One of the towering figures of the 20th century, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born on March 12, 1881 in Salonika (now Thessaloniki) in what was then the Ottoman Empire. According to history.com: “Turkey’s most famous son came of age in the old Ottoman Empire, which had spent over 600 years in control of large swaths of the Mediterranean Basin. His first foray into politics came in 1919, when he organised a nationalist revolution to drive the occupying Allied powers out of Turkey. He secured the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923, which recognised Turkey as an independent nation. Later that year, the national assembly established Turkey as a republic with Ataturk as its first president.”
In spite of being an autocrat, Mustafa Kemal had rather progressive views, and he worked hard to emancipate his people from the tyranny of Ottoman rule and tried to make Turkey align with a mostly secular Europe.
When Mustafa went about establishing a modern and secular state, many of his moves were deemed controversial by existing Islamists who were still loyal to the Ottomans.
He would go on to pass laws regarding gender equality and women’s suffrage. He would also introduce religious reforms, abolishing the Islamic Caliphate. He scrapped a ban on alcohol and forbade women workers from wearing headscarves.
Ataturk went on to serve as Turkey’s president for 15 years.
On Sunday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current president, purportedly won a referendum that would give him sweeping powers.
Jared Malsin writes from Istanbul for TIME magazine: “Erdogan’s victory sets in motion a transformation of Turkish politics, replacing the current parliamentary system with one dominated by a powerful presidency. According to preliminary results, a small majority of Turkish voters approved the set of 18 constitutional amendments that limits parliament’s oversight of the executive, eliminates the office of the prime minister, and expands presidential power over judicial appointments.
Erdogan and his supporters say the constitutional changes are needed to ensure stability, while opponents denounced the amendments as a step toward an era of autocracy.”
Turkey comes full circle back to an autocrat after less than a century.
The difference between Ataturk and Erdogan is clear as daylight. Whereas Ataturk opted for secularism, Erdogan is embracing Islamism even though he is calling himself a reformer like the “father of the nation.”
Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have ruled Turkey with an iron fist. He has had a hand in supporting IS in trying to “dethrone” Assad, an Alawite, of Syria.
Under him, Kurds were oppressed to such levels that some Kurdi parties started supporting him if only to keep their businesses and livelihoods intact.
Turkey under Erdogan was the biggest buyer of oil that IS pilfered from the rich oil-fields of Mosul in Iraq. Erdogan is now deep into Syria after IS, “Frankenstein’s Monster,” bit back on Turkey itself to realise its dreams of the Caliphate.
The voting pattern in Turkey’s referendum on Sunday had eerie similarities to the Brexit polls as well as the presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power
The voting pattern in Turkey’s referendum on Sunday had eerie similarities to the Brexit polls as well as the presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power: The country was divided between the city-dwellers and those living in the hinterland. The latter carried the day for Erdogan while in major cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, the Turks voted a resounding “No.”
This only shows sharp divisions within the country.
Mark Almond comments in the Daily Telegraph: “Doesn’t the decisive victory of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Sunday’s elections put an end to concerns about the country’s stability?
“By handing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan such a strong mandate, Turkey’s voters have swung behind a leader whose hallmarks have become capitalising on tension and fear.
Given the scale of Erdogan’s triumph, and his past form, expecting generosity from him now seems naïve. More of the same is a perverse form of stability.”
It is now obvious that after less than a hundred years after Ataturk established a secular European-style secular state, Erdogan is about to make Turkey a Middle East-type, intolerant, totalitarian one.
One can only wait and see what the half of the people who did not vote for Erdogan on Sunday do to bring the country back from the pall of darkness. This is a real possibility given that an all-powerful Erdogan may remain president till 2029, unless the secularists can make the right moves to make the country come back.
One also wonders, what message, if any, this victory of the hardliners would send to our political leaders in the current context of Bangladesh, where the government has all but abandoned secularism, in practice if not in the letters of the constitution; and contrarian views, if not suppressed, are looked down upon and criticised ruthlessly from the “lecterns of position.”
I see dark clouds gathering on the horizon.
SM Shahrukh is a freelance contributor.