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October 1998 
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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 arrested.

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.


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…Even the 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 "Public"?

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 restricted…

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…. If 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 consequences!!!

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"…. This 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 their interests… But the threat comes from the elite'sdesire to protect the status quo… 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.



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