MUSTAFA AKYOL > Love the Kemalists, hate their Kemalism

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Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan did something quite symbolic last weekend: He visited the hospitalized ex-general Ergin Saygun, who was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison for a military coup plot against Erdoğan’s own government. Both Saygun, who had undergone a heart operation just hours after the postponing of his sentence, and his family were positively surprised. Many others were puzzled.

However, those who have been watching Erdoğan’s take on Turkey’s controversial “coup cases” would not be so puzzled by this symbolic visit. This is because the powerful prime minister, who for a longtime supported these cases against his lethal enemies, has been expressing second thoughts over the past two years. In this view, the new judicial structure that has boldly pursued would-be juntas in the Turkish military was initially right, but it has gone too far. For example, the arrest of Turkey’s former chief-of-staff, İlker Başbuğ, with whom Erdoğan worked closely, as the “head of a terrorist organization” was unbelievable. The junta-hunt that probably saved Turkish democracy in the past decade had gone to extremes.

I also think like Erdoğan on this matter, and that is why I saw the Saygun visit as good news. I also hope that this will be a turning point towards a reconciliation between Turkey’s old autocratic guards — namely the Kemalists — and the new conservative elites.

Here is why. The Kemalists, who used to dominate the military, the judiciary, the “deep state,” the universities and mainstream media, had a certain vision. Accordingly, the “principles and revolutions of Atatürk” were the highest values for Turkey, and being the guardians of these gave the Kemalists the privilege to rule. The banning of “backward-minded” or “separatist” ideas and parties was their natural right, if not a sacred duty.

This vision also made the Kemalists believe that they were in a zero-sum game: Turkey would either be saved via “Atatürk’s principles,” or it would degenerate into “darkness” and chaos. In other words, they would either continue to dominate Turkey, or Turkey would become a hell for them.

In the past decade, though, the very thing that Kemalists have feared has gradually happened. They lost their dominance in the judiciary, the universities and the media, while the military and the “deep state” has been tamed and defanged. Their nightmare has come true.

However, if Kemalists keep on believing that the nightmare is getting worse, they will always be very defensive, and hope for a great offensive. And we will be trapped in an endless pursuit of the ones who dream of a victorious come back.

Therefore, the right way for conservatives is not to go after the Kemalists relentlessly, but to have a historic reconciliation with them. (As a lesson, remember the post-2003 Iraq: “De-Baathification” did not help, because it only made the Sunnis hostile to the new regime.) For this reconciliation, the Kemalists need to accept that they will not be “first class citizens” anymore at the expense of others. But they should be convinced that they will not become the new outcasts too.

I have been defending this point of view for a long time, arguing that the way forward is not to imprison every coup-craving radical Kemalist, but to disestablish their authoritarian system and refute their ideology. With some inspiration from the Christian motto, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” I would even say, “Love the Kemalists, hate their Kemalism.” I am glad to see that Erdoğan seems to agree.


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mara mcglothin

2/18/2013 5:41:12 PM

Great writing TEKION PARTICLE Spot on!


2/18/2013 12:57:50 PM

@Tekion Particle I could not agree more with your comment.

Engin Atik

2/16/2013 3:01:22 AM

@Adnan: Islam means to “surrender” the thought of personal gain and be conscious of injustice done to others in a nutshell. Alawis are good people too and they don't deserve the mistreatment; I am afraid that is what you insinuated.

Adnan Kara Osman

2/15/2013 1:51:12 PM

blue dottrol i am not deffending currupt middleeastern governments which were formed post colonilism to work for the interests of the west has anyone thought that so called fanatics that you mention work in the interest of the west to portray Islam as a backward barbaric religon wake up the world media is feeding on this everything is censored even bloggers on social mediums are paid to spread crap against Islam for their hidden agenda that is world dominance and control of the masses.

Cem Arda

2/15/2013 9:07:30 AM

It is just a humanitarian visit to a sick man. They may be from different walk of life with different thoughts about politics, but a visit to hospitalized men is no problem. It is a human act. Thus, I see nothing surprising in this? Guys, you don't need to exaggerate it, at the end of they they are NOT born to hate to each other. The ex-general was under custody in accordance with law not that PM wanted him to be.

Angie Turk63

2/14/2013 7:18:43 PM

KEMAL ATATURK said Ne mutlu Turkum diyene. (Happy to be Turk). He has seen the potential of Turkish youth in their sparkling eyes. And he trusted them to carry his vision of new Turkey, away from old Ottoman ideologies influenced by exterior tribal customs and false religious pressures. He had reasons to purify the Turkish culture and social structure and give us the democracy we deserved. We make sure this was not a short lived dream. Peace and god be with you.

Tekion Particle

2/14/2013 6:11:59 PM

I am all for criticism when warranted but to slate the founder of the republic and its democratic ideals which kept the republic unified and out of harms way for 90 years is well below the belt since the man is long gone and cannot defend himself. To hate Kamelism is to hate yourself and your own heritage. If it wasn’t for Mustafa Kemal and freedom he brought to the Turkish nation Mr Akyol may never have existed or speaking a different language and praying to a different god.

Blue Dotterel

2/14/2013 5:28:31 PM

Adnan, the West is not corrupt because of democracy, but because of its political economic system known as corporate capitalism. Islamic countries like Suadi, Bahrain and Qatar are equally corrupt, as are the Salafists fighting in Syria, Libya and Mali. Pure Muslims may seek justice, but they won't find it in through Islamic governments. An Islam perverted by fanatics will only oppression and tyranny, never "justice".

mara mcglothin

2/14/2013 4:23:38 PM

ADNAN You are so way off base, but you are obviously hater of democracy. And Islam is "Justice for all"? or just all men, or believers or whom? OZman I have no vitriol for Turkey or any Turkish people. You confuse criticism and idealism with hate. It is perfectly okay for you to bash MR BEKDIL and call him a Zionist, so it should be perfectly okay for me to point out MR AKYOL'S backward one sided views to him.

Adnan Kara Osman

2/14/2013 1:40:11 PM

turk down under your obviously not muslim or you maybe a Alawi because you have no understanding what Islam has brought to this world that is JUSTICE that is the ultimate goal of all pure muslims they seek JUSTICE amongst the sick curruption that is around them and the invention of so called democracy to hide their evil acts wake up and see what so called democratic nations have done to parts of the world distruction and exploitation true democracy is Islam which seeks JUSTICE FOR ALL.
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