Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul
Verne Strickland Blogmaster: August 25, 2013
Turkey has always attracted me, and two business trips there to shoot U.S. trade documentaries only stirred my fascination. From Istanbul's mysterious sophistication to a working-man's border city like Tokat, the country's deep roots are always felt if not seen. Back then, in the 70s and 80s, the rise of combative Islam was not so visible. As a result, caution was often ignored by Western visitors like myself. Still, seeing banged-up sedans parked carelessly on the sidewalk lose to the American Airlines ticket office made me uneasy. The Soviet Embassy was but a few steps from the Grand Bazaar and hulking Hagia Sophia Mosque. One rainy night my video shooter wrapped the camera in a black poncho. As we passed in front of the Embassy building, the shrouded camera began more and more to look like a rocket launcher. We quickly ducked into the bazaar and ditched the wet poncho under a counter. You remember things like that. Today, such freedom would be akin to madness.
John McCain says that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan “is acting like a dictator rather than a president in the eyes of many Turks.” He charged that “There are more journalists jailed in Turkey than any other country in the world.”
August 20, 2013 By Leave a Comment
It should not surprise anyone to discover that US President Barack Hussein Obama invited Muslim Brotherhood officials from Egypt as well as Turkish diplomats to meet with him at the White House. The Jerusalem Post reported (August 6, 2013) that according to the Egypt Independent the meeting should take place “sometime this month.” The Independent suggested moreover that the “Turkish diplomats were expected to lobby for Morsi’s (deposed Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi) reinstatement, or at minimum, a continued political role for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
A White House press release issued on August 7, 2013 stated that “The President (Barack Obama) and Prime Minister of Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) expressed concern about the situation in Egypt and a shared commitment to support a Democratic and inclusive way forward. The two leaders agreed to have their teams continue to coordinate closely to promote our shared interests.”
Obama’s and Erdogan’s shared interests go beyond their common cause to unseat the Assad regime in Syria. They agree as well on the importance of a unified and inclusive Syrian opposition (inclusive of MB). Obama has nurtured a soft spot in his heart for Islam. He spent his formative years in Indonesia under the guidance of his Indonesian Muslim step-father. His biological father was a Muslim from Kenya. Obama’s first foreign trips as President of the United States, which he called a New Beginning, was to Erdogan’s Turkey and Egypt, where he delivered his keynote speech at Cairo University, and was co-hosted by the Al-Azhar Islamic University.
Speaking at the Brookings Institute, US Senator (R-AZ) McCain said that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan “is acting like a dictator rather than a president in the eyes of many Turks.” He charged that “There are more journalists jailed in Turkey than any other country in the world.”
Infused with confidence that three democratic electoral victories have provided him, Erdogan has set out in recent years to wipe out the legacy of secular Kamalist Turkey founded by Mustafa Kamal, better known as Ataturk (The Father of Turks), and is seeking to replace it with an Islamist state. Since 1923, Turkey has seen a clash between the two opposing cultural streams: the Ottoman Islamic tradition that ruled Turkey for centuries, and the secular tradition of Kamalism.
The rural poor and Islam-inclined multitudes of Anatolia (in eastern and southern Turkey) provide massive votes for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. The urban middle-class, on the other hand, which is more educated and economically advantaged, is largely concentrated in western and northern Turkey. They opposed the excessive reaches of Erdogan and his party.
Secular-Kamalist Turkey joined NATO and sought to be part of the West. Erdogan, in recent years, shifted Turkey’s focus from the West to the Islamic and Arab worlds. He is hoping to become the champion of the Sunni Muslim world, and the “protector” of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, as well as the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.
The Turkish military and the judiciary have been the guardians of Turkey’s secularism. The military, according to the Turkish constitution, is to safeguard the secular character of the nation. The Army has used its constitutional powers to remove governments in 1960, 1971, 1980, and, more recently, in 1997, when it removed the first Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party grew out of the ideological bedrock of the Islamist Welfare Party and governed Turkey since 2002.
In recent weeks alone, Erdogan’s regime imprisoned 250 top public figures who were charged with an attempted coup. The Associated Press (AP) reported on August 5, 2013, that in a “landmark trial, scores of people – including Turkey’s former military chief, politicians and journalists – were convicted of plotting to overthrow PM Edrogan’s government soon after it came to power in 2002. Retired General Basbug was the most prominent defendant among 250 people facing verdicts after a five-year trial that has become a central drama in tensions between the country’s secular elite and Erdogan’s Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party.”
Erdogan’s regime has been committed to the destruction of Turkey’s secular watchdogs: the military, judiciary, and presidency. In a slow but consistent process, Erdogan succeed in capturing the presidency. He was able to appoint and elect his personal friend, and former Foreign Minister of the Justice and Development Party, Abdullah Gul, as President of Turkey. At the same time, Erdogan managed to pass new laws that enabled him to install Supreme Court justices more amenable to his ideological thinking, and who were not part of the secular elite. As with the Supreme Court justices, Erdogan found a way to replace retiring military officers with Islamist and loyalist officers, thus eroding the steadfastly secular and anti-religious character of the military.
The Ergenekon Affair that has been gripping Turkey is the name given to an alleged clandestine secularist organization with alleged ties to members of Turkey’s military and security forces. It is named after Ergenekon, a mythical place located in the inaccessible valleys of the Altay Mountains. The Ergenekon group is accused of terrorism. The trial has been conducted secretly and away from the probing eyes of the media by the Erdogan regime. Demonstrators who protested against the trial and the way the regime has been handling it were brutally dispersed by the police.
Protests last June in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, ostensibly over the future of Gezi Park, has spread throughout Turkey into demonstrations against Erdogan and his authoritarian and Islamist regime. Four demonstrators were killed by the regime’s security forces, and 5000 were wounded. It has divided the country into two hostile camps, and it stands to color Turkey’s future image. Will Turkey become a modern liberal state that Ataturk hoped for? Or will it revert to the Ottoman-era Islamic backwater and become once again the “sick man of Europe”? The army, media, academia, art and business world are poised for the fight of their lives to preserve Turkey as a modern state. Erdogan and his regime are on the other side seeking to do away with Kamalist secularism.
One thing is clear. Erdogan’s dictatorial nature and his singular ambitions, regardless of the wishes of many Turks, make Turkey less than a democratic state, where basic human rights and the rule of law are being abused.
President Obama has shown his hypocrisy and his pro-Islamist bias by his continued backing of his friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Islamist party. This hypocrisy has been starkly demonstrated in his being mute on Erdogan’s human rights abuses, and his authoritarian and downright dictatorial behavior, not to mention his anti-Semitism. Obama, who has been vociferous in his support of Arab Spring protests against the Arab authoritarian regimes, including that of Mubarak’s Egypt, has been silent on Erdogan’s authoritarianism. The same Obama administration that is currently critical of the military in Egypt for its suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent demonstrations, has said nothing about Turkey’s emerging dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.