Kayhan Ozer/AP
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r.), and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi salute the members of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday. Morsi is in the Turkish capital to strengthen an emerging alliance between two moderate Islamist governments in a region beset by conflict and instability.

Turkey's prime minister trumpets their democratic credentials

Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, said Sunday that Turkey's successful democracy should serve as an example to all Muslim countries. Critics say Erdogan is too authoritarian and stifles dissent. 

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan trumpeted Turkey's credentials as a rising democratic power on Sunday, saying his Islamist-rooted ruling party had become an example to the Muslim world after a decade in charge.

Addressing thousands of party members and regional leaders at a congress of his Justice and Development (AK) Party, Erdogan said the era of military coups in the nation of 75 million people was over.

He vowed to forge a more diverse constitution and turn a new page in relations with Turkey's 15 million Kurds, in a speech lasting almost two and half hours and meant to chart the AK Party's agenda for the next decade.

"We called ourselves conservative democrats. We focused our change on basic rights and freedom," Erdogan told thousands of cheering party members at the congress in a sports stadium in the capital Ankara.

"This stance has gone beyond our country's borders and has become an example for all Muslim countries."

Leaders including Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, were among the guests.

Under Erdogan's autocratic grip, the AK Party has won three consecutive landslide election victories since 2002, ending a history of fragile coalition governments punctuated by military coups and marking Turkey's longest period of single-party government for more than half a century.

Per capita income has nearly tripled in that time and Turkey has re-established itself as a regional power, with its allies seeing its mix of democratic stability and Islamic culture as a potential role model in a volatile region.

"Turkey has shown the bright face of Islam," Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's leader in exile, told the congress. "Erdogan, you are not only a leader in Turkey now, you are a leader in the Muslim world as well."


But critics accuse Erdogan of an authoritarian approach, saying that he stifles dissent and uses the courts to silence his enemies. They also say he has failed to bring any hope of an end to a 28-year-old conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

The crisis in neighbouring Syria has thrust Turkey to the forefront of international diplomacy, with Washington seeing it as the key player in supporting the Syrian opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.

Erdogan renewed his criticism of Russia, China and Iran, which have backed Assad in the 18-month uprising, saying history would "not forgive those who stand by oppressors".

Egypt's Mursi echoed the sentiments, telling the congress that a quartet of regional powers consisting of Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would continue to push for a solution.

"We will not be calm, we will not settle down until this bloodshed stops and until the will of the Syrian people to choose their own leader is realised," he said.

In a speech heavy on rhetoric but light on detail, Erdogan looked back over the AK Party successes of the past decade but acknowledged that Turkey still faced major challenges.

He said it badly needed a new constitution to replace one written after a military coup three decades ago, and invited opposition parties for consultations later this year.

"We will continue our struggle for a new constitution based on freedom, and which will allow diversity," he said.

Erdogan favours switching to a presidential form of government similar to France's. It is an open secret that he covets the post himself, since under party rules he cannot seek another term as premier at the next parliamentary election in 2015.


He gave no hints on his political future beyond saying he would "do whatever job is given to me".

Opponents worry about Erdogan tightening his grip. Hundreds of politicians, academics and journalists are on trial accused of plotting against the government, while more than 300 army officers were handed long jail terms this month for an alleged bid to topple him almost a decade ago.

Critics also question his policy on the conflict with Kurdish militants in the mountainous southeast, bordering Iraq. Recent fighting has been some of the heaviest for years.

He pledged a new chapter in relations with Turkey's Kurds but called on them to denounce violence by the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

"From today, we want to open a new page, and we want to make it a page of peace and brotherhood with our Kurdish brothers," he said. "We expect our Kurdish brothers to take a step towards us, raise their voice against terror and say enough is enough."

Erdogan said in a television interview last week that the intelligence agencies might hold talks with the PKK when the time was right.

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, told the congress: "As the people living in this region, we have to cooperate. No problem can be solved with violence ... We will do our best to help Erdogan to end the bloodshed."

Ankara has increasingly courted Iraq's Kurds and imports oil from the region, further souring relations with the Iraqi government in Baghdad. But Turkey has also sent fighter jets to bombard PKK bases within Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdish conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives since the militants took up arms in 1984, and as the death toll climbs so does the public pressure on Erdogan to bring an end to the bloodshed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Turkey's prime minister trumpets their democratic credentials
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today