Edhem Eldem: Turkey’s False Nostalgia

tags: Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Edhem Eldem, Ataturk



Edhem Eldem is a professor of history at Bogazici University.

ISTANBUL — THE demonstrators who have filled the streets of Istanbul and other Turkish cities for nearly three weeks complain that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., has adopted an increasingly authoritarian attitude that threatens basic freedoms. They also resent his tendency to meddle in the personal lives of citizens — by condemning abortion or trying to control the sale and consumption of alcohol.

But Mr. Erdogan isn’t the first Turkish leader to have flirted with authoritarianism and social engineering. This is important to remember, since many of his opponents tend to hark back to a nostalgic past, best illustrated by the profusion of Turkish flags and images of the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Before claiming that Mr. Erdogan’s moves can be countered by returning to the foundations of the secular republic, we should recall that Turkey was not a democracy until 1950; that it was ruled consecutively from 1923 to 1946 by two unchallenged leaders, Ataturk and Ismet Inonu, each invested with dictatorial powers; and that its democracy was “interrupted” three times by military coups or interventions, in 1960, 1971 and 1980, not to mention a failed one in 1997. Moreover, Turkish “secularism” often marginalized and oppressed those who openly displayed their beliefs; head-scarf-wearing women were banned from universities, and few protections were given to religious minorities....




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