What will happen in Turkey?

The citizens of Turkey are not willing to sit by quietly while Erdogan and the AKP’s religious extremism take over their country.

June 6, 2013 20:54
4 minute read.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Tayyip Erdogan with flags 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas )

The tempestuous protests that broke out in Turkey this past week did not appear out of thin air. They are not the expression of a small group of angry citizens who are temporarily upset by a government decision. Rather, they are the sign of an evolving process that has been gaining momentum on the streets of Turkey since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002.

The turmoil at Taksim Square is not a protest against building a mall where one of Turkey’s last public parks stands. The Turkish people would not be pouring out by the thousands around the country just to protest Erdogan’s decision to build a mall. These violent protests are the result of the Turkish people’s anger, which has been building up over the past decade due to religious radicalization. And the Turkish people are concerned that if this radicalization continues, the country will turn into a Muslim dictatorship.

After 600 years of Ottoman rule, the Republic of Turkey came into being in 1923, with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as its first president.

Since its onset, there has been a great deal of tension between the secular and Islamist attributes of the nation. Throughout the years, the Supreme Court and the military, which have aimed to defend Turkey’s secularist nature, have made great efforts to reign in the Islamist political parties.

The Turkish Constitution is based on the principle of secularism, and forbids attempts to alter its secular nature. One of the main clauses prohibits the abuse of religion or religious belief to achieve political goals.

In 1998, the Islamist Welfare Party was banned for violating the principle of secularism in the constitution.

The party was indeed disbanded, but was reconfigured as the AKP Party, which was victorious in the 2002 election under Erdogan’s leadership. The rise to power of the Islamists came as a backlash to the oppressive secular regime, as well as to weaken the strength of the secular military.

The AKP was considered a moderate party that would promote the welfare and freedom of citizens.

The military, which throughout Turkey’s history had viewed itself as a protector of secularism, led three short-lived coups, the last of which took place in 1997, when Turkey’s first Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was pressured to step down.

Subsequently, the military become the tyrannical ruler of the state.

In 2007, another event occurred that sparked unrest and caused tension among the people: the presidential election. Because the ruling party had a vast majority in the Grand National Assembly, it seemed likely that an Islamist candidate would be elected. Erdogan expressed his desire to run for office; however, the people expressed grave concern that as president, he would try to change the secular nature of Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets in protest of Erdogan’s intention to become president.

These protests achieved their goal and in the end Erdogan decided not to run for president. Instead, the AKP appointed Abdullah Gül as its candidate. At this point, the opposition appealed to the court, demanding that it annul the vote. As a warning, the military publicized examples of government acts that had been carried out with the intent of turning Turkey into an Islamist dictatorship. Military commanders even hinted at the possibility that the military would intervene and overthrow the government if a candidate from the AKP were elected president.

Since then, a lot of water has flowed through the Bosphorus Strait, and the AKP, under the leadership of Erdogan, has succeeded in carrying out changes in the constitution and in the structure of the government, resulting in the dramatic weakening of the secular military. Granted, Erdogan acted wisely and did not approve bills that were blatantly pro-Islamic.

However, the Turkish people began noticing the numerous small changes in the religious nature of the country.

The police and the defense establishment were given greater authority, numerous arrests were made, journalists and public officials who expressed their opposition to the government lost their jobs and women were granted the right to wear veils in public. At the same time, the government began strengthening its ties with extremist Muslim regimes in the region, and making provocative proclamations against Israel and the West. The Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was organized by Turkey, was the result of the increased radicalization of the Islamic regime.

Recently, Erdogan even hinted about the possibility that he would shut down Facebook and YouTube, as every self-respecting dictatorship has done.

These incidents have not gone unnoticed by the public, for whom secularism has been a guiding light. Turkish citizens, who were not willing to forgo these democratic principles, have been waiting for the spark that would light their torch. This happened to come in the form of a unilateral decision taken by Erdogan to build a shopping center.

The calls on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara for a cessation to the Islamization of Turkey have not been in vain. The citizens of Turkey are not willing to sit by quietly while Erdogan and the AKP’s religious extremism take over their country. But it is not at all certain that the people’s struggle will succeed. Without a strong military and a court system willing to back it up, the social protest will have great difficulty getting off the ground. If Erdogan and the AKP succeed in calming the situation, they will gain the critical time necessary to get organized.

The seeds of evil have already been sown. The question now is what form will the internal struggle in Turkey take?

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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