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Turkey, the secular schizophrenia
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-07-23 09:07:42
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Turkey is a very complex country, often with a schizophrenic complexity, and now it seems it has reached a critical point for its future with the help of a court case. A dramatic court case! A strange mixture of over fifty people, including retired generals, journalists, academics and maleficent elements of Turkish society are accused of conspiring to overthrow the government and organizing a series of terrorist acts.

All these people, and obviously many more that haven’t been arrested, were members of an ultranationalist network which aimed a military coup and the overthrow of Erdogan’s Islamic government with a series of provocative terrorist acts, targeting mainly the army and the secular establishment. These are the very same elements they are supposedly supporting and promoting. This is where the schizophrenia starts and this is just the top of the iceberg. To get a sense of how schizophrenic the situation is, you must see at least some …of the pieces that comprise this puzzle.

The army plays a major role in Turkish history, politics and reality from the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to Kemal Ataturk who was the founder of the modern Turkish state. Ataturk turned an empire literally in ruins, governed by a totally corrupted oligarchy, into a modern state with European standards in every single element including everyday life and language. He did this within four decades. To do this, Kemal used the army; he was an army officer himself after all. And he used the army to its full capacity. Full capacity means that the armed forces could often show signs of getting to the limits of a ruthless dictatorship; but on the same time the army - under his leadership - became the guards of the democracy he created and envisioned. Don’t think that it was an easy job; there were just too many elements of the old Ottoman Empire that wanted him to fail and the modern Turkish democracy to drown. That might explain why the army so often had turned into an iron fist – under the limits of a ruthless dictator as I mentioned before - to hold things together and guarantee the continuation and possibly the evolution of Kemal’s vision. Again to understand Kemal’s actions you must understand the semantics of the time.

But the responsibility which was laid on the army – especially after Kemal’s death - often made the ‘guards’ overdoing it and instead of helping democracy they manipulated the state with sometimes disastrous results. They had their excuse, the old enemies hadn’t disappeared. On the contrary, religion had become the new weapon for them, and with the changes in the Islamic world and especially in the neighbouring Iran in the 80s, Islamists became a new and strong dynamic force, constantly increasing its access to the public and Turkish society. This is where the question of who watches the watchers was raised.

The army needed more access and influence in the society, and to do so they had to use the most nationalistic elements of society. They ended up creating a new monster with its own dynamics and life; actually they created a virus that evoluted fast and became the new threat. This virus, especially in 80s, became so strong that it brought Turkey into a difficult position internationally, and despite all efforts of the army, it still exists and demands what they think their rightful place in the modern state. You see, now they feel that democracy owes them for all the dirty work they have done to stop the enemy of destroying Kemal’s dream. It is the schizophrenia regarding the army that they now have to defend. What they created threatens their legitimacy in Turkish life. A new society, a paramilitary one was created.

This paramilitary society inside the Turkey’s society is a mystery, lost in a labyrinth that includes traditions, drugs, a lot of money and even assassinations on an international level  – the ‘grey wolves’, a terrorist ultra right organization part of it has put its signature on it. It includes everything from horrific murders inside Turkey - for drugs or money laundering to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul. So here are two dynamics at least inside the army; one that followed the wishes and visions of Kemal to the letter, and another one that tries to reinforce what they think is Kemal’s vision, a very twisted vision mixed with the old ottoman traditions.

But the schizophrenia goes even further, because as a result of the above - next to a modern state trying to find its identity between east and west, these elements created a so-called ‘deep state’; a shadow government in the name of Kemal. The deep state is based on army officers who govern the country, and they work under a constant threat of a military coup that might send them – politicians and opposition -all to the firing squad. This has happened a few times, the last time just a bit more than a couple of decades ago with General Evren.

The schizophrenia doesn’t stop in the army and it doesn’t make the society any less schizophrenic, and the difference between west Turkey from Istanbul to Izmir and Anatolia, to the eastern parts of the country, is huge in any and every sense. Travelling around Anatolia, you have the sense that you are in Iran, and when you get to Istanbul, in some parts of the city you think that you are in any modern European city. So of course these differences create their own dynamics, with the more cultural west and the more traditional east. Now add to this the new financial aristocracy that comes from Anatolia, the Anatolia tigers, which give an alternative boost to the local economy and on the same time give new confidence in their constant antagonism with the …European west Turkey. The schizophrenia? A more secular west and a more Islamic east. Despite their differences, these two elements are critical for the evolution of the country and its transformation in a troubled region with unstable and dangerous neighbours like Iran and Syria. Again they add to the schizophrenic situation of Turkey because these two elements can guarantee the continuation of democracy and the defence of Kemal’s ideals, while on the same time they can become the worst nightmare for Kemal’s secular visions, in a very twisted way.

The Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, refused to send his daughter to a Turkish university. He preferred to send her to USA, because due to its secular situation it is forbidden to wear the religious veil at universities and schools. Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gull, is not often accompanied by his wife at state events because she …wears the veil; something unaccepted according to Turkish state protocol! On the same time, these two politicians are the best hope for Turkey and the best investment for a real democratic future, especially if they want a future in the EU.

Remember now that these are just a few elements of the schizophrenia that holds the Turkish state together, but this court case might be the big chance to end it all. It might be the chance to put things into perspective; to send the army back to the barracks for good, where they belong. It might mean the end of the deep state, by showing its real criminal face and passing the message that the era of the military coups is over. Fascinating that the visions of Kemal for a European Turkey depend on an Islamic leader! President Gull has already drawn the first blood by approving a new law that gives civilian courts the power to try and prosecute military personnel suspected of threatening national security or having links to organized crime; something unheard of a decade ago.

Perhaps one thing that is missing from Turkish politics this time - at least for a better control on Erdogan’s moves and decisions - is a strong opposition. But unfortunately the best hope of a good opposition was dismissed when the Republican People’s Party, the Kemalist social-democratic party, turned to a nationalistic party that wants to take the votes from the deep state. When one party has all the power and control in a state, it is dangerous. At the moment everybody is watching the court case, knowing that a big part of the schizophrenic secular state of Turkey’s future depends on it.

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Rukiye2009-11-04 18:41:12
I think you need a dictionary to check the meaning of veil (length of cloth worn by women as a face covering). What Abdullah Gul's wife and Erdogan's daughter wear is called headscarf

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