Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the failed July 2016 coup attempt to rewrite Turkish history, and "[t]he narrative is one of heroic defiance in the name of Islam, against foreign powers, including the United States," the New York Times reported Monday.[1]  --  The struggle in July is being called "Turkey’s second war of independence," the first one being Ataturk's post-WWI one that was "at the center of constructing a Turkish identity centered on secular and nationalist principles," Tim Arango said.  --  Erdogan's government had already "angered secular Turks by canceling several celebrations honoring Ataturk . . . while it has commemorated historic Ottoman victories and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad."  --  Some say that "Mr. Erdogan is essentially using the coup events to create a founding myth of an Islamist Turkey."  --  It will be recalled that "Mr. Erdogan, who was once jailed by Turkey’s old secular elite for reciting a religious poem in public [in 1997, when he was mayor of Istanbul; the poem included verses translated as "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers"  --H.A.], came to power in 2003 as the voice of Turkey’s religious masses.  He empowered an entire class of people who had historically been treated as second-class citizens, and gave them a sense that they mattered in the country’s affairs."  --  BACKGROUND: On Jul. 22 Shlomo Avineri reviewed the history that forms the basis of the Ergodan's historical project.[2]  --  A passage from vol. 6 of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History gives an idea of the gargantuan extent of Ataturk's attempt to turn Turkish history in a new direction, an attempt that at first succeeded (to the delight of many in the West, despite its dictatorial nature) but that now, increasingly, appears to be failing.[3]  --  Toynbee met Ataturk in person once in 1923, and described the meeting in a volume entitled Acquaintances (1967).[4]  -- It's an interesting passage that makes clear that if Toynbee was an admirer of Ataturk, mentioning him frequently in his writings, his was a very critical sort of admiration....




By Tim Arango

New York Times

August 8, 2016 (posted Aug. 7)
Page A4


ISTANBUL -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had ambitions of surpassing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, as the country’s most consequential figure.

Now, a failed coup may allow him finally to do that.

For years, Mr. Erdogan, an Islamist, has celebrated great moments of the Ottoman past when Istanbul was the seat of the Islamic caliphate, and played down Turkey’s secular history established by Ataturk.  With last month’s failed coup, he now has his own story, and he has wasted little time propagating his own set of events and symbols to cement the narrative in the national consciousness.

A bridge over the Bosporus that was seized by renegade soldiers has been renamed for the civilians killed there.  A square in Ankara, occupied by tanks as the military tried to take power, has been renamed as a symbol of democracy.  Numerous street names have been changed to honor those who died defending the government.

Pro-government news media outlets have published thick volumes about the coup, celebrating the victims as national heroes, and the state broadcaster is making a documentary.  Statues and monuments are planned, and next July 15, the first anniversary of the failed coup, will be a national holiday.

The conspirators have their place, too.  Far on the outskirts of Asian Istanbul, on a plot of gravelly land near a dog shelter, graves have been dug for felled coup plotters in what is being called “the cemetery for traitors.”

All this in barely three weeks.  Mr. Erdogan’s purpose is to ensure not only that nothing is lost to history, but also that this latest chapter in Turkey’s history will be largely owned by his Islamist supporters.  In doing so, historians and analysts say, he has found an opportunity to celebrate what he has long called the “New Turkey” -- a modern nation that emphasizes Islam and is a break from the country’s secular past.

Kerem Oktem, a Turkish historian at the University of Graz in Austria, described it as “a narrative of an Islamist defense of democracy.”

The narrative is one of heroic defiance in the name of Islam, against foreign powers, including the United States, that Mr. Erdogan and others have darkly suggested may have been mixed up in the coup conspiracy.  But there is a twist:  In Mr. Erdogan’s telling, the coup was led not by the old secular elite, but by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who heads a rival Islamist movement and lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.  (There has even been talk in some pro-government newspapers of converting Mr. Gulen’s childhood home in Turkey into a public toilet.)

The coup attempt, and how it was defeated by crowds of Erdogan supporters and even some secularists who flooded the streets to stand up to the soldiers, has already been referred to as Turkey’s second war of independence.  The first one, led by Ataturk, followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and was at the center of constructing a Turkish identity centered on secular and nationalist principles.

“The AKP government had already been searching for new commemorations to mark what they define as the New Turkey,” said Esra Ozyurek, the chairwoman of the Turkish studies program at the London School of Economics, using the acronym of Mr. Erdogan’s political party.  “President Erdogan expressed how he did not think commemorations of the Turkish Republic reflect the whole Turkish, Ottoman, and Muslim history he saw the new Turkey building upon.”

Under Mr. Erdogan, the government has angered secular Turks by canceling several celebrations honoring Ataturk -- citing various rationales, like a mining accident and an earthquake -- while it has commemorated historic Ottoman victories and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

The coup, though, “seems to be the perfect grand event, complete with martyrs and great popular support,” Ms. Ozyurek said.

Now, Mr. Oktem said, Mr. Erdogan is trying to create a new narrative of a Turkish Islamic identity “that reaches beyond” what Ataturk built.  Other analysts say Mr. Erdogan is essentially using the coup events to create a founding myth of an Islamist Turkey.

The overwhelming message now is that Turkey is for the Islamists, even as Mr. Erdogan has sought to unify the country by reaching out to some of his traditional opponents, mainly secular and nationalist Turks, by dropping lawsuits he had filed against them and inviting them to rallies.

Mr. Erdogan, who was once jailed by Turkey’s old secular elite for reciting a religious poem in public, came to power in 2003 as the voice of Turkey’s religious masses.  He empowered an entire class of people who had historically been treated as second-class citizens, and gave them a sense that they mattered in the country’s affairs.

In the wake of the botched coup, he has provided them something even greater:  a belief that they, in heeding his call and those of the mosque preachers to rise to the government’s defense, saved the country much as Ataturk did after World War I.

Night after night since the coup attempt, Mr. Erdogan’s supporters, at his urging, have gathered in Taksim Square in central Istanbul to celebrate having saved the nation.  Ottoman-era music blares, and vendors sell Turkish flags, T-shirts bearing Mr. Erdogan’s face and watermelon slices.  To make it easier for people to attend, public transportation has been free.

Taksim Square itself has in the past been associated with secular movements -- from social and labor groups in the 1960s to the antigovernment demonstrations of three years ago that began as a protest against a plan to redevelop Gezi Park.  The large gatherings of Erdogan supporters in the square over the last three weeks have emerged as a potent symbol of the reclamation of Istanbul’s public spaces by the Islamists, Mr. Oktem said.

A massive gathering organized by Mr. Erdogan on Sunday in Istanbul, called the “democracy and martyrs” rally, was a potent show of unity, with two main opposition parties in attendance.  But there was no question of who was being celebrated.  Banners showed Mr. Erdogan next to Ataturk, and Mr. Erdogan arrived by helicopter and was introduced as the commander in chief.

“We are now the soldiers of this country,” said Osman Bozoglu, 34, a supporter of Mr. Erdogan who was selling Turkish flags at the rally.  “This was the second war of independence, and we won!  We would do it again.”

Turkish television has broadcast a stream of stories about heroic acts on the night of the coup, one of the most prominent being by an army sergeant, Omer Halisdemir, who reportedly shot and killed a general who was supporting the coup before he himself was killed.

“We’re getting stories, just like the war of independence,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a Turkish columnist and analyst.  “Individual stories of martyrs.”

Mr. Erdogan’s own story on the night of the coup, of narrowly escaping as he fled a hotel just before coup-plotting commandos arrived to kill or kidnap him, is already being compared to a famous story about Ataturk, who during the battle of Gallipoli supposedly missed death when his pocket watch deflected a bullet.

Never mind that the story has been contradicted by subsequent reports suggesting that Mr. Erdogan left his seaside hotel hours before the commandos arrived.  The bit about the narrow escape has already been welded into the popular account, and is likely to endure in history.

“In terms of myth making, these stories are very important in the imagination of a nation,” Ms. Aydintasbas said.  She called the quick efforts by the government and its media outlets an exercise in building a new “national mythology.”

Ms. Aydintasbas said it often seemed that the entire founding narrative of her country had been rewritten in a matter of weeks.  She added, “The nation has been redefined as the people out in the streets resisting the coup on the night of July 15.”



By Shlomo Avineri

New Europe
July 22, 2016


JERUSALEM -- The aftermath of Turkey’s failed military coup raises a fundamental question:  will President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continue to pursue his authoritarian path, perhaps with a vengeance, or will he reach out to his opponents and attempt to bridge the deep fissures in Turkish society?

The jury is still out, but judging from previous historical examples, serious challenges to authoritarian or semi-authoritarian leaders usually lead to a hardening of the regime, not greater moderation.  And Erdoğan’s moves since the coup’s collapse -- mass arrests and purges of thousands of soldiers, judges, police, and teachers were announced almost immediately -- seem to confirm the more pessimistic scenario.

Yet it would be a mistake to view what is now happening in Turkey exclusively through the prism of Erdoğan’s personality and his authoritarian inclinations.  He and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) represent a tectonic shift in Turkish politics, one with parallels in other Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.

In trying to move the path of Turkish history away from the radical secularism of modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk, the AKP initially appeared to veer from the Kemalist authoritarian mold.  Because Western observers were supportive of the secular nature of Kemalism, many overlooked that the regime was more similar to 1930s European fascism -- a nationalistic one-party state with Atatürk himself at the apex of a personality cult -- than to liberal democracy.  Only in the 1950s was the system slowly loosened.

Kemalist secularism was not the expression of a wide, popular movement from below; it was imposed by a small urban elite -- military and intellectual -- on a traditional and mostly rural society.  Kemalism not only introduced a variant of the Latin alphabet, which totally cut off Turks from any link to their history and culture; it also banned traditional forms of attire (fez, baggy trousers for men, headscarves for women) and forced a European dress code on the entire population.  All Arabic- or Muslim-sounding surnames had to be changed to Turkic ones.

No European society has experienced so wrenching a process of top-down cultural revolution.  In the West, secularization went hand in hand with the Enlightenment project of democratization and liberalization.  In Turkey -- and in a less radical form under the Shah in Iran and under military dictators in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Iraq -- the population never had a choice.

The AKP’s electoral victories since 2002 (as well as comparable developments in other Muslim countries) were, in a way, the return of the repressed.  Because the Kemalist system eventually liberalized politically (though not culturally), the emergence of a multiparty system eventually also empowered the traditional conservatives whose preferences had long been denied.

At the same time, economic modernization brought social mobility to the conservatives, which led to the emergence of a new bourgeoisie that clung to its traditional religious values and viewed the Kemalist elite -- ensconced in the army, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the universities -- as oppressors.  These voters formed the basis of the AKP’s electoral victories and democratic legitimacy.  The recent effort by elements of the army -- the shield of Kemalist secularism -- to overturn the will of the people (as it has done three times in the last half-century) confirms the continuing clash between secularism and democracy in Turkey.

At the same time, Erdoğan’s foreign policy in recent years has been anything but successful.  His initial commitment to “zero conflicts with neighbors” has led, instead, to deteriorating relations with Armenia, Russia, Israel, and Egypt -- not to mention significant domestic blowback, including a wave of terrorist attacks, from involvement in Syria’s civil war.

None of this has eroded Erdoğan’s support at home, while the United States and the European Union found themselves supporting him, albeit through clenched teeth, against the latest coup attempt.  This attests to Western powers’ fundamental interest in a stable Turkey, which the E.U. needs in order to stop further waves of immigrants, mainly from Syria, and which the U.S. needs for its war, limited as it is, against the Islamic State.  It is doubtful that Erdoğan’s pursuit of internal enemies -- real and imagined -- will prevent either the U.S. or the E.U. from courting Turkish cooperation.

But Erdoğan’s brutal response to the coup attempt -- which may include show trials, in addition to the “cleansing” of public institutions of both remnants of the secularist establishment and his former allies in the Gülen movement -- will only deepen the chasms within Turkish society.  Indeed, terrorist attacks have been launched not only by the Islamic State, but also by Kurdish militants, whose demands for autonomy challenge the concept of an indivisible Turkish nation -- a cornerstone of the Kemalist state.

Prior to the attempted putsch, Erdoğan made significant moves to reduce tension with Russia and Israel, and both efforts seem unlikely to be derailed by his post-coup crackdown.  Yet Syria’s civil war does not appear to be winding down, and the de facto implosion of Syria as a coherent state will continue to challenge Turkish politics and social cohesion, with more and more refugees trying to cross into Turkey.

Ultimately, Kemalist military-based secularism proved to be unsustainable:  its demolition under the AKP enjoys broad support.  But the failed coup is likely to reinforce the illiberal aspects of the democracy emerging under Erdoğan, in which the will of the people and majoritarian rule runs counter to pluralism, human rights, and freedom of speech.  The stability of such a system in Turkey -- where, despite popular opposition to the coup, hostility to Erdoğan is strong -- remains to be seen.



From A STUDY OF HISTORY, Vol. 6 (1939)
By Arnold J. Toynbee

V: The Disintegrations of Civilizations -- I. The Criterion of Disintegration -- (d) Schism in the Soul -- 9. Futurism -- (β) The Breach with the Present
Pages 112-13

. . . President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk succeeded in producing an even sharper breach with the Turkish cultural heritage by means of a less drastic but possibly more effective device.  The Turkish dictator's aim was nothing less than to wrench his fellow countrymen's minds out of their inherited Iranic cultural setting and to force them, instead, into a Western cultural mould; but, as an alternative to burning the books in which the treasures of Iranic culture are enshrined, he contented himself with insisting upon a change of Alphabet.  A law which was duly passed by the Great National Assembly at Angora on the 1st November, 1928, gave legal currency in Turkey to a version of the Latin Alphabet which had been worked out for the conveyance of the Turkish language at the dictator's orders; and the same law went on to prescribe that all newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, advertisements, and public signs must be printed in the new Alphabet on and after the coming 1st December; that all business of public services, banks, and companies must be conducted in it, and all books printed in it, on and after the 1st January 1929; that all administrative and legal forms, documents, and records must be conceived in it on and after the 1st June 1929; and that, as from the last-mentioned date, the public was to correspond in the new Alphabet with government departments, banks, and companies.  The passage and enforcement of this law made it unnecessary for the Turkish Ghazi to imitate the Arab Caliph's melodramatic gesture [of burning the library of Alexandria in the year 642, though a number of modern historians doubt that this took place at all, the sources attesting all having been written more than 500 years after the event.  --H.A.].  The classics of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish literature had now been effectively placed beyond the reach of a rising generation of Turkish boys and girls who might otherwise perhaps have been beguiled by the taste of these forbidden fruits into rebelling against the destiny of Westernization to which they had been devoted by the will of their dictator.  There was no longer any necessity to burn the ancient books when the Alphabet that was the key to them had been put out of currency.  They could not be safely left to rot on their shelves in the assurance that they would soon be as completely undecipherable as a Sinic scroll or a Babylonic tablet to the whole of the Turkish-reading public save for a negligible handful of specialist scholars.



By Arnold J. Toynbee

Chapter 19, "Some Turkish Friends"
Pages 249-50

In all my dealings with or about the Turks, personal relations had been, for me, the key; and this thought was uppermost in my mind on the evening in the spring of 1923 on which I was Ataturk's guest for dinner in Ankara.  In this encounter with Ataturk . . . I had the opportunity of making only a single point; so, in speaking to Ataturk, I tried out on him my conviction of the paramount importance of personal relations in all fields, public as well as private.  When Ataturk disagreed with what someone had said, he intimidated the other person visually, before opening his mouth, with a frown that brought the whole of his forehead down, like a thunder-cloud, upon his brows; and I was confronted by this lowering face while he was telling me that I was entirely wrong.  Personal relations, he said to me, were of little importance; they produced no appreciable effect.  Impersonal public relations were what mattered.

Our exchange of ideas was brief, but it told me that I was in the presence of a mind that was powerful but was also 'monadic' in the Leibnizian sense.  Ataturk's mind had, I knew, conceived at least one idea that was a stroke of genius.  Ataturk had realized that, for the Turkish people, national salvation lay in renouncing their imperial role in order to concentrate all their energies on the cultivation of their own long-neglected garden.  The weakness of this vigorous and imaginative mind ws that, when it had conceived an idea of its own, it closed like a clam, and so debarred itself from the possibility of having second thoughts; for the most fruitful source of second thoughts is an exchange of ideas between one's own mind and others.  This clam-like closure of Ataturk's mind was, I suppose, the price of his demonic will-power.  Ataturk's will-power had saved his country, but his obstinacy was a high price for the country to pay now that he had become her dictator.

In raising with Ataturk the issue of personal relations versus impersonal relations, I had been guided by my own experience and not by an appreciation of Ataturk's character; but, as it happened, I had hit a blind spot in him.  Ataturk did in truth have no use for personal relations; and he had no use for them because the quality that was lacking in him was love.  Ataturk had both intelligence and will-power in a high degree, but the faculty that makes a human being human had been denied to him.  If Ataturk can be said to have loved anything at all, what he loved was an abstraction.  He loved Turkey (if love is the right word in this connexion), but he did not really love any Turks; and this was unnatural; for, in the heroic resistance movement in which he had taken the lead, he had had a number of human-hearted comrades -- among them, my friends Adnan and Ra'uf.  These comrades of Ataturk's in a great common experience and common achievement had given him their loyalty, and they would have given them their affection too if there had been any answering feeling in him to give their own feelings access to him.  Unhappily, Ataturk's relations with his comrades had left him cold.  When the national crisis was over, Ataturk saw in his former companions merely so many objects that were getting in his light; and he dealt with this nuisance be driving into exile fellow-patriots who were nobler-minded than himself.  By the time of Ataturk's death, only two leading figures of his own stature had escaped this fate.  One of the two was Fethi Bey Okyar; the other was Ismet Inonu.

Well, I do not agree with Ataturk.  For me, personal relations are the most precious thing in life. . . .