T U R K E Y C E L E B R A T E S
MER - Washington - 29 Oct:
Seventy-Five years ago today in 1923, Kamal Ataturk formed Turkey as a secular state
from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Religion and the old world had failed.
The European countries and secularism were dominant. The Paris Peace Conference a few
years before -- "The Peace To End All Peace" -- had left the Middle East
fragmented, occupied, "mandated". The Arab "client-regimes" were then
only in embryonic form.
Now, 75 years later, Turkey is grossly dominated by the military and in a growing
alliance with the West and Israel against the Arabs and Islam. Even the wearing of
headscarfs is banned by the Generals, those daring to protest in any way threatened and
This article, written by a Turkish Ph.D. student, focuses on the underlying
"realities" of contemporary Turkey at this time of public celebration. Please be
aware as you read that the author's native language is not English and that we are
publishing this article as written without further editing or commentary.
75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY:
WHERE IS THE 'PUBLIC' OF THE REPUBLIC?
by Levent Basturk
The Republic of Turkey is celebrating its 75th anniversary
There is a great enthusiasm on the side of state elite and the media
enthusiasm reached to the level of zealotry. Some civilianorganizations, representing
domination of one life-style over the others or social segments enriched by the state,
were transformed into logistic support bases of the state elite in order to popularize
this enthusiasm. Ever day, one different civil society organization mobilizes some people
to visit Anitkabir (the tomb of Ataturk in Ankara). All school administrations are racing
with each other to take students to Anitkabir. All bureaucracy in Ankara is mobilized to
submit its obedience to the "immortal" founder of the Republican Turkey. There
is a national campaign to show the strength of the Republic to its "imagined"
enemies: Kurds and Islamists.
One thing is obvious: This enthusiasm is not because the common peopleare proud of the
republican regime in their country that gave them adecisive right in the organization of
the public realm
. In theory, itis assumed that public affairs are looked after by
the public in arepublic
However, 75 years after the foundation of the Republic,
there is still a valid question to be asked out there: Does this Republic have a
Contrary to all definitions of republic, this enthusiasm is beingexhibited during the
time when the people's rights to contribute to theorganization of public realm is greatly
The biggest political party was banned from the politics
The mayor of Istanbul, the most popular political figure in the countryand an elected
leader of the most populated city in the country, wassentenced for prison term and banned
from the politics for lifetimebecause of a speech he made
There is a government that was brought to power not to implement its own policies but
the policies imposed on it by military
We are going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Republic ofTurkey
. In a
republic, public should suppose to look after publicaffairs
. But, in the Republic of
Turkey, 20-25 percent of population is even denied to say that they are Kurds
they pay a heavy cost(evacuation of their villages, burning of their properties,
torture,living within the tents in the margins of cities, etc) when they express their
identity and demand their rights to speak their own language, education in their own
language, and development of their own culture, what is the point to celebrate the
anniversary of the republic?
Who imposes the ban on wearing headscarf by female university studentsdespite the fact
that the 86 percent of the public is against this ban?Whose Republic is this?
We are celebrating 75th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey in aperiod when the state
elite is threatening the public to intervene ifelections will have undesired
The dictionary definition of republic as the "state completely governedby elected
representatives" does not apply in Turkey
. There is anotherdefinition in
dictionaries: "a nation whose chief is not a king but apresident"
definition fits perfectly
Because this republicimplies the absence of the public. In
other words, the absence of ahereditary succession of the ruler is the necessary (and in
many casessufficient) condition of existence of republican regime in Turkey.
The Republic of Turkey emerged as a bureaucratic-authoritarian andcentralist state.
Although the new state denied the Ottoman historicalheritage, it took over the Ottoman
state tradition. This statetradition, which emphasized on strong central authority, and
thepositivist ideology of the Republican elite justified the foundation ofa state based
upon the absolute autonomy of the center from theperiphery. The new Republican elite,
faithful to positivism, attemptedan ambiguous reform project whose goal was to attain the
level ofcontemporary civilization, which was identified with the West. The mostimportant
element of this goal was to create a secular and unitaryTurkish nation. This project must
have been realized by the educatedelite by using force of the centralized state at the
expense of the will of people. Kemalism constituted the official the official ideology of
the Turkish Republic and served as a means of legitimization for the ruling Republican
elite to maintain their hegemony.
As the most essential principles of Kemalism, nationalism, secularism,and statism
provided general framework in the implementation ofambiguous project of modernization by
the Republican elite. Theprinciple of nationalism aimed at creating ethnically homogenous
society at the expense of other ethnic identities, mainly the Kurdish identity. Being
associated with any identity outside the Turkish identity is considered separatism and
treason. The new Republic's secularism is not based upon the separation of the state and
religion. Rather Islam as a religion has been "nationalized" by the state. Not
only the state refused any public manifestation of religiosity, but also it monopolized
the right to organize religious life and define the context of what a proper religious
understanding is. The purpose was to create a "Turkified Islam" that should only
manifest itself within the hearths. Any religious understanding outside the official
definition and any religious formation autonomous from the state control have been
described as deviant and threatening. The principle of statism has broader definition than
the state's regulation of economic sphere.
Within the Turkish context, statism meant to be denial of legalexistence of autonomous
political and cultural spheres. The Republicanideology did never approved the autonomy of
political and culturalsphere and perceived such an autonomy as a threat to the state
becauseany social practice outside the control of the state is illegitimate.
This ideological core is not only functional to define whom the enemyis, but also
useful to legitimatize the state's use of force andviolence to guarantee the continuity of
the status quo. The Republicanelite have always adopted a top-down approach to social
change andlooked at popular demands with suspicion. The state elite, therefore,never
intended a full power sharing with the political elite elected bythe people. In other
words, the state kept a distance between itself and government that has not been
authorized to determine policies for the issues related to the state. The state did not
tolerate communism and liberalism as alternative worldviews while it suppressed any
tendency toward manifestation of Kurdish and Islamic identity. Among the state elite, the
army held the upper hand to have the final saying in the course of events. The official
discourse defined integrity and unity as being homogeneity of the masses. Any alternative
vision of society was responded with the state power. Nevertheless, what we see in the
75th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey as a result of this practice is a polarized
society along articulation of religious and ethnic identities instead of national
integrity and unity.
The rise of the Kurdish and Islamic identities despite a long history of repression is
an indication of existing social polarization anddisintegration caused by the failure of
the state to integrate thesesegments into the system. At present, the ruling elite suffers
from acrisis of hegemony due to failure of Kemalism as a social project tocreate a
homogenous society. The failure of system to provide socialjustice and obvious links
between mafia-gangs and various fractions ofstate elite to take share from the
distribution of financial resourcesof the state intensify the legitimacy crisis of the
state elite. Underthis circumstances, the state elite suddenly discovered that there is
athreat to the Republic!
Threat to whose Republic?
There is a threat to the Republic of thestate elite and
But the threat comes from the elite'sdesire to protect the status
The official ideology of the state isno longer capable of putting constraints on
the will of the periphery.The multiparty politics was functioning relatively well (except
someshort interceptions) to contain the discontent. Nevertheless, the riseof the Welfare
Party as a mass political party during the mid-1990sintensified 75 years old paranoia of
ruling elite: reactionary forcesare getting close to their goal to destroy "the only
secular democraticrepublic of the Muslim world"! The state had already been waging
an"undeclared war" against the Kurdish guerilla movement for more than ten
years. Although this undeclared war was not a pleasant situation, the state and its
guardians did not complain about it too much because they had some advantages out of this
conflict. At least military helped to maintain its superior position over the elected
government. Therefore, they did not feel threat to the Republic and they always declared
that "the state is strong enough not to be frightened off by a few bandits".
The rise of the Welfare Party (WP) was, however, a different case.First, the WP was
approaching to the center of power without violence.Second, it was carrying demands of all
peripheral social forces inaddition to demands of religious segments. Third, if it could
besuccessful in government, there would be a possibility that it mayperpetuate its power
in the center. The state elite was not willing toshare its power with any of excluded
social forces. Therefore, the WPmust have been excluded. Besides, during the time when
some clues aboutthe link between mafia-gangs and the state were revealed it would not be
proper to keep the WP in power. As a result, the military took theinitiative to overthrow
the WP-led government and to suppress thereligious revival.
With the new National Military Strategic Concept, the National SecurityCouncil declared
reactionarism as number one threat to the Republic andnational security together with
separatist terror. They were indeed twin brothers in the eyes of the state elite.
Nonetheless, policies tosuppress Islamic revival were so unpopular that it fastened
declininglegitimacy of the state elite. Even military-appointed government hasnot been
willing to implement these policies, but it had no choice. TheState elite does not want to
change status quo and resisting againstchange.
The state failed to integrate more than half of its society to thesystem because of its
externality and marginality to the society. But,it has still capacity to mobilize some
social segments like everyauthoritarian state. Especially the manipulation of
nationalistfeelings greatly helps for this purpose. Therefore, the show of poweragainst
Syria was necessary to gain some legitimacy right before the75th anniversary celebrations.
However, demonstrations for thesolidarity for headscarf on 11 October 1998 paralyzed the
effort tomanipulate nationalist feelings. Now the state is waging a revengeagainst the
headscarf demonstrations and mobilizing all its humanresources for this purpose. This
mobilization functions as a popularlogistic support to naked power of guns to perpetuate
existingauthoritarianism. The zealot enthusiasm for the 75th anniversary is onthe
exhibition as another power show, but this time, it is against itsown people. As a Turkish
columnist calls it, this is a "psychologicalwar" waged to exclude some social
segments at the expense of internaltensions. The Republic is using the 75th anniversary of
the Republic tocontinue to wage its other "undeclared war" against the public,
which is a process started with Necmettin Erbakan's signing of the military's18-article
ultimatum to fight against Islamic revival on February 28,1998.