Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A New Turkey?

If you are a regular in the chat room during the live airing of Midrats or EagleOne's homeblog - then you know who Saturn 5 is. He even visits here now and then. Though most may not know it - he is also one of the few regular commenters from Turkey in the Navy milblogosphere.

After my post earlier this week - I asked if he wanted to offer up a guest post here on the topic of Turkey today, Kemalism, and where things are headed - from the Turkish perspective. BZ to S5 - he dove right in with a quick response. Thanks S5!

The rest of this post is from Saturn5.
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.


Vlad the Impaler said...

While this may not be the most optimistic thing to say, I am doubtful of the long-term viability of a democratic status-quo in Turkey. The two greatest repositories of human thought and practice are ethnicity and religion. In the case of Turkey, the ethnicity is Turkish with both long and notable pre-Islamic and Islamic elements. The religion is Islam.

Whil most people in almost every society want some degree of peace and the freedom to go about their lives (the few societies that don't rarely make it past the size of a single small village), there enough reasons that a militant minority can intimidate or inspire the rest to aquiesce to their demands. Most people in Turkey simpley approach Islam not as a coherent ideology but rather a collection of gestures and habits peculiar to them. The particularily pious or those seeking an ideology with meaning (or even those simply angry at the secularist Army's mismanagement), may act in small ways but the large-scale effect can be terrible. One need only look to the wars in Yugoslavia to see the effects of a religious conflict in which all sides were of the same ethnic group but of different religions.

The people who want to live in peace in Turkey hav to choose between a secular but incompetent and socialist military tradition (whose mismanagement of tourist resorts in Cyprus is famous) and an Islamic Free-market party. Many resent the secularists but also they desire to do business freely and are willing to tolerate the ideological excesses of the Islamists (which isn't quite to unusual in an Islamic country). The trouble is that by actions that are quite reasonable in economics, the people tolerate the insatiable urge by the pious to extend the influence of Islam.

While people might pull back from the brink, a commited and coherent group of people can seize and secure power (especially if they have both ideological support and the most ruthelss methods availible) to the point where Turkish democracy is rendered meaningless. In light of that, the inclination to side with any Islamic nation over any non-Islamic nation is extremely worrying. A less-than-democratic government would feel less constrained by domestic needs and opinion and could openly side with the most extreme movements. Now the Erdogan governments acts covertly against Israel for now but the scope of targets might increase in the future.

Broncepulido said...

Very interesting comment, it's enlightening. I was thinking intensively, here from Spain, about Turkey before and after the Mavi Marvara facts. And I was casually comercially involved with a turkish young man, and I was thinking to be in the shoes of that young man. Erdogan should not desire a new Great Turkey, but a more radical islamic sucessor will can.

Outlaw Mike said...

Am I the only one noticing a certain ambiguity in Saturn 's post? On the one hand, you say that there's no need to worry 'bout Turkey's "imperial ambitions".

In the next paragraph, we're being told that Turkey now implements a new, more assertive foreign policy backed up by naval task forces of which one will next year cruise the Indian Ocean.

'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.'

IIRC your prez said once that democracy is like a bus you take to get you somewhere, whereupon, once arrived, you step off it.

'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.'

Your anchor and chain are rusting away man. Also, 'Wish' and 'Hope' are no plans.

ewok40k said...

Turkey is one of the darkhorses mentioned as key players in the Friedmans "Next 100 years". This may be more than fancy exercise in futurology. Turkey has made big economic steps forward, is strong militarily and is skilled with getting local allies in the Middle East. At worst, by the very ambitions that worry some people it will become counterbalance to Iran, a very distant echo of Byzantium vs Persia... Still bad news for Israel.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

<span><span>(previously posted, but applicable)</span></span>
<span><span>Turkey began to be eroded when radicals (under the guise of the Red Crescent) entered the rural areas in the wake of the Izmit earthquake in 1999.  When those elements began rebuilding mosques and schools, they did so in order to install radical Wahabist Imams and teachers in rural areas that were previously not affected by Islamic radicalism.     
Even more poured in after the 2003 quake, with an even more aggressive agenda, but by then the ground was fertile and there was little to be done.  After 2003, the movement went so far as to tear down mosques not sufficiently fumdamentalist, and replace them with more "acceptable" architecture and, of course, more anti-western, anti-secular radical Wahabist Imams.     
The tunring of Turkey represents the fruit of those efforts over more than a decade, as well as the lack of a counter on the part of the Clinton Administration at the outset, resulting in the radicalizing of one of the major pro-Western Middle Eastern countries.     
We watched it happen.  If we wonder where the "new Turkey" was born, Izmit is the place to look.</span></span>

Old NFO said...

There is talk in Israel about a flotilla to take "humanitarian" supplies to the Kurds and Armenians.  Gee, I wonder how that would go down in Turkey and with the "World Press?"

virgil xenophon said...

The Islamic countryside/secular cityscape divide was apparent even way back in 60s-early 70s when my Sq used to rotate in and out of Incirlik from the UK to sit nuke alert at a time when the country as a whole was far more secularized than now. In a way the western tip of Turkey/Istanbul area resembles northern Mexico along the Texas border around Monterrey. Given half a chance that entire Mexican State would become the 51st US State. There is no love loss between industrial, progressive Monterrey and Mexico City. If 'Islamization" continues I wouldn't be surprised to see cosmopolitan Istanbul call for separation from--or at least granted semi-autonomous status from the rest of Turkey. Or even be amenable to some sort of Federation with Greece--which has it's own long-standing historical claims to that area. Ankara would never tolerate this, but just the threats might force them to moderate the pace, scope and depth of the Islamic theocrats' attempts to de-secularize Turkey.

JimmyMac said...

"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."
  Seems like the pro-Israeli lobby in the US is likewise "ultra-orthodox".  They take the position that Israel must be a Zionist country, a theocracy.  And when God is on your side, there can be no compromise.   

Byron said...

Personally, Saturn, I think it has more to do with Israel remembering what life was like in places like Germany and Russia. The word "pogrom" still resonates in Israel. Jews have been treated roughly for nothing more than their religion, and admittedly by Christians as well as Muslims. I won't begrudge them their right to exist and protect their citizens, God knows that other than money from the US, they get precious little help from the rest of the world.

DeltaBravo said...

Besides, they're still God's chosen people.  I want to be in their corner at the end of the world. 

And Turkey really does have to be careful.. it has a checkered history and a reputation to refurbish.  Cozying up to Iran with the pipeline, the uranium refinement, hiding the personal fortunes of Iran's glitterati, and helping set up sanctions-busting banks and oil deals and technology transfers with the Islamic Republic is no way to make the world think they're willing to play on the side of civilization. 

Saturn5 said...

Many interesting and different opinions have been stated. Thank you all for your comments and contributions.

DeltaBravo said...

Saturn, thank you for your perspective here.  I hope for the sake of everyone that ultimately reasonable heads prevail and Turkey finds its equilibrium in the region, swayed more by the real interests of Turkey's citizens and less by the empty friendship and promises offered by some of Turkey's not so nice neighbors.

Byron said...

Thank you, Saturn. Lord knows we did little enough to make you feel welcome here. Thank you for sharing your view of the inside.

Curtis said...

I have some pity for your neighbors, some of them.

That whole ground burst radiation flows mostly to the west.  Not gonna miss any of them either. The one eternal factor in our equation is that ISLAMIC fundamentalists don't understand the concept of restraint.  There is a polity that faces annihilation and I hope to God that they just adopt the muslim approach to any little threat at all.  Strikes me as very fair and even handed.

Curtis said...

Went on a sight survey for something or other in the Gulf.  Gained, from the USCg an interpreter who was first gen Pakistani who planned to take each of his daughters back to Pakistan for forced mariages when they were 14.  Slaves of his own flesh.  He never for one instant entertained the idea that his girls might like something else in life.