The failed Turkish Republic at 90
In one of his speeches, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, said: “The Republic demands new generations who will possess free thought, free understanding and free conscience.” That was indeed the fundamental difference between the new Turkish state and the sick old man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire. In one there was an almighty sultan, absolute rule, multiple justice and education systems, mullahs, sheikhs, serfdom; in the other a demand for new generations with free thought, conscience and understanding.
The republican project that Atatürk described as his greatest achievement has failed. The old regime of the sultans sneaking in gradually, with the prime minister of the country already acting like an almighty absolute ruler, the government adopting decrees every other day, the taking down one or more fundamental pillars of the “secular” republic, and the Parliament debating whether to allow female deputies to attend sessions wearing veils. Still, the prime minister, perhaps because of the approaching elections, could not dare to spend the Republic Day this year in Brunei, New York or in bed sick, and felt compelled to attend the ceremonies, standing firm at the commemoration at the Mausoleum of Atatürk… Was not he the one who said a while ago there was no merit in standing there like a pole? The president did not have his ear problem either. Most probably, officious advisers sought a way out for days but could not find one. How could a man with ear problems or someone having cold manage to escape Republic Day celebrations in Ankara, but attend the inauguration of Marmaray, a precious tunnel crossing connecting Asia and Europe by rail, a dream for centuries that has come true?
The nation state and the secular republic with all their norms, principles and establishments have been placed on the target board. Over the past decade, under the pretext of “advanced democracy,” a new conservative capital has been created and nourished. Local administrations were “disciplined” and allegiance was assured. Universities were domesticated and the much opposed Higher Education Board (YÖK) occupied and converted, becoming one of the most effective tools of the new regime. Under the “Not enough but yes” campaign, liberals were fooled into supporting a set of constitutional reforms; the remaining checks and balances of the secular, democratic republican system were tarnished, and high courts were fully tamed. With the thriller’s indictments based mostly on secret testimonies of brigands and electronically concocted evidence, respected commanders of the Turkish Armed Forces were made criminals, sent behind bars and sentenced as part of a campaign to castrate the military. That has been achieved as well.
In one early republican era song, praising the achievements of the young republic, it was said: “We have woven Anatolia with iron nets in 10 years.” The song was boasting about the railroad achievements of the young republic. Now the prime minister has been adamantly challenging that song, saying: “Not them, we have woven an iron net all through Anatolia.”
Indeed, he is right. Yes, not only roads and railroads, regarding infrastructure during the past 10 years the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has achieved tremendous successes. Turkey’s economic development over the past decade has been remarkable. The Marmaray tunnel crossing, alone, is a testimony to that great success which everyone should salute with praise.
Yet, Turkey is fast becoming something far different to the secular, democratic Turkish Republic…