November 10 marks the 83rd year of the passing of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Probably nobody could have anticipated that Atatürk and the fundamental principles of the republic that he founded would be rediscovered by the majority of the Turkish people as the country is heading towards its centennial in 2023. What is more important to note is that this is happening when the Turkish government has been paying an effort to get him forgotten. We witness a renaissance of the founding principles of the republic as a reaction to the current state of Turkey.
First of all, the majority of the Turkish people comprehended the importance of the secular regime, which is separating government from religion. The head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, who considers himself as the Skeikh ul-Islam of today but acts like a middle-rank party official craving for the attention of the higher ranks, has a word on almost everything. He is given a starring role in nearly all state ceremonies, next to the president. The Directorate, which Atatürk founded himself, is becoming an element of oppression over people who adopt religious beliefs or lifestyles that are not compatible with the Hanafi branch of Sunni Islam. Some judges of secular Turkey have started to rule on cases by seeking whether there was a religious reference on that subject.
From gender equality to sectarianism
We rediscover the importance of women’s rights and gender equality in law and social life. We observed that bitterly when Turkey has pulled out from the Istanbul Convention to prevent violence against women upon the pressure by religious sects, orders, and societies which blackmailed the government with their votes. When the ones that live on taxpayer’s money under the title of “religious scholar”, issue fatwas like “do not marry your girl with an Alawite man” or “sexual intercourse with wife’s sister does not violate marriage”, people start to think that those aiming to enslave women by abusing religious beliefs are gaining power among government circles.
The administration is under the heavy influence of male-dominated sectarianism. Only two out of 81 provincial governors and 14 of the 934 district governors are women. In addition, among all those governors, district governors, or even deputy ministers, generals, or members of the high judiciary, how many of them are Alawite, how many of them are Kurds?
The powers of the parliament have been crippled. The role of the Turkish Parliament is tried to be reduced to a mere “voting machine” to approve the decisions of the president who holds all the executive power.
We witness the period that reverses the famous statement of Atatürk; “Turkey cannot be a country of sheiks, disciples, and dervishes.” Some of those sheiks and disciples tried to stage a coup in Turkey by infiltrating the Turkish Armed Forces, of which Atatürk used to be the commander-in-chief. Previous putschists, like those who led the military coup in 1980 had paved the way for political Islamists with the “countering communism” pretext of the US, by the weary abuse of the name of Atatürk.
Being lectured on being native and national?
We are in such a period that shammers who market things like “graveclothes and slippers that won’t burn in hell” have become desirable television guests in an ambition to increase ratings and received by the President in his office that was established by Atatürk.
It is not just that. The motto of “Peace at home, peace in the world” by Atatürk has also been spoiled. Instead, intervening in the internal affair or even fights of neighboring countries is becoming a new standard. In the domestic scene, the same people see those who do not vote for them as enemies. A political understanding that can say, “Those who do not vote for us belong to potato religion,” or “Every vote you gave us will be written as a good deed in the otherworld” is in power. Some of those who try to lecture us about being “native and national” today, are the inheritors of those who led riots during the War of Independence, on behalf of the occupation forces a hundred years ago.
The educated, talented young people of Turkey are forced to leave the country is fed up with the imposition of a certain lifestyle, and immigrants as a source of the unregistered, cheap labor force are replaced by them. The sectarian and class dimensions of this rearrangement are intertwined.
Now civilian and from the grassroots
The distortion of history is becoming an extreme brainwashing operation. The Sultan, who lost half of the lands of imperial Turkey and gave away the island of Cyprus as a peace brokering commission to the UK to save his throne from the Russian advance, is declared a hero. But they try to try to narrate the Gallipoli victory without Atatürk, İnönü defenses without İnönü, Cyprus operation without Ecevit.
It is natural for people to rediscover Atatürk and the principles of secularism and women’s rights under the current conditions and circumstances. The rise of this wave can be observed when masses rush to the Mausoleum of Atatürk taking every opportunity is without any encouragement from the government, the military, or the judiciary. It is very civilian and rising from the grassroots.
It seems that one of the most important things that President Tayyip Erdoğan and his administration will leave to the future of Turkey will be this Atatürk renaissance, which they have not intended.
I commemorate the founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, with respect and gratitude.