Turkey In The Throes Of Islamic Revolution?


History News Network
July 21 2008

["Spengler" is the pseudonym of a columnist who writes for Asia Times.]

… A perfect storm of enmity has come down on the beleaguered
Turkish secularists, who find themselves without friends. That
is a tragedy whose consequences will spill over Turkey’s borders,
for the secular model established by Kemal Ataturk after World War
I was the Muslim world’s best hope of adapting to modernity. Many
years of misbehavior by Turkey’s army and security services, the core
institutions of secular power, have eroded their capacity to resist
an Islamist takeover.

The United States State Department, meanwhile, has found a
dubious use for what it thinks is a moderate strain of political
Islam. Washington apparently hopes to steer Turkey into a regional
bloc with the short-term aim of calming Iraq, and a longer-term
objective of fostering a Sunni alliance against Iran’s ambition to
foment a Shi’ite revolution in the Middle East.

By rejecting Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, France and
Germany have destroyed the credibility of the secular parties who
seek integration with the West. Perhaps the Europeans already have
consigned Turkey to the ward for political incurables, and do not think
it worthwhile to try to revive Western-oriented secularism. Turkey’s
liberal intellectuals, who suffered intermittent but brutal repression
at the hands of the secular military, think of the Islamist government
as the enemy of their enemy, if not quite their friend.

Sadly, the notion that moderate Islam will flourish in the Turkish
nation demands that we believe in two myths, namely, moderate Islam and
the Turkish nation. Too much effort is wasted parsing the political
views of Erdogan, who began his career in the 1990s as an avowed
Islamist and anti-secularist, but later espoused a muted form of
Islam as leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Whether
Erdogan is a born-again moderate or a disguised jihadi is known
only to the man himself. Islam in Turkey flourishes in full public
view. At the village level, the AKP draws on the same sort of Saudi
Arabian patronage that filled Pakistan with madrassas (seminaries)
during the past two decades, and incubated the Wahhabi forces that
have now all but buried the remnants of Pakistani secularism.

If political Islam prevails in Turkey, what will emerge is not the
same country in different coloration, but a changeling, an entirely
different nation. In a 1997 speech that earned him a prison term,
Erdogan warned of two fundamentally different camps, the secularists
who followed Kemal, and Muslims who followed sharia. These are not
simply different camps, however, but different configurations of
Turkish society at the molecular level. Like a hologram, Turkey
offers two radically different images when viewed from different
angles. Turkish Islam, the ordering of the Anatolian villages and
the Istanbul slums, represents a nation radically different than the
secularism of the army, the civil service, the universities and the
Western-leaning elite of Istanbul. If the Islamic side of Turkey rises,
the result will be unrecognizable.

Modern Turkey is a construct, not a country in the sense that
Westerners understand the term; it is the rump of a multi-ethnic empire
that perished in World War I, and the project of a nation advanced
by a visionary leader who could not, however, pierce the sedimentary
layers of ethnicity, language and history that make modern Turkey less
than the sum of its parts. Turkey’s army prevailed as the dominant
institution of the secular state simply because no other entity could
array the poor farmers of the Anatolian highlands according to the
secular program.

The trouble is that there are not that enough Turks in Turkey. To
replace the imperial identity of the Ottoman Empire, Kemal proposed
Turkum, or Turkishness, an Anatolian national identity founded on
the many civilizations that had ruled the peninsula. Ethnic identity
in the sense of European nationalism informed neither the Ottoman
Empire nor the Kemalist state. The Orghuz Turks who conquered the
hinterlands of the Byzantine Empire during the 12th century never
comprised more than a small minority of the population. At the height
of their conquests during the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire ruled
over more Christians than Muslims.

Kemal created modern Turkey by thwarting the attempts of Western
powers to partition his country after its defeat in World War I,
but at terrible cost. The 20 million population of the Ottoman Empire
was reduced to perhaps 7 million (by a French government estimate) in
1924. Up to a million and a half Armenian Christians were murdered in
1914-1918 at the instigation of the Turkish government, to neutralize
a population considered sympathetic to wartime adversaries. Most of
the killing was done by Kurdish tribesmen. Between 1.5 million and 3
million Greek Orthodox Christians, whose ancestors had settled Asia
Minor thousands of years before the Turks arrived, were expelled in
1924 at the conclusion of the Greek-Turkish War.

Modern Turkey thus began not only with the rump of an empire,
but with the turnover of nearly half its 1924 population. Because
Kemal’s concept of Turkum requires suspension of disbelief in favor
of a nonexistent national identity, Turkey has avoided a census of
its minorities since 1965. Perhaps 30% of its population are Kurds,
whose integration into the Turkish state is uncertain. Kurds are
concentrated in eastern Turkey in an area that before 1918 was known
as Western Armenia – because ethnic Kurds replaced the slaughtered
Armenians. In addition, there are 3 million Circassians, 2 million
Bosniaks, a million and a half Albanians, a million Georgians, and
sundry smaller groups. But even within the majority characterized
as "ethnic Turks", the sedimentary layers remain of millennia of
contending tribes and civilizations.

The Kemalists had mixed results in their efforts to pack this ethnic
and cultural jumble into a newly-designed national identity. What
sometimes is called the "deep state" – the secretive Kemalist hold over
military and intelligence services – may turn out to be shallow as it
is brittle. One Turkish historian told me, "Like the Ottoman Sultan
Abdulhamid, who fell 100 years ago this week because of an explosion
of popular unrest, the Turkish military are the victims of their own
success in creating a diversified and modern society which wants to
live in a freer system. The hard hand they turned against intellectual
dissenters drove sections of the westernized intelligentsia into the
arms of the Islamists – and it is that alliance which is now at work
to demolish both the military’s influence in politics and (perhaps)
the entire heritage of Kemal Ataturk." …