Jackson School Director and Professor, Dr. Reşat Kasaba, an expert on Turkey, writes a piece about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s use of the concepts “native” and “national” to strengthen anti-western, nationalist and Islamist rhetoric in Turkey.
Recently there has been a growing emphasis on the superiority of “local” and “national” in Turkey. This emphasis is different from how these concepts were used in the 1920s, when developing a national economy was seen as a tool for closing the distance between Turkey and the West. Nowadays, ‘local’, ‘native’, and ‘national’ are concepts used to narrowly define “what” and “who” belongs to “us” in order to draw clear boundaries. From education to architecture anything that is not “native” or “national” is seen as a form of threat. Thus, instead of being parts of a forward looking and hopeful project, these concepts have become the tools of a reactionary and protectionist project.
Under the rule of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (JDP) the definition of the concepts of national and native play an important role. The party has three main groups of constituents: the first is a small group of extremely wealthy individuals who owe their fortune to the party. The second is the middle class whose growth is relatively recent and resulted from the policies of the JDP, especially in the early years of its rule. Lastly, there is a sizeable segment who was historically left outside of Turkey’s development policies and did not necessarily benefit from JDP’s policies but is now ready to respond to the anti-western, nationalist and Islamist rhetoric.
The way Erdoğan speaks to these groups and keeps them in his camp is not different from the way Trump approaches the core base of his supporters. Given the degree to which Turkey’s economy is integrated with global networks of trade, production and finance, it will be hard for the JDP to simultaneously maintain an anti-western rhetoric and at the same time try to keep the Turkish economy afloat.