Erdogan, Recep Tayyip

(1954- )
   Recep Tayyip Erdogan created the AK Partisi with its roots in Islamist politics in August 2001 after the latest Islamic party (the Virtue Party) had been banned along with its longtime leader and Erdogan's former mentor, Necmettin Erbakan. Erdogan had already earned an admirable reputation for honesty and efficiency as the mayor of Istanbul during the mid-1990s. Having apparently learned a lesson from his earlier political experiences as an Islamist politician, Erdogan specifically declared that the AK Party did not have a religious agenda and would work within the secular democratic framework. Barely a year later, in November 2002, the AK Party swept to victory. After solving a brief problem concerning an earlier conviction for having read an Islamic poem, Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey in March 2003, a position he has continued to hold as of this writing early in 2010.
   In power, Erdogan has sought to reform Turkey's political and economic situation in order to win Turkish membership in the European Union (EU), with whom accession negotiations began in October 2005. Despite many problems, Erdogan has also achieved some amazing political and economic successes, which were rewarded by his winning even more popular votes in the national elections of 2007.
   Erdogan has sought a solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey by emphasizing Islamic unity. As a result of its skillful positioning in the ideological marketplace and portraying his AK Party as the party of opposition to the "system" while being "sensitive" to the Kurdish problem, Erdogan's AK Party has been able to secure a sizable amount of support in the ethnic Kurdish regions. In August 2005, he also famously stated publicly in Diyarbakir that Turkey had a "Kurdish problem" and needed more "democracy" to solve it. After his AK Party won an even greater electoral victory in the national elections of July 2007 and elected Abdullah Gul as Turkey's new president, however, Erdogan and his party were soon put on the defensive by a nearly successful attempt in the Constitutional Court to ban them as a threat to Turkey's secular order. Having survived this threat to his very political existence, Erdogan and his AK Party seemingly lost their reformist zeal and became a party of the status quo that seemingly had forsaken reform.
   Addressing the Kurdish issue during the campaign leading up to the local elections of March 2009, Erdogan responded with a call to his Kurdish opponents in the Democratic Society Party (DTP) to love Turkey or leave it. Nothing more striking could have contrasted the newly security-oriented prime minister of 2009 with the one who had called for more democracy to solve the Kurdish problem in 2005. Based on his performance to date, one might conclude 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. Although he has been somewhat more concerned with the Kurdish problem compared with most other Turkish leaders, Erdogan has failed to develop any coherent policy toward solving it. Nevertheless, Erdogan began a much publicized and promising Kurdish Opening or Democratic Initiative in August 2009. The Constitutional Court's banning of the DTP in December 2009, however, made his efforts on the Kurdish issue problematic.
   Erdogan is married to Emine Gulbaran, who was born in Siirt (which is in Turkey's ethnic Kurdish area) but is of Arabic ancestry. They have two sons and two daughters. His wife wears the traditional Islamic headscarf.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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