This opinion piece appeared in our English language daily today under the byline “Sinan Baykent”. I’m always happy when I find someone who agrees with me 🙂
The July 15, 2016 coup attempt turned regular political references upside down in Turkey. Even ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) cadres started to multiply their eulogies to the first and original Republican era. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, too, gradually began to accentuate Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s importance and significance to Turkish people in his latest speeches. Meanwhile, streets all over Turkey are covered in giant Atatürk posters.
Fans in football stadiums are chanting patriotic and republican marches, putting all antagonisms aside. Big companies are broadcasting ads commemorating Atatürk’s beloved memory on TVs, radios and newspapers. Great popular mobilization occurred during Republic Day on Oct. 29 and Atatürk Memorial Day on Nov. 10.
For a long time AKP cadres always mentioned the founder using different political formulas without referring to the word “Atatürk.” However, the July 15 coup attempt annihilated these unnecessary contortions. The day following the coup attempt, a magniloquent Atatürk poster was hung at the AKP’s headquarters in Ankara. Since then and especially after U.S. pressure on Turkey escalated, Erdoğan and AKP cadres espoused a somewhat “Kemalist” image. Even if some analysts evoke a “pragmatic electoral shift” in order to gain votes for the 2019 presidential elections, I consider this to be the result of a mandatory state-level initiative.
Turkey’s raison d’état has been gravely shaken by the July 15 coup attempt. It triggered the necessity to take state-level immediate actions to eradicate intra-national threats. At the same time vertiginous incidents happened in the region. U.S. support to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Israeli-backed referendum in northern Iraq and recent developments in Saudi Arabia forced Turkey to adapt itself to a new and changing equilibrium.
Kemalism has always been seen as the “official ideology” of the Turkish Republic. Nevertheless, it is an ideology of the previous century and it has been largely misinterpreted over the past decades. Nowadays, Turkey’s raison d’état is reshaping itself. As one of history’s ironies, it is the conservative Erdoğan who partly initiated this crucial task. A new and vital paradigm is currently under construction. I find it appropriate to name this original conceptual sketch “neo-Kemalism.” In my opinion, neo-Kemalism is a blend of the founding will, and modern necessities for national sovereignty, prosperity and peace. It embodies the attempt to re-actualize the classical Kemalist thought by cropping its radical edges. In this framework, Kemalism would reconcile with its old “demons” in order to fit in the new scheme of the 21st century.
Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül seem to be the sole political actors to ensure the right inclusion of conservatives into the neo-Kemalist body. However, the neo-Kemalist paradigm also needs Kurdish, Alevi and Christian actors. In sum, it needs actors from all political sectors who would be willing to carry the Turkish Republic to the 21st century.
Neo-Kemalism represents Turkey’s new political compass, and down this road lies a free, united and truly democratic Republic of Turkey. While stubborn ones shall gently disappear from the national political scene; faithful ones, on the other hand, shall achieve political salvation.