A little more than a decade ago, the Turkish Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its main protagonist, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, celebrated a historic electoral victory. Founded in 2001, the AKP mobilized a broad alliance—consisting of religious and social conservatives, members of the newly emergent Anatolian middle class, and liberal Turks frustrated with the coalition government of the democratic left and establishment nationalists—to become the country’s first and only popular, broad-based national party.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s biography exemplified the transformation within Turkish society that underpinned this political shift. Erdoğan immigrated to fast-growing Istanbul at the age of 13 from a rural province on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. He later built a political career by connecting with underprivileged, rural, and religious Turks, who had been largely ignored by the traditional Turkish political elite.
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