Wednesday, May 02, 2007
It is not true that the only or main issue involved here is the soft Islamism of Gul. First of all, the government put into power after the coup under the former 'caretaker' president Bulent Ecevit, was comprehensively humiliated in the 2002 elections, receiving a tiny fraction of the vote. The only other party, aside from the AKP to pass Turkey's unusually high electoral barrier of 10% to gain seats in parliament was the People's Republican Party (CHP), which is now leading the drive to stop Gul's presidency. The CHP, like the PUK in Kurdistan and the Druze sectarian PSP in Lebanon, is a member of the Socialist International. There is a growing conflict with the PKK, and the army has been whipping up national chauvanism to assist its efforts to crush them, possibly by invading northern Iraq. But a crucial part of the AKP's support comes from the Kurds, and they have made some modest reforms in that direction, allowing some limited Kurdish language television and private Kurdish classes, while Erdogan's acknowledgment of a 'Kurdish Question' was a shocking impiety to the traditional nationalist parties, like the CHP. Further, the Turkish military would like to assist the US if it decides to attack Iran, and the AKP had previously blocked moves to allow Turkey to be used to invade Iraq. Finally, the Turkish state has recently hit a bulwark of opposition after it was suspected of arranging the murder of an Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. Hundreds of thousands hit the streets, chanting 'the state is the killer'. So, when the Turkish military posted a warning on its website last week indicating that it would intervene militarily to prevent Gul from becoming president, its supporters subsequently brought out large crowds of mostly educated, middle class protesters, whipping up nationalist chauvanism. This display of anti-democratic nationalism, with its implied threat of a coup, has some people drooling all over themselves and mouthing the word "sheckyoolerisum" repeatedly.
Yet, what 'secularism' is there to defend, and who is the army to defend it? As one leftist Turkish newspaper points out, it was the army, during the coup d'etat of 1980, which introduced compulsory religion lessons, they who supported Islamist movements in the early stages, they who supported the founding of mosques in all the Alevi villages, they who accepted Turkish-Islam synthesis as the state ideology. Religious Affairs Presidency (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) is the state institution of religion, which has a huge budget and to which all the mosques and all the imams are subject to. As Tugal points out, the 'secularisation' drive has been a conflict over the meaning of Official Islam, often used as a means of binding Turkish nationalism. Turkey is precisely not a secular state, since the state crushes religious freedom on the one hand, and seeks to appropriate and regulate religion on the other.
At the moment, Western ruling classes, while supportive of the effort to break the PKK and urgently desirous of a greater stake for the military's supporters in the government, don't appear to be backing a coup this time, perhaps because they have been reassured by Gul and his centre-right colleagues. They prefer early elections to consolidate whatever gains the military have made. The Mayday decision of the constitutional court to back a challenge to Gul's candidacy therefore faithfully reflects the nexus of local and global interests.