Turkey’s upcoming election could be the end of Turkish secularism — unless the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated against Islamic Sharia rule in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere recently can pull off an electoral victory, which looks doubtful.
“The Upcoming Elections in Turkey (2): The AKP’s Political Power Base,” by R. Krespin for MEMRI:
Turkey has a large network of Islamist sects, orders, associations, and sheikhs that has a strong impact on politics. In the 1980s, the network’s sect sheikhs and religious community leaders directed their followers to vote for the political party of their choice – which traditionally meant center-right parties. However, since that time, the situation has changed, and leaders and followers of religious sects have become active participants in Turkey’s political life. Turkish politics today cannot be understood without considering the political role of these religious forces.
Politicians, Islamist Sects, Orders, and Associations In Support of the AKP
In a recent five-part series titled “Sects, Religious Communities, and the July 22 [Elections]” in the secular, mainstream Turkish daily Milliyet, journalist Omer Erbil listed some of the Islamist sects and associations that are playing a role in the upcoming elections. Following are the main points of this review. 
1. The Fethullah Gulen community: This is the largest and strongest Islamist community in Turkey, as well as the most prominent representative of the Nur (“Light”) movement of Said-i Nursi.  It is led by Fethullah Gulen, or, as he is referred to by his community, Fethullah Gulen Hocaefendi, and according to media assessments, about 30 of the AKP candidates who have a good chance of being elected are Fethullah Gulen followers (Fethullahcilar).
2. The Nakshibendi sect: A large Islamist order, which began in the 14th century in Turkistan, Central Asia, and spread to Anatolia and the Balkans, gaining much power in the 19th century. The Halidiye branch lives today in the influential Iskenderpasa, Ismailaga, Erenkoy, and Kashgari communities. Many political figures in Turkey either come from or are influenced by the Nakshibendi tradition. Among these are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, and Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin. Iskenderpasa Nakshibendi sect leader Mehmed Zahit Kotku is known to have trained former prime minister and president Turgut Ozal, former Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, and his successor, Islamist Felicity Party (SP) leader Recai Kutan.
The Iskenderpasa sect, which is currently led by Sheikh Nurettin Cosan, openly supported the AKP during the 2002 elections. Sheikh Cosan also issued an order to AKP MPs to vote “no” in the March 1, 2003 parliamentary vote on allowing the U.S. military passage through Turkish soil to open a northern front in the war in Iraq, and it is known that some 100 AKP MPs obeyed the order.
Erbakan’s Islamist Milli Gorus movement, and its offspring, the AKP, have very close ties with the Nakshibendi Islamist sect. It is believed that about 80 of the sect’s faithful were among the founders of the AKP.
3. The Kadiri: One of the oldest Islamist sects, and also part of the Nur movement. The larger branch, Yeni Asyacilar (“Neo-Asians”) – which also owns the Islamist Turkish daily Yeni Asya, will, as always, vote for the center-right DP party. However, the Ankara-based Kuscuoglu branch will vote for the AKP.
A sub-division of the Kadiri includes followers of Sheikh Haydar Bas, who is also the chairman of the small Independent Turkish Party (BTP). Sheikh Bas preaches on his own Islamist Mesaj TV channel.
4. Suleymanists (Suleymancilar ): Followers of the late Suleyman Tunahan, a preacher in two important Istanbul mosques, who expanded his community through his then-illegal Koran-study courses. The Suleymanists are now divided under the leadership of two brothers, both Suleyman’s grandsons: Ahmet Arif Denizolgun, a former minister from the Homeland Party (ANAP) government, who is currently running in the Democrat Party (DP) list; and Mehmet Beyazit Denizolgun, who is a founder and MP of the AKP and is now running again as an AKP candidate.
5. The Menzil sect: An Adiyaman-based Nakshibendi sub-sect. First led by Muhammed Rasid Erol, the sect emerged in the village of Menzil, and is now found in almost every Turkish city, and is known to be strong in Ankara and Istanbul. The current leader, Feyzettin Erol, took over from his father after the latter’s death. The organization now has close ties with the AKP. According to the media, Health Minister Recep Akdag is affiliated with the Menzil sect, and he has staffed his ministry with members of this sect. An AKP MP from Adiyaman, Husrev Kutlu, is also known to be close to the Menzil sect, and has drawn complaints from the Turkish military for his hostile remarks against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the military. Kutlu is again running as an AKP candidate.
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