[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Turkey at the Crossroads
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2007


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] Turkey is a country, whose stability and friendship is vitally important to the United States. Strategically located between east and west, offering a crucial overland energy route from the Middle East into Europe that avoids Russia, Turkey has the largest army in NATO after that of the United States. Its population of seventy-four million is greater than that of any country in the EU, which Turkey hopes to join, a possibility that becomes increasingly unlikely with each passing day. Turkey is also a secular democracy even though its population is almost entirely Muslim.

With all of this at stake, Americans have to be concerned about the deepening crisis which threatens to unravel the foundations of the Turkish republic and produce chaos. How it plays out in the months ahead could transpose this secular democracy to another Islamic Republic or a military dictatorship.

The modern Turkish republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. He despised the Islamic fundamentalists and created an avowedly secular democratic republic. Its secularism knows no limits. Even the wearing of head scarves by girls and women in schools and public buildings is prohibited. In the more than eight decades since its founding, Islamists have periodically gotten control of the government and used their power, conferred by an election, to chip away at the country’s secularism. Each time this occurred the Army has taken control of the government in a coup.

This brings us to the current situation. In 2002 the religiously rooted Justice and Development party (AK) captured a majority of the parliament in the elections. Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister. For the last five years, secularists feared that Erdogan would lead the country on a path toward becoming an Islamic state like Iran or Saudi Arabia. For the most part, these fears have been unjustified. Aside from some legislative changes, for example criminalizing adultery, the basic social order has not changed. During these five years, Turkey’s economy has been booming. No one expects a religious party to have a strong membership of young hardworking entrepreneurs. Yet that is what has happened in Turkey.

Notwithstanding the country’s increased prosperity, the secularists still resent Erdogan and fear that he and his party have their secret agenda to convert the nation into an Islamic Republic. Erdogan fueled their fears last month when he attempted to appoint Abdullah Gul, his foreign minister, and AK crony, as President of the country. That would give AK control of all three top governmental institutions, namely Prime Minister, Parliament and President. This was too much for the secularists. They saw Gul’s appointment as a clear indication that the Islamic program would now be implemented. That Gul’s wife wears a headscarf and that it would be worn in the presidential palace where it has been prohibited was the last straw.

The seriousness of this latter point cannot be overestimated. The silk fabric covering the head of Gul’s wife drove secularists to oppose Gul’s selection as president with all means at their disposal. No single issue has emerged with more emotional impact to those fighting against inroads of fundamentalist Islam everywhere in the world. Even in France. Chirac’s government last year legislated a ban on the wearing of headscarves in public schools, and it touched off riots.

With parliamentary maneuvering by secularists, aided by a friendly court, Gul’s selection as President was blocked. Not content with that, the Army subtlety threatened another coup with an announcement on its website. A million people marched in Istanbul to defend secularism.

Erdogan could have backed down and appointed someone from another party to be president. Instead, he raised the stakes by calling for early elections on July 22. Suppose that Erdogan’s AK party wins a larger majority in parliament in the July 22 elections and he reappoints Gul or another AK member. With Erdogan having a larger parliamentary majority, the secularists won’t be able to block Erdogan’s appointment this time. This would be pushing the country to the brink. It might lead the Army to seize control of the country again.

Erdogan has been no friend of the United States. He prohibited U.S. troops from crossing Turkey to enter Iraq in the war to topple Saddam Hussein. Still, it would be a shame to see the demise, even temporary, of Turkey’s democracy. Yet forced to choose between rule by the Army and the fundamental Islamists, many Turks would select secularism over democracy. One can only hope that Erdogan will demonstrate leadership and steer the country away from this crisis with a compromise selection for President.