Wednesday, 03 December 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement that Muslims were the ones who discovered the Americas have stimulated many commentators to draw parallels to Atatürk who claimed that Turks from Central Asia had founded all the significant civilizations in the world. Murat Belge writes that Atatürk’s “Sun-Language Theory” was no less “ridiculous” than the theory about “Muslims in America.” Fatih Yaşlı disagrees, saying that the early republic and Erdoğan’s new Turkey cannot be compared, as the latter embodies an ambition to install a religiously authoritarian system. Ahmet İnsel writes that one important reason why the AKP has been able to perpetuate its hegemony is the way many modern, secular “progressives” look at people from the lower classes, that they accuse them of selling their votes in return for social welfare benefits. Yüksel Taşkın challenges the claim of Kemalists and many leftists that the liberals were responsible for paving the way for the ascent of the AKP.  He writes that Kemalists were chiefly responsible for this, while the trouble for liberals is that they find it difficult to discard the notion that history inexorably progresses toward a positive ending.


Murat Belge in Taraf finds parallels between Erdoğan’s historical claims about the Muslim discovery of the Americas and Atatürk’s history theories, that Central Asian Turks had founded all the civilizations of the world. Tayyip Erdoğan is now replacing the arrows going from Central Asia to the rest of the world with a single, Muslim arrow that points toward America, but going from not Central Asia but from the Middle East. It is as if Tayyip Erdoğan is correcting everything that was derailed by Atatürk. This logic of “restoration” is in fact shared by the opposition to the AKP as well.  Their starting point has always been “Atatürkism” and that AKP has to be overthrown because it is diverting Turkey from the path of Atatürk. The logic of restoration postulates that there existed a perfect order in the past. As I see it, there was no democracy in the past. It is not by returning, but by having the audacity of going where we have never been that we can reach democracy. Atatürk’s “Sun-Language Theory” was no less “ridiculous” that this theory about “Muslims in America.” Those who were writing books claiming that “Confucius was Turkish, Buddha was Turkish,” were not making any more serious claims than those who today claim that there was a mosque in Cuba at the time of Columbus.


Fatih Yaşlı in Yurt states that religion and an ambition to spread religion in society are at the very core of the current Turkish regime. Precisely for this reason, it is utterly ridiculous to identify this regime with terms like “neo-Kemalism” or “AK Kemalism,” focusing exclusively on superficial similarities and making the un-historical statement that “authoritarianism equals Kemalism.”  Worse, making claims about a supposed “AK Kemalism” based on “analyses” such as “if Erdogan has a thousand room palace, Atatürk had his Savarona yacht, if the Republic of 1923 had its Turkish Historical Thesis, now this one has its Muslim Historical Thesis” are expressions of true ignorance. Because there is a fundamental difference between the two regimes: While the first, its shortcomings notwithstanding, was an agent of secularism, enlightenment and with a belief in reason, the second is an agent of religion, dogmas and superstition.  As to the issue of authoritarianism, while no one can deny that Kemalism was an authoritarian ideology, authoritarianism is absolutely not enough ground to equate two different world views.  The new regime in Turkey is unabashedly religiously authoritarian, and that is the fundamental point that sets it apart from 1923.


Orhan Bursalı in Cumhuriyet writes that the AKP regime is scheming to ensure that it will remain in power for hundreds of years. Now, the latest sign is the proposal that was sent to parliament recently and that would subordinate the gendarmerie to the government. An army two hundred thousand strong is going to be run by the Interior Ministry. By taking over the army of the gendarmerie, two things are accomplished: The Turkish Armed Forces are split, and they take charge of a military force ready to be used at any time at their own discretion. Two hundred thousand plus the police force of three hundred and fifty thousand add up to a “military” force of five hundred and fifty thousand, and heavily armed at that. Why are they disconnecting the gendarmerie from the military and taking it under their direct control? They are assembling a big force, to be used against society. The question is why. Against whom are they going to deploy it in order to secure what they call “public order?”


Ahmet İnsel in Radikal writes that one important reason why the AKP has been able to perpetuate its hegemony is the way many modern, secular “progressives” look at people from the lower classes, the poor. There are many “progressives” opposed to the AKP who allege that the poor and the unemployed vote for the AKP only because they receive hand-outs from the government in return for their votes. For instance, representatives of the social democratic main opposition party have been known to sometimes make such statements. In fact, the social and welfare expenses in Turkey are still far below OECD standards, even though they have increased during the last decade. Shouldn’t those who are social democrats, who stand to the left, who are – call it whatever you like – progressives, be saying that these expenses are too low, that the disabled, aged and poor should receive more support, instead of pointing fingers to them and accusing them of selling their votes?


Yüksel Taşkın in Taraf writes that according to the Kemalists and some to the left, the “liberals” are the reason why the AKP came to power and then took over the state. In fact, there are many reasons why this has happened. The oppression for which rightist Kemalism was responsible at the end of the 1990s certainly played an important role in paving the way for the ascent of the AKP. I would say that the Kemalists contributed much more to the AKP’s ascent and entrenchment in power than the liberals have done.  That’s not to say that the Kemalists were the only ones who made mistakes. The corruption that pervaded the center-right and its colossal ideological crisis was also instrumental in paving the way for the AKP. The dogmatic position of the ultra-nationalist MHP in the Kurdish issue worked to steer many Kurdish voters to the AKP. What the liberals embraced in the shape of the AKP was the hope of leaving the darkness of the 1990s behind us. At the time, there was also a global optimism regarding the prospects of democratization. Like the leftists, the liberals have a hard time discarding the “education” that they have received that history inexorably progresses toward a positive ending.

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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