Tur­key is sec­u­lar.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Com­men­ta­tors often in­voke “sec­u­lar Tur­key” (the Wall Street Jour­nal) or the coun­try’s “staunchly sec­u­lar” mil­i­tary (a Tur­key-fo­cused com­men­tary site that should know bet­ter), con­vey­ing a set of ideas that are mis­lead­ing.

Tur­key never was sec­u­lar in the way Amer­i­cans think about sec­u­lar­ism, em­bod­ied in the First Amend­ment’s es­tab­lish­ment clause, which pro­hibits Congress from mak­ing laws es­tab­lish­ing a state re­li­gion or abridg­ing the free ex­er­cise of one’s faith. In Tur­key, the gov­ern­ment has long con­trolled the ex­pres­sion of re­li­gious be­liefs in the pub­lic sphere. There is an en­tire gov­ern­ment ap­pa­ra­tus ded­i­cated to the pro­duc­tion of state-sanctioned re­li­gious in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Turk­ish lead­ers even use faith to ad­vance their po­lit­i­cal agen­das. The gov­ern­ing AK Party is an Is­lamist party. When op­po­si­tion groups tried to out­flank it by re­cruit­ing the former head of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion to run against Er­do­gan in 2014, they failed, partly be­cause Er­do­gan is already seen as au­then­ti­cally pi­ous.

Even the Turk­ish mil­i­tary, a sup­posed bas­tion of sec­u­lar­ism, is deeply linked to Is­lam. Af­ter the 1980 coup, the junta that ruled the coun­try went on a mosque-build­ing binge and in­jected re­li­gion into the state ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum. The leader of that in­ter­ven­tion, Gen. Ke­nan Evren, often boasted that he had mem­o­rized the Ko­ran. This was done based on the be­lief that re­li­gion would de­politi­cize so­ci­ety af­ter a decade of in­tense po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion. has not yet drawn in Tur­key’s broader Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion.

No doubt, Kurds have suf­fered. For years, their eth­nic­ity, lan­guage and cul­ture were de­nied. Even so, many of Tur­key’s 15 mil­lion Kurds are well in­te­grated into the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural life of the coun­try. Turgut Ozal, Tur­key’s prime min­is­ter in the 1980s and pres­i­dent in the early 1990s, was of Kur­dish ori­gin, as is the cur­rent deputy prime min­is­ter, Mehmet Sim­sek. The coun­try’s Kur­dish vot­ers have been a re­li­able con­stituency for the AK Party, and not just re­li­gious Kurds. The AK Party has in­vested in the pre­dom­i­nantly Kur­dish south­east, and the party’s em­pha­sis on re­li­gious val­ues and Mus­lim sol­i­dar­ity has helped drain sup­port for the PKK. That group can­not be said, in an overly sim­plis­tic way, to rep­re­sent the Kurds.

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