The election of Abdullah Gül as Turkey’s president is the latest chapter in the increasingly tense cold war between the country’s ruling AK party—often eccentrically described in the western press as “mildly Islamist”—and the army, guardians of Turkey’s secular, “Kemalist” constitution. The story is well rehearsed, but to recap briefly—earlier this year, the AK party put forward Gül, then foreign minister, as its candidate for president. The army, concerned by Gül’s Islamist past and particularly by the fact that his wife wears the hijab, let its displeasure be known and even hinted that it might intervene militarily, as it has done in the past, to preserve Turkey’s secular status.
After a constitutional court had annulled the first parliamentary vote on the presidency on a technicality, Turkey’s prime minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, called a general election for late July, which the AK party went on to win by a landslide. With its strengthened mandate, the AK party again nominated Gül for the presidency, and this time he won handsomely.
The AK vs army story has meant that in recent months the running sore, for Turkey, of its Kurdish minority has largely been ignored in the western press, but as Christopher de Bellaigue reports in the new issue of Prospect, the AK party’s national election success extended to the Kurdish areas, largely at the expense of Kurdish nationalists. AK’s success over the last few months demonstrates not only the threat the party poses to the Turkish secular establishment, but also to the Kurdish nationalists’ claim to be the sole representatives of Turkey’s Kurds.