Atatürk Versys Erdoğan: Turkey’s Long Struggle

Turkey has weathered five successful military coups since the founding of the Republic, in 1923, and what happened on Friday, with soldiers surging against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğanand his ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., marks an attempt at the sixth. Turkey is a constitutionally secular state, though one that is over ninety-five-per-cent Muslim and which was once the seat of an Islamic empire.

.. The tension between secularism and religious fundamentalism is as essential to understanding today’s Turkish political life as is the tension between federalism and states’ rights in America.

.. Çevik Bir, one of the generals who planned the coup, stated his case with a metaphor any parent could understand: “In Turkey we have a marriage of Islam and democracy. . . . The child of this marriage is secularism. Now this child gets sick from time to time. The Turkish Armed Forces is the doctor who saves the child. Depending on how sick the kid is we administer the necessary medicine to make sure the child recuperates.”

.. After 1997, Turkey swiftly swung secular. The late nineteen-nineties famously saw the persecution of women wearing headscarves in public places, a ban that had been originally implemented but loosely enforced by Atatürk in an effort to firmly establish a secular nation.

One of the leaders was the mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was later imprisoned, in 1999, for a speech he gave in Siirt, a town in the religiously conservative and restive southeastern part of the country. He was convicted of “inciting hatred based on religious differences” for reciting the following verses by the poet and nationalist ideologist Ziya Gokalp:

Our minarets are our bayonets

Our domes are our helmets

Our mosques are our barracks.

We will put a final end to ethnic segregation.

No one can ever intimidate us. . . .

My reference is Islam. If I am not able to speak of this,

What is the use of living?

..He views himself as the father of a new Turkish identity, one aligned more closely with its Ottoman past, its Islamic heritage.

.. Opposition parties have also chosen to stand in solidarity with the government. The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P., which mainly represents the country’s Kurdish minority, sent out a mailer against the coup: “The only solution is democratic politics!”

.. Atatürk’s legacy and longevity seem to extend without question. He was the one who advised, “He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth, and the teachings of science.”