- (AKP)The Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, is a moderate/conservative party with Islamic roots formed in Turkey in 2001 after a previous Islamist party (the Fazilet, or Virtue Party) had been banned. AK is an acronym for the Turkish words for justice and development and by itself means in English "white," "clean," "pure," or "honest." Therefore, as a more neutral word, the term AKP might be preferred to that of AK Party, although both terms are used. The party's symbol is a lightbulb.In November 2002, the AKP won a landslide victory in the Turkish national elections and formed the first majority government in 20 years. All of the parties in the previous parliament were swept out of the new parliament due to their failure to gain at least 10 percent of the vote. Turkey's severe economic crisis, resulting social crisis, and perceived corruption of the older parties were the main reasons for this development. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the AKP and former mayor of Istanbul, was not able to become the new prime minister immediately, however, because of an earlier conviction for incitement to hate after he had publicly read lines from an Islamic poem several years before. Meanwhile, his deputy, Abdullah Gul, served as prime minister. In March 2003, however, Erdogan finally became prime minister, while Gul took over as foreign minister.On 1 March 2003, the Turkish parliament voted against allowing U.S. troops to use Turkey as a base from which to attack Iraq later that month. This action prevented Turkey from the opportunity to help occupy northern Iraq as a U.S. ally in the war against Iraq and instead made the Iraqi Kurds the main U.S. ally in northern Iraq. However, by not supporting the U.S. attack against Iraq, the AKP won credit from many Arab states and the European Union (EU), which opposed the U.S. action.When it first rose to power, the AKP had a unique opportunity to redefine Turkish politics by pursuing membership in the EU and a solution to the Kurdish problem, among numerous other initiatives. Instead of being a traditional Islamic party seeking to install an Islamic political order, the AKP seemed to be endeavoring to improve the political, social, cultural, and economic opportunities of Muslims by democratizing the state. Seeking EU membership became both a catalyst and result of this democratization process. In harmonizing Turkish laws with the EU acquis communautaire (in effect the existing EU law), the AKP implemented a series of important democratic reforms, including the reduction of military influence over politics, abolishment of the death penalty and the State Security Courts, improvements in freedom of the press and speech, and economic initiatives. These steps had the side effect of creating a Turkey more tolerant and supportive of its ethnic Kurdish population. Indeed, in August 2005, Erdogan journeyed to Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeast Turkey and long considered the unofficial capital of the historic Kurdish provinces in Turkey, to declare that Turkey had a "Kurdish problem," had made "grave mistakes" in the past, and now needed "more democracy to solve the problem." Never before had a Turkish leader so explicitly addressed the Kurdish problem and seemingly promised to try to solve it. As a result of these achievements, the EU decided that Turkey had met the required Copenhagen Criteria for membership and initiated accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005.The EU accession process, however, introduced divisive issues into Turkish domestic politics that have led to sharp debates between the AK Party and its secular Kemalist opposition, which includes the still politically powerful military. During the crisis over electing the AKP's Gul president in 2007, for example, the military famously posted on its website a so-called e-memorandum (e-muhtira) warning against the threat posed by some groups aiming to destroy Turkey's secular system under the cover of religion (read "the AKP"). (As recently as 1997, the military had forced Necmettin Erbakan's Islamist Refah Party [RP] to resign.) Nevertheless, and as a result of this constitutional crisis between the AKP and its secular/military rivals, the AKP won an even greater electoral victory in the parliamentary elections of July 2007.Following this tremendous electoral triumph, however, the AKP apparently committed an error by trying to amend Turkey's secular constitution to allow the headscarf to be worn in universities. Not only did this attempt place Kurdish reforms on the back burner, but it also presented the Kemalist establishment with the ammunition it needed to attack the AKP as an Islamic threat to secularism. In short order, the AKP was battling for its very life against the attempt to ban it in the Constitutional Court. Although Erdogan's party managed to survive this attempt at a "judicial coup" by one lone vote in July 2008, the AKP seemingly emerged from the ordeal significantly chastised. Many believe that it was at that point that Erdogan struck an informal compromise with the military to drop his reformist agenda in return for being allowed to remain in power.The AKP's retrenchment on the Kurdish issue was amply illustrated when Erdogan journeyed to the southeast in the fall of 2008 to campaign for the local elections scheduled to be held in March 2009. The AKP had already shocked observers by slightly outpolling the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP), or Democratic Society Party, in the southeast during the July 2007 elections. At that time the AKP's stress on improving economic conditions for the locals had seemingly resonated more with them than the DTP's Kurdish nationalist stance. Thus, when Erdogan arrived in the fall of 2008, the pro-Kurdish DTP reacted strongly against the attempt to seize what its mayor in Diyarbakir Osman Baydemir had called its "castle" by orchestrating the closure of shops, stone throwing, and running street battles. Erdogan responded with a call to his Kurdish opponents to love Turkey or leave it. Nothing more striking could contrast the newly security-oriented prime minister of 2008 with the one who had called for more democracy to solve the Kurdish problem in 2005.Many observers have offered a troubling explanation for Erdo-gan's stumbling on the Kurdish issue by arguing that Erdogan does not grasp the origins and demands of the Kurdish problem because he has little sense of ethnic or civic nationalism. His dominant identity is Muslim, and he thinks that Islamic identity will magically solve the Kurdish problem. Nevertheless, as a result of its skillful positioning in the ideological marketplace, the AKP received a sizable vote in the ethnic Kurdish regions, having portrayed itself as the party of opposition to the "system" while being "sensitive" to the Kurdish problem. After five years in power, however, and on the eve of further negotiations for Turkey's eventual entry into the EU, the AKP government had failed to develop any coherent policy on what is probably the most critical issue facing the country, suggesting that the government's only solution had been to sweep the issue under the rug of complacency.On the other hand, at the beginning of 2009, the AKP initiated a television channel (TRT 6) broadcasting exclusively in Kurdish and also seemed poised to launch further Kurdish reforms. The AK Party, however, received 7 percentage points less in the local elections of March 2009 than it had in the national elections of July 2007, falling particularly short in its goal to replace the pro-Kurdish DTP as the main party in Turkey's historic Kurdish provinces in the southeast of the country. In the autumn of 2009, the AKP government was pursuing a promising Kurdish opening or initiative that held out the possibility of major reforms on the Kurdish issue. However, this attempt at reform had faltered by the end of 2009.
Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter.
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