ANKARA: Ataturk’s Turkey: A Model For The Greater Middle East?

Sedat Laciner, translated by Jale Aktug and Meral Tuzce

Journal of Turkish Weekly, Turkey
Aug 17 2007

Recently, there is a hot debate on Turkey’s importance as model for
Iraq, Pakistan or any Muslim country among the American thinkers.

‘Turkish model prescription’ is very important for the US who has
confronted with difficulties in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq.

US decision-makers have no hope for Muslim democratization or
liberalization, they think that Muslims can not become democrats,
Muslims can not develop liberal economy and Muslims can not be
integrated to the global political and economic system. The Western
World has lost its all hopes about Iran and Arabs. For them, Arab
means poverty, war, terrorism, backwardness, uneducated children and
humiliated women. Iranians are similarly perceived as barbarian,
militarist people who want to destroy Israel and the West. The
US’ post 9/11 measures against terrorism and extremism nourished
religionist terrorism and extreme movements in Muslim world instead
of moderate groups. Despite of this simple fact, the fresh republican
prescriptions for international terrorism and relations with the
Muslims are not different and/or better than Bush policies. For
example, one of the republican presidential nominees affirmed "If
there is a need, we will bomb Mecca and Medina, two holiest Muslim
cities." Proposal of the Democrats is not much different than the
Republicans’. Even Democrat presidential candidate Barrack Obama,
who is pacifist and anti-militarist, affirmed that the US may occupy
Pakistani territories and overthrow Musharraf’s government in order
to fight terrorists. Similarly in Netherlands, which is considered
the most liberal European country, there are some discussions about
forbidding Koran, Islam’s holly book.

In such an atmosphere, Turkey appears as a different example
compared with the rest of the Muslim world. Even tough Turkey has no
natural energy resources; it is the biggest economy among the Muslim
countries. Turkish economy is the 5th largest economy of Europe and
17th of the world. By courtesy of economic reforms realized within
last years, Turkish economy became industrial and service economy
instead of agrarian economy. Level of education, use of internet and
other educational indicators are closer to European countries than
Muslim countries. During last 5 years, thanks to the legal reforms
important clauses of Turkish law (including penalty of death) were
changed. As a result of the economic, political and legal reforms,
the European Union (EU) accepted that Turkish democracy, human rights
records and Turkish economy fulfilled the criteria for full membership
to European Union and negotiations for full membership started on 3
October 2005. It means that Turkey’s membership to the European Union
is a matter of time.

This awkward Muslim country, Turkey, attracts specially US’s attention
and the American intellectuals and experts try to understand secret
of this success. For them, reason of this success is Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk and his up-to-down policies of modernization. In other words,
Americans and some Europeans do the same mistake again; they simplify
cases, explain the causes as they want to see (wishful thinking). But
Turkey’s story can not be reduced only to Ataturk or anyone in spite
of Ataturk’s undeniable contribution to Turkish development. Moreover,
the model that Ataturk formed can not be evaluated as dictatorship
or "aggressive reforms" under the military protection. A society can
not be changed only by the efforts of a man; democracy, human rights
and liberalism can not nourish under any army’s pressure. Secret of
Turkey’s success story is more complex than the Western experts think.

First of all, ‘Turkish Islam’ concept has always been different
than other Muslim nations’ religious understanding. Ghaznavid Empire
(Gazneliler), Karakhanids (Karahanlar), Seljuk Empire (Selcuklular),
Ottoman Empire (Osmanlilar) and other Turkish states in the past
saw expanding Islamic borders as ultimate aim as French, Italian
states who had seen increasing Christianity as state politics. But
these Turkish states at the same time were never been administered
by solely religious rules contrarily to modern Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Although Turkish Sultans were caliph, they did not act as the highest
ecclesiastic, thus the religious rules didn’t dominate the society.

Ottoman sultans acted as a secular political power and Sheyhulislam
(the chief religious official in the Ottoman Empire) represented
religious authority. However, when Sultan’s and Sheyhulislam’s point
of view were in contradiction in any issue, the Sheyhulislam lost
his post and ‘secular’ Sultan’s decisions were implemented. Although
the Ottoman Empire is defined as modern Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan
or Iran in some books published in Western countries, in reality,
the Ottoman case was so different. There were pubs in 19th century
Ottoman Empire, people wore whatever they wanted with no official
pressure and religious and sectional minorities executed their
religious exercises without restriction. Chief rabbi, Armenian,
Bulgarian, and Greek Patriarchs were deputies for the Sultan, and
Jewish and Christian minorities were autonomous in their internal
affairs, including legal issues and taxation.

It could be argued that Turkish people and statesmen acknowledged
their mistakes about politics, religion and economics earlier
than other Muslim peoples. As early as the end of the 18th
century the Ottomans started to discuss why European countries
were relatively more developed than the Ottoman Empire and they
started to introduce reforms. In the 19th century, the Ottoman
Empire was part of the European system and balance of power and
Europeanization in diplomacy, politics, social life and economy
continued during the 19th century. The Ottoman State even applied
some of the fundamental concepts of modern liberal democracy such as
democracy, decentralization, liberal economy, liberty, civic rights,
constitution and fundamental rights to its very values and principles
in 19th century. The Ottomans had parliamentary system almost more
than one century ago. At the end of 19th century, the Ottoman Empire
was a parliamentary kingdom as most of the European states. At this
period of time, the Ottoman Empire had elections, a constitution, an
elected parliament, a lively press and an opposition who criticized
even the Sultan and the government. Minority rights were also under
statutory protection. If we compare Ottoman Empire and other European
States by this point of view, we see no substantial difference between
them. At the beginning of the 20th century, Sultan’s competences were
reduced and governments formed by the Committee of Union and Progress
party were more powerful than the Sultan. At this period of time,
the Sultanate was a more symbolical position. Reforms executed by
Ataturk after the foundation of Turkish Republic had been proposed
and even started to implant at this period of time. For example, use
of Latin letters, change of weekend holidays, costume reform, reforms
in educational system, support to modern arts, etc. were all Ottoman
ideas. Modern educational system for instance wasn’t fully formed
after foundation of Turkish Republic. II. Abdulhamit had made great
contribution to establish fundamentals of modern educational system in
Turkey. Primary, secondary and high schools were built not only in the
city centers but also in the remote towns during the Hamidian period.

Another important factor which makes Turkey different than other
Muslim states is that Turkey had never been colony of any other
Western countries. Except for the short occupation period which was
after First World War, more than 1000 years, Turkish people have been
independent. In addition to independence, they could stand puissant
against the Western World for a long time. The self-confidence
and self-reliance of the Turks continued during the 20th century
and Turkey has been one of the rare countries who could debate
the problems with the Western countries equally. For example,
Turkish war of independence was against the western countries,
Turkish army’s detachment to Cyprus came true in spite of the US’s
USSR’s and European Communities’ (EU’s) strong objections. And also,
although Turkey has disagreements with western countries on Armenian
issue, Cyprus issue and even on combating terrorism issue, sometimes
Turkey can execute its policies without asking the West’s permission
or support. When we compare Turkish attitude before the West with Arab
Governments’ submissive attitudes, Turkey’s difference could easily
be understood. That’s why after the Iraq War one of the Lebanese
newspaper called Turkey ‘more Arab than the Arab states’.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Model

In brief, Ataturk was one of the best Ottoman generals and he succeeded
to realize the transformation at Turkish Republic that Sultans and
the CUP at Ottoman Empire tried to perform.

Unfortunately, the number of articles at which Ataturk is defined as
a ‘dictator’ or militarist has increased recently. At these articles
Ataturk is compared to Hitler and Saddam Hussein and only difference
between Ataturk and them is explained by Ataturk’s success and the
others’ failure. All these claims are not true and not.

Although Ataturk was a soldier, reforms that he executed didn’t aim
to form a militarist country. Even when the country was surrounded
by conflicts, Ataturk and his friends didn’t delay the elections and
Mustafa Kemal defined the parliament as the uppermost authority over
any power. Deputies had ardent discussions while deciding to ratify
Mustafa Kemal’s supreme military commend though the enemy armies were
just 90 km away from the Parliament. In a phrase, Ataturk refused to
abjure the will of people even at war. While organizing resistance,
he lost his military ranks and continued organizing the war of
salvation as a civilian. After the foundation of Turkish Republic,
he preferred to define himself as a civilian. He might declare
himself general or the super-general as the leaders in many Third
World countries did, but he did not follow such a way. Ataturk even
forced his friend to leave their military posts when they applied
for general elections. ‘Ataturk laws’ prevented the soldiers to make
politics. The generals had to chooce military post or MP seat in the
parliament. It was obligatory to choose to become a civilian to be
a candidate at elections. In this frame, some of Ataturk’s friends
abdicated and became politicians while the others chose to continue
their work as soldiers. In most of militarist, authoritarian countries,
politicians prefer to call themselves by military appellations although
they had never been soldiers in the past.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk told that continuity of republic is depended
on education and developed economy instead of military instruments.

That’s why he gave more importance to education which makes Turkey
different than many other Muslim countries. Unlike Saddam-like leaders
in the Muslim world, Mustafa Kemal did not try to create a one-leader
country. Republican educational system aimed to create a pluralistic
youth, because Kemal had no doubt that pluralism and free minds are
the only way to save Turkey’s future. Mustafa Kemal’s ideal country
was United Kingdom, United States or revolutionary France, not the
Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany

People who affirm that Mustafa Kemal was a dictator show the number
of political parties at that time and ineffectiveness of opposition
as proofs. This is an anachronistic approach. At that period of time,
Turkey was as liberal and democrat as many other European countries.

We should remember that the Czech Republic was the only liberal state
at continental Europe at this period. Ataturk made efforts to pass to
multiparty system but because of international crisis and conjectural
depressions in Turkey, he couldn’t succeed. But after Ataturk’s
presidency, Ismet Inonu, one of his closest friends, succeeded to
pass to a multiparty system. And in 1950, multiparty system started
to be carried out without pressure of Western countries and Turkey
took part between the prestigious countries of Europe by the courtesy
of its relatively liberal and democratic structure.

Defining Ataturk as a dictator, whose power depends only on army,
and offering such a model for countries like Pakistan and Iraq is
a capital mistake. Unfortunately, the Western World misunderstands
Ataturk’s policies and Turkish model just like they misunderstand
the Middle East in general.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS