93rd Anniversary of the Republic of Turkey

Cumhuriyet Bayramınız kutlu olsun!

To commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the official founding of the Republic of Turkey, I’m passing on this piece posted on the Turkish Coalition of America website:

unnamedOn October 29, 1923, the newly recognized Turkish parliament proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, formally marking the end of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day, Mustafa Kemal, who led the Turkish National War of Liberation and was later named Atatürk (father of Turks), was unanimously elected as the first president of the Republic.

Turkey had effectively been a republic from April 23, 1920 when the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated in Ankara. When the Turkish parliament held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the crumbling Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, the nationwide resistance movement gained momentum. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolution of the Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal’s justification for opening the resistance movement’s new legislative body was created.

With the opening of the Assembly, Ankara became the center of the Turkish national struggle for liberation. The National War of Liberation culminated in the emancipation of Anatolia from foreign occupation, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and finally, the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. October 29, or Republic Day, is an official Turkish holiday celebrated each year across Turkey and by peoples of Turkish heritage worldwide.

Following the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked on a wide-ranging set of reforms in the political, economic and cultural aspects of Turkish society. These reforms have left a lasting legacy of which the peoples of Turkish heritage are proud: the conversion of the newly founded Republic into today’s modern, democratic and secular Turkish state.

The 93rd Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

This post was published by the Turkish Coalition of America to commemorate the treaty signed in Lausanne on June 24, 1923 that gave international recognition to the modern Republic of Turkey.

“TCA celebrates the 93rd anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the boundaries of the modern state of Turkey. This international treaty was signed on July 24, 1923 and shortly thereafter, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on October 29.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Fotoðraf ve Objeler

Legislative Assembly of the new Republic of Turkey

The Treaty of Lausanne followed the signing of the Armistice at Mudanya on October 11, 1922, after decisive victories by Turkish national forces led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Britain was forced to lift its occupation of Istanbul and the Turkish straits and to call for a peace conference in the face of the final defeat of Greek forces, who invaded Anatolia as Britain’s surrogates, and with the occupying Italian and French forces decidedly moving toward non-confrontation with the Turkish national resistance movement.

The Turkish delegation to Lausanne was led by Ismet Inonu, the victorious commander of the final battles that led to the peace negotiations. Countries represented at the peace talks included Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Serbo-Croatia. Russia, Belgium and Portugal entered the treaty negotiations at later stages to discuss the status of the Turkish straits and financial matters concerning the defunct Ottoman Empire. The United States attended the treaty negotiations as an observer.

Cheering the victory

Citizens of the new Republic celebrating their victory

The negotiations began on November 21, 1922 and lasted over eight months. Turkey’s main concern was to achieve recognition of its borders as defined in its National Pact of 1920, gain control over the Turkish straits and end the economic concessions and privileges (capitulations) conferred to some European states. At the end of the conference, the Turkish borders gained international recognition with special provisions placed on Iskenderun and Mosul. The status of Iskenderun was later determined by a local referendum and the province legally joined Turkey’s borders on June 23, 1939. Mosul remained outside of Turkey’s borders and subsequently became part of Iraq. Turkey also gained control of the straits with special provisions to regulate international commercial traffic and rights by the Black Sea littoral countries, which were later codified by the Montreux Treaty on July 20, 1936. Finally, capitulations were abolished.

The Turkish War of National Liberation, fought against the most powerful imperial states of the time, culminated in a military and diplomatic victory for the Turkish people who achieved full independence and sovereignty at Lausanne. For many years to come, this victory would serve as a source of inspiration for several nations in their struggles against Western imperialism and independence.”

The Sykes-Picot Agreement -Who’s to blame?

This Thursday, May 19, will mark one hundred years since the concluding of an agreement signed in secret by the three Entente Powers in the First World War. Britain, France and Czarist Russia, anticipating victory and the final demise of the Ottoman Empire, drew up a document carving up the Ottoman domains and divvying them up amongst themselves.


Colonel Sykes

When the victorious Bolsheviks made the agreement public after the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was something of an embarrassment for the British and French governments. Nevertheless, they went ahead with their plans, and the post-war Treaty of Sevres was an attempt to implement the provisions determined by Mr Sykes and M. Picot.

There is a debate going on in Western media at present over the extent to which those two gentlemen are to blame for the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. There seems to be a significant body of opinion on the affirmative side, arguing that the post-WWI division of Ottoman territory was based on self-interest, without regard for on-the-ground realities. The result, they say, was the current national borders that pay little or no attention to the ethnic and religious composition of the local people. This is one of the key wrongs that the ISIS/Daesh people claim they want to set right.

On their part, the opposition play down the importance of Sykes-Picot on the grounds that: A. It was never fully implemented; B. Messrs Sykes and Picot didn’t really know what they were doing; and C. Hatreds and conflicts in the region go back millennia. Implicit in this position is the argument that the Western allies should not be held responsible for Middle Eastern chaos.

So who’s right? As usual, there are elements of truth on both sides, but neither adhere to the legal principle of ‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’


Monsieur Picot

First of all, there can be little doubt that Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes, Baronet, and François Marie Denis Georges-Picot were acting on the authority of their respective governments. You can’t weasel your way out of that, guys.

Second, while it is true that the Sykes-Picot agreement was not implemented in full, it wasn’t for want of trying by the French and British governments. The 1918 Mudros Armistice that ended WWI hostilities was followed by occupation of the Ottoman capital Istanbul, and military invasion of Izmir and the Anatolian Aegean region by Greece. The 1920 San Remo Conference and the subsequent Treaty of Sevres pretty much followed the Sykes-Picot formula.

The fly in the ointment was Mustafa Kemal Pasha, later Atatürk, who led his Turkish nationalist forces to victory, expelling the Greek army from Anatolia, liberating Istanbul from enemy occupation, and establishing the Republic of Turkey. The 1924 Treaty of Lausanne obliged the 1915 conspirators to except the Anatolian heartland from their plans. Nevertheless, boundaries in the rest of the Middle East were redrawn more or less according to Sykes-Picot. Britain and France got their imperial ‘spheres of influence’, established puppet local governments, and laid the groundwork for the Zionist state of Israel – the main stumbling block to peace in the region.


The fly in the ointment

As for the claim (said to have been uttered by US President Obama) that regional hatreds and conflicts ‘date back millennia’, this is, at best, a blurring of the truth with ambiguous words. It may be that Biblical conflicts were fought two thousand years ago – but the Pax Romana enforced a peace that lasted pretty much until the oil age that began around the beginning of the 20th century. The creation of Israel in 1947 established a Jewish state that had not existed in any form for 1,815 years. Various Islamic empires controlled the Middle East, North Africa and even Spain for much of the time from the 7th century to the 20th. Admittedly control was established initially by conquest, but thereafter, citizens were allowed to follow their own religions and speak their own languages. The current mix of religions and cultures in the Middle East is surely testament to this.

Of course, it is unfair to lay the blame for present conflicts on two imperial civil servants. Debate over the role of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is surely a red herring. Blame clearly rests with the imperial governments of Britain, France and Russia, who used their military and economic power to force their will on helpless and trusting people – and the emergent United States Empire that continued (and continues) that legacy into the 21st century.

Sebastian Martyrs and the Cult of Atatürk

October and November are big months in modern Turkey. Three important dates in the history of the Republic are commemorated:

  • 6 October – The liberation of Istanbul
  • 29 October – The foundation of the Republic
  • 10 November – The anniversary of the death of the founding president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

I’ve been in this country long enough to have witnessed a few annual returns of these dates, and it seems to me that of late the celebrations have become somewhat muted. Possibly that’s understandable. The elitist old guard have taken a bit of a beating in recent years from the new political kid on the block, the Justice and Development Party. The AKP, to use its Turkish initials, ‘Islamic-rooted’ as the foreign press persistently tells us, has been governing the country since 2003. Despite vociferous opposition from the left, right and centre of the traditional political spectrum, the AKP has won majorities in five parliamentary elections, and succeeded in having its candidate elected president in the first general election ever held for that position.

The country’s military leaders, long-established protectors of the sanctity of the constitution (which they wrote), have been nudged back to the more conventional role of defending the state from outside threats. Middle-aged social mediaholics, prefacing their Facebook profile names with the initials TC (for Turkish Republic) are convinced that the country is plunging headlong into a dark medieval night of alcohol prohibition, judicial beheadings and compulsory black burqas for women. You can understand their despair, given their total inability to make an impact at the ballot box.


Location of Sivas province

As for me, I’m an optimist. Foreign visitors to Turkey have long been puzzled by the seemingly idolatrous adulation accorded to statues, photographs and death masks of the nation’s founder. I, at least, have read enough about Atatürk’s achievements to sympathise with the veneration accorded him. In a nutshell, if it hadn’t been for Mustafa Kemal Pasha, no country remotely resembling the modern nation of Turkey would exist today.

I do feel, however, that the time is right for authorities to lay aside the conventional blind adoration and work towards a realistic appraisal of Atatürk the man. While this may require some acceptance of his human failings, it will, I am convinced, result in a more profound appreciation of the mental and moral strength required to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against his people in those days.

I worked in a school for some years whose commitment to secular Kemalism would rank among the more dedicated. From the day they entered our doors, pupils were drilled in the minutest details of the great man’s life, the colour of his eyes (piercing blue), the names of his father, mother  and sister (Ali Rıza, Zübeyde and Makbule respectively), the colour of the family home in Salonika (pink); and encouraged to shed tears of grief at 9.05 am every 10th of November. By the time they reached high school, it was difficult to get them to attend school ceremonies on those most sacred days in the Republican calendar. Most of them had had enough. Which struck me as sad.

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

Another thing that struck me as sad – and somewhat surprising in view of the school’s dedication to the lore of secular republicanism, was how many of my students thought that the Liberation of Istanbul had something to do with the conquest of Byzantine Constantinople by the 15th century Sultan, Mehmet II. Very few seemed to be aware that, after leading the army of National Salvation to victory against the invading Greeks, and driving them out of Izmir, Mustafa Kemal turned his troops northwards towards Istanbul, faced down the threat of war with the mighty British Empire, and watched the invaders leave as they had come, without firing a shot. The disgrace to Great Britain actually led to the collapse of David Lloyd George’s government and Winston Churchill’s (temporary) exile to the political wilderness. Whether Kemal Pasha’s eyes were blue, brown or bloodshot red, you’d think that would be something worth telling kids about.

29 October was the date in 1923 when the newly established parliament of Turkey proclaimed the foundation of the Republic. It has enormous symbolic importance, and is celebrated annually as Turkey’s equivalent of America’s 4th, and France’s 14th of July. As an actual historical event, however, the proclamation was a formal acknowledgement of a situation that had already existed for over three years. The nation’s Republican parliament (Millet Meclisi) had been inaugurated on 23 April 1920, in the new capital city of Ankara. Nevertheless, Turkey without Istanbul would be inconceivable, and one might argue, therefore, that winning that city back from the armies of occupation was an event of unparalleled significance.

Undoubtedly the fledgling Republic of Turkey suffered a great loss when its first President passed away on 10 November 1938. On the other hand, they were lucky to get him at all. Few nations in the world have been blessed with a leader whose multi-faceted genius encompassed military victories against fearsome odds, constitutional revolution, and statesmanship on the international stage. And of course, no one lives forever. Have you ever paused to consider what might have happened to Christianity if Jesus Christ had been allowed to see out his three score years and ten, instead of being martyred in the prime of life at the age of 33? Atatürk made it to 57, and it could be argued that his best years were behind him. How would he have dealt with the traumas of the Second World War, and pressure to give his people the vote? Possibly it’s for the best that we didn’t have to find out.

Sivas's famous kangal dog

Sivas’s famous kangal dog

It does seem to me though, that the outpourings of grief on anniversaries of his death, sincere though they may be, militate against a genuine appreciation of Atatürk’s outstanding achievements. Certainly he lives on in true Turkish hearts, and in that sense, is not actually dead – but the reality is that he’s not coming back. The Republic needs to move on, and to do that, 10 November provides an opportunity to give thanks for his life, and to begin evaluating, with a vision unclouded by tears of mourning, exactly what relevance his legacy has for Turkey in the 21st century.

Strange to say, my inspiration for this post did not actually come from any of those dates listed above. Last week there was a festival held in our new park by the seaside at Maltepe. Entitled ‘Sivas Günleri’, it was a celebration of the cultural identity of a region in central Anatolia east of Ankara. Sivas, its citizens driving cars whose number plates are prefixed with ‘58’, is, in area, the second-largest of Turkey’s 81 provinces, and one of the most sparsely populated.

It was a very Turkish festival. Two large marquees had been erected in the vast public square of the new park. The larger of the two housed displays of Sivas’s various districts, displaying local handcrafts and traditional costumes, and serving tea and snacks to mustachioed middle-aged and elderly gentlemen, one assumes hailing from those parts. There was also a central auditorium with a stage from which various minor dignitaries were holding forth about whatever these kind of guys like to hold forth about – with a rather sparse audience exhibiting scant interest in what they had to say.

Help yourself

Mouth-watering Sivas cuisine

The adjacent marquee held more appeal, not only for me, but for the crowds in attendance. It contained a number of restaurants serving Sivas cuisine, and stalls purveying local produce: honey, fresh and dried fruit and vegetables, and a marvellous variety of peculiarly Turkish delicacies. I bought a doll in traditional costume for my granddaughter, Kiri, and a packet of sweets made from hazel nut paste, which were a taste sensation! Then, since it was around lunchtime, and my salivary glands were in a state of high excitement, I allowed myself to be enticed by the sight of lamb carcasses rotating on spits over hot coals, and sat down to a meal of sırık kebab. Words cannot describe . . .

But what has this got to do with the Turkish Republic and its revered founder, I hear you ask. Well, Sivas, in contrast to its current relative insignificance, has a very colourful history. My sources tell me there was a Hittite settlement in the area as early as 2,600 BCE, though little is known about the town until the Roman general and political luminary, Pompey, founded the city he named Megalopolis, which later became Sebaste. You may be interested to learn, as I was, that the name ‘Sebastian’ derives from the Latin adjective meaning a citizen of that city.

Apparently Sebaste was quite a hive of early Christianity, back in the days when the Roman Empire was trying to stamp it out – and consequently is remembered for a number of martyrs, by churches that go in for that sort of thing. One particularly memorable event involved forty soldiers back in the 4th century who, to demonstrate the error of their ways, were exposed naked overnight on a frozen lake in the middle of winter. Well, nights can get pretty chilly out there on the Anatolian steppe at an altitude of around 1,500 metres, and there weren’t many signs of life the next morning; but to make certain, local authorities had the bodies burned and the ashes cast into a nearby river.

Sivas's 4th century 40 martyrs

Sivas’s 4th century 40 martyrs

Continuing the tradition of misfortune, Sebaste’s location at the eastern reaches of the Byzantine Empire exposed it to the earliest depredations of Turkic invaders in the 11th century. By the 12th century it had become Turkish to the extent that it served as one of the capitals of the Seljuk Empire, and in 1408, was incorporated into the expanding Ottoman dominions. In spite of Muslim conquest, however, Armenian and Orthodox Christian communities survived, with their churches, into the 20th century.

The Republican connection dates from September 1919. British and French armies had occupied the Ottoman capital Istanbul at the end of the First World War, and their governments began the process of dismembering the empire according to plans they had been making in secret for some years. The last straw for Turkish patriots was when a Greek army, sponsored by the victorious allies, landed in Izmir, intent on re-claiming their once extensive Byzantine territories.

There is some debate about the circumstances surrounding Mustafa Kemal’s departure from Istanbul and arrival in the Black Sea port of Samsun on 19 May 1919. Nevertheless, that date is recognised in modern Turkey as the beginning of the War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). He wasn’t alone, of course, but it was undoubtedly Kemal Pasha’s charisma that inspired his war-weary people to one further struggle. Two congresses were held, in Erzurum and Sivas, laying the groundwork for the forthcoming conflict, and these two cities are recognised as crucial in the foundation of the Republic.

Sivas has two other claims to fame. One is its status as the home of the kangal, a large breed of dog renowned as a guardian of livestock and villagers against wolves, bears and jackals.

The other, less honourable, is a shameful event that took place on 2 July, 1993. On that date, the city was the venue for a cultural festival attended by a gathering of artists, writers and intellectuals, many of whom were Alevi. A mob of religious extremists set fire to the Madımak Hotel where many of the visitors were staying, resulting in 35 deaths.

Stop the killing - there are better things in life

Stop the killing – there are better things in life

Again there is some debate about the reasons for the attack. Some say it was targeting a gentleman by the name of Aziz Nesrin, who had angered orthodox Sunni Muslims by translating Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, into Turkish. Others say it was more generally directed at the Alevi community as a whole. It was asserted at the time that local police stood by and allowed the arsonists to do their work unmolested. That’s entirely possible – although the government of the day did seem to do its best to bring perpetrators to justice.

Well, the 1990s are not so long ago, when you think about it. Those were bad times in Turkey, as opponents of the present government should not forget. The history of Sivas has a lot to teach us, if we choose to listen.

The Lasting Legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

On 10 November people in Turkey pause to commemorate the achievements of the revered founder of their republic, on the anniversary of his death in 1938. I’m reblogging this tribute published on the website of the Turkish Coalition of America:

ataturk-10-2“On November 10th, TCA paid tribute to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who led the Turkish National War of Liberation, founded the modern Republic of Turkey and launched an extraordinary series of reforms that continue to inspire the Turkish nation. World-over, Ataturk is honored as one of the greatest national leaders of the 20th Century. In the words of Scottish historian, Patrick Balfour (the 3rd Baron Kinross): “the soldier in Ataturk had saved his country, the statesman in him had won for it the honorable peace, the reformer in him was now to make of it a new country.”

Ataturk: The Soldier

Ataturk: The Statesman

Ataturk: The Reformer

Please click here to listen to the speech of President John F. Kennedy delivered in 1963 on the 25th anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s passing.” 

Read the whole article.

Downton Abbey, Military Coups and the New Turkey

Have you noticed that the ages people tend to consider milestones in a human life-span don’t actually change much at all? You turn 30 – oh no! you think. That’s the end of my youthful irresponsibility. As of today I have to become a mature adult. But in fact you don’t feel any different from the day before when you were 29 years and 364 days. You hit the big 4-oh – and it’s not as bad as you’d feared. What changed? Very little.

The fear really kicks in when you get to 34 or 45. Then you are obliged to face the reality that the next milestone is . . . and that is scary.

‘Downton Abbey’ has become quite a big thing in our household for the last year or so – that teddibly teddibly English drama series dealing with life in the rigid socio-economic strata of a Yorkshire stately home a century or so ago. Lord Grantham is a blue-blooded aristocrat whose main purpose in life is preserving his inherited title, property and lifestyle for succeeding generations. If he has a philosophy it can probably be summarised as ‘God’s in His heaven, the laird’s in his castle, Mrs Patmore’s in the kitchen – all’s right with the world.’

My daughter's marrying an Irish chauffeur?

My daughter’s marrying an Irish chauffeur?

The 20th century had dawned some years previously. 1 January 1900 had come and gone with little to disturb the great chain of being. The venerable Victoria had sat 63 glorious years on the imperial throne before handing over to her sagaciously bearded, solid-looking son Edward (born in 1841). Motorcars had appeared on the scene, but in as yet manageable numbers, retaining the height, cabinetwork and brass trappings of horse-powered carriages; and had yet to impact on equestrian culture.

The real shock was yet to come – and it came with the Great War; the conflagration later to be known as World War I. It wasn’t so much the appalling toll of death and injury. What really ushered in the new century was the social upheaval brought about by the flood of new technology, and the demolition of social barriers between men and women, and social classes.

By Downton’s fifth season, Lord Grantham is starting to lose his way in a labyrinth of previously unthinkable societal changes. His eldest daughter is a youthful widow; his middle daughter has a child out of wedlock . The youngest married the chauffeur before dying and leaving the family with their child as an unbreakable link. Downton Abbey itself is taken over for the war years as a hospital for wounded servicemen. Once idle rich women experience the personal fulfilment of meaningful work and service to others. Young men of all classes fight side-by-side, seeing friends and enemies of all classes burst open to reveal blood, bones and organs equally horrific and disgusting. Many of them come to question whether the war had truly been fought for freedom, or for less noble economic motives. By the time a radio is accepted into the big house and Lady Cora flirts with a male guest, it has become clear that the old world has passed. Whatever was may have been right – but it no longer is.

The Dowager Lady Grantham sums up the whole business in one of her inimitable observations: ‘All this endless thinking – it’s very overrated. I blame the war. Before 1914 nobody thought about anything at all.’

Well, I know I haven’t really said anything new here. It’s no discovery of mine that the First World War marked, for better or worse, the true beginning of the 20th century. As I write this, however, seated at my desk in Istanbul on Tuesday 19 May 2015 I am enjoying a day off work thanks to Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. On this day, 96 years ago, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, as he was then, disembarked from a ship in the Black Sea city of Samsun. Sultan Mehmet VI was still sitting, albeit precariously, on the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He had charged the young general with overseeing the disbanding of the imperial army, as required by the Treaty of Sevres.

Out with the old - in with the new

Out with the old – in with the new

The pasha didn’t do it. Instead he set about organising a nationalist movement which, four years later, had driven the invading Greek Army out of Anatolia, persuaded the occupying British forces to quit Istanbul, abolished the 600-year Ottoman Empire and supervised the foundation of the modern republic. But what was the nature of that new entity? Its population was less than 14 million. Ten years of virtually uninterrupted war had decimated the young male demographic. 76% of the people lived in rural areas. There was virtually no manufacturing or heavy industry, or mechanised agriculture. Another result of the wars was that Christian citizens, who had filled important sectors in the Ottoman economy, had left, replaced by dispossessed, impoverished refugee Muslims from Greek lands.

It would be a mistake to equate the terms ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’. Turkey held its first truly democratic election in 1950. Three-and-a-half coups d’état [1] between 1960 and 1997 replaced elected governments with military regimes. After the coup of 1980, 650,000 citizens were detained under martial law, 50 were executed and 171 died under torture, not counting the 299 who died in prison from undetermined causes. Newspapers were closed for 300 days, 30,000 civil servants were removed from their jobs; some 30,000 people fled the country and 14,000 had their citizenship revoked.

The architect of that bloody period in Turkey’s history was Chief of General Staff, Kenan Evren, who died two weeks ago at the age of 97. There was much debate over the question of a state funeral for a man who had held the position of President and Head of State for nine years – given that he had recently been convicted for his crimes, demoted to private and sentenced to life imprisonment[2]. He did get an official funeral in the end, but none of the main political parties sent representatives; and Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç was quoted as saying, ‘May God bless everyone who deserves blessing’ – possibly implying that Private Evren’s status with the Almighty was open to doubt.

In America's view, at least. The good old days in Turkey!

In America’s view, at least. The good old days in Turkey!

When I first came to Turkey, the 1980 coup was still relatively fresh in some people’s minds. My teacher colleagues assured me that it had been a necessary intervention to end a period of internecine political violence; that the army had a sacred duty to uphold the Turkish Republic – and there are some in the country who still, overtly or covertly, hold to that position.

More recently, however, some of the assumptions that seemed to be accepted as akin to gospel truths in the 1990s have been overturned, or have just quietly disappeared. As a result of two lengthy and wide-ranging court cases, the role of the military in Turkey seems to have drawn back from active participation in the political process, to a more conventional one of protector against threats from outside. Women choosing, for whatever reason, to cover their hair with a scarf, are permitted to study at universities or work in public and private sector jobs. The existence of two large ethnic or religious minorities, Kurds and Alevis, has been acknowledged and steps taken to allow them to participate fully in the life of the nation. Related to this process, the very name of the republic has become a matter of debate: the ‘Turkish Republic’ implying a homogeneous ethnicity – the ‘Republic of Turkey’ having more inclusive connotations.

Nevertheless, there are those who, for reasons of their own, refuse to accept that these changes are necessary, and persist in accusing the government of working against democracy. The leader of the CHP political opposition recently suggested that there was little to distinguish the present government from the military regime of the 80s. Well, political rhetoric often tends to exaggeration, but even Mr Kılıçdaroğlu must be aware that, had he made such criticism of Kenan Evren and his henchmen back then, at the very least he would have found himself missing a few fingernails, or nursing seriously battered feet.

Go ahead - google it!

Go ahead – google it!

That was a different world, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Turkey was on the frontline of NATO’s Cold War and left wing political activists were considered an unacceptable threat to its security. The existence of the stay-behind Gladio organisation and its covert operations in countries throughout Europe is now so well-documented as to be irrefutable. It was employed by successive United States governments to ensure the continuation of ‘friendly’ regimes in countries as diverse as Iran, Chile, Turkey and Nicaragua.

Covertly orchestrated regime-changes are known to have taken place from the 50s through to the 80s – and who’s to say they are not still happening. If Gladio agents could foment street violence in the 1970s to justify military intervention, who’s to say they, or their post-modern equivalents wouldn’t do it again? The enemy may have changed from communists to Muslims – but if the methods work . . . The US government and the European Union are tying themselves in contortions of sophistry to avoid applying the label of military coup to the ousting (and now threatened execution) of democratically elected Muhammed Morsi in Egypt. The US’s Arab friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates are performing surrogate roles in Syria and Yemen. You might think we are in the early stages of World War III – except as far as I am aware, no one has actually declared war on anyone.

Maybe that’s another sign that the world has changed.


[1] That of 1997 is often referred to as the ‘post-modern’ coup, avoiding the use of tanks, torture and other bloodshed

[2] The sentence is currently under appeal