Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - Emre Gönen

THE MARCHES to cel­e­brate the 94th an­niver­sary of the Repub­lic were more mo­ti­vated by fear of see­ing the regime changed than by pride in the Repub­lic’s achieve­ments

Ire­mem­ber the 50th an­niver­sary of the Repub­lic, which was cel­e­brated when I was in high school. An an­them to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary was com­posed upon the gov­ern­ment’s re­quest by Ne­cil Kazım Ak­ses, a very tal­ented clas­si­cal com­poser. The new an­them was played on the ra­dio and on the only state-owned TV chan­nel, which broad­casted just a few hours a day. This was done to teach the pop­u­la­tion a glo­ri­ous an­them about the achieve­ments of the Repub­lic. I barely re­mem­ber the mu­sic and some of the words. It did not have a long-last­ing ef­fect on so­ci­ety, be­cause back then the Repub­lic was a given, a sys­tem that would never be chal­lenged.

For the record, the 50th an­niver­sary hap­pened just two years af­ter the quasi-coup of March 12, 1971. It was a time when most of the pub­lic be­lieved in the virtue of the “un­told” po­lit­i­cal con­trol of the Ke­mal­ist Turk­ish Armed Forces over the elected gov­ern­ment.

These were the decades of missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and po­lit­i­cal short­sight­ed­ness. In 1973, the first demo­cratic elections took place af­ter the quasi-coup of 1971, and a “new” old party, the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP), came in first in the elections, but fell largely short of a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment. The young and am­bi­tious leader of the CHP, Bü­lent Ece­vit, who was ex­cited about his vic­tory over the his­toric leader of the party, İs­met İnönü, chose to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with a new ris­ing po­lit­i­cal force, the Na­tional Sal­va­tion Party (MSP) led by Necmet­tin Er­bakan.

As a re­sult, Tur­key tran­si­tioned to a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment, en­com­pass­ing a so­cial-demo­cratic party with an Islamic pop­u­lar party at a time when Fran­cisco Franco was still alive and in power in Spain, when Por­tu­gal was en­ter­ing a ter­ri­ble pe­riod of mil­i­tary coups and tur­moil and when Greece was un­der the author­ity of a re­pres­sive mil­i­tary junta.

There were good rea­sons to cel­e­brate the Repub­lic, be­cause the once-weak­est as­pect of the coun­try, the demo­cratic sys­tem, was run­ning smoothly. The gov­ern­ment was es­tab­lished in 1923 on a three-pil­lar sys­tem of re­pub­li­can­ism, laicism and demo­cratic func­tion. The last pil­lar did not de­velop well, along­side sim­i­lar regimes in Western Europe and North Amer­ica. How­ever, the coali­tion gov­ern­ment founded in Jan­uary 1974 was an op­por­tu­nity to in­clude op­po­si­tion to Ke­mal­ism in in­sti­tu­tional gov­er­nance.

The coali­tion pro­to­col of the CHP and MSP stip­u­lated a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in their pre­am­ble: “Both par­ties, be­liev­ing deeply in the na­tional, demo­cratic, laicism and so­cial, law-abid­ing char­ac­ter of the state, with deep re­spect for demo­cratic rights and free­doms and the supremacy of the law, have de­cided that their com­mon goal is to form gov­er­nance re­spect­ful of equal­ity in law, a so­ci­ety re­spect­ful of Atatürk’s prin­ci­ples and based on un­der­stand­ing, fra­ter­nity and so­cial jus­tice.”

The mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Cyprus in July 1974 led to the end of the coali­tion. Ece­vit, think­ing that his new sta­tus of “na­tional hero” would earn him a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment, sab­o­taged the gov­ern­ment and wanted to have early elections. The early elections never took place. The very promis­ing coali­tion gov­ern­ment was re­placed by the very rad­i­cal, right-wing gov­ern­ment of the Na­tion­al­ist Front. As a re­sult, ur­ban ter­ror­ism flour­ished and Turk­ish so­ci­ety be­came more di­vided than ever. In­ter­na­tional re­la­tions be­came very tense, an arms em­bargo, al­ready placed by the U.S. be­cause of poppy cul­ti­va­tion in the re­gion of Afy­onkarahisar, deep­ened af­ter the Cyprus in­ter­ven­tion.

The Turk­ish Armed Forces (TSK), de­spite the dec­la­ra­tion of mar­tial law in 1978, waited for the per­fect mo­ment to in­ter­vene, which came in 1980. At a time when all Euro­pean coun­tries were mov­ing to­ward democ­racy – Greece un­der Kon­stanti­nos Kara­man­lis, Spain un­der Adolfo Suarez and Por­tu­gal un­der Mario Soares – Tur­key en­tered a deep and prim­i­tive mil­i­tary regime un­der the blunt and shal­low lead­er­ship of Ke­nan Evren.

Although we cel­e­brated glo­ri­ously in 1973, it was to­tally wasted seven years later, and the wounds of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup have never truly healed. In­stead, it de­stroyed the in­tel­li­gentsia of the Repub­lic in the name of a cre­ated Ke­mal­ist ide­ol­ogy. The left-wing Turk­ish in­tel­li­gentsia has never re­ally re­cov­ered.

The Repub­lic owes its ex­is­tence to the ge­nius and po­lit­i­cal wis­dom of Mustafa Ke­mal Atatürk, his Ot­toman mil­i­tary and civilian col­leagues’ abil­ity to forge a na­tion-state out of the rem­nants of a dead em­pire. They achieved this by break­ing the nasty rules of the Ver­sailles sys­tem, which wanted to im­ple­ment the ne­far­i­ous Sèvres Treaty. This was an­other mirac­u­lous and wise achieve­ment. The ad­min­is­tra­tive and mil­i­tary tra­di­tions of the old em­pire served its last de­scen­dants very well in cop­ing with moder­nity.

What hap­pened af­ter the 50th an­niver­sary of the Repub­lic is per­haps much more de­bat­able. We are all still strug­gling to nor­mal­ize the demo­cratic func­tion­ing of Tur­key. As in­cred­i­ble as it might sound, we dis­cov­ered last year that there was the threat of a mil­i­tary junta fo­ment­ing a coup. Thus, there are not many rea­sons to cel­e­brate. So­ci­ety still re­mains di­vided along a num­ber of lines with no tan­gi­ble so­lu­tion or peace­ful per­spec­tives in sight. Let us all hope that the 100th an­niver­sary is cel­e­brated un­der bet­ter aus­pices.

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