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Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey

November 8, 2018

Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor of International Relations and European Studies
Moderated by Kent E. Calder, Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs and International Research Cooperation & Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies
Comments by Dr. Soner Çağaptay, Beyer Family Fellow and Director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute

The European and Eurasian Studies (EES) Program and the Faculty Research Forum hosted a seminar with Assistant Professor of International Relations and European Studies Lisel Hintz to discuss her latest book, Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey.

Hintz kicked off the seminar by first showing two photos of Turkish politician Merve Kavakci, one in 1999 where Kavakcl was jeered for wearing a headscarf in the Turkish Parliament and denied her right to take the oath of office, and then another of Kavakcl in 2013, where she was cheered in parliament while wearing her headscarf. The photos intended to exemplify the stark changes that have taken place in Turkish domestic politics. This, together with Turkey’s “puzzling” shifting of foreign policy that happened during the same time is why Hintz explains she chose Turkey as a case to examine the complex relationship between identity politics and foreign policy.

Hintz drew insights from her book that explain the rise of Ottoman Islamism as an understanding of Turkish national identity that challenges a previously dominant Western-oriented, secularist form of Turkishness, which she called Republican Nationalism.

During the discussion, she analyzed how Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the EU accession process to weaken Republican Nationalist obstacles, mainly the military, which has long deemed itself as the protector of secularism and the judiciary branch which has the power to shut down parties for being unconstitutionally anti-secularism, to their Ottoman Islamist proposal for Turkish identity back home.

Hintz pointed out that the reforms carried out in Turkey are not human rights but civil-military reforms which looked at changing the role of the National Security Council, closing the States Security Courts, reducing the role of the military in politics, changing the configuration of how the judiciary is selected such that the AKP can change the those institutions from inside out. Hintz argued that this approach to identity politics sheds light on otherwise confusing domestic and foreign policy shifts.