Recently I have been taking an interest in the country that is Turkey. It is quite a fascinating place for a number of reasons, not least because less than a century ago, it was the leader of the Muslim world in the form of the Ottoman empire.
I have many unanswered questions on it - some that I can put into words, such as "why did the Arabs rebel and join the British against" but there are many many more that are less easy to ask (let alone answer). Just a warning - the rest of this blog post is a "brainfart" of ideas and thoughts hopefully structured in a semi-cogent manner, however it may not make any sense at all or may be entirely wrong. Feel free to correct me.
I don't really know what to say about it either, but in my eyes it seems to currently be balanced on a knife edge where it can move forward into the future, maybe carving its place into the world, or it can fall back into the recent past which has been less pleasant.
Turkey has a funny case of modernisation, that I think it is interesting to have a look at.
Go back a couple of centuries and there was a moderately well functioning empire in place there that rules over many lands. It was by no means perfect, as even then it was "the poor man of europe" that was barely surviving and many western powers had posed the "eastern question" of what would happen when the empire collapsed - who would take over and shift the balance of power in their favour. A fear of this along with alliances helped the ottomans fend off the vultures,but this was not a healthy position to be.
During this time there was a movement started in the ottoman empire to modernise, to westernise in order to compete better with the western powers. There were various interest groups such as people who became to be known as the "young turks" who tried tot ake power from the "old turks" in order to gain power. This resulted in the single party, the Committee of Union and Progress, holding power and continuing the modernising efforts.
A problem was that much of the modernisation was being carried out to make Turkey like Europe, and europe of the time was becoming deeply fascist/racist. It wasn't all pleasant though as this same party/secret society has also been accused of being the main party behind teh armenian genocide.
The "Eastern question" was answered in the first world war when by the end, even the capital, constantinople was in ruins and under British occupation and the rest of the empire was being carved up by the victors.
Turkey was eventually freed by the forces loyal toMustafa Kemal "Attaturk", who disolved the Ottoman empire and continued the modernisation programme, which was secular in nature, as these people considered religion to be a reason for their downfall and humiliation.
There were many strands to this process of modernisation, but IMO this "modernisation" was chanigng the people from a fairly liberal society into a less liberal one. There were three main strands at play that still bare their hallmarks to this day:
Firstly, in the process ofmodernising and assimilating western philosophies, Turkey moved from a fairly tolerant Ottoman view of the world to a more racist society as was the norm in western Europe. Just like Germany had its idea of the supremacy of a specific race of people, many other European countries had similar ideas and Turkey cottoned onto it too, championing the superiority of the turkic people above all others, suggesting they were like the master race. Some old tombs of historical figures were dug up too to establish whether famous people in their history had been turkic or not.
In Western Europe such madness eventually led to the second world war, holocauset and genocide which made the people reconsider the ills of their ways, but Turkey was neutral for the majority of the second world war (it took sides in the last couple or so months in favour of the allies) and as such missed out on this enlightenment of the madness of racial superiority and stuck to the older "modernised western thinking" of racial superiority (as opposed to the older Islamic way of thinking which preached equality, but that had by some of the people's thinking led the Turks to ruin, so they could not choose that...).
Is it ironic that racism had to be intriduced into Turkey, or just sad?
Secondly, Turkey was a country that had been established by the military who had overcome occupation, the military had a special place in it, and that has stood the test of time with it still being very powerful. It is also the most secular institution in Turkey and has in the past stopped "Islamist" parties from effectively running government or even forcing them from power on the few occasions they have been elected.
Thirdly, since the majority of the Turkish population was Muslim, the rulers knew that letting them decidee what was good for them would lead back to the "bad old ways", so the elite took on the position that the leadership was there to lead the turkish population, not merely act upon the wishes of the population.
These three strands of modernisation are still present in Turkey to this day and still hold it back:
1. The Military sees itself as the defender of the state (and secularism) from outside and from within. Thus it is willing to topple governments which it considers to have non secular ideals and has done so on a few occasions. More, there are soundings of internal military groups that are thought to be part of a deep state which has been linked with many murders, massacres and criminal behaviour.
2. The Judiciary sees itself as able to overrule the governing parties and the will of the people in order to "secure secularism". It in 2008 repealed the law created by the government that allowed women to wear the headscarf when going to University and was within one vote of banning the ruling party and barring the main people in it from politics for a very long time.
3. The ideals of racial superiority or the Turkic people has caused ethnic tensions where eg the kurdish population has been denied its rights and this has led to an insurgency where over the past 25 or so years it is supposed to have cost 40,000 lives.
Now these are big problems, but they can be overcome and in 2003 the people did elect a muslim religious party, the AKP into power. This party has done much to improve the situation, but as always it is on a knife edge where it has been having to fight the opposition, the army, the judiciary, the media and the "intellectuals" who believe they are supposed to guide the country all together in order to get its way.
It has had some successes and some failures. It managed to pass a law to allow headscarves for students (in 2007/2008), but then the judiciary (at the request of the opposition) stepped in adn declared the laws counter to the secular constitution of Turkey and was almost banned from Politics altogether.
It has tried to solve the problems with its neighbours and with the Kurdish community, but the current increase in violence shows that at best that process is not complete (and at worst a total failure, but this is the first party that has even tried, so it is a step in the right direction).
The military has also tried to intervene on occasion with a memorandum being sent to the governing party in 2007 warning that it may intervene to protect the secular nature of the country and there have been a number of other coup plots that have been foiled and are currently being tried in court, but without much help from the military who, since it sees itself in a privilidged position (aqnd often above the law), has been refusing to cooperate fully.
This year, in the military propmotions meeting thingy, the president and Prime Minister, instead of what is the norm of just rubberstamping promotions have stuck their necks out in order to stop promotions going to people who have been suspected of criminal or coup related activities and thus may have slightly clawed some power away from the military (but this will only be known far down the line to see if it made any different, or just cemented their demise faster).
Also, on 12 September there will be a referendum in the country that *may* ever so slightly reduce the power of the judiciary and maybe even the military, that may help the rule of law.
Turkey is balanced on a knife edge, where it can maybe eventually throw off some of the shackles that have been put on it in the past century in the name of modernisation, or it may fall back into old ways where the other forces hold sway.
I find it fascinating.