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Islam and Politics ( 15 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkish Voter Reins in Riyadh Supported Islamists

Constitution Meddling Would Challenge the Military

By K Gajendra Singh

14 June, 2011

  “We have spoken, and now it is time for the people to speak,” PM Erdoğan. People have; against fundamental changes in the Constitution.

Economist Magazine, London,"The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party." “Erdoğan's victories over the army and judiciary have given him too much power and would now allow him to "indulge his natural intolerance of criticism" and feed his "autocratic instincts," it warned.

  “There is much to admire, internally and internationally, about the new Turkey. But peaceful revolutions can overreach themselves too, and it is vital that Turkish society is able to place some limits around Mr. Erdogan's formidable ambitions.— imperious ways, which include the jailing of journalists and a punitive approach to media organization with the temerity to criticise him.”-- The Guardian. 

“In Turkey no PM can keep his reign for more than a decade “Adnan Menderes (prime minister from 1950 to 1960), who was hanged in 1961 by the junta after the first coup d’état.

  2011 Election Results

Of over 50 million eligible voters in Turkey's population of 73 million, 84.5% cast the vote on 12 June. With 99% votes counted the ruling Justice and Development party ( AKP ) would got around 50% of votes but with likely 326 seats ( in a house of 550) will not be able to even put amendments for referendum except with support from the opposition. AKP had won 341 seats in 2007 with 4% less votes and two-thirds majority, 365 with only 35% votes in November 2002 elections , when it burst on the political scene , stunning everyone including itself . The party will form a government on its own a 3rd time running, while after the 1980 military coup , almost all earlier ones were coalition governments.

  Unless a party gets 10% votes, it cannot get a seat in the Grand National Assembly. This high threshold has been passed to keep out Kurdish parties. In 2002 , nearly 49% of votes went waste. The 10% threshold creates piquant situations .It has kept out two major parties formed by Suleyman Demiral and late Turgut Ozal both prime ministers and then presidents . 

The main opposition Peoples Republican party (RPP) with 26% of votes will get 135 seats, 23 seats more than last time. RPP, established by the founder of the republic Kemal Ataturk had last won maximum seats in 1973, 185 seats out of 450 ,and headed a coalition under late PM Bulent Ecevit .  The extreme nationalist National Movement Party (MHP) won 54 with 13% votes, but lost 17 seats.

 To overcome 10% high threshold, Kurds fight elections as independents and have won 36 seats with 6.6% votes .They will join the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a Kurdish party , which had endorsed them .They can form a parliamentary group, the quorum being 20 deputies. Officials accuse BDP of links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).  

 The new Parliament will have 78 women deputies, the highest ever, compared to 50 in the last one. One of them is Leyla Zana, a Kurdish icon, many times imprisoned but defiant.

 “The people have won-- will make a liberal constitution altogether,” Erdogan. 

A chastened Erdogan, AKP’s driving and dividing force conceded that ‘The people have won.” "We will embrace everyone, whether they voted for the AKP or not," he added in a speech at his party's headquarters late Sunday. “I say that if the main opposition and other opposition parties approve, we will sit and talk, and we will have dialogue with the political parties outside the Parliament, non-governmental organizations and associations. We will make a liberal constitution altogether. The east, the west, the north and the south will find themselves in this constitution.” 

 “This new constitution will be addressed to every single individual in Turkey. In the new constitution, every citizen will be “the first.” This constitution will focus on peace. This constitution will be the constitution of the Kurd, of Turkmen people, of Alevis, of all minorities, which means all 74 million people. This constitution will be for fraternity, for sharing, for unity and solidarity.” 

RPP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said late Sunday that the party has come out stronger from the election as a result of opposing Erdogan’s plans for changing the Constitution. He said the party gained 3.5 million new voters in six months, and the highest percentage of votes since the Sept. 12, 1980 coup.  RPP protects minorities like the Shia Alevis , almost 10% of the population, mostly those who came as conquerors from central Asia . 

Kurds have greater faith in RPP than in NMP and AKP.”The Kurdish issue is the No. 1 problem in our attempt to become more democratic," said a graphic designer in Istanbul. "Having this problem and talking about democracy is absurd." Kurds remain dissatisfied. PKK rebellion organized by Abdulla Ocalan, now in prison for life since 1999, has cost nearly 40,000 lives including 5000 soldiers and creating problems across the board. 

Till mid 1980s, Kurds had to call themselves Mountain Turks .Kurds cannot organize education and media in Kurdish language freely . During WWI the British occupied oil rich Kirkuk in Kurdish north Iraq after a ceasefire and instigated rebellions in Turkey’s  Kurdish south east. It forced Ataturk to disenfranchise Kurds , a people who have inhabited the region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and total around 25 million, much before the arrival of the Turks into Anatolia. 

The author first visited south east Turkey and Diyarbakir , biggest Kurdish city first time in 1969 and was greeted by young boys singing Kurdish songs .He then made many visits, the last visit to Diyarbakir and the region was in 1997, when the rebellion was in full play

."I'm a military officer and I'm driving this taxi on weekends," said Ahmet Zorlu, when asked about his voting priorities. "That's enough of an answer." This sums up the views of the opposition to AKP and its policies by secular elite which includes the judiciary, the military and the intelligencia in the media and the academia.  

Fifty seven year old Erdogan born in Rize on the Black Sea coast ,but grew up in lower middle class Istanbul .On the international stage, he often cuts an awkward, slightly defensive figure - tall, but stiff and unsmiling; at home , he comes alive, responding with jokes, sarcasm and even poetry to the crowds of supporters who throng his rallies. Turks in the teeming cities or small Anatolian towns love his combative charisma. Now that Turkey does not need Israel as an ally , his willingness to condemn Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians ( who during Ottoman days were faithful subjects ) has not only strengthened his Islamic base, but also made him a hugely popular leader among masses in the Middle East.

  AKP’s opponents are worried about Erdogan's cult of personality and ambitions which has turned into hubris that threatens the very democracy his party strengthened when it came to power in late 2002.  All are uneasy about Erdogan’s plans to transform Turkey's political system from a European parliamentary model to a US style presidential system with a strong executive branch, under him.

  Turkey, currently the 17th economy in the world (and which aspires to be one of the top 10), has an 8.9% growth rate, making the Turkish economy the most dynamic among European countries. It’s no wonder Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed in a television interview that “Turkey is like a giant which has woken up.” But 17% of Turkish population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment is around 12% .But this is still much lower than in Europe and no financial institution has gone bankrupt in the last decade in Turkey. 

In a public-opinion poll before the elections it appeared that the most worrisome element in the Turks’ daily life is neither PKK terrorism nor the EU harmonization, but poverty and unemployment.

  While the economy appears to be a grand success, with GDP per head more than doubling during AK’s time in office, Mehmet Simsek, the finance minister, concedes that the economy shrank sharply in the recession of 2009.But it bounced back last year. As for the risk of overheating, Simsek admits that the economy is “very hot”, but insists that it is now cooling fast. The economy has serious weaknesses. A splurge of consumer spending combined with a big inflow of foreign capital has widened the current-account deficit to a gaping 8% of GDP . Were the foreign money (from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf ) suddenly to dry up,Turkey could easily find itself heading into a bust once again. Fiscal policy should have been tightened more and sooner. 

The Economist had criticized Erdoğan and AKP party for its “authoritarian” tendencies before the elections after a polarizing campaign. In its last Thursday's article, entitled "Turkey's bitter elections," The Economist drew attention to Erdoğan's proposals to change "the ministry for women" into “the ministry for family and social policies," along with seven other Cabinet jobs. 

"It is now official: women should have babies and stay at home," the magazine quoted Turkish feminists as saying in response to Erdoğan’s statements earlier that week. The magazine also noted that this conservative move "set off alarm bells among those who recall the AKP government's previous efforts to criminalize adultery and Mr. Erdoğan's calls for women to have at least three children." Erdogan also attempted to introduce "alcohol-free zones" and control sale of liquor .

  Economist is not my favourite read as it echoes Washington line in better English .The author has lampooned its writes on so called Rose Revolution in Georgia ie US franchised street revolutions for regime changes and on other matters .But this time around it had a point.

Erdogan was tried for utterances "Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are our soldiers," convicted and jailed for 4 months. He had also said "Thank God, I am for Shariah," "For us, democracy is a means to an end." (Shades of Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria) and, "One cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time." So his drive and passion makes people uneasy and scared.

Yesil Surmaye aka green money from Saudi Arabia 

But why is the corporate Western media silent and not exposing the Yesil Surmaye aka green money from Saudi Arabia , poured into Turkey in direct massive gifts from mid 1990s and as investment in central Anatolia , stronghold of the AKP , from where its leadership originates ,in towns like Konya ( Iconium) of whirling dervishes and Kayseri (Caesarea Mazaca) 

The author was desk officer in External affairs dealing with Turkey from 1967 before serving as  first secretary /CDA (1969-73 ) and then as ambassador ( 1992-96 ) and finally as freelance journalist (1996-98) .He was selected for Ankara in 1988 but his posting was cancelled after agreement by a feudal minded Jat minister ,who hated Rajputs and misled late Rajiv Gandhi . (Watch this space for more) 

During 1990s I used to be surprised by the prosperity in these barren harsh lands brought about by Saudi gifts and investment .I came to know President Abdullah Gul , a sober balanced politician compared to Erdogan. 

“There was this young man, with 1960s Turkish matinee idol looks, smiling to attract my attention, in that throng of media and TV cameramen around us. Suddenly the penny dropped. Yes, a few weeks earlier while I had a few drinks at my First secretary's flat in Ankara, he sipped lemon water. He was very keen to meet with me. So, I now went over and shook his hands. That was in end 1992.

“And the young man was Abdullah Gul, recently home after a stint (7 years) at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah and put in charge of foreign affairs by Najmettin Erbakan, President of Islamist Welfare party. Most ambassadors in Ankara avoided looking up Erbakan, but I kept my promise. Hence the media attention.

When it seemed in 2007 that Erdogan would go for the Presidency , millions poured out in protest against him in Turkey’s capital Ankara , commercial and cultural metropolis Istanbul and Mediterranean port of Izmir , the historical Smyrna .

  I did not have a chance to meet with Erdogan , then a very successful mayor of Istanbul, who made his name for honesty .Of course unlike almost all non-Islamist parties , which had become mired in corruption ,Erdogan did not need bribes . As early as August 2001, Rahmi Koç, chairman of Koç Holding, Turkey's largest and oldest conglomerate commented on CNN Türk that Erdoğan has a US$1 billion fortune and asked the source of his wealth. Erdogan has remained silent. 

According to WikiLeaks, Eric Edelman, the then U.S. ambassador to Turkey, wrote in a cable to Washington on Dec. 30, 2004. 

“We have heard from two contacts that Erdoğan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdoğan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.” “ “--an anonymous source told [him] that Erdoğan and [the source] benefited directly from the award of the Tüpraş privatization to a consortium including a Russian partner.”, said Edelman in another cable.(The Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation, or Tüpraş, is the state petroleum refinery. A Russian-Turkish consortium paid nearly $1.3 billion for the privatization of the country’s largest-capacity refinery in 2004.) Edelman also listed former ministers Abdülkadir Aksu, Kürşat Tüzmen and Istanbul provincial chairman Mehmet Müezzinoğlu as the most corrupt politicians in Turkey. 

These allegations were hotly denied by Erdogan but have refused to die down.

AKP came to power in 2002 on the strength of its image as fresh and honest party amidst a sea of corrupt establishment parties, but since then AKP's own finances appear to have become murky, blurring the distinction between business and politics. Turkish domestic and foreign policy is influenced by the influx of "green money," from governments like Saudi Arabia and wealthy Islamist businessmen in other Gulf Emirates.

Some Turkish professional bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists, and even politicians raised the question of Saudi money flowing into AKP coffers through green money business intermediaries. "The problem is Saudi Arabia. If you solve that, then our problem is solved," one independent parliamentarian told Rubin.( Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute in an article “Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey” for the Middle East Quarterly of 2005 ) A former member of the AKP concurred: "Before the 2002 election, there were rumours that an AKP victory would lead to an infusion of $10-$20 billion, mostly from Saudi Arabia. It looks like the rumours came true."

While Turkish journalists and officials acknowledge that Saudi investment in Turkey and Turkish politics has increased since 2002, the exact nature of the investment is murky and circumstantial. Prior to the AKP's 2002 election victory, Abdullah Gül criticized state scrutiny of the Islamic enterprises, accusing the secular government of acting unfairly. Between 1983 and 1991, Gül worked at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Islamic banks—and especially those sponsored by Saudi Arabia—regularly channel money to Islamist enterprises. On November 9, 2004, Deniz Baykal, leader of the parliamentary opposition RPP, accused the AKP of trying to create a religion-based economy. It is also affecting Turkey’s foreign policy.

Some Turkish economists suggest that after 11/9 Saudi and other Persian Gulf citizens' liquidated their U.S. holdings. Some bankers estimate that individual Saudi investors withdrew between $100 and $200 billion. One Turkish economist suggested that, even if Saudi citizens moved $20 billion to France, $10 billion to Lebanon, and $6 billion to Switzerland, there would still be ample funds left to invest unofficially in Turkey. The money may support legitimate businesses. But, if both the investor and business fail to declare it, then such funds might remain immune to taxation and regulation. Various estimated of the green money infusion into the Turkish economy is between $6 billion and $12 billon.

It may turn out to be a wise move , with the US economy in decline and talk of temporary debt default and dark allegations of missing gold in Fort Knox.US debt now amounts to $14 trillion ,as much as its GDP , of which according to one source 41% is contributed by ‘Financial industry” , along with a stimulus of  $ 2.8 trillion which exists only on computer screens .S and P believe that US does not deserve AAA classification for investment .Let us see when the house of card would begin to collapse .

Much of the money enters Turkey "in suitcases" with couriers and remains in the unofficial economy. Even when deposited, banks ask no questions about the origins of the cash. "Money laundering is one of the worst aspects of Turkish politics," a former state planning official said. Political parties across the political spectrum have illegal slush fund. Under the AKP, the unofficial economy has grown exponentially.

Official Turkish statistics provide some clue to the scope of the problem. Between 2002 and 2003, the summary balance of payments for net error and omission category—basically unexplained income—increased from $149 million to almost $4 billion. This is an eighty-year record error. In the first six months of 2004, an additional $1.3 billion entered the system, its origins unaccounted. According to Kesici, an economist there could be as much as a $2 billion overestimation in tourism revenue.

Riyadh wants to build up Turkey as a powerful Sunni state to counter Iran’s influence. USA and Europe also support that view .Hence so little in Western media about Saudi Green Money’s role in Turkish politics .But so far Ankara has followed a rational policy regarding Tehran. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its historical enemy, which had forced Ankara to join NATO in 1950s , when Moscow demanded return of two Turkish provinces in north East and role in 1936  Montreux Convention that gives it control over the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles ,Turkey , a regional power with the largest military after USA in NATO , feels free to pursue an independent foreign policy.

 Rise of Islamists in Turkish Republic

It was Nacemettin Erbakan who founded the very first Islamist National Order party (NOP) in 1969, when Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, his class fellow in Istanbul's Engineering school, refused him an Assembly slot. When NOP was closed in 1971 after the regime change, Erbakan established National Salvation party (NSP) and was twice deputy prime minister in 1970s coalition governments. After the 1980 takeover, the military banned all parties. Later when restrictions were removed Erbakan established the Welfare party, in which Abdullah Gul and Erdogan were prominent young new comers.

Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul in 1995 and was apparently a great success. In the 1996 coalition headed by Erbakan, Gul became a State Minister .In 1997 the military forced Erbakan to resign for not curbing Muslim fundamentalism. Later Erbakan's party was closed and he was banned from political activity.

Erdogan's jail experience following his conviction mentioned earlier was traumatic and a turning point. He and others like Gul saw the futility of fighting against the secular establishment on an open Islamic agenda. In 2001 they established AKP and the rest is history, but is full of controversies. Many AKP sympathizers felt and claimed that like moderate Christian parties in Europe, it could also become a moderate Islamic party , but these hopes have been belied .

Adnan Menderes and his hanging ; an echo from the past.

Since the creation of the republic in 1923 , Turkey was ruled by Republican People Party (RPP ). In spite of his wish and some attempts to introduce multiparty democracy, Ataturk gave up when Kurdish revolts and Islamic obscurantism reared its head. .

But after WWII , in which following Ataturk’s advice ,under his successor Ismet Inonu ,Ankara remained neutral ,there was pressure on Turkey to introduce multiparty democracy .So before the first elections in 1947 , a new Democrat party was formed by Adnan Menderes and a former PM Celal Bayar .

Menderes, son of a wealthy landowner, born in 1899 in Aydin, had fought against the invading Greeks and was a trained lawyer .His efforts to establish a political party in 1930s were obstructed so he joined Ataturk’s RPP and became a deputy. In 1945, he was expelled from the party with two other colleagues because of opposition to nationalisation policies.

Democrat party made its presence felt in 1947 elections but in the 1950 elections, DP won 52% of the votes in the first free elections in Turkish history on 14 May (in which votes were cast in secret and counted openly), Menderes became the prime minister and later won two more free elections, one in 1954 and the other in 1957. No other politician has ever been able to win three general elections in a row in Turkey. Except again NOW!

Coming after an austere and dreary Jacobinistic secular era of Ataturk ,Menderes more tolerant towards traditional lifestyles and different forms of practice was liked by the masses. He had campaigned in the 1950 elections on the platform of legalizing the Arabic language and Muslim call to prayer which was banned . He re-opened thousands of mosques across the country which were left abandoned . In one of his speeches, he said that members of parliament could bring back Sharia law if they so desired. 

His economic policies after the earlier years of affluence, helped by US grants , brought the country to insolvency due to an enormous increase in imports of goods and technology .Menderes was most intolerant towards criticism, so he instituted press censorship and had journalists arrested.  He also  attempted to oppress the opposing political parties and to take institutions such as universities under his control. His policies annoyed the armed forces and even venerable Inonu , Ataturk’s right hand man and successor who was insulted . Having lost power and pelf since 1950, the military was most upset.

Menderes became a strong headed politician but was very popular among the masses .His survival from an air crash near London in 1959 further added to his charisma .But he was over taken by hubris and upset too many sectors of the society and polity, specially the military and his political opponents .A young colonels coup under Cemal Gursel led to the overthrow of Menderes government .He was tried and hanged along with two ministers .Many compare it to the later hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto , who was hanged by Gen Zia ul Haq , selected by Bhutto himself , since it was feared that if Bhutto was returned to power , he would seek revenge on Gen Zia.

There are many shades of similarity with Menderes, so Erdogan better heed history .

Turkish media corporatized and beholden to the Ruling party

Media like elsewhere, led by USA, has been captured by corporate houses ( half a dozen control 90% of media in US). Turkey used to have a vibrant press with a number of national papers till some years ago. Now it is difficult to get unbiased news in Turkish media .There has been a consolidation of ownership to just a few business houses . The Doğan Group, for example, owns not only well-known dailies like Hürriyet and Milliyet but also Radikal, Posta, and the Hurriyet ( oldTurkish) Daily News among others. Together these capture perhaps 50 percent of total Turkish daily circulation. In addition, Doğan Group television stations like CNN Türk and Kanal D have perhaps a 20 percent market share.

The problem is not that Doğan companies always tow the party line. Many Turkish journalists produce hard-hitting analysis. But a number of journalists complain of self-censorship. The same media barons who own a large portion of the press have branched into other sectors where they are more dependent on government largesse. "Everyone is vulnerable—economically and politically—if they oppose the government," a businessman explained. It is foolhardy to annoy the government. The Uzan group which opposed AKP was decimated.

The Guardian wrote a piece on 30 September, 2010  on the curbs on media ever since AKP took over in 2002, Erdogan has been accused of seeking to quash dissident voices. In August 2010 Bekir Coskun, a militantly secular columnist for a mass-circulation daily, Habertürk, was sacked under pressure from the government .There has been a steady dismissal of anti-government journalists from the mainstream media which has reinforced the view that Erdogan is intolerant of criticism. In September 2009, Aydin Dogan, was slapped with a huge fine for alleged tax fraud (with accrued interest, the fine stands at $3.7 billion).

“Under AK the press has been declared the enemy,” says Ferai Tinc, who runs a media watchdog. According to the International Federation of Journalists over 40 Turkish journalists are in jail and around 700 others face trial, many of them Kurds accused of spreading separatist propaganda. One, Irfan Aktan, was sentenced to 15 months in prison in June for quoting a rebel of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Mehmet Baransu, an investigative reporter who has exposed a string of alleged coup plots and episodes of army incompetence, has faced 40 separate court cases and received six convictions in the past 15 months. The government has gone back on promises to ease tough media laws.

Erdogan likes to recall, hundreds of journalists (again, mostly Kurds) who were imprisoned or kidnapped at the height of the PKK insurgency in the 1990s. Many died in so-called “mystery murders” thought to have been carried out by rogue security forces. Yet few in the mainstream press uttered a peep, for fear of falling foul of the generals. Corporate media bosses often buckle under state pressure to protect their business interests. Today almost everybody, be they Kurdish, secular or anti-army, are under pressure. “The net,” concludes Mrs Tinc, “has widened like never before.”

Military in Politics; Struggle between Miri and Piri in Muslim countries

In mid 1990s a British journalist was going on and on against the role of military in Turkish politics .Finally I said when and what the Windsors or its earlier incarnation German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha did for the United Kingdom .Still a family and its hangers on along with its perennial feudal landed elite and an incrementally added economic elite rule over the masses differentiated as ‘we and they’ . Yes , with little to do except cutting ribbons the British Royals provide endless media gossip of extramarital and other , even sordid affairs with salacious details to satisfy the citizens like circus in Roman empire .’They’ become teachers , bank tellers ,waiters , nurses, read weather news on BBC ,the junior commissioned officers parading proudly with pieces of bronze and coloured ribbons , and sent to die in Iraq, Afghanistan and Malvinas (Does not British Govt mouthpiece BBC describe Kashmir as India administered and 2611 terrorists as gunmen)

Of the oldest of the three revealed religions, Judaism’s only state since ancient times, Israel , founded on leftist tenets has since morphed into a rule by Zionist-Military oligarchy. Christians after centuries of warfare in Europe managed to create secular polities which are still underpinned if not haunted by sectional religious ideologies. In the last of ‘the Book’ based polity Islam, the lines between the Mir and the Pir ,the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler still remain blurred ,contested and changing.
After the 1979 revolution in Iran, Shias created the ideal but mythical office of Imam in the person of Ruhoallah Khomeini. The status of the Imam was evolved into the doctrines of intercession and infallibility, i.e., of the faqih/mutjahid .But the Iranians have since found that a system based on the concepts of 7th century AD was inadequate to confront and solve the problems of 21st century.

Prophet Mohammad was both the religious leader and military commander. But the Arab Caliphs lost out on power by 10th century to the Turkish slaves from central Asia who formed the core of their fighting forces .The Turks raised the minor title of Sultan to a high rank who literally became a protector of the Caliph, left with only spiritual powers. Even this role was seized by the Ottoman Sultans ruling from Istanbul...

Turkey, known in the past as Asia minor and Anatolia , which comprises most of  today’s  Republic is located at the juncture of  Asia ( and connected to Central Asia via the Caucasus), Africa and Europe ,with the straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles separating Asia and Europe .Ruled in the  past by Achaemenid Persians  ; Greeks, Romans and Byzantines ;and then by Muslim Seljuk and  finally Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, the inhabitants of Anatolia have tough identity problems ( Perhaps 15% only are migrants from central Asia , mostly now Alevis and many times victims of Sunni Muslim establishment ). So there is a spiritual and psychological dichotomy between the Europe oriented elite (with perhaps many originally of European ethnic origin) at the head and a conservative oriental majority in the body politic of Turkey.

Ataturk cut the Gordian knot of secular and religious

After the modernising and westernising reforms and measures during the last century of the Ottoman rule, after  the collapse of the Ottoman empire , Ataturk cut the Gordian Knot by disenfranchising Islam in the Republic . It included the abolition of the Caliphate , closure of various tariqas aka Sufi and other brotherhoods ,with Whirling Dervishes of Rumi’s Konya becoming  tourist attractions , change over for Turkish language script from unsuitable Arabic script to Roman script , excluding Arabic and Persian words and adding French and English words The Fez and Ottoman loose trousers were banned and replaced by western hats and caps with European style jackets and trousers .So do not be misled that wearing of western clothes has transformed the thinking of Anatolians into western thinking and mores .Ataturk also decreed that the 6 century AD magnificent Byzantine St. Sophia Church , which was converted  into a mosque by the addition  of  minarets  in 1453, after  Ottoman Sultan Fethi had conquered the city of  Constantinople be turned into a museum .In Topkapi Museum you can gaze at the doors from Mecca , dresses, swords etc of Prophet Mohammad and the Caliphs .( in mid 1960s , loss of a few hairs of Prophet Mohammad in Hajratbal in Kashmir had created an ugly situation)

Since the establishment of the republic , Turkey has witnessed three coups d’état -- in 1960, 1971 and 1980 -- and in 1997 the military forced a coalition government to step down. 

The 1960 and 1980 were full-fledged coups, when the armed forces took over power, brought out a new Constitutions and handed power back to the politicians. The 1960 coup was a colonels coup with Gen Gursel at its head .He had to exile the head strong colonels, led by Col Alparslan Turkesh (who later founded the Nationalist Movement party now led by Bahcheli) out of Turkey as they had planned to rule the country.

 The 1971 half coup was by a memorandum by the National Security Council (NSC) , under pressure from junior officers and changed the regime . Suleman Demirle was replaced by Nihat Erim to carry out socialist reforms .The 1997 quarter coup forced the first ever Islamist PM Erbakan heading a coalition government to resign and make way for a new secular government. The author then based in Ankara in 1971 and 1997 was a witness to the events.

Changing role of the National Security Council

Following the 1960 coup, the 1961 constitution transformed the earlier innocuous National Defence High Council into the National Security Council.  The president of the republic, instead of the prime minister, was made its chairperson, and "representatives" of the army, navy, air force and the police became its members, apart from the prime minister and four other ministers. The council became a constitutional body and offered "information" to the Council of Ministers (cabinet) concerning the internal and external security of the country.  After constitutional amendments following the 1971-1973 military intervention, it has submitted its "recommendations" to the Council of Ministers.

  The 1982 constitution, a less liberal product and the result of the 1980-1983 military intervention, further strengthened the NSC's role by obliging the Council of Ministers to give priority to its recommendations.  Threats from military members of the NSC made then premier Suleyman Demirel resign in 1971, and the first-ever Islamist premier, Necmettin Erbakan, then heading a coalition with a secular party, was forced to leave in 1997 for not curbing increasing fundamentalism in Turkey.  Both the times, direct military takeovers were avoided.  The military intervened directly in 1960 and 1980 when politicians had brought the country to an impasse. Before the 1980 coup, hundreds of people were killed in daily violence while the politicians had abdicated responsibility by refusing to even elect a president of the republic .But after cleaning up the mess and getting a new constitution in place, the armed forces, as usual, returned to their barracks.

Trials and badmouthing of generals who were forced to carry out the 1980s coup is irrational and like disturbing the hornets’ nest .There would be a blow back . 

The Turkish armed forces have traditionally enjoyed total autonomy in their affairs and are very sensitive about it.  Their chief of general Staff (CGS) ranks after only the prime minister, and along with the president forms the troika that ruled the country. Turkish people have great respect and regard for its armed forces and trust them more than the politicians.

When I returned to Ankara as head of mission in 1992 , I praised the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly for putting up a brave front during the military’s attempt to get Gen Faruk Gurler elected as the President of the Republic in 1973 .He said yes ,but the politicians had to pay a heavy price ie banning of mainline political parties and their leaders and their imprisonment .

 The inhabitants of Turkey always a very passionate people , influencing and influenced by outside philosophy and ideas ,have a tendency for vendettas , a habit inculcated after half a millennia rule by tribal customs of Ottoman ruling elite and earlier the Seljuk from central Asia .


While there were many reasons , historic , economic and organic for the decline and fall of the Ottoman empire , but with the taking over of the holy places in Mecca and Medina and the title of the Caliph, began the era of decline .Immediately there was an increased influx of Mullahs , Shiekhs and orthodox Islamic habits and beliefs  , which soon opposed study of modern science and knowledge .The Ottoman society and elite became closed to new ideas while the Europeans made progress in science and new ideas and technology ; industrial and military.

The central Asian Turks, many of them Buddhists, were cosmopolitan and not Salafist .Many wives of the Ottoman Sultans in the beginning of the empire were Christian princesses, who were allowed to keep their Church in the harem .Some of the Ottoman Sultans were brought up as Christians boys in childhood by their Christian mothers till they were taken away from the harem to be trained as Ghazis and warriors of the faith.

As in Ottoman era, so now, the increasing influence of Saudi money and obscurantist ideas would not be beneficial and the Turkish society will regress into old habits. The controversies and fights over the veil or ‘Ergenekon’ mystery and trials are only symptoms of the battle. It suits US led West to keep Muslims backward and divided. The funding of conservative Muslim regimes and groups was used by the British and taken up by Washington after WWII, with Riyadh now the western bagman, to keep the thousands of Princes rolling in wealth and some in sin. Look at the mal-influence of Saudi money and ideology on Pakistan and elsewhere.

So what is happening in Turkey is a struggle between the Mir and the Pir, the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler, which still remains blurred, contested and changing in most Muslim countries. Coming into power of AKP is retrograde development .There will be many ups and downs and episodes, some even bloody, before a balance is achieved, if at all, but not any time soon.

K Gajendra Singh served as ambassador of India to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.