They were Anatolia’s darkest days; the empire was shrinking and the seismic waves felt in every corner of its territory.

Following the defeat of the First World War, the empire signed the Treaty of Sevres with its relentless articles and the invasions of allied powers torn Anatolia apart. In “The Epic of the Turkish War of Independence” the legendary poet Nazım Hikmet had described the devastating and hopeless atmosphere of those fruitful lands:

“… We saw fire,

we saw betrayal,

and with burning eyes

we stopped here.

Cities fell one after another:

Istanbul (October-November 1918),

Izmir (May 1919),

and Manisa, Menemen, Aydin, and Akhisar

between mid-May

and mid-June-

the time for cutting tobacco,

when the barley has been harvested

and the wheat lies ahead…

In those pitch-black days, at midnight on May 16, 1919, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Ottoman Army, Mustafa Kemal, departed with the Bandırma ferry from occupied Istanbul to Anatolia. A handful of people on a small ferry set foot in the morning of May 19, 1919 on the Black Sea province of Samsun. In the Great Speech (Nutuk), where he recorded his personal notes and documents concerning the War of National Independence Mustafa Kemal defined the situation:

When I landed at Samsun on 19th May 1919, the situation was as follows:

The group of powers which included the Ottoman Empire had been defeated in the Great War. The Ottoman Army had been crushed on all fronts and an armistice had been signed with harsh conditions. The people were tired and poor. Those who had driven the people into the war had fled and now cared for nothing but their own safety.  The Caliph was seeking some way to save his person and his throne. The Cabinet, headed by Damat Ferit Pasha, was weak and lacking in dignity and courage. It was slavishly polite and obedient to the will of the Sultan alone and was willing to agree to anything that might keep it and the Sultan in power…

Ignoring his official reason for “restoring order” in Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal ignited a flame in Anatolia explaining to people the occupation of homeland, and, the Sultan and Istanbul government’s ineffectiveness in this regard. Following rumors of civil movement in Anatolia, Sultan recalled Mustafa Kemal, but he ignored all Istanbul communications and the situation concluded with his dismissal from his post and an imperial arrest warrant. As he emphasized in the Great Speech, this was the very first step of a long and tedious fight for Turkey’s independence: “In these circumstances only one course of action was possible: the creation of a new and completely independent Turkish state, founded on the principle of national self-determination… But the Turk is dignified and proud; he is also capable and talented. Such a nation would prefer to die rather than subject itself to a life of slavery. Therefore; independence or death!

Is this an end to the old establishment?

The path of independence cannot be limited to just war itself, it must definitely include the reforms and revolutions of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the modern Turkish Republic. On the ashes of the shrunken empire, Atatürk wanted to establish a new state, and a new culture instead of the old establishment. Following the founding of the new Republic in 1923, Atatürk launched a series of reforms to build a new state by targeting out contemporary civilizations. Secularization as a whole was implemented as a consequence of modernization at that stage, according to his perception, and a series of reforms were realized that had shaken the roots of society and the old formation. Such as: abolition of sultanate (1922), abolition of caliphate (1924), closure of dervish lodges (1925), adaptation of new civil, commercial and penal codes based on European models (1926; new civil code put an end to Islamic polygamy and divorce through renunciation and civil marriage), adaptation of the Latin alphabet (1928), Turkish women entitled to vote (1934), etc.

Political Islam strikes back

In one of my earlier pieces (Keep Calm and the opposition is back) I had briefly described the path of the main opposition party, called to be the republic’s founding party, namely CHP (Republican People’s Party), over the last 25 years. Unlike other Muslim countries, however, Turkey’s counter-ideology or political Islam story (some might call counter-revolution) has a relatively long history, beginning with the Republic of Turkey. The shaken old establishment had reacted with a few rebels in the first days of the republic after a series of attempts at modernization and/or westernization, yet they were severely suppressed by the determining stance and strong reflex of the young republic.

The Democratic Party was founded in 1946 as opposed to the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was Ataturk’s party and was proclaimed secularism protector in Turkey. In addition, the accession of the DP to power marked the beginning of the multi-party system in Turkey. Because the level and access to education, thus access to the doctrine of Atatürk, was still quite low, the reforms had first reached the educated urban people and had relatively limited impact on the countryside where most of the population lived. Following DP’s rapid attempts at urbanization, rural populations immigrated with their values to cities. At that point, it must be noted that for the first time a party with Islamist tendencies led the government of Turkish republic. At first, the DP government with its leader Adnan Menderes was very popular by comforting religious restrictions and governing a booming economy. However, the economy began to fail in the second half of the 1950s, and the government introduced censorship laws that restricted dissent, plaguing the government with high inflation and massive debt. Due to various Islamist executions of the Democratic Party (DP), the period 1950-60 was later characterized as a counter-revolution and ended with a coup d’état in 1960.  General Cemal Gürsel led a military coup d’état on May 27, 1960, removing President Celal Bayar and Prime Minister Menderes, the PM  being executed. A broken 1960 coup political system produced a series of unstable parliamentary government coalitions and paved the way for another military coup led by General Kenan Evren in 1980. All that ups and downs in Turkish political life had an impact on Turkey’s compass to swing and resulted in destabilization along with loss of Atatürk’s reforms and shift to conservatism and Islamic tendencies. After the coup in the 1980s, the Turkish political system came under the leadership of ANAP (Motherland Party) led by Turgut Özal, who combined open market economic program with the promotion of conservative values and Islamic patterns. By the late 1990s, although the Turkish Constitution still maintained that Turkey was a secular state, it was more of a hybrid regime in reality.

By winning nationwide local elections and capturing control of Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, the Refah (Welfare) Party shocked the day’s secular establishment in 1994. The shock had shaken the majority of the society, and a tremendous wave of fear had fallen over them.  Political Islam’s unstoppable rise flares up fears of lifestyle change, losing the path to contemporary civilization, and, moreover, losing the achievements of Atatürk’s reforms among secularist sections of society. And, clearly, it was a starting point for the Islamist movement’s political domination. The Welfare Party won the largest bloc in parliamentary elections a year later, in 1995, putting the entire country in charge of an Islamist-led coalition.

Turkey experienced a military memorandum (post-modern coup) at the meeting of the National Security Council on 28 February 1997; the generals submitted to the government their views on secularism and political Islam. Several decisions were taken by the National Security Council during this meeting, and Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was forced to sign the decisions. The memorandum initiated the resignation of the Welfare Party’s Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and the end of his government. His party was closed because it violated the constitutional court’s separation of religion and state clause, and he was banned from politics for 5 years, in 1998.

Political Islam in charge

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, and general elections were held in Turkey on November 3, 2002, leading to a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape, bringing the AKP to power. Religious patterns, lifestyles, practices and, more importantly, cemaats, tariqas etc. began to dominate Turkish political life and discourse through the governance of AKP and political Islam. In addition, Sunni Islam and its practices have infiltrated society at all levels, not only through compulsory Islam classes, but also through renewed curriculum, even for members of the large Alevi community. The AKP has pursued an increasingly explicit Islamist agenda, especially over the past 6 years, following the incidents igniting Gezi Park protests.

Although some of the changes have been addressed as freedoms and human rights, President Erdoğan has made no secret of his desire to conduct his own social engineering by adjusting the education system to ensure that “pious younger generations” are created and the public is redesigned in accordance with his Sunni Islam values, and in practice, the beneficiary has been the Sunni Muslims. Moreover, although it has not introduced legislation that obviously discriminates against women, President Erdoğan and AKP officials have repeatedly made it clear that they regard the main functions of women as mothers and homemakers and should be protected. It is evident that women right achievements are at risk and that the perception of modern women in the republic’s founding philosophy is losing grounds by deep influence of political Islam.

Political Islam is a black hole

A black hole is defined as a region of spacetime that exhibits gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing can escape from it – no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light. Political Islam is definitely a black hole that absorbs pluralism, democracy and the rule of law, but above all it swallows up even the single beam of light that we hold on to life. After 17 years of AKP rule and witnessing first-hand political Islam, adding numerous defeats in several elections, the results of the March 31 elections can be called as a sign of hope, turn of luck, at least something to believe in to change Turkey’s course away from political Islam.

According to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with his brilliant foresight, “The Republic of Turkey cannot be a country of sheikhs, dervishes, and disciples. The truest, most real order is the order of civilization.” On the 100th anniversary of the Turkish War of Independence, we praise the revolutions, reforms, ingenious farsightedness and goal of achieving the level of contemporary civilization of Atatürk; and, bless the light of hope for a better country and say with one voice:

Long live a fully independent Turkey!

Other highlights from past week

  • President Erdoğan slams Turkish Industry and Business Association

President Erdoğan harshly criticized the top business association of Turkey, TUSIAD, over the statements of its chair Tuncay Özilhan. This week, Ozilhan made comments viewed as critical of the economy and governance of Turkey. Turkey must overcome issues in its governance system Özilhan said on May 15 regarding Turkey’s executive presidential system.

What was the per capita income of Turkey 17 years ago, and what is it now? “Erdogan said at a speech in Istanbul on May 16. “Economically, at what level were you and where are you now at that time? How much has your company grown since then and how much has your friends become stronger? You never evaluate this? I know how you did 17 years ago, and I know what you do now, “Erdogan replied. “I can expose that if necessary. I know how to bring to account those who hit Turkey from within.”

  • Unemployment rate jumped on February

On May 15, the Statistical Institute in Turkey revealed that the country had registered a 4.1 percent increase in its February 2019 unemployment rate. During the second month of the year, the unemployment rate in Turkey reached 14.7 percent. The volume of the unemployed, aged 15 and older, stood at 4.73 million to mark a jump of 1.37 million, according to the statistical authority.