Thursday, June 16th
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

The Rumi Forum presented a Panel Discussion on the recent elections in Turkey: “Turkey Decides: The Effects of the 2011 Turkish Elections on Domestic and Foreign Policy”

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Event Summary:

Gönül Tol, Matthew Duss and Joshua Walker were all invited at the Rumi Forum to discuss the result of the 2011 Turkish elections. Mrs. Tol began the talk by summarizing the election results. She focused on its domestic repercussions, arguing that the BDP (the Pro-Kurdish party)’s ability to secure 36 parliamentary seats was the most noticeable and important change. This rise comes at a time where Turkish democracy is, according to Tol, “at a critical junction” seeing as the new parliament’s task is to draft a new constitution. Mrs. Tol argues that the current structure does not accurately reflect Turkish society because it envisions an ethnic homogeneity among Turks. The director of Turkish studies expresses her hope that the new text will address this issue of national identity in a way that grants more rights to Kurdish citizens. Her optimism derives from Erdogan’s post-election promise that the constitution “will embrace all parts of Turkey.”

Seeing as AKP is 4 seats short of a parliamentary majority, it cannot amend the constitution alone. Tol rejoices at the idea that the dominant party will have to undertake the “challenging task” of engaging in political dialogue with the opposition. Finding a compromise will be particularly difficult because Mrs. Tol reminds that the new parliament is formed of parties belonging to each end of the political spectrum. This will result in disagreements, particularly regarding the Kurdish issue and whether it will be accepted as an official language. Drafting the constitution will therefore require the establishment of a national identity, through a “liberal consensus”. Unfortunately, campaign rhetoric from the main parties focused on a nationalist discourse, and Tol insists that “they will have to drop it to reach a compromise.” Despite this difficult task, Tol explains in an optimistic manner that the variety of ideologies in the new parliament effectively reflects the socio political-dynamics of the country, ultimately symbolizing Turkey’s efficient democracy. She concludes by explaining that the 2011 elections were different from previous ones because they were mostly focused on the issue of identity rather than the economy.


Matthew Duss’ remarks focused on foreign policy. He begins by drawing a comparison between Erdogan and George W. Bush’s post-election speeches pledging for more active foreign involvement. Duss refers to this rhetorical promotion of democracy and the rule of law as “values-based leadership” and expresses his hope that Erdogan will enjoy more success than Bush did. He argues that Turkey is interested in maintaining the regional status quo, and that the country has realized the issue of double standards when promoting democracy. Duss indeed reminds that “the reality of these international relationships are very difficult”. Although he admits that the “zero problem” policy is a wonderful goal, Duss insists that attaining such an objective is particularly difficult if tensions between neighbors already exist.

Drawing attention to Syria, Duss argues that Turkey’s public support of the Syrian opposition has stained its relations with Iran. Its invitation to host Syrian opposition leaders, in particular, may impact trade relations with Teheran, although Duss reminds that remains to be seen. Duss concludes by explaining that much like the United States, Turkey is “waiting to see what happens in the region”, and that “it will be interesting to see what diplomatic capital Erdogan puts behind his rhetoric.


Joshua W. Walker concluded the presentation by offering an insight on both the foreign and domestic implications of these elections. Walker explains his surprise at how little attention the United States paid to these elections. He argued that because of AKP’s predicted win, “even without the election we had already written the narrative”. This is particularly surprising because Walker reminds that although popular support for AKP has grown, its parliamentary seats have decreased over the years. These democratic dynamics in a parliamentary system are not well understood in the United States and Walker insists that they should gain more consideration. Moreover, AKP’s third continuous victory creates a distinctive situation from the past because the Turkish leadership has become united under one leader. Walker explains that this is a change compared to the past “when we didn’t know who to talk to.”

Additionally, he agrees with Erdogan’s remarks that “the winner of the election is Turkey” because of the variety of the different parties which obtained parliamentary representation. Although the rhetoric of the election was divisive, with “anti-Israel and anti-West” comments, Walker reminds that campaigning is far different from governing. In fact, “the real question is going forward” and whether the new government will have the ability and the courage to establish a social contract which ensures effective political rotation. Walker insists that it not only depends on the CHP’s ability to change and “rid itself of religious fanatics”, but also the overall opposition’s ability to develop a coherent message. However, he reminds that this vision is unlikely, and admits his fear of Erdogan’s 2023 vision, claiming that “an imperial presidency is a dangerous idea.”

Regarding foreign policy, Walker explains that being the biggest and fastest growing economy in the region, “Turkey stands to gain the most from a stable Middle East.” Erdogan’s approach to politics has been one of a global leader, becoming the most popular leader in the Arab world. To succeed, Walker emphasizes that the Turkish leader must attempt to bring parties together to solve conflicts rather than create new ones. He concludes by arguing that Erdogan needs to act like the regional inspiration Turkey claims to be.

The 3 scholars then answered questions regarding the possibility of Turkey becoming an authoritarian regime, the European Union, the economy and Kurdish rights.


walker-joshuaJoshua W. Walker is a postdoctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University and a fellow at the German Marshall Fund based in Washington, D.C. He is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies and will join the Jepson School faculty as an assistant professor in in August, 2011. He will teach international and cross-cultural leadership courses.

His work focuses on international relations and security studies with a particular emphasis on the Middle East and East Asia. He received his Ph.D. in Politics and Public Policy at Princeton University where he wrote a dissertation on the role of historical memories in post-imperial successor states’ domestic and foreign policies with particular focus on Turkey and Japan.

His current book project is Shadows of Empires: How Post-Imperial Successor States Shape Memories. Walker was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Transatlantic Academy based in Washington, D.C., working on Turkey and its neighborhood that resulted in a policy report and forthcoming book project titled, Getting to Zero.

Walker is a fellow of the Pacific Council on International Policy, a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a graduate fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and Bradley Foundation. He is the co-founder of the Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations at Princeton and the Young Professions in Foreign Policy in New York. He holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Yale University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Ankara, Turkey, and worked for the U.S. Embassy and State Department on Turkey.

gonul tol

Gönül Tol
received her B.A. degree in International Relations from Middle East Technical University in Ankara in 2001 and her M.A. degree in Political Science from Florida International University in 2002. Her master’s thesis, entitled Beyond Systemic Approaches: The Study of Irredentism, is on the role of ethnic identity on foreign policy making with a special emphasis on the former Yugoslavia. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida International University in 2008. Her dissertation, The Rise of Islamism among Turkish Immigrants in Germany and the Netherlands, is a comparative study of the Milli Görüs Movement in Germany and the Netherlands. She conducted extensive field research in these countries between 2004 and 2007. She was awarded a graduate fellowship at the Middle East Studies Center at Florida International University where she also served as the Director of Model United Nations. She has also worked for TUSIAD US as their Program Manager. She is the Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC. Her focus of research is Islamist movements in Western Europe and the Middle East and their radicalization processes, immigration, ethnic and religious identity formation and institutionalization of political Islam. She has served as a panelist, chair and moderator in several international conferences. She has given lectures on Turkish politics, Muslims in Europe and political Islam at American University, Johns Hopkins University, Florida International University, the University of Kent, and TOBB ETÜ. She has publications on the Turkish immigrant community in Western Europe, EU immigration policies, Islam in Western Europe, and political Islam.

Matthew Duss
is a Policy Analyst and Director of Middle East Progress at the Center for American Progress. Matthew received a master’s degree in Middle East studies from the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, and a B.A. in political science from the University of Washington. Matthew’s writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Forward, and The Guardian. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, Fox News, and Al Jazeera, as well as numerous radio programs.

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“Changing the Mindset on US Policy in the Middle East”, with Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress


Ali H. Aslan is Washington Correspondent of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper Zaman.
Prior to starting his current position in Washington in 1997, Mr. Aslan worked at Zaman’s Istanbul headquarters in various capacities including Deputy News Editor. Currently, Mr. Aslan also writes a weekly column on international relations for Zaman and its English language affiliate, Today’s Zaman. Mr. Aslan is a frequent contributor to the Turkish national television network Samanyolu (STV), and weekly news magazine Aksiyon covering international relations with special focus on the US and Turkey. Mr. Aslan was born in Adana, Turkey, and holds a BA from Turkey’s prestigious Bogazici (Bosphorus) University. He and his wife live in Fairfax, VA with their two sons.