Turkey in the 20th century

Wlodzimierz Redzioch

In the 19th century the large Ottoman Empire began losing its lands and its definitive collapse was after World War I. In 1908 the Young Turks seized power and they were in favour of introducing the constitutional system and during the war they were Germany's allies. In 1920, after the defeat, under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. During the same year the Grand National Assembly proclaimed the national government in Ankara, with Kemal Atatürk as its leader. In 1922 the sultanate was abolished and the next year the Parliament proclaimed the Republic of Turkey, its first president became the charismatic national leader Kemal Atatürk. On the one hand the ideology of the Young Turks referred to liberal ideas but on the other hand, they referred to nationalistic ideas. The new Turkish identity was based on two pillars: ethnic (Turks) and religious (Islam). In one word, in the 20th century Turkey gave up the tolerant millet system of the Ottoman Empire and replaced it with nationalism that rejected all things, which were non-Turkish and non-Muslim. Although it should be explained that the role of the Muslim religion is a special one: Atatürk created a secular state, removing religion from the sphere of public life and putting it under the state control. The Ministry of Religious Affairs was called into being and today it manages 75,000 mosques with their staff. Therefore, the highest religious authority in Turkey is a state official. It is the army that guarantees the secular character of the state and the army often interferes in the political life of the country.
Islam, removed from the political life, is flourishing first of all in the spiritual confraternities, the Sufi groups (Sufism is the mystical-ascetic movement in Islam). Recently new movements have originated, commencing with the most radical and anti-West ones to the more moderate ones. At the same time the government has become more tolerant towards Islam. Thanks to that opening Turgut Özal became Turkey's Prime Minister in 1980. He was involved in Sufism. His premature death and the social-economic problems caused that the radical Islamic Refah Party (Welfare) headed by Necmettin Erbakan seized power. The policy of the new government contrasted with the principles of secular character of the Turkish state and was openly anti-American. Furthermore, Erbakan supported the fundamentalist Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. That caused an intervention of the army, the warranty of Turkey's secular character. That made the government change its policy completely and vote antireligious laws. Even the Prime Minister's party was banned and the Islamic activists were arrested. Unfortunately, those drastic activities of the army strengthened the Islamic front even more instead of weakening it. A new Islamic Justice and Progress Party (AKP) was created, its leader being Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Its programme was more moderate than the programme of the Refah Party: the Islamic Sharia law system was not regarded as the state law but as 'a source of inspiration' of the state legislation; in its foreign policy the party was in favour of alliance with the USA, of Turkey's access to the European Union, and they declared the need to fight against terrorism. In spite of its declared moderate character the AKP and its leader were under close army surveillance. However, that did not prevent them from winning the elections in 2002 and seizing power. The leader of the AKP became Prime Minister.
Currently, the West, especially Europe (Turkey has been inspiring to enter the EU since 1987) and the Islamic countries are observing the political and social situation of Turkey. The Turkish experiment, with a moderate Islamic, democratic and pro-Western government may become the example for other Muslim countries and can prove that Islam can be brought together with democracy. That's why, the fundamentalist fractions in the Islamic world sabotage it using all possible means. Unfortunately, the problems, related to the fulfilment of all the conditions that the EU requires, are the evidence that democratisation of Turkey is a difficult and complicated process and its result cannot be predicted.

"Niedziela" 49/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl