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Contemporary Turkish Fascism Contemporary Turkish Fascism
by Nikos Laios
2020-10-21 09:46:07
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I. What is Fascism?

Is the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the new Hitler?  Now this is quite a radical question but in lieu of the Imperialist neo-Ottomanism and actions by the Turkish President over the last few years, this has become a very valid theoretical question.  But before we examine the actions of Erdogan, let’s firstly take an excursus and examine what fascism is, rather than what we think it is as the term ‘fascist’ is thrown around loosely in today’s political discourse. 

A dictionary definition of fascism states that it is: “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc and emphasising an aggressive nationalism and often racism.’ Etymologically the term ‘fascism’ derives from the ‘fascio’ meaning “a bundle of sticks’ from the Latin word ‘Fasces’, which came to be associated by the Italian Fascists with the ancient Roman fasces (fascio littorio), a bundle of rods tied around an axe which became an ancient Roman symbol of authority.

erd001_400Scholars have long argued and discussed the meaning of fascism, where historically fascism has attacked parliamentary liberalism, conservatism and communism. The historian Stanley G Payne argues that fascism is based on the following three concepts:

1. The “fascist negations”: anti-liberalism, ant-communism, anti-conservatism;

2.”Fascist goals: the creation of a nationalistic dictatorship to regulate economic structure and to transform social relations within a modern self-determined culture, and the expansion of the nation into an empire; and

3.”Fascist style: a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic authoritarian leadership.[1] [2] [3] [4]

Under the current conditions of the pandemic and protests concerns have been voiced by academics that fascist rhetoric is showing up in policies and politics around the world. Where Professor Jason Stanley in his book ‘How fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them’ states that “The leader proposes that only he can solve it and all of his political opponents are enemies or traitors.” Most scholars agree that fascism is a vulgar populist ideology that combines populism, authoritarianism and ultranationalism that exults the leader, race, and the state rather than the people. [5]

The American historian and political scientist Robert Paxton stated that:  “ Fascism is a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restrains goals of internal cleansing and expansion.”  [6] 

The 20th Century has been marked by the two biggest fascist movements of Italian fascism and the German fascist movement of Nazism that nearly destroyed Europe and was marked by ideological racism and genocide. In today’s world in respect to the term ‘fascist’ this has been used a pejorative in respect to far-right political movements. George Orwell once stated in 1944 that “the word Fascism is almost entirely meaningless…almost any English person would accept ‘bully as a synonym for Fascist” [7]. 

One of the foundations of fascism is ultranationalism that argues for the rebirth of a nation combined with myths.   The American historian and political scientist Robert Paxton argues that “ a passionate nationalism is the basis of fascism, combined with a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history” where “ the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, unassimilated minorities, spoiled rentiers, and rationalist thinkers”[ 8]. Fascism also promotes a totalitarian state in oppositional to a democracy, rejects a multi-party system and strives to become a one-party state that dictates the whole life of its people.  Where the fascist state promotes policies of indoctrination and propaganda and purges any ideas that are not consistent with the beliefs of the fascist party in power [9].  The question now to be posed after having thoroughly reviewed what fascism is, whether the Turkish President Erdogan has ushered in a form of fascism in Turkey?

II. Is Erdogan The New Hitler?

On the 28th of August 2014 Erdogan became the 12th President of Turkey and since then has consolidated power when a referendum was held in April of 2017 regarding a set of 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution. The amendments also included the replacement of the parliamentary system with a presidential system and the abolition of the post of Prime Minister, where the presidency would become the executive body vested with broad powers.   The President also pressed court action against the remaining free press in Turkey, where the newspaper Zaman was seized in March of 2016. Erdogan also stated that he was successful   in “destroying Turkish civil groups working against the state” [10]. After the attempted coup in 2016 over 20 journalists were arrested and 120 media outlets were closed, and Cumhuriyet journalists were detained in November of 2016. ‘Reporters Without Borders’ called Erdogan an “enemy of press freedom” and that “he hides his aggressive dictatorship under a veneer of democracy” [11]. Turkey also blocked all access to Wikipedia over a content dispute in April of 2017 [12], and where the ban was finally lifted on 15th January 2020. Erdogan also introduced measures to shut down or control YouTube, Netflix and Twitter, where the decisions came after Twitter users insulted his daughter Esra [13]. 

Erdogan has been ruling as a virtual dictator and has constructed a palace called Akay Saray (pure white palace) which occupies 50 acres. Erdogan has cracked down and purged the media, the military, the Gulenist movement, and several judicial officials were removed from their posts due to their secularist credentials. When it was discovered that many of the newly appointed judicial officials were AKP supporters, controversy erupted. Some family members of Erdogan’s ministers who had been arrested in relation to a corruption scandal on 2013 were released and the judicial order to question Erdogan’s son Bilal Erdogan was annulled [14].       

In the last few years Erdogan has been attempting to revive a bizarre Neo-Ottomanism, a revival of the Imperialist glory of the Ottoman Empire in symbolism, culture and geographical extent and influence. When the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas visited Turkey, he was greeted with an Ottoman-style ceremony in the new palace with guards dressed in replica costumes representing the founders of Turkish Empires in history [15].  Erdogan’s gradual attacks against the secular vision of Turkey as that founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has eroded the republic envisioned by its founders. Critics have been virulent in accusing Erdogan of wanting to become an Ottoman Sultan and abandon the democratic and secular nature of the Republic [16] [17] [18] [19]. Erdogan responded by denying the claims and that he would be similar to Queen Elizabeth II rather than an Ottoman Sultan [20]. This Neo-Ottomanism further expressed itself when the Council of State annulled the Cabinet’s decision of 1934 to establish the Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia as a museum, and Erdogan ordered its reclassification as a mosque [21] in opposition to UNESCO, World Council of Churches, The Holy See, international opinion , and the Turkish political opposition[22] [23] [24]. Erdogan has done the same to the Chora Church and continues to erase the Greek Christian pre-Turkish history of Turkey.     

As a result of Erdogan’s authoritarian actions and strange ideas regarding interest rate policy [25] [26] [27], the Turkish economy is sliding which started with the currency and debt crisis of 2018. Where this was caused by the excessive current account deficit and foreign-currency debt. The famed economist Paul Krugman advised that the crisis in Turkey is “a classic currency-and-debt crisis, of a kind we’ve seen many times”, that “at such a time, the quality of leadership suddenly matters a great deal. You need officials who understand what’s happening, can devise a response and have enough credibility that markets give them the benefit of the doubt. Some emerging markets have those things, and they are riding out the turmoil fairly well. The Erdogan regime has none of that” [28].       

Yet further compounding this is that Turkey is internationally isolated with virtually no friends, where it now has a range of neighbours aligned against it; Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Italy and France, with Saudi Arabia having just announced a boycott of Turkish products. Through its delusional Neo-Ottomanism Turkey now finds itself in conflict with an incursion of its troops into Iraq, Syria, military adventures in Libya, a support of the Moslem Brotherhood, in conflict with Armenia and most strangely of all against Greece via a bizarre ‘Blue Homeland’ doctrine.

Where Turkey harks back to its temporary occupation of the Greek islands during the Ottoman Empire, with an attempt to redraw the borders with Greece and claim the eastern Aegean. But comfortably forgets that the Greek islands have always been populated by Greek people for 5,000 years now if we include the Greek’s Cycladic ancestors; and also that Greeks have continuously lived on the west coast of Turkey (Asia-Minor) as far back as 3,000 years ago, thousands of years before there were even Turks in Turkey, right up until 1922 when the thousands year old Greek presence in Asia-Minor was erased by the Turks. Where here is the uncomfortable fact for Turkey, that Turks were never natives of the Mediterranean but are relatively new comers, outsiders who have invaded the land of others, cleansed Asia-Minor via ethnic cleansing and genocide and made the land their own by conquest and theft. Where these facts stick at the very centre of the Turkish identity and psyche and is the source of their insecurity which manifests itself via this virulent jingoism and ultranationalism as expressed by the perverse fantasy that is Neo-Ottomanism, to protect themselves from someone stealing their conquests away from them. 

Turkey now stands outside the doors of the international community and is fast being ostracised, with Europe holding the threat of sanctions over Turkey if it does not mend its ways and seeks the path of peace. Yet very clearly over this past decade Turkey has taken on the characteristics of fascism slowly but surely. Is Erdogan the New Hitler? The jury is still out on this question, but with his current actions, Erdogan is making good progress towards that goal. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk once said:  “Turkey’s true master is the peasant”, and here unfortunately, he might just be right.


1. Prebble Q. Ramswell (2017). Euroscepticism and the Rising Threat from the Left and Right: The Concept of Millennial Fascism. Lexington Books. p. 9. ISBN 9781498546041. Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2019.

2. Griffin, Roger and Matthew Feldman Fascism: Critical Concepts in Political Science pp. 420–21, 2004 Taylor and Francis.

3. Kallis, Aristotle, ed. (2003). The Fascism Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 84–85.

4. Renton, David. Fascism: Theory and Practice, p. 21, London: Pluto Press, 1999.

5. Silva, Christianna. "Fascism Scholar Says U.S. Is 'Losing Its Democratic Status'". NPR.org. National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 7 September 2020. Retrieved 7 September 2020.

6. Jump up to: a b Paxton, Robert (2004). The Anatomy of Fascism. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1-4000-4094-0.

7. Jump up to: a b "George Orwell: 'What is Fascism?'". Orwell.ru. 8 January 2008. Archived from the original on 23 June 2018. Retrieved 2 December 2006.

8. Paxton, Robert O. (2004) The Anatomy Of Fascism. New York: Knopf. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-        4000-4094-0

9. P Pauley, 2003. 117–19.

10. Erdoğan says 'civil society groups working against Turkish state' largely destroyed". Hürriyet Daily News. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2016.

11. Reporters Without Borders labels Erdogan as 'enemy of press freedom'". Deutsche Welle. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016.

12. Shieber, Jonathan (29 April 2017). "Wikipedia has been blocked in Turkey". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2017.

13. Turkey determined to control social media platforms, Erdogan says". Reuters. 1 July 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2020.

14. "Tahliye kararı veren hakim İslam Çiçek, Facebook'ta Uzun Adam hayranı çıktı!" [Judge Islam Çiçek's decisions vacated, Facebook claims links to Uzun Adam]. amanyolu haber (in Turkish). 1 May 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014.

15. cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr. "T.C. CUMHURBAŞKANLIĞI : Cumhurbaşkanlığı". tccb.gov.tr.

16. "Recep Tayyip Erdogan: The 'new sultan' now has a new palace – and it has cost Turkish taxpayers £400m". The Independent.

17. "Erdogan Is Turkey's New Sultan – WSJ". WSJ. 13 August 2014.

18. "The next sultan?". The Economist. 16 August 2014.

19. Akkoc, Raziye (2 February 2015). "'Turkey's president is not acting like the Queen – he is acting like a sultan'". Telegraph.co.uk.

20. Akkoc, Raziye (30 January 2015). "Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: I want to be like Queen of UK". Telegraph.co.uk.

21. "Presidential Decree on the opening of Hagia Sophia to worship promulgated on the Official Gazette". Presidency of the Republic of Turkey: Directorate of Communications. 10 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.

22. "Church body wants Hagia Sophia decision reversed". BBC News. 11 July 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020.

23. "Pope 'pained' by Hagia Sophia mosque decision". BBC News. 12 July 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020.

24. "World reacts to Turkey reconverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque". Al Jazeera. 10 July 2020. Retrieved 10 July 2020.

25. Borzou Daragahi (25 May 2018). "Erdogan Is Failing Economics 101". Foreign Policy.

26. "Inflation rise poses challenge to Erdogan as election looms". Financial Times. 5 June 2018.

27. Matt O'Brien (13 July 2018). "Turkey's economy looks like it's headed for a big crash". The Washington Post.

28. Paul Krugman (24 May 2018). "Turmoil for Turkey's Trump". The New York Times.


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