” will legitimize the existence of the PKK as an actor, rather than as a mere terrorist organization. (24%)
e- Yes, there is a Kurdish problem. (5%)
f- Yes there is a Kurdish problem; this is mainly due to socio-economic, cultural, educational gap throughout the country at the expense of the citizens from Kurdish origin. In other words, it is an underdevelopment problem. (5%)
g- Yes there is a Kurdish problem. This is mainly due to non-respect of fundamental human rights. (5%)
h- No there is not a Kurdish problem. There is a problem with non-respect for individual rights. (5%)
i- Other (Yes, there is a Kurdish problem since Turkey does not recognize the Kurdish nation within the country as minority (3), There is an undefined Kurdish problem (4), No there is no such problem but some try to invent it (3), No, there is no such problem in Turkey but there is an external exploitation of the question (3), There is not a Kurdish problem but there is Turkishness problem (1), It is not realistic to limit the problem to Kurdish question (1), No answer because there is need for developing the options further (1). ) (16%)
Note: The respondents were free to give more than one answer to the questions; thus, for some questions the total sum of answers exceeds 100 percent.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author/s who retain the copyright.