The Turkish leader is looking to centralize his authority in line with transforming the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, but his critics fear that this will allow him to reshape society along the lines of an Islamic Republic. Turkey is constitutionally a secular state, though it was a Caliphate under the Ottoman Empire. The modern-day country’s founding hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was insistent that Turks must embrace secularism and Westernization in order to modernize their country and allow it to compete with its fellow Great Power peers, and Turkey’s socio-political post-World War I transformation can be entirely credited to his ambitious initiatives.
Nevertheless, the times certainly are changing, and in the early stages of the 21st century, ethno-religious identities are surging all across the world and are poised to change some of the political models of the past 100 years. Controversial American thinker Samuel Huntington postulated that this will lead to a “Clash of Civilizations”, but while it’s much too early to say whether this thesis is vindicated or not, it’s easy to observe that civilizational factors are now becoming very important in International Relations. It’s here where Turkey’s upcoming referendum becomes relevant, because it essentially gives citizens the choice between preserving their constitutionally enshrined secular republicanism or more formally transitioning back to the centralized Islamic model of the past. Turkey therefore finds itself at a crossroads of dueling civilizational visions in deciding between Ataturk and Erdogan.
Not only could this vote further enflame the highly polarized domestic divisions within the country, but it could also end up provoking international uncertainty as well. Should the amendment pass and Erdogan be granted his hoped-for powers, then NATO will immediately be forced to confront the uncomfortable question about whether or not Turkey still abides by the so-called “Western values” which are supposed to presumably unite its members. Additionally, it might also push Turkey further away from the EU, but this could be compensated for by a more dedicated pivot towards Eurasia.
To discuss the future of Turkey we are joined by Can Erimtan, Historian and independent journalist and Hasan Selim Özertem, from International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) in Ankara.
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