Ankara: People supporting secular Turkey are concerned about the increasing influence of Islamic government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they have been raising voices against the actions of government reflecting its inclination to convert the secular state into an Islamic one.
There are some incidents in Turkey bewildering seculars about rising of Islam at state level as one of them is when an earthquake toppled a school in eastern Turkey last year, Erdogan’s government opened a new one at the same site, with one difference.
It was no longer named after Turkey’s founder and secular hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A smiling Erdogan cut a red ribbon and posed for pictures in front of the elementary school, now named after his late mother, Tenzile. A week later on October 29, police used tear gas and water cannons against opposition supporters marching to Ataturk’s mausoleum in Ankara to celebrate the republic’s 89th anniversary.
Many admirers of Ataturk say that the way of life he enshrined is at peril under the Islamist-rooted Erdogan. Defenders of Turkey’s secular traditions rallied again on November 10, the anniversary of Ataturk’s death in 1938, when more than 400,000 visited the mausoleum. Their grievances include the conversion of secular schools into religious ones, the spread of Islamic headscarves in public offices, the jailing of secular-minded generals and journalists and a diplomatic shift away from Europe and toward the Islamic Middle East.
Erdogan’s government is “purposefully trying to erode the place of Ataturk in the Turkish collective memory,” said Svante E. Cornell, Research Director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program in Stockholm.
“Turkey is becoming a model, but not the one we in the West believe. It’s a model for how Islamist parties can accede to power and stay in power,” he added.
Erdogan counters that he has transformed Turkey from an indebted and coup-prone country into the regional power Ataturk always wanted it to be. Growth has averaged 5.5 percent since 2002, compared with about 4 percent in the 1990s. Gross domestic product in dollar terms tripled to almost $800 billion, exports quadrupled and foreign investment rose to a record as companies such as Vodafone Group PLC and BNP Paribas SA (TEBNK) acquired units.
Sustained by the economy’s success, Erdogan has pushed his party to the center of the business world as well as political life.
New entrepreneurs are emerging with ties to Erdogan’s government. While established businesses have benefited too, their share is shrinking. In the decade under Erdogan, the benchmark Istanbul share index has jumped about 600 percent. Koc Holding AS (KCHOL) and Haci Omer Sabanci Holding AS (SAHOL), the two biggest diversified groups with roots in the early republic, rose about 375 percent.
Three election wins for Erdogan have already left Turkey’s secularists on the defensive as his Justice and Development or AK Party cements its control of state institutions. The army, a bulwark of secularism which has ousted four elected governments since 1960, has been curtailed of its political influence and hundreds of military officers, as well as journalists, are in jail on charges of plotting a coup.
“The prime minister wants us all to live in the Republic of Tayyip Erdogan,” said Huseyin Emre Altinisik, Deputy Chairman of the Ataturk Thought Foundation. “It’s a country where we can only think and breathe the way he wants us to,” he added.