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Turkey: Islamists
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security Concerns > Islamists


A legal, nonviolent Islamic political movement exists in Turkey. Its main locus is the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi -- RP; also seen as Prosperity Party), which obtained the votes of 16.9 percent of the electorate in the 1991 general elections and captured 19 percent in the municipal elections of 1994. The Welfare Party also won mayoral contests in Ankara, Istanbul, and twenty-seven other large cities. The party stresses economic goals; to cast its appeal in religious terms would bring it into conflict with the constitutional ban on the organization of parties on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or political ideas considered authoritarian.

Turkey's political system is more open than those of most Middle Eastern states, and to a large extent it has been able to accommodate Muslim political expression while marginalizing its radical elements. Nevertheless, radical Muslim groups are considered a threat to the secular political establishment. Although a link with the Iranian government has not been proven, Iranian mullahs are believed to give support and encouragement to extremist Muslims.

Radical Islamic activism -- sometimes described as fundamentalism -- has been the source of some terrorism, in particular the murders of journalists, politicians, and academics who were outspoken defenders of Turkish secularism. Several Islamic groups have claimed responsibility for these deaths, among them the Islamic Movement Organization, about which little is known. Another obscure group, composed of local Islamists linked to the Iranian government, has targeted external enemies of Iran. One of the worst incidents of religious violence occurred in the city of Sivas in 1993 when religious fanatics set fire to a hotel where a well-known author and translator of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was staying. The author escaped, but thirty-seven people perished and 100 were injured. Anxious to avoid unnecessary tension in relations with Iran, Turkish officials have avoided placing blame directly on the Tehran government for sponsoring terrorist activity. Evidence, however, has been presented to Iran implicating extremists within the revolutionary power structure, if not the Iranian government itself.

Since 1991 a shadowy group known as Hizballah-Contra has sprung up in Kurdish areas, carrying out a campaign of assassination and terrorism against the PKK and its sympathizers. The organization is not connected to Hizballah (Party of God, also known as Islamic Jihad), a Shia terrorist movement dedicated to establishing an Iranian-style government in Lebanon. Although the Turkish government denies any link to Hizballah-Contra, the group's hit squads are believed to be tolerated by the police and gendarmerie, along with other Kurdish groups violently hostile to the PKK.

The leadership of Turkey's armed forces is highly sensitive to the possibility of soldiers becoming exposed to extremist Islamic influences. Orders issued in 1991 instructed troops to avoid "illegal, destructive, separatist trends, either from the right or left, which threaten the military's discipline." Commanders were urged to be especially careful with regard to staff members living outside military compounds in large cities where they could come into contact with Islamist groups. They were ordered to take stern measures -- in some cases, expulsion -- against officers and NCOs who adopted strong religious views, who refrained from certain social activities on religious grounds, or whose spouses wore Islamic garb.

Data as of January 1995

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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