Fuat Keyman – Turkey: The Transformation-Democratization Paradox

Professor Keyman is the Director of the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC) at Sabancı University, Istanbul. He serves on the Council of Wise Men, appointed by Prime Minister Erdoğan to promote the Kurdish Opening initiative of the AKP government. He shared his experience with Club Turkey members and assessed also the latest events surrounding the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and the rest of the country.

The Council of Wise Men is made up of 63 members, 7 per each of the 9 districts into which Turkey was divided for this purpose. Each team of 7 members is comprised of leading academics, analysts, lawyers, and activists travels to the region to which it has been assigned and visits towns and villages, talking to members of civil society, holding town hall meetings, and discussing the reforms proposed by the government with various officeholders.

Professor Keyman was selected owing to his recognized standing as a leading academic social scientist with deep understanding of the situation in Turkey, the Middle East, and international relations. He is not a member of AKP or affiliated with it in any way. However, working with the Council of Wise Men has changed his view of public feelings and preferences outside the metropolitan centers of Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir. The region his team was assigned to work in is south-east Anatolia, the most divided and contested in Turkey with reference to the Kurdish issue. It is interesting to note that Keyman has come to believe that there strong support for the government initiative vis-à-vis the Kurds not only among Turks, but also among the majority of Kurds.

Despite the Gezi Park crisis, Professor Keyman does not see any serious challenge to AKP hegemony in Turkish politics. He does believe, nonetheless, that the popularity of Prime Minister Erdoğan has declined significantly, and that he might not win the executive presidency he seeks to create through constitutional reform (for which he needs the support of the Kurdish BDP in Parliament).