Talking Turkey 0

The Ottoman Empire sided with Germany in World War I, and was broken up by the victorious allies. Parts of it became Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel.

Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, was the president of the first Turkish republic brought into existence by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

The Turkish sultan had borne the title of Caliph. Under Atatürk the caliphate was abolished in 1924. Turkey became a constitutionally democratic state with an elected parliament. Even women were enfranchised in 1934.

From 1928, Islam ceased to be the state religion. Men were forbidden to grow beards. If they did, Atatürk had them forcibly shaved. He forbade polygamy. Women threw off the veil. In fact, despite the institutions and procedures of democracy, Atatürk wielded dictatorial powers, but he used them to modernize his country.

By the time he died in 1938, the republic was firmly established as a secular state.

In 1952 Turkey became a member of the (then three year old) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The second Turkish republic, established with a new constitution in 1961, proved itself a firm friend and ally of the United States.

After an outbreak of civil violence in 1980, in which more than 2,000 people died, the army intervened, martial law was declared, General Kenan Evren seized control of the government and restored order. A new constitution of 1982 established the autonomy of the army and gave it extraordinary powers over civilian affairs. The army remained the guarantor of Turkey’s secularism, even after martial law was lifted in 1987.

In 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US went to war to force his withdrawal, Turkey permitted the American air force to launch strikes against Iraq from its territory.

A woman, Tansu Çiller, became prime minister in 1993 – to the consternation, no doubt, of the Islamic world. A year later a downturn in the economy led to loss of faith in the secular government among some sections of the population, and Islamic fundamentalism began to spread. In elections of 1995 the largest share of the vote went to an Islamist party, which acquired modified power in a coalition government under Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Islamist party. This development threatened an end to the secular state.

The army intervened. It forced the resignation of Erbakan and his replacement by a secularist.

In 1991, Turkey took military action to put down an armed rebellion of Kurdish nationalists. The Kurdistan Workers Part (PKK) used terrorist methods, including suicide bombing. In 1999, with the capture of the rebel leader, the conflict died down. In that year Turkey was invited to apply for membership of the European Union (EU).

The invitation did not provide an easy path for Turkey’s accession. First the Brussels bureaucracy objected to Turkey’s ‘human rights’ record. When Turkey made reforms in order to become more acceptable, it was told that the power of the army was an impediment to its joining. Woodenly, the EU decision-makers either didn’t understand or deliberately ignored the fact that the Turkish army was what kept Turkey the sort of country that could co-operate successfully with Western powers, by keeping it from becoming an Islamic state.

Popular support for Islamism grew. Relations between Turkey and the West deteriorated. In 2003 the parliament refused permission to the United States to invade Iraq from US bases in Turkey. At that point Turkey should have been expelled from NATO. It wasn’t, but a rift came between Turkey and the United States. A long-established friendship between Turkey and Israel also began to cool.

Islamism continues to gain popularity in Turkey. An Islamist party is in power. Beards and the veil have made a comeback. The army is losing power. It has not succeeded in opposing a developing alliance between Turkey and Iran. It was almost certainly against the wishes of the army that Turkey recently cancelled joint military exercises with Israel.

On October 28, 2009, the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyep Recep Erdogan, and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met for talks. According to Israeli sources (in a report of November 10, 2009), they agreed that Turkey, still a member of NATO, will pass on intelligence to Tehran concerning any preparations Israel makes for a strike on Iran’s nuclear development facilities. Presumably this would mean that intelligence concerning Israel-US military co-operation can fall into Iranian hands.

What seems certain enough is that Turkey is now aligned with the Islamic enemies of the United States, and NATO is harboring a traitor. The US should be taking damage-limiting action. But we don’t expect Obama to be troubled enough by this development to do anything about it. He’s probably in favor of it.

Jillian Becker  November 14, 2009