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Turkey: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk:banished Islam from the public arena - Recep Tayip Erdogan: established modern Sultanate

That is the question ?
The Nigerian newspaper The Cable on the occasion of Erdogan's visit to Turkey recently wrote the following editorial;

"The Turkey Erdogan inherited in 2003 was a republic Mustafa Kemal, universally acknowledged as father of modern day Turkey (hence his Turkish sobriquet, Atatürk) had forged out of the Ottoman Empire defeated by Western Allied forces in World War I and which the Allies subsequently dismantled in 1918. Kemal was an active soldier-member of the Young Turks, a revolutionary group of intellectuals who eventually deposed the last sultan of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1909, ahead of First World War. In time he became the country’s first president in 1923.

Two key elements in Kemal’s attempt to forge a modern Turkey were his banishment of Islam from the public arena and the imposition of Turk as the national language. The first was symbolized by a ban on women wearing hijab in public and on men wearing long beards. This was in a country where nearly eighty per cent of the population was Sunni Muslim.

The main target of the second element of Kemal’s modernization of Turkey were the country’s largest minority group, the Kurds who lived mostly in the Southeast border of the country and who, like the Turks, were Muslims, but who, unlike other minorities, refused to abandon their language and culture. Today the Turks number about 20 million.

With time the military as the institution on whose back Kemal rode to power and to national and international fame, saw itself as the custodian of Kemal’s attempt to make Turkey a modern, secular nation. Several times it intervened in politics whenever it thought his legacy was under threat. The man died in 1938 but his legacy has survived him almost to date.

Erdogan’s great achievement was to have proved that it is possible to keep his country modern and make it democratic and prosperous without banishing Islam from the public arena and without imposing language and cultural uniformity on it.

His vehicle was the so-called “mildly Islamic” Justice and Development Party (AK, in Turkish) which he co-founded in 2001 after a short spell in prison for reciting a poem in public which the authorities judged as “inciting hatred based on religious differences.”

Barely a year after its founding, AK won the next general election in 2002 and he became prime minister.

The party won the election with more than a little help from Hizmet Movement, founded by Fethullah Gulen, the 74-year Muslim cleric described by The Economist as “a charismatic prayer-leader who preaches a mild, Sufism-inspired and public-service-oriented form of Islam.” Gulen has lived in "self-exile" in the US for decades.

AK has remained in power since 2002, but under Erdogan’s firm grip even after he had stepped aside from partisan politics in 2014 to become nominal president, the party seems to have fallen out with not just the Gulenists.

 It seems to have done so with just about every other group – the media, civil society organisations, Islamist modernizers, socially conservative businessmen, secular reformists and even Kurds – that had supported it, especially in permanently neutralizing the hitherto all-powerful, meddlesome Kemalist military and forcing it to retreat, for good, back to its barracks where it belonged.

The sore point seems to have been the man’s ambition to recreate Turkey as a sultanate after his self-image as an imperial president. In June last year he took a gamble down this perilous path when, in spite of his putative role as a neutral head of state, he campaigned vigorously for AK to win enough seats in that year’s parliamentary elections – 400 out of 550 – to allow it amend the country’s 1982 Constitution to make him the country’s first executive president.

The gamble failed. For the first time since 2002, AK lost its majority in the parliament although it remained the single biggest party in the legislature. He blamed everyone else but himself and his party for the failure.

Since then hundreds of journalists, for example, have been fired or arrested for violating an obscure ill-defined law that penalizes “insulting” the president, and business interests of opposition figures have similarly been attacked.

When AK stumbled in last year’s June election, Erdogan as president had a choice between inviting the leading opposition party to form a coalition government and forcing a re-run in November. Predictably, he chose the latter.

This time his gamble paid off – somewhat; AK regained more than its old majority in the legislature but still did not get enough to allow it amend the constitution as it wished. Between June and November events in the Middle East that had sucked in Europe, America, Iran and Russia, strengthened his hands enough locally and internationally to give him the victory he had wanted, albeit a limited victory.

It is this triumphant Erdogan that has been our August visitor since yesterday. As president of one of the most important countries in the world, our guest must have come with a list of mutual interest for business discussions. Possibly top of the list is the Turkish presence in Nigeria, not all of which he may be happy with.

Notable among those he may be unhappy with is the widespread presence in our educational, medical, business and religious sectors of Hismet Movement that he has come to regard as traitors and saboteurs at home and abroad. A wise Erdogan would eschew his unhappiness with his perceived enemies at home and not request his hosts to close them down because his hosts are not likely to see his enemies as necessarily their own too.

Instead, a wise Erdogan would see his short visit as an opportunity to reduce his country’s almost complete dependence on Russia for his energy needs by striking a mutually beneficial deal with Nigeria for the supply of gas and oil to his country, especially now that Russia has become hostile to his country over the Islamic State debacle in their region.

As someone who has visited Turkey twice, first in 2007 during that year’s International Press Institutes’ annual congress, and second, last year on a private visit, I can testify to the description of the country by The Economist pullout as one “packed with cultural treasures, natural beauty, energy and talent.”

Erdogan has done more than almost any other Turkish leader in its modern history to turn the country’s potentialities into realities.  

He owes himself not to allow his wish to recreate his country as a Sultanate under his thumb to undo what should be his great legacy at home and abroad."

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