11 November 2013, 18:02

Turkey: Changing with Times?

Turkey: Changing with Times?

The image of Ataturk will be officially removed from orders and medals in Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is still popular as the founding father of modern Turkey.

But today the country is feeling the pressure of new regional trends… So, how is it going to cope with it? 

We are discussing these and other issues with our guest speakers Erkan Saka of Bilgi University in Turkey, and Halil M. Karaveli, Senior Fellow with the Turkey Initiative at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.

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Erkan Saka of the Bilgi University in Turkey.

It is just part of an ongoing process of eliminating most of the symbols related to Ataturk. Some people certainly are frustrated but there is not much to be done to challenge this decision at the moment. I believe there is a cult of Ataturk and there was a tendency to diminish it, but I guess in reaction to the Government’s moves, at least in some circles, that cult is now even more strengthened.

Many of the recent moves are challenging the secular fabric of society. It seems that they are going beyond acceptable measures and some Sunni Islamic principles are prioritized against other Islamic teachings. So, it also triggers a sort of polarization in the society. The current Government seems to be favouring a very neoliberal policy but also has conservatism. The decreasing citizens’ rights are now sort of compensated with these conservative Islamic teachings. These Islamic principles may be helpful in the short term, but in the long run I guess people will realize that their conditions are deteriorating very fast.

In the early period Erdogan wasn’t like this, he was a much more likeable figure. But in the last few years, maybe, it is sort of authority poisoning, especially as the judiciary structure was changed. There aren’t any checks and balances any more.

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Halil M. Karaveli – Senior Fellow with the Turkey Initiative at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.

The party or the Prime Minister himself doesn’t like Ataturk. The party ruling Turkey now, for them Ataturk and what he did with these westernizing reforms and secularism, and things like that – these things go very much against what they stand for in ideological terms. This is symbolic, to take him away from state medals.

But in another sense history is complicated. I would say that there is a historical continuity between Ataturk and Erdogan. Erdogan wants to use the instruments of the state to decide how people are going to live their private lives. And Ataturk was the same. He told the people – take off your veils and dress like western women, and go dancing and stuff like that. He wanted to change them. His project was a project of social engineering, just like Erdogan is now attempting. But the difference of course is that Erdogan’s social engineering is trying to make Turkey more conservative.

In the Western media there is a very well established myth – there is a westernizing Turkish state and there is a conservative population, and there’s been a conflict between the two of them since the days of Ataturk. And the generals and the Turkish Army when they stage coups to save secularism. In fact, this is one of Ataturk’s really lasting legacies to have established this view of Turkish history as a fight between secularism and religion. And I would say it is definitely not true.

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