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Turkey Is Different

June 10, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Protesters have taken to the streets in Istanbul, Turkey’s first city. The metropolis is a vibrant mix of cultures, as Byzantium lurks in the shadow of Islam. Geographically the city and country are divided between East and West by the Bosporus Strait. Politically Turkey is drawn by both the past and the future.

The planned demolition of a small park in central Istanbul triggered demonstrations in Istanbul. The heavy-handed response by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government spurred protests across the nation. Then came a flood of predictions that the “Turkish Spring” was set to sweep away yet another authoritarian regime.

Yet Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was democratically elected, triumphing in three straight elections, winning a larger portion of the vote each time. One reason for Erdogan’s success is that he has systematically dismantled the authoritarian, military-dominated system that controlled the Republic of Turkey since its founding in 1923.

Although liberal and secular elites worry that he is constructing a more Islamist and repressive system, Erdogan retains the support of his traditional political base. The prime minister has been weakened, but continues to dominate Turkish politics.

Modern Turkey was born out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed at the end of World War I. Military leader Mustafa Kemal Pasha, played a leading role during the conflict’s tumultuous aftermath and became Turkey’s first president. He took on the name Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”) and his image still dominates the modern nation. His statue dots city squares and his photo adorns shop walls across the land.

Turkey’s capital, Ankara, hosts a massive mausoleum and memorial that covers an entire city block. Official honorifics are routinely piled upon any mention of his name. For years anyone disrespecting his memory or destroying objects with his image faced jail. Only in North Korea have I seen a similarly suffocating personality cult.

Ataturk was determined to modernize the country, turning ruthless nationalism and secularism into Turkey’s governing philosophy enforced by a one-party state. More genuine democracy emerged after his death but the military still dominated, staging three hard coups, the last in 1980, and a softer variant in 1997.

There should be no nostalgia for the “good old days.” The military jailed and tortured opponents. The generals even executed ousted civilian leaders in 1961. Ethnic minorities like the Kurds faced brutal military oppression; tens of thousands of people died and thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed as …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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