The Rise of the AKP
2015 was the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis, exposing a global audience to the plight of people risking their lives to seek safety. It also captured my attention and has defined the trajectory of my academic journey over the past 5 years. My interest in refugee issues in the Middle East and beyond guided me as I majored in International Relations in undergrad, studied Arabic, and now, as I am pursuing my master's degree in international peace and conflict resolution.
Today, over 10 years after the beginning of the civil war, over 3.5 million Syrians find themselves in Turkey.
It was this refugee connection that first sparked my interest in Turkey. This paper on the history of the AKP and democracy is a part of a series that I have written on refugee and governance issues in the country. There has been a recent rise globally in even the most consolidated democracies of leaders who embrace populism and authoritarian actions. Nearly every continent has an example of such cases to varying degrees: notable examples include Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orbán in Hungary, or Modi in India. Turkey’s experience of democratic demise stands apart from the rest. In fact, it has been characterized as a model-breaking case as it relates to democratization. The goal of my research was to try and understand the question: why did Turkey move from the model of democracy in Islamic countries to another case demonstrating the lure of authoritarian governance.
As I began to research this topic, I realized that, central to understanding this topic, was understanding the role of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in shaping the AKP and his rise to power. I also sought to weave in the dominant literature on democratic decline to show that the warning signs had been present nearly from the start of democratic decline in Turkey.
My hope is that readers will walk away with a better understanding of the evolution of the AKP and the warning signs that can accompany democratic decline, but also that there is hope for democratic freedoms. As I note in the article, one of the ways that the AKP was able to rise to power in the first place was by appealing to broad coalitions of the public and organizing on a grassroots level. The next set of presidential elections will take place in Turkey in 2023 and, as we draw closer, I will be watching the news closely to see what’s next for democracy in Turkey.