AKP takes over the republic

ETYEN MAHÇUPYAN
Religious circles in Turkey have never had any problem with the republican regime itself; tension between the regime and religious people came about from the exclusionary administration of a clique that monopolized the republic and the imposition of a top-down superficial modernization.
State propaganda presented these reactions as a resistance of backwardness to secure the legitimacy of a “revolutionary” circle in power. This has obviously been the case with the media presenting the most extreme examples of religious circles for many years and even generating fake piety to prove the presence of backwardness during the Feb. 28, 1997 period.
This background has naturally led to the emergence of the perception of an Islamic community that has not reconciled with the idea of a republic. Therefore, the overall outlook generated by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule is, for many, surprising. There is no single speech by the prime minister where he does not praise the republican regime, secularism and democracy. On the other hand, this pro-Western and pro-modernity political movement is based on a vast demographic representation. This shows that the pious people of this country have the potential and ability to represent the legacy of this country; however, with a slight difference. In taking the steps of representation, religious circles and particularly the AKP, are transforming the republic on an ideological level. Under the Kemalist approach and perspective, the republican regime was established on the remains of a devastated empire. However, the republic the AKP represents is an extension of the Ottoman legacy. This approach makes the republic an extension and a continuation of a democratization and modernization experience that was initiated in the Tanzimat period and consolidated by the two constitutional attempts. In this way, a historical analysis of this regime becomes possible because the republic lags behind the era of constitutional attempts (i.e., the periods of the first and second Me?rutiyet) in terms of democratic representation, as well as freedom of thought and press freedom.

This stance and approach by the AKP has not been unintentionally created. We have a deliberate strategy out there, ready to reconsider history and confront it. But I must warn,  rather than a state of democratic awareness, this is the expression of a pursuit to address the experienced repressions and internalization of the state. In other words, the consideration of religious circles is all about the desire for experiencing the feeling of looking at history objectively rather than what really happened in the history.

However, despite these shortcomings, we cannot ignore the tremors that this attitude created within our ideological world. The comfort of the government and the discomfort of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) were obvious in regards to the discussion over the massacre committed in Dersim between 1936 and 1938. In addition to the fact that the main opposition party still needs the immunity granted to Atatürk, the AKP’s decision to side with the realities and truth are signs of future discussions.

Interesting developments have taken place consecutively; Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu instantly took up the French offer for the establishment of a joint commission of history. This does not say that Turkey is ready to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. But it shows that Turkey wants to discuss the events that led to the definition of genocide and to confront it. On the same day Davuto?lu took up the French offer, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who referred to an Armenian conference in 2005 as stab on the back, said: “We are ready to face our history, particularly the incidents of 1915. We are ready to evaluate and discuss controversial periods through studies carried out by historians. We have to face our history and build a future by dealing with past mistakes, if any.”

It is impossible to neglect the mental transformation that these statements are referring to. The critical point is that for the AKP and pious people, confronting the past means confronting the future; but building a future requires reconfiguring the period before the republic in people’s minds. At this point, the most important criticism that could be directed against the AKP could have been its strong emphasis upon the Ottoman period without making reference to modernization. For this reason, the symposium last week on Sultan Abulmecid and his era is important because this meeting was held under the auspices of the government, covered the policies of a sultan who issued reformatory deeds and decrees (Tanzimat and Islahat), took steps towards equal citizenship and adopted modern styles and attitudes in his personal life.

The fact that this government which represents religious people, takes ownership over a reformist Ottoman sultan, whose morals were opposite to those of the AKP, holds political significance.

A reconstruction of the republic through the Ottoman legacy and heritage opens new doors for the future by purging unpleasant memories of the regime from the minds of the people and putting the idea of the republic on its own historical course.


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