State of affairs in Turkey as the nation marks the 95th Republic Day

State of affairs in Turkey as the nation marks the 95th Republic Day

The Turkish nation is set to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and a group of patriotic officers following the three-year Independence War against occupying powers. 

But for many Turks, Republic Day on Oct. 29 means a lot more than just a military victory. First, it marks the resurrection of the Turkish people after a long period of decline during the last episode of the Ottoman Empire. Secondly, it drew a revolutionary road map through the adoption of a number of pillars of Western civilization in the fields of education, economy, social and political lives, and etc.

Among all of these reforms, the introduction of secularism has a special importance and value. It had played a special role in re-establishing the state and in balancing the ties between the state and politics. Secularism has also been quite important in the future efforts of democratization of the country.

Although today we have huge problems regarding these fundamental issues, the secular and democratic foundations of the Republic of Turkey are still the most important values we should pin our hopes on. The question is “to what extent will this foundation still be valid?” and more importantly: “How does the Turkish nation address the deterioration of these fundamentals of Turkey?”

As a matter of fact, Turkey is to mark the 95th anniversary in a politically polarized environment, accompanied with a big socio-cultural divide. Plus, a number of symbolisms are surrounding this anniversary.

It will be the first Republic Day under what is called the executive-presidential system alaturca that has handed excessive powers to the president. The referendum in April 2017 and the presidential elections in June 24 have openly surfaced the great division within the political and social circles and in a context of “us versus them.”

Today’s political picture unfortunately does not suggest anything different. More concerning is the fact that social groups with different political mindsets are seemingly distancing from each other as some public opinion surveys put it bluntly. Lifestyles in different parts of the cities are getting more identical.

In the political sphere, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has preferred the new airport in Istanbul as the center of this year’s celebrations and as the venue of the traditional republic reception.

The leaders of the opposition parties, including Erdoğan’s main political ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have announced they will not participate in the reception in Istanbul, stressing the reception venue should be Ankara, the Turkish capital, where the republic and its values were born.

In their eyes, Erdoğan’s decision, thus, has been interpreted as another step in drifting away from the Republican values. The name of the new airport has not been announced yet, although many in the nation believe it should be named after Atatürk. When accompanied with recent discussions over the removal of the name of Atatürk from some state and municipal offices, the division among the people’s minds can be seen much more clearly.

Again for Erdoğan critics, his policies have caused an irreparable break in Turkey’s approach to European values and institutions because of the constant deterioration of democratic norms and universal principles. The new governance system is believed to abolish the principle of the separation of powers with concerns that it will lead to a more undemocratic rule in the country.

Despite all these problems, there are still enough reasons on why we should be hopeful for the future. The wisdom of the Turkish nation in overcoming difficulties is one of them. The guidance of Atatürk, which still carries the torch, is another one. The secular and republican values founded by Atatürk, although tarnished in the past years, are still making the path for a modern and respected country.