Joined: 25 Oct 2003
| Posted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 9:06 am Post subject: NATIONAL IDENTITY CRISIS IN TURKEY
|NATIONAL IDENTITY CRISIS IN TURKEY
by Adrian Morgan
Nov 2 2006
The AKP party came into being with one over-riding ethos - to dismantle
the rule of secularism which kept religion and its outward symbols,
such as the hiab, or Muslim headscarf, from all aspects of public life
The current government of Turkey is led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and
his Justice and Development (AKP) party, which was amalgamated from
banned Islamic parties in 2001. When the party came to power after
the general election of Sunday October 30, 2002, Erdogan, the party
leader, was not allowed to become prime minister. He had publicly read
out a pro-Islamic poem in 1998, and as a result had been convicted
of inciting religious hatred, and this prevented him from holding
As a result, Erdogan's deputy, Abdullah Gul, took the role of
caretaker prime minister on November 18, 2002. Erdogan did not
become a member of parliament until early the following year, when
the Electoral Commission ruled that he was eligible to stand. Erdogan
won a by-election in Siirt province in the south-east of the country
on March 9 and two days later he was declared prime minister.
The AKP party came into being with one over-riding ethos - to dismantle
the rule of secularism which kept religion and its outward symbols,
such as the hiab, or Muslim headscarf, from all aspects of public
life. The military has enforced this secularism to the point of
staging several coups when a party espousing Islamism became elected
to power. The AKP has not been subject to a coup, and in the few
years that it has been in power it has defied the military to take
Turkish society as far away from its secular foundations as possible.
Erdogan has made loud noises about the country's accession to the
European Union, and has made token measures to comply to the conditions
required to start discussions on joining the EU. On October 3, after
threatening to pull out of accession talks, Abdullah Gul finally
arrived in Luxembourg and the first stage of the process of joining
the EU officially began.
The behavior of Turkey since that date has shown that there is a
genuine doubt if Erdogan is really serious about joining the EU. It
has already been argued by commentators within and without the nation
that the issue of the EU is being exploited by the AKP to avoid the
fate of previous openly Islamic governments. While the negotiations
to be part of the EU continue, there is less chance of a military coup.
Turkey was officially founded on October 9, 1923, by Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk. The Ottoman Empire which had previously governed
the country as an Islamic nation was in ruins, and in March of
the following year, the Ottoman Caliphate, the last vestige of its
authority was dissolved. The wearing of the fez was banned, sharia
laws were abolished in 1926, Arabic script was removed from official
documents in 1928 and in the same year a clause in the constitution
that proclaimed Islam to be the national religion was abolished. The
teaching of Islam to minors was also forbidden.
Erdogan has juggled with appeasing the EU by introducing token reforms,
and also trying to remove the official secularism of the nation. His
party has championed the use of the headscarf by women, and Emine,
Erdogan's wife, as well as the wives of the AKP leaders, wears the
hijab as a political statement.
Today, according to Turkish Press, Erdogan was awarded with the
"Meritorious Humanitarian Service Medal" by the Turkish Red Crescent.
This was for his allocating land to the charity's logistic center, and
for conveying aid following the southern Asia tsunami of December 24,
2004, and after the Pakistan earthquake of October 8, 2005. The Red
Crescent states that Turkey helped to collect $21 million in relief.
While Erdogan may feel pleased with his new medal, it is no antidote
to the real and impending problems which lie beneath the veneer
of political stability. In the southeast of Turkey, the Islamic
heartland where AKP support is highest, there were flash floods
today, which killed 21 people. A bus traveling from Diyarbakir, the
largest city in the region, which was carrying guests to a wedding,
was swept away. With it went the lives of 14 people. In Cinar and
Bismil, 300 people had to be rescued from their homes. According to
the Washington Post, dozens are still missing.
Turkey lies along two major earthquake faults, which traverse the
length of the country. In 1999, the last major quake claimed the lives
of 20,000 people. At the weekend, Haluk Eyidogan, head of Turkey's
National Earthquake Council, was quoted as saying that legislation,
introduced in 2000 to enforce better inspection and construction of
buildings, was being bypassed by fraudulent means.
Eyidogan said that corruption was preventing the effective
implementation of the ruling. Seismologists are expecting an
earthquake, of more than 7.0 on the Richter scale, to hit northwestern
Turkey at any time within the next 30 years.
The impending earthquake seems a convenient metaphor for the
underlying tensions in Turkey. While a year ago people in Turkey
seemed to be mostly in favor of the country joining the EU, there has
been a dramatic change in attitude. A poll was released on October 4,
and discussed in the Scotsman and South Africa's Independent Online,
shows that less than a third of Turkish people (32.2%) feel their
country should join the European Union.
The survey was carried out by A&G for the newspaper Millyet, a
pro-government paper. 2,408 people were polled. In 2004, 67.5% of
the population thought Turkey should join the EU, and last year 57.4%
felt that way.
A poll conducted by the Universities of Isik and Sabanci in Istanbul
between March and April this year, conducted with 1,846 respondents
in 22 cities, found that 54% felt that Turkey should join the EU. For
the figure to drop to 32.2% within only six months (a drop of 21.8%)
is a sign that the change in opinions has been sudden, and recent.
M K Bhadrakumar, writing in Asia Times on October 21 suggested that
Turkey is currently undergoing a "post-modern identity crisis". He
discussed the issue of the EU, and noted that a recent ruling,
passed by the French National Assembly has created a wave of anger
in Turkey. The rule declares that it is now illegal in France to deny
that there was an "Armenian genocide" in Turkey.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for president in France next year,
has said that Turkey should be given no more than "preferential
partnership" with the EU. It seems that now the Turkish populace
would perhaps prefer such an arrangement. In October last year, the
timescale for Turkey to become a full member of the EU was speculated
at being 20 years. The president of the European Commission, Jose
Manuel Barroso, recently suggested that it would take 10 to 15 years.
Barroso said of Turkey's path to EU membership: "Political reforms
should be continued; freedom of expression and religious rights
should be fully adopted; the Ankara Protocol should be implemented;
and, Turkish ports and harbors should be opened to the Greek Cypriots."
Bhadrakumar stated of the predicament of Turkey: "Turkey should be
Muslim and secular and democratic as a society, while being only
secular and democratic as a state. A complicated thought indeed."
While almost half of the Turkish population (42.2% from the latest
poll) is undecided about accession to the EU, the news from Europe
itself is not boding well for the country to join in its current
state. The UK Independent reveals today that a crucial EU report
condemns Turkey's human rights record. Finland, which currently holds
the EU presidency, has demanded emergency talks for this weekend. It
hopes to push forward the deal on Cyprus, which is still not officially
recognized by Turkey. In this, the AKP of prime minister Erdogan and
the military are of one voice - they are adamant that Greek Cyprus
Turkey knows that if it cannot clear the Cyprus hurdle by the end of
next year, it will have the accession process suspended. The document
on human rights will be officially unveiled next week, but a leak from
the document claims: "prosecutions and convictions for expression
of non-violent opinion....are a cause for serious concern." It also
states that "cases of torture" are still continuing.
The issue of prosecutions for "expression of non-violent opinion" are
highly relevant to the current ideological crisis in Turkey. Today,
a 92-year old archeologist, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, walked free after
being prosecuted for "inciting religious hatred". Ms Cig had written
last year that the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, had been worn 5,000
years ago by priestesses of Sumer, initiating men into sexual rites of
passage. The prosecution was a prime example of "freedom of expression"
The worst aspect of Turkish prosecutions has been the ruling of
Article 301, which derives from the time of Ataturk. It prohibits
anyone "who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish
Grand National Assembly", on penalty of receiving a three year jail
sentence. Turkey's Justice Minister, Cemil Cicek has been eager to
implement this law as a tool to bash champions of free speech.
As Erdogan is a leader of the National Assembly, along with the
secular president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and Cicek has allowed numerous
prosecutions under Article 301 for individuals who have insulted
Erdogan. In Europe, it is a tabu NOT to insult and lampoon leaders
of nations. Various novelists, editors, publishers, visual artists,
newspapers and cartoonists have been successfully prosecuted under
Article 301, many for the mere crime of "insulting Erdogan". The
maximum sentence for breaching Article 301 is a three year jail
sentence, but most of those convicted receive large fines and suspended
Another law, Article 288 deprives journalists from the right of
criticising any trial in action. This law has been applied against
one journalist, Ms Murat Yetkin for commenting on a trial which had
not even begun.
The application of Article 301 is of itself incompatible with the
standards of freedom of expression which people in Europe expect for
themselves. Its application has been bizarre. Perlhan Magden was put
on trial for "insulting Turkishness" when she questioned Turkey's
obligatory military service.
Novelists cannot even have their characters state comments which are
considered "insulting" to Turkish identity without running the risk
of prosecution. Elif Shafak, in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul had
some of her Armenian characters refer to the genocides of Armenians
in 1915 - 1917. For this, she was dragged to court, even though she
was pregnant. She was finally acquitted on September 22 but could
not appear to hear the verdict, as she was recovering from a Cesarian
section. Outside the court, Turkish nationalists protested the verdict.
The novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature on October 12, was also taken to court for his breach of
Article 301. In February last year, in an interview with a Swiss
magazine, he mentioned the unmentionable Armenian "genocide". He
first appeared in court in Istanbul on December 16, and on January 25,
his case was finally abandoned on a technicality. Again, nationalist
protesters jostled him both inside and outside the court.
One woman hit him on the head with a folder.
In his most celebrated novel, Snow, Pamuk describes the culture rift
in Turkey, using the example of an Islamic school in the southeast
of the nation where the tensions between secularist and Islamist
ideals come into conflict with tragic results. Snow could be seen as
a metaphor for the current crisis in Turkey.
The southeast, where there is a large Kurdish community, is still
wishing for a more traditional Islamic society, as existed during the
time of the Ottomans. In the northwest, around Istanbul, there is a
vibrant culture which in many ways is like any other Western society.
There is a rift between the past and the future, between Islam and
secularism, progressives and conservatives, between East and West.
On Sunday, Reuters wrote of the emergence of Islamist groups in the
southeast, around the region of Diyabakir. The southeast has been
afflicted for decades by the monsters of Kurdish nationalist violence,
as enacted by the PKK, and also movements like Turkish Hezbollah,
which saw hundreds of citizens abducted and tortured to death, their
sordid demise recorded sadistically on videotape.
According to local politicians, the new Islamic groups are becoming
more active, and pose a threat to the secular model upon which Turkey
is built. The prominence of Erdogan's AKP has allowed extremists and
fundamentalists to grow more confident with espousing their identity
as Islamic rather than secular.
Firat Anli, mayor of a Diyarbakir district said: "In every poor
neighbourhood, new radical Islamic associations are giving hot food,
they have meetings at people's homes. They pay for students to go to
school. I'm very worried...I fear they'll become more powerful and
could turn to violence like the (Turkish) Hezbollah."
There will be an election in 2007, and the tensions are rising as
the date for this approaches. Erdogan is said to be trying to run for
the post of President, the head of the constitution, as Ahmet Necdet
Sezer is due to step down. AKP representatives in the southeast state
that the new Islamic groups are not a threat. They are not a threat
to the AKP, but they may become a threat to the secular system. The
military now regards Islamic fundamentalism as a greater threat than
A lawyer from AKP in the southeast said: "Islam is like a tree, it
has roots which the Kemalists cut away but they are now growing back."
The issue of religion is such a hot potato, that it has led one leading
Islamic cleric to state that any criticism of Islam is a threat to
world peace. The news is reported today by the Associated Press. The
cleric is Ali Bardakoglu, who was the imam who earlier suggested that
Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg address was so inflammatory that the
pontiff should cancel his planned visit to Turkey. Bardakoglu is head
of the Religious Affairs Directorate in Turkey.
Benedict will be visiting Ankara on November 28. Bardakoglu will be
meeting the Pope. He told a group of mainly African Muslim leaders:
"We always tell the truth to everyone. People meeting does not mean
that they approve each other. It could help them express their opinions
with an open heart and know each other correctly."
The problems between modernism and fundamentalist values is
highlighted in the southeast of Turkey by the contentious issue of
honor killings. On October 27, German news source Die Welt reported
on the results of a survey, carried out amonst Turkish students,
found that a third of Turkish students thought honor killing was
acceptable if a family's "honor" had been violated. In the the Middle
East University in Ankara, an archaic outlook was the most pronounced
where 77% of women said a husband had the right to beat his wife for
reasons such as burnt food.
The latest case of honor killing happened on October 22, states AFP
via the Khaleej Times. A 15-year old girl from a mainly Kurdish town
near the eastern border with Iran, was slaughtered by her brother.
The girl, Naile, had become pregnant, and had given birth to a baby
boy. She told her mother that the pregnancy had happened as a result
of rape. Her brother shot her at point-blank range, in a street in
the town. The newspaper Vatan stated that the family held a council,
at which it was decided that the elder brother should be the person
to carry out the "execution".
Such killings led in court cases, until last year, to lesser sentences
than murders, because a person who killed a relative for honour
was said to have "mitigating circumstances". The rules changed as
Turkey adapted itself to meet the requirements for joining Europe,
and there were no longer extenuating circumstances that could reduce
an honor-killer's sentence.
As a result, since the end of last year, in eastern towns such as
Batman and Van, a trend grew of young girls committing suicide. It
became apparent that in many of these cases, girls who had transgressed
against family "honor" were pressured to kill themselves, rather than
have a relative jailed for life.
On 24 May, Yakin Erturk, the UN special rapporteur on violence against
women visited the eastern regions and reported that: "The majority
of women in the provinces visited live lives that are not their own
but are instead determined by a patriarchal normative order that
draws its strength from reference to tradition, culture and tribal
affiliation and often articulates itself on the basis of distorted
notions of honour."
"Diverse forms of violence are deliberately used against women who
are seen to transgress this order. Suicides of women in the region
occur within such a context.....I have found that the patriarchal
order and the human rights violations that go along with it - for
example, forced and early marriages, domestic violence, and denial
of reproductive rights - are often key contributing factors."
In June, Ali Bardakoglu announced that the religious affairs department
was to commission a book called "Mohammed's Message to the Contemporary
World" which should be in print by next year. The book is especially
designed to target men in the southeastern Kurdish regions of Turkey,
where Muslim sexism is strongest and most "honor" crimes take place,
Bardakoglu announced. He said: "Mohammed did not make any statement
deprecating women or inciting men to use force against women."
The battle between the past and the present, sexism and liberation,
Islam and secularism has, in the months leading up to the next
election developed a new dimension - the battle between corruption
and rectitude. Associated Press today reports that Erdogan strongly
denied allegations that his party has been protecting a massive
pro-Islamic business which is accused of swindling $1,000,000,000
from its Turkish workers.
Many Turks (about 3 milion) live in Germany. It is said that an
international arrest warrant has been issued in Germany against
Dursun Uyar, who is head of the Yimpas Group, which was founded in
1982. Yimpas is a company with diverse output, ranging from clothing
manufacture to construction.
Apparently Switzerland also is investigating international fraud on
the part of the Yimpas group. Uyar cannot be extradited from Turkey,
due to its constitution, but he could be tried within Turkey.
Within Turkey itself, the allegations against the Yimpas group are
being exploited by secular newspapers, such as Hurriyet, and also by
the secular oppositon party, the Republican People's Party (CHP). at
the start of the week, the CHP suggested that Erdogan's party took
money in 2001 for its campaign fund from Yimpas. The pay-off for the
company was to have 20 of its executives given parliamentary seats.
According to Kadir Sohret, a former board member of Yimpas, the
company had gathered $2.5 billion from Turkish worshipers outside
mosques in Europe before 2001, in the form of investments. This had
been reported in the daily, Millyet. Pious Muslims, not wishing to
invest in Western banks, which practiced "usury", were keen to invest
in a pro-Islamic company.
On October 30, the deputy leader of CHP, Ahmet Ezrin, asked questions
in parliament about the offering of AKP party posts to 20 deputies
from Yimpas, states the New Anatolian.
He also claimed that some former Yimas administrators and their
relatives had been elected as mayors and municipal council members
with the AKP Party. He asked: "Who are the ministers and deputies
that served as administrators in Yimpas or are relatives of company
administrators? How many people are there elected as mayor, municipal
council members or employed in the bureaucracy and that have ties
He also asked in parliament if the governor and police chief of Yozgat
(a city in Eastern Anatolia) had held secret meetings with Dursun Uyar.
Last week, Hellenic Resources Network reported that there is now
an apparent "war of attrition" against Erdogan's AKP party, in
the run-up to the general election, which is expected to happen in
November next year. A columnist from the New Anatolian, Ilnur Cevik,
argued that Hurriyet newspaper was mounting the campaign to have
Dursun Uyar arrested in Turkey. The company he headed, Yimpas, had
persuaded pro-Islamic masses to invest all their small savings. When
they lost all their money, other pro-Islamic holding companies also
got the full force of the anger.
Duyar had been sentenced to prison and made to pay a large fine. His
appeal is currently pending. According to Hurriyet, the file on Duyar
has lain dormant for four years at the court of appeal, and if the case
is not dealt with in eight months, a statute of limitations will mean
he can no longer be made to serve his prison sentence. Cevik argues
that Hurriyet is trying to get the issue to be brought to a head,
and in the process is using the case to discredit the AKP.
On October 15, Cumhuriyet reported that the National Security
Directorate refused to answer questions about the international
arrest warrant against Duyur. The Directorate claims grounds of
confidentiality for not responding to questions. It also would not
say if police are looking for the CEO of Yimpas.
Recently, Uyar was seen at the funeral of an AKP legislator, in the
company of several government ministers. The CHP are making the most
of this, to draw attention to the alleged corruption at the heart of
AKP. Erdogan is clearly not happy. Today he said: "Not a penny from
(Yimpas) can be found...It is so ugly. Nobody has the right to launch
a defamation campaign against the Justice and Development party while
there is no (Turkish) arrest warrant for that person."
It seems that Erdogan is currently under pressure. His pro-Islamic
policies regarding the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, led to a battle
in the press earlier in the year. The Council of State in Ankara is
the Turkish equivalent of a Supreme Court, had ruled at the start of
the year that women who were teachers were not only prevented from
wearing the hijab in classes, but also were prohibited from wearing
them while traveling to and from their schools.
The Islamist and pro-AKP newspaper Vakit carried a photograph of the
judges who had made the ruling. Above the photograph was the caption
"Those are the ones who ban the headscarf even on the streets."
On May 17, a lawyer burst into the Second Chamber of the Council of
State, and produced a Glock automatic pistol. While shouting out
"Allahu Ackbar" (Allah is great), he began firing. Five judges
were hit. One was severely injured but later recovered. Mustafa
Yucel Ozbilgin was hit in the neck, and died that day in Hacettepe
The New Anatolian today reports that an attorney, Omer Lutfu Avsar,
had alleged that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had solicited the attack on the
Council of State. The prosecutor's office in Ankara has announced
that Avsar is to stand trial, on charges of slander under Article
261/1. If found guilty, the attorney could face four years in jail.
The funeral of Judge Ozbilgin, which took place at Ankara's Kocatepe
Mosque in June, saw mourners shouting anti-AKP slogans and making
government members feel unwelcome.
Avsar had argued that the prime minister's prior support for
headscarves, against the constitution, had led to the attack on
the Council of State. Avsar had tried to have Erdogan prosecuted
for soliciting the attack, but this was overruled. It was decided
by the prosecutor's office that Erdogan had legislative immunity
from prosecution. Ministers can only be put on trial by the Council
The request to have Avsar put on trial was made by Erdogan's attorney,
and the prosecutor's office has agreed to try the case.
Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who has written for
Western Resistance since its inception. He has previously contributed
to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist
and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.