Why is Erdoğan hitting at Turkey’s founding generation?
Turkey today is in desperate need of unity and calm. The failed coup attempt on July 15 came at a time when political tension was already high. There was a moment of hope after the coup was foiled that wisdom would prevail, especially since parliament stood against the coup in a unified manner.
This is why it is intriguing that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has chosen to return to the path of division and tension. As a statement from the main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) said last week, Erdoğan has returned to the “default settings” as far as his abrasive and vindictive manner is concerned
That statement was issued after Erdoğan came out trashing the Treaty of Lausanne signed with world powers in 1923, following Turkey’s successful War of Liberation against Greece after World War I. Lausanne is considered today to be the founding document of the Turkish Republic.
By arguing that this treaty was a failure – and not the success that it has been seen as for decades because it gave the Aegean Islands “only a shout away” from Turkey away – Erdoğan was effectively questioning the founding document of modern Turkey.
It is also noteworthy that it was the same Erdoğan who only in July, on the 93rd anniversary of the signing of Lausanne, issued a statement lauding the treaty and referring to it as the “title deed of the Republic.”
The fact that Erdoğan contradicted this statement just two months later, by grossly misrepresenting the circumstances surrounding the Lausanne negotiations, did not bother even those more informed elements among supporters of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Not one of them felt the need to underline that the Dodecanese Islands, which are indeed a shout away from Turkey, were passed to the Italians in 1913, a decade before the Republic was founded, after the Ottomans lost a war against Italy.
The false impression among most AKP supporters is that these islands were handed to Greece on a silver platter by the Turkish negotiators at Lausanne, starting with İsmet İnönü, one of the main heroes of the War of Liberation and the second president of the republic after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
They argue that the successful war against invading Greek forces should have been carried on to the islands, clearly unaware that this would have entailed war with Italy. Neither are they aware that Italy was indirectly facilitating Turkey’s War of Liberation at that stage because it was not given regions of the Aegean it coveted after World War I.
The history is too complex to go into here, and clearly far too complex for the average AKP supporter to comprehend. All that matters for them is that İnönü is their object of hate for his staunch secularism, and has become their scapegoat twice over because they cannot hit at Atatürk. It does not take much imagination to figure out who the real target is when İnönü is attacked and Lausanne is trashed.
Erdoğan also appears unaware or uncaring of the diplomatic fallout from some of his statements. It did not take long for his remark about Lausanne to be picked up in Greece as a sign that Turkey still covets the islands and for the expected official protest from Athens to come.
Greece, however, did not pursue the matter, obviously aware that Erdoğan’s ultimately meaningless words were aimed at a domestic audience. His remark was no doubt noted, however, by diplomats as an example of how he can blurt out statements to serve his political ends at home without considering the international ramifications of his words.
Erdoğan and his supporters are clearly more concerned with getting even with their secularist enemies and are now choosing to hit at them by attacking the founding generation of the secular republic. They are not too concerned about “bending history,” as long as doing so serves their ends.
As to what this is doing to inner peace and stability in Turkey; that is obviously of secondary importance for them, if it is a consideration at all.