Ataturk’s vision for the future of Turkey was in stark contrast to its past reality. Instead of the former theocratic sultanate, in which the Islamic religion informed policy, Ataturk envisioned an entirely secular society with secular laws. Rather than being under the thumb of a multi-ethnic empire or foreign occupying powers, Ataturk envisioned a Turkey in which Turks controlled their own national destiny.
Turkey has even been incorporated into the West as a key member of the NATO alliance, but its dreams of becoming part of the European Union have not been realized.
The recent history of the Turkish Republic under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced ER-doh-ahn , with a silent g) shows that Ataturk’s vision of a purely secular, democratic Turkey may not reach its 100th birthday. Over time President Erdogan has, at the very least, dissolved the veneer of secularism and allowed an Islamist element to take root in Turkey’s government and civil life.
This Islamization process was begun by Erdogan a number of years back, as we detailed in a March-April 2013 article (“Will the World See a New Caliphate? ” ). Despite this he has been greatly hailed by U.S. President Barack Obama—Erdogan being his go-to colleague for advice on direction to take in the region.
Now, following the recent failed coup by some members of the nation’s military (which has preserved the secular state against Islamization in the past), Turkey’s government is engaging in a vast program to identify and punish those not only suspected of aiding the coup attempt, but also those who have been critical of Erdogan.
Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, in an op-ed for news aggregator RealClear World , wrote: “More than 50,000 people have been arrested, fired, suspended, or told to resign. The ranks of the expelled include judges, university deans, teachers, police, and military officers … Meanwhile, U.S.-Turkey relations will likely become even more difficult than they were before the coup attempt” (“Turkey’s Downward Spiral,” July 26, 2016).
Erdogan is blaming Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim preacher who promotes interfaith tolerance, for ordering the coup, and Turkey has issued an arrest warrant for him. Gulen strongly denies any involvement. Many have expressed suspicion that Erdogan staged his own coup as a way to purge out those who don’t support him and his agenda. While we don’t know that, it’s true that there were a number of oddities in what happened (Noah Daponte-Smith, “Conspiracy Theorists Will Be Busy for Years,” NationalReview.com, July 18, 2016).
In any case, it is clear that Erdogan is using the coup attempt for his own ends. In an article at the CATO Institute, Doug Bandow says: “Unfortunately, as I wrote for Forbes , ‘the botched coup is likely to act like the infamous Reichstag fire under the Nazis and accelerate the Erdogan government’s race to the dictatorial bottom. He is likely to become more vindictive and paranoid—because he does have enemies everywhere. “Never mind that he bears responsibility for the authoritarian policies and corrupt practices which have energized his most fervent opponents’” (“Turkey’s Coup Provides Reichstag Fire Moment for Authoritarian Erdogan,” July 18, 2016).
Whether or not Ataturk’s vision of a secular, democratic Turkey will survive this most recent challenge remains to be seen. What is certain is that Islamists have taken a step forward in the country, and the West’s goal of eliminating the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorist organizations such as ISIS will only become more difficult with an unstable or Islamist-friendly Turkey on the scene. (Source: AFP, CATO.org, NationalReview.com, RealClear World. )