REALITY BEHIND TURKEY’S ‘DEFENCE OF SECULARISM’
May 8 2007
What is behind the recent threats by the Turkish army against the
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)?
After the recent huge demonstration and military threats against the
government, Turkish socialist Ron Margulies spoke to Socialist Worker
about the background to the crisis
At the end of April, parliament was due to elect a new president.
The prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he would stand,
which was a piece of cake, given that his party has a majority in
parliament. The army first started to grumble then.
Erdogan stepped back and put forward foreign minister Abdullah Gul.
The army screamed that it would not have a man whose wife wears an
Islamic headscarf as president and that it would do what was necessary
to defend the secular republic.
In fact, there is no threat to secularism at all. Neither from the
population at large or from the government.
The AKP has been in power for four and a half years with a comfortable
parliamentary majority, and has not taken a single step in an Islamic
direction in that time.
It has not even done anything about women not being allowed into
universities wearing a headscarf – the headscarf is banned in all
However, for the first time in 80 years, people who are religious
feel comfortable and not under pressure from the state.
The military’s ultimatum claims to defend the "secular republic"
in an attempt to mobilise the middle class which fears that its
Westernised lifestyle is under threat.
In fact what the army is trying to overthrow is a government which is
very open to reforms on the Kurdish issue, human rights and, perhaps
most significantly, reducing the military’s role in the country’s
"Secular" is a word widely used to describe Turkey. What does it mean
in the context of its political system?
Turkey is secular in the sense that the state and religion are
Given that 99 percent of the population is Muslim, Turkey’s secularism
and parliamentary democracy is held up by the West as an example to
the rest of the Muslim world. This is hypocritical claptrap.
Secularism is fine as far as it goes, and of course we are in favour
of it. But the image of a democratic and harmonious Turkey hides all
sorts of tensions.
As soon as a party from an Islamic tradition is elected, the military
threaten a coup.
This happened in 1997, when the military issued an ultimatum against a
coalition government led by the Islamic party and forced it to resign,
and it has happened again now.
During the recent "secular demonstrations" the crowds chanted
"we are not Armenians". What are the origins of hostility to the
The material basis for it is that the genocide of Armenians in 1915
led to huge amounts of capital and land owned by the Armenian minority
being grabbed by Turks.
There is a serious (though unvoiced) fear of demands for reparations
if the genocide is recognised.
Because modern Turkey emerged from the disintegration and collapse
of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, it has never known
what to do with its Armenian, Greek and Jewish minorities.
They are always seen by the state as potential "enemies within".
So the state veers between attempting to assimilate them and forcing
them to leave.
What is the status of Turkey’s oppressed Kurdish population, and why
are there worries over control of the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk?
The Turkish state fears the creation of a Kurdish state in northern
Iraq, for the obvious reason that it sets an example for the Kurds
The US does not allow the Turkish army to invade Iraqi Kurdistan,
given that the Kurds are the main allies of the US in Iraq.
There is a Turkic minority (the Turkmens) in and around Kirkuk,
and Turkey tries to use their plight as an excuse to meddle in Iraq.
But it cannot do anything as long as the US refuses to give it the
If the AKP have implemented neoliberal programmes, why is there such
hostility from the middle classes and the wealthy?
Big business has been solidly behind the government, and it is
furious about the interruption of what was a reasonably stable
When Gul’s name was put forward, the employers’ organisation
immediately supported him.
They clearly did not want any military intervention.
When the constitutional court annulled Gul’s election, they immediately
called for an early general election, hoping that this would restore
It could, except that the AKP will win a new election and the military
will get restless again.
What attitudes have the left taken towards the military and the AKP?
They have been utterly terrible.
The most common slogan is "neither Islamic fundamentalism nor a
military coup", failing to take sides and to defend the elected
government against the unelected military.
The left has also failed to stand up for the right to wear the Islamic
headscarf, often standing shoulder to shoulder with forces of the
state against ordinary people.