Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turkish spring?

People have superficially labelled the riots and demonstrations now occuring in Turkey as a version of the Arab Spring, calling them the "Turkish Spring."  Apart from the fact that it is now the summer, this is a mis-representation.  What is happening in Turkey is fundamentally different because it represents the fault line between secular democracy and Islamic coercion.  Although the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Cairo initially seemed to be similar, it turned out to be quite different, it was mainly an uprising of Islamic extremists against military dictatorships that controlled the Arab countries. 
Turkey is a democracy and is fundamentally different from the Arab world because it has been a western-style democracy for 90 years, since the time of Kemal Attaturk, who modernized and westernized Turkey and declared it a Republic in 1923.  Many people don't realize that in the wake of WWI something drastic had to be done, because the Allies (Britain, France and the US) were preparing to carve up Turkey as well as its former colonies.  In fact, while Britain and France received Mandates to govern and then allow self-determination over the Middle East, the US was offered to be the Mandatory power of Turkey (then of Armenia) but Pres. Wilson refused because he did not want the US to become a colonial power (although the US controlled the Philippines and Cuba) and the US had not actually declared war on Turkey or fought against it.  But, the "Young Turks" under Attaturk carried out an internal revolution and by agreeing to "secularize" Turkey managed to maintain its independence (they also defeated the invading Greek Army).
What is happening in Turkey now is a defensive reaction in order to maintain the status quo of democratic norms against an increasingly Islamic and authoritarian trend by the current Government of Pres. Erdogan, whereas in the Arab countries, the reaction was against years of repressive and incompetent military dictatorships.  But, it was not primarily to bring about democracy, but primarily to replace those dictators by Islamist governments, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.   Now, Erdogan realizing that Turkey is a good model for the Arab world has been trying to gain influence there.  He was on a tour of N. African countries when the rioting started in Istanbul ostensibly over the development of a popular park.  Apparently together with his Islamic trend, Erdogan also has visions of reestablishing Turkish hegemony in the Arab world, although he has little hope of success in that.  However, as one of the main Sunni antagonists to Syrian Pres. Assad, who is allied to Shia Iran, Turkey under Erdogan sees itself as a leader of the Sunni Muslim world.   However, to be such a leader he needs to move his coutnry more to the "right" as a Muslim state, something that he has been busy doing, and the demonstrations all over Turkey are a specific reaction to that trend. 
Turkey can turn to the left towards secular Europe (it has a long-term application to join the EU) or to the right (to be a leader of the Sunni Muslim world as a facsimile of its former imperial role), it can't have it both ways.  Apparently Erdogan wants the latter and the demonstrators want the former, to return to the Attaturk model.  We will see who prevails. 


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