Turks defend legacy

ANKARA – Turks have been rallying around Kemalism, the country’s guiding ideology drawn up by founding father Kemal Ataturk, after a European Parliament report accused it of being an obstacle to Ankara’s bid to join the EU. Kemalism, named after Ataturk, who lived from 1881-1938, remains hugely popular with Turks. «It’s Turkey’s raison d’etre… it’s definitely not an obsolete ideology,» said Seyhan Karaba, a 50-year-old pensioner paying respects with his daughter at Ataturk’s tomb, housed in a magnificent mausoleum overlooking Ankara. «It’s thanks to Kemalism that Turkey’s face is turned toward the West,» he added, referring to the doctrine which defends Western values and the principle of a secular state. A few meters further on is a towering pillar inscribed with one of Ataturk’s most celebrated dictums: «Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the people.» Mustafa Kemal, better known as «Ataturk» (father of Turks) won a place in the hearts of all Turks when, in 1923, after a four-year war, he fought off Greek, British, French and Italian armies to carve modern Turkey out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire. As a political leader, he introduced secularism to Muslim-majority Turkey. Religion was separated from politics, Turkish men were told to look European and shave their moustaches. Before Ataturk, the country was run by sultans claiming to be God’s direct representatives on earth. Ataturk made it the army’s job to ensure that the principle of secularism was upheld. Every time they believed this principle to be at stake, Turkey’s generals intervened to defend it – most recently in 1997 when they forced Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign. There are few critics in Turkey today of Ataturk’s legacy, with one rare voice of dissent being the writer Nedim Gursel. «Kemalism was shaped in the mold of fascist unitary parties in 1930s Europe. To democratize, we have to demilitarize and de-kemalize. And in order to do that, Turkey has to be integrated into Europe,» he wrote in December. But a European Parliament draft report released on Tuesday said that Kemalism was a hindrance to Turkey’s joining the European Union. “Kemalism… entails an exaggerated fear of compromising the country’s territorial unity… the army’s role is a brake to Turkey’s development toward a pluralist, democratic system,» the report signed by Christian-Democratic Euro MP Arie Oostlander said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was quick to criticize the report, urging the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to «eliminate (any) prejudices» it contained. «Can anybody seriously think that Turkey could possibly give up Ataturk’s heritage and secularism just because some Dutch idiot says it should?» fumed former Turkish Foreign Minister Coskun Kirca. «If Europeans try to violate our most fundamental values, I don’t see why we should join their union,» says Karaba, noting that it was Ataturk who granted women the right to vote in 1934, long before other European countries. The army is still the most respected institution in the country, polls say, with politicians trailing far behind. Generals have the upper hand in the National Security Council, Turkey’s highest decision-making body. «Rejecting Kemalism is just another way of saying, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to let you in,’» said Hasan Unal, professor of international relations at Ankara University. The EU is looking for a pretext to prevent Turkey from joining the EU, Unal said, pointing to Brussels’s demands that Turkey settle the Cyprus question first and that it refrain from sending troops into northern Iraq. Many Turks have accused the Europeans of blocking Turkey’s bid to preserve the Union’s character as a Christian club.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.