On Sunday, Turkish citizens commemorated the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the modern republic by lighting up the Istanbul skyline with colorful fireworks and a drone show above the Bosphorus strait. During the day, naval vessels navigated the well-known canal as a demonstration of their military power and a reflection of the republic’s progress since rising from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
From the last Ottoman sultan’s home, the Vahdettin Pavilion, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan witnessed the performance. For Erdogan, 2023 has been a target and a pledge, with the nation seeing unmatched development under his direction.
The festivities also served as a commemoration of the previous 100 years, since Erdogan ushered in a new century that was more closely associated with himself than with the legendary founding father of the country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
But the secular, Westernized state that Ataturk envisioned 100 years ago is not at all like the Turkey of today.
The centennial honors the original republic’s enduring qualities, according to Erdogan’s detractors. They believe that the republican experiment is still alive despite the president’s apparent constant attacks on Ataturk’s legacy.
In today’s sharply divided Turkey, one of the central problems may be the republic and what it means one hundred years after it was declared. Erdogan’s detractors charged him with attempting to obliterate Ataturk’s memory before the festivities. Erdogan has positioned himself as the spokesman for Ataturk’s mission in the interim.
The republic was established from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after Ataturk successfully defended the area from impending Russian and European invasion threats. After the Ottoman monarch surrendered to the Allied powers during World War I, Istanbul was under occupation. Ataturk set out to carve out a new nation in the Turkish heartland of Anatolia. Ankara became the capital city he created.
After Ataturk successfully defended the area from impending Russian and European invasion threats, the remnants of the Ottoman Empire were used to forge the republic. Ataturk headed out for the Turkish heartland of Anatolia to carve out a new nation, with Istanbul under occupation following the Ottoman sultan’s surrender to the Allied powers in World War I. Ankara served as his capital city.
With its strong Western roots, Ataturk’s vision of the Turkish Republic aimed to modernize a populace ravaged by war through a rapid series of reforms. The Islamic veil was discouraged and viewed as a remnant from the past, and the fez, a traditional men’s Ottoman headgear, was forbidden. Arabic script was replaced in written language with the Latin alphabet. Women received the right to vote years before the majority of European countries. As a symbol of coexistence, the Hagia Sofia, an Istanbul landmark that was originally a representation of Byzantine Christian power before being transformed into a mosque by the Ottomans, was turned into a museum.
One hundred years later, the nation led by Erdogan has chosen a different course, reaffirming its conservative heritage and rediscovering its place in the international community.
What part does religion play in Turkey?
The part of religion in the state and public sphere has likely always been Turkey’s most defining issue, given the country’s predominately Muslim population.
Following the military’s overthrow of the government in 1997, headscarves were outlawed in public places such as universities, and Islamists and devout Muslims faced hostility and persecution. Politicians were not allowed to show their religion in public. In 1999, Erdogan was arrested for reciting a religious poem while serving as Istanbul’s mayor.
The extent to which Erdogan is perceived by Turkey’s religious establishment as providing a voice to the voiceless is indicative of his current popularity. His face is a common phone background image for young males around the nation.
Following the disastrous earthquakes in February, many observers questioned why, in spite of evidence of government neglect, the afflicted regions in central and southern Turkey continued to vote for and support Erdogan.
Murat Somer, a political science professor at Ozyegin University in Istanbul, told CNN that people frequently use religion as a means of justification. In times of turmoil and crisis, people naturally turn to a resolute leader for guidance and reassurance. Furthermore, Somer noted that “people remain with the one they have unless they see an alternative, strong choice.”
The two titans of Turkey
Somer claims that Erdogan consistently portrays himself as the “real Ataturk.” But for Ozel, Ataturk was “an unabashedly Western, secular, non-religious man,” thus this analogy is incomprehensible.
In addition to highlighting the profound respect that Turks still have for the man who founded their nation, the analogy highlights a startling resemblance between Turkey’s two strongmen.
Ataturk “did rule in a way that legitimized one-man rule,” according to University of Cambridge international relations lecturer Ayse Zarakol. “There was a message that the country needs a single-man savior,” she says of her upbringing in Turkey.
However, Ataturk had a different kind of government in mind for his nation.
In 1938, the nation transitioned from the Westernization era to a multi-party democracy. However, Ismet Inonu, Ataturk’s close friend and longtime supporter, led the Republican People’s Party to defeat in the 1950 elections. Democratically and amicably, power was transferred. According to Somer, Ataturk “wanted to lay the foundations of democracy.”
Turkey held a referendum in 2017 to replace its long-standing parliamentary system with a new presidential one. It was passed, consolidating state power and eliminating many of the earlier restraints on the executive branch.