In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Authoritarianism in Turkey

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Journals and News Sources
  • Resource Centers
  • The First Turkish Republic, 1923–1960
  • The Second Turkish Republic, 1961–1980
  • The 1980 Coup and Its Aftermath
  • The AKP in the 2000s: A New Era for Democracy?
  • The AKP in the 2010s: Movement toward Authoritarianism
  • The 15 July 2016 Coup Attempt

Political Science Authoritarianism in Turkey
Paul Kubicek
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0158


Since its establishment in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has struggled to establish a stable, well-functioning democratic system. Turkey’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal—who was given the name “Atatürk” (father of all Turks) in 1934—adopted many reforms to modernize and Westernize the country. However, during most of Kemal’s rule (r. 1923–1938), Turkey was a single-party regime in which political opposition was very circumscribed and repressed. Although Turkey did formally democratize after World War II, its democracy has been interrupted by several military interventions and beset with numerous problems, including restrictions on civil and political rights, closures of political parties, and political violence. Although outright authoritarianism has been the exception rather than the rule since the 1940s, many Turkish governments have exhibited authoritarian tendencies, and institutions have been created to give non-elected actors—in particular, the military—an important role in political life. Those challenging the secular, unitary nature of the state—e.g., Islamic-oriented political parties and Kurdish movements—have been repressed. In the early 2000s, the governing Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP), or Justice and Development Party, launched a series of reforms that pushed Turkey in a more democratic direction. However, in the 2010s, many began to believe Turkish democracy was again under assault, evidenced in an erosion of checks and balances and rule of law, a crackdown on the media, and use of anti-terror laws to repress dissent. By most accounts, the situation has deteriorated after a failed coup attempt in 2016, which was followed by dismissals and arrests of tens of thousands of people, declaration of a state of emergency, and constitutional changes that create a more centralized presidential system. The literature on Turkish politics is frequently periodized, meaning that the emphasis on democratization or the (re)emergence of authoritarianism is often a reflection of contemporary events. Whereas much of the work on Turkish politics in the first years of the republic acknowledged its single-party, authoritarian nature, the emphasis in later years often was more on the hopes and shortcomings of democratization, with attention given to various authoritarian features as opposed to an institutionalized authoritarian system. Studies of the AKP, in particular, are subject to periodization, with initial assessments of its policies grounded more on its democratization and later works focusing much more on its authoritarian turn.

General Works

General work on this topic are histories that cover the main contours of political life, including the initial period of single-party rule, military interventions, bureaucratic–military tutelage over elected leaders, limits on full expression of political and civil rights, and clampdowns on political movements deemed threatening to the state. Lewis 2001 presents a rather positive view of modern Turkish history and is perhaps the most widely cited work in English, particularly of the early Republican period. Zürcher 2004 covers similar ground but tends to be more critical. Ahmad 1993 is more basic and concise. Kalaycioğlu 2005 is a well-regarded political history and gives some attention to the way in which Atatürk’s model has been challenged. Pope and Pope 2000 is more journalistic in nature but might be more accessible for some readers. Arat and Pamuk 2019 covers the period from 1980 to the late 2010s and examines various obstacles to the country’s democratization and factors contributing to authoritarianism. Although Turan 2015 focuses on democratization in Turkey, it also examines the country’s authoritarian features and obstacles to democratization over several decades.

  • Ahmad, Feroz. The Making of Modern Turkey. New York: Routledge, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203418048

    A concise introductory text that covers political institutions and developments from the end of the Ottoman Empire through the 1980s.

  • Written by a prominent political scientist and economic historian, this work analyzes democratic backsliding from 1980 to the late 2010s. It is organized by issue, and its chapters probe topics such as the role of the military, political Islam, the Kurdish question, uneven economic development, and the status of women. It is highly accessible and constitutes a great source for undergraduates and non-specialists.

  • Kalaycioğlu, Ersin. Turkish Dynamics: Bridge across Troubled Lands. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403978660

    A comprehensive, accessible political history of Turkey, noting many of the fundamental principles established at the foundation of the republic have evolved or been challenged over time.

  • Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    First published in 1961, this book remains a classic source on Turkish political development. Recommended as a starting point to understand the major contours of political life as well as for its wider reflections on religion, social class, and the role of the Westernizing elite in shaping modern Turkey.

  • Pope, Nicole, and Hugh Pope. Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2000.

    Written more for general readers than academic researchers, this work nonetheless provides a useful overview of developments, including main features and turning points in Turkish politics as well as profiles of important political figures.

  • Turan, İlter. Turkey’s Difficult Journey to Democracy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199663989.001.0001

    Although Turan tends to see progress toward democracy in Turkey, the author is clear-eyed about numerous obstacles, some of which have been only partially overcome. Use of broader literature on democratization and focus on factors working for and against democracy makes this a particularly useful source.

  • Zürcher, Eric J. Turkey: A Modern History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

    A well-balanced account of the establishment and evolution of the republic through the 1990s. While recognizing the country’s accomplishments, Zürcher also draws attention to nondemocratic, authoritarian actors and policies.

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