COMMENT: The Republic of Turkey’s uncelebrated 100th birthday – nothing left to celebrate?

COMMENT: The Republic of Turkey’s uncelebrated 100th birthday –  nothing left to celebrate?
"Hello to the future". A future that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk could surely have never imagined.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade October 27, 2023

The Republic of Turkey, proclaimed on October 29, 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, on Sunday says goodbye to its first century. A moment for great pomp and ceremony, you might think. So how is it that Turkish historians have been grousing since last year that the government has conducted hardly any preparations to mark this once-in-a-country’s-lifetime centenary?

On October 16, things got worse for those hoping for a last-minute rush of enthusiasm for the centennial from officials. Turkey’s public broadcaster, TRTannounced that it had postponed all of its 100th-anniversary events due to the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Local media reports, meanwhile, suggested that Turkish embassies around the world were delaying receptions.

Those Turks who have an allergy to the Erdogan regime were quick to conclude that the Gaza crisis was serving as an excuse to shove aside what to regime apparatchiks has become a bothersome commemoration. Partying hard is, of course, not a must, but there is disquiet and dismay at the sparse evidence of academic and artistic “100th” activities taking place during this year’s run-up to the big day.

So who has a problem with the Republic? And what disconcerts them?

The main difficulty in remembering the history of the Republic is its secular founder, Ataturk. If the 100th birthday is something to celebrate, then a plentiful measure of praise should be extended to the father. And that is a horribly annoying dilemma for the Islamist-rooted Erdogan regime, which hates missing any opportunity to abuse a venerated occasion with some of its nonsensical chauvinism. The tinpot ninnies cannot even abuse the anniversaries of the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916) or the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923) to their heart’s content because of that same blonde Ottoman pasha. Skipping the name of Mustafa Kemal would be too obviously fatuous.

Screenshot: The Ataturk-less 100th anniversary ad released by Ali Babacan (Deva Party leader and ex-economy czar of current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has become a source of comedy.

“I wish the Greeks had won,” is an infamous quote by the late Kadir Misiroglu, also known as ‘Fesli Deli Kadir, or the Crazy Kadir wearing a Fez’. “Neither the caliphate nor the sharia rule would be abolished,” he added.

Photo: The young Erdogan (right) and Misiroglu (with his fez, which he did not take off until he passed away).

Misiroglu to be sure was among the blind ignorant and absurd mentors of the Islamists in Turkey. There’s no need to waste time on questioning the legacy of the Ottoman sultans’ self-declared caliphate or whether the Ottoman Empire really applied the sharia rule.

However, at least on paper, the Ottoman State was an Islamic state.

Unadulterated positivist

As also intrepidly voiced by Misiroglu, the main problem with Ataturk is that he was an unadulterated positivist. He executed a harsh Jacobin revolution (imposed from the top on the masses with sticks). There were no guillotines, yet there was no shortage of gallows.

Ataturk abolished the sultanate and the so-called caliphate, introduced laicism, banned the wearing of the fez, shut down Islamic monasteries, and so on.

A century has passed. Those who have a problem with Ataturk and his Republic don’t actually make up a majority in the country. But included among them is the government.

In the national elections, held in May, official turnout stood at 87%. The wiser Turkey watcher, however, knows to deduct 10 percentage points that stem from the “thievery margin”. If you are only now catching up on how the regime’s official election results are faked, see here.

Realistically, at least 20% of the voting-age population do not participate in the election comedy. The non-voters are made up of a wide variety of citizens, ranging from the hardcore Islamists, who see democracy as an insult to the rule of Allah, to the incautious petty bourgeoisie.

The governing coalition claim to have won 49% of the vote. When the thievery margin is deducted, we can say they have 40% of the vote and represent roughly 30% of citizens.

It is an acquisitive opportunism that brings this 30% together. Among them is the crowd that follows the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Citizens of this stripe are typically seeking a higher position in the bureaucracy (or perhaps a gain from a public tender, an unmerited job or a similar reward). This group roughly amounts to 3-5 percentage points of the 30%.

Ataturk is among the undeniable superstars of Turkish history. The far-right MHP troupe cannot help but admire him and his Republic.

In addition to those of the core Islamist base that subscribes to the Erdogan regime, the remaining votes come from the country’s criminals and conniving. This ensemble pursue a largely secular lifestyle. They see Ataturk as the godfather of that lifestyle.

The conclusion is that the hardcore Islamists, who are against Ataturk’s Republic, only account for around a fifth of Turkey’s population.

Over on the opposition benches, there’s the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Iyi Party. The CHP claims that it is the party of Ataturk, while Iyi openly describes itself as Ataturkist. Collectively, these two parties draw the votes of around 30% of the electorate.

Pro and anti-Erdogan Kurds

Also in opposition are the Apoist Kurds.

The Kurds in Turkey are mainly of two types. One group includes (the roughly described) rich, who desire to benefit from Turkey’s large market and economic opportunities. They vote for Erdogan and are thus included in the above breakdown. The other group are the Apoists, who follow the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan’s ideological guidance (that’s a long story, starting with 1970s Marxism and moving on to something of a liberal left transformation across the decades, but never departing from the secular).

With this assessment, around 10% or more of Turkey’s Kurds should be added to the 20% of hardcore Islamists when it comes to listing the haters of the Republic.

As outlined, the Islamists’ problem with Ataturk and his Republic is the issue of his positivism. In terms of the Kurds, the problem is his nationalism.

While the Ottoman Empire was inexorably collapsing in the late 19th century, the intellectual elite came up with the idea of constitutionalist Ottomanism. Then, with the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), they saw that there was no Ottoman nation and they turned to Islamism.

After Albania declared its independence in 1912 and the Arabs partnered with the British in World War I, Turkism emerged as the only option left to them.

Ever since, as two twin sisters, Islamism and Turkism have made up the ideology of the Turkish state.

When Mustafa Kemal Pasha was leading the war of independence, he told the Islamists (who also included the Kurds) that he was fighting for the caliphate.

When he felt secure after the first Conference of Lausanne (November 1922 - February 1923), Mustafa Kemal Pasha called for elections and waved goodbye to the Islamists in parliament.

His move for a republic was an open indication of what was coming for the Islamists. It was the first declared step towards the upcoming era of reform.

Yet, after a whole century, the same fault lines in the country, namely the Islamist-Laicist and the Turkist-Kurdist, are more than ever alive.

The corpse of a republic

As a bonus, the country has more than 10mn migrants, including millions of jihadists who have fought in wars across a wide region ranging from Afghanistan to Libya.

Turks also have an imploded economy, destroyed institutions and collapsed education and health systems to celebrate.

Under these conditions, is it any wonder that hardly anyone has any desire to recognise the anniversary? We are talking about the corpse of a republic. There is a collective depression. No one (including the supporters of the regime) has any real hope about the future of the nation.

Perhaps, some psycho-Islamists believe they can put together a Taliban-like sharia regime from the mess. However, even they might quickly give up on their construction, such is the dire state of things.

In the near future, Turkey under the Erdogan regime could at least serve as a useful tool for the US amid its eroding hegemony. It does not disintegrate entirely thanks to the Nato patronage. But it continually plumbs deeper and deeper depths and who knows what’s lurking down there.