>A New Turkey?

>CDR Salamander has one of the most influential blogs about maritime affairs, politics and sailors on the milblogosphere.

After his post about Kemalism and Turkey, he was kind enough to ask me whether I wanted to write my own comments on his blog. I was happy to do so.


This is the result:

While the dust cloud around Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla last week is settling down, informed minds are turning their attention to Turkey. Sal had an excellent post on this blog where he had captured the dilemma of secular Turks very clearly.

Sal is not the only one who is watching the waning of the influence of Mustafa Kemal in Turkey. Many Turkish people see diminishing Kemalist principles as a treat to their way of life as it is not much compatible with an Islamic vision of world.

As I see it, the slide of Turkey to a more Islamist stance has economic roots. Just like the Americas Bible Belt, Turkey always had a strongly religious Anatolian heartland and middle class. Since 1980’s with the integration of Turkey into world markets, this religious heartland and middle class are progressing economically better than the secular, bourgeois and more or less Westerly oriented city people are doing. Turkey has been seamlessly integrated into world economy. With increasing wealth, the middle class’s political and social power is increasing too. Erdoğan is from this social class. Currently the religious heartland seems to be winning its struggle to dominate the social and economic life in Turkey. It is yet to be seen how much or in which form this newly gained wealth and power will influence this class.

Sal asked and interesting question “Who is lost Turkey? Has someone lost Turkey? Sal, like many of us, is searching for the old Turkey he (we) used to know. As Turkey is changing, the old Turkey we used to know and understand is fading away. We (secular Turks, Islamic Turks and rest of the world including Sal) must find a way to deal with this change. We must also accept the realities of the new emerging Turkey.

One of these realities is religion. Since the creation of time, religion always played a pivotal role in this part of the world and it will continue to do so. By the way, personally I find it very amusing and interesting that all of the current commentators fail to mention about the ultra-orthodox political parties of Israel. They are small, but have great influence in the Knesset. I believe the struggle between the secular and religious Israelis is as important to our region as the struggle in Turkey. Yes, the new Turkey will appear more religious that we may wish.

Another one of these realities is what seems to be a neo – Ottomanism. I personally do not think that Turkey has any imperial ambitions. I do not think that Erdoğan is wishing to be the caliphate of all the Muslims. (He may be dreaming about it at night but he is too pragmatic to believe in it). The following countries have been wholly or partially been ruled by the Ottomans at one time: Albania, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Israel (Incl. West Bank and Gaza), Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya Somaliland, Sudan, Tunisia. In all these countries Turkey has an interest.

Last month Turkey created a task force of four frigates and one replenishment tanker and will send it to the Med for the next two months. This may hardly raise eyebrows in USA, where USN keeps dozens of task force active around world all the time, but this is the first Turkish task force created by Turkish Republic. It is a big deal here.

Next year there will be another task force. Turkey plans to send that task force to the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. Why does this task force matter? While it shows as that Turkey is learning to combine its emerging economic power with its newly formulated foreign policy via its military power. The burgeoning religious middle class is keen to do business with all these countries. They want to expand their influence in these regions. Therefore, Turkey is learning to be more assertive and is acting more proactive in foreign politics. This may be be perceived as a neo-Ottomanism but it is not.

Can we get back to the old Turkey? Unfortunately it seems to be impossible. The secularist usually counted on the armed forces to maintain the balance. Many people both from abroad and from Turkey think that an intervention of armed forces is an irresistibility easy way to prevent Turkeys slide into Islamist state.

But on the other hand these people tend to forget that every time the Turkish military interfered and took the helm of the country there was a back lash from the society and Islamist gained ground. The armed forces can never stand in the way of the social, economical and political change. A putsch by army is not and should not be an option.

The solutions to the problems in the society must be found within the limits of our democracy. It may not the world’s best democracy but it is ours and it is the only one we have – and remember, Turkey is one of the two real democratic countries in this region. Somehow the two sides will eventually find and formulate a way of co exist.

Kemalist principles are the anchor and the chain that keeps Turkey drifting into a more deeply religious stance. I wish to hope that these principles and the seeds that Kemal Atatürk has sown in this land will prevent Turkey to become a place like Iran.


I am watching the struggle of power and the change in Turkey enthusiastically. For you it may be an academic interest about the affairs of a distant country, which you can (or cannot) find on a map, but for me it is about my future and about my survival.

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