This year, on October 29 the Turkish Nation will celebrate the 88th Anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic in Turkey. It is an epic saga that started on May 19, 1919, and came to a glorious climax on October 29, 1923, with the rebirth of a nation. No other nation on earth has ever gone through such an ordeal to prove itself as worthy of a dignified existence. The Turkish Nation paid its due with blood and enormous sacrifice in a life-and-death struggle to take its place in the sun.
In the WW I, while the country was defeated and prostrate before the combined enemy forces, a leader with an extraordinary vision stepped onto the world scene. He thwarted all the sinister designs laid out by the victorious powers to carve his homeland. His name was Mustafa Kemal, the architect of an incredible metamorphose ever undertaken by any nation. Following his miraculous military victories against enormous odds, he steered his fragile nation through the intricate waters of international politics. Unfortunately, in this saga, the internal perpetrators proved more insidious and vicious than the external enemies. The last Sultan, Vahdettin, a renegade, had turned a puppet of the British; he put the country in enormous turmoil and then defected to the British. On November 17, 1922, he and his retinue boarded a British warship and fled the country. This is cowardly, treason unheard of in the annals of history, and certainly not in the tradition of the Ottoman dynasty.
After the victory, Mustafa Kemal (later, Ataturk) engaged vigorously in the nation-building, He put to work his master plan. He overcame all the obstacles with his genius, resolve, and political savvy, and marched towards his goal with a single-mindedness of a secular saint. While taking those giant steps he never departed from civility and legitimacy, never stooped to underhanded operations against his opponents; he always abode by the principles of law and fair play. He never referred to the assailants as “enemy”, only as “imperialist powers”.
Ataturk led the Turkish Nation through a time-warp; within a few years, in a cosmic speed, the country leapt from a medieval existence to modern times, from a feudal conglomerate to a dynamic nation-state. Yet, Ataturk was only a mortal, and this precious gift of a secular republic had to be preserved after his passing. He was aware that the public, in general, was sometimes complacent, forgetful and compromising, and at times less than wary. Therefore, for safeguarding his precious trust he relied on the two most vigilant and dynamic pillars of the society, namely the Youth and the Army. In his exhortations to the Youth, he said “…In the future, there will be malevolent people at home and abroad who will intend to deprive you of these treasures (independence and the Republic)…Those who hold power in the country may be heedless, misguided, even traitors.”
With these words, Atatürk was not hyperbolizing or overreacting, but he was divining. In fact, the first challenge to the regime presented itself in the 1990s, and through the electoral process at that. The ultra-conservative Welfare Party shared the power in a coalition government. The way of life of the Turkish people was likely to be in danger of being altered. Had it not been checked in time by the Nation’s custodians (military, media, judiciary, and the elite vanguard) a theocratic order could have been imposed upon the country. The Armed Forces, truly mindful of their democratic commitment, exercised their constitutional mandate. Taking their cue from Atatürk they made it known in no uncertain terms that this sort of adventurism could not be tolerated within the framework of the constitution as well as the spirit of secularism inherited from Atatürk.
Since that time so many variables entered the equation. In 2003, the AK Party, an openly religiously conservative political party took the helm of the country with a renewed resolve to establish religious order in the country. The first order of their agenda was to introduce a new paradigm based on radical political Islam. They have mounted a malicious campaign to smear Ataturk and to mutilate the Armed Forces. All the Republican institutions, such as Education, Judiciary, Legislature, Media and Police have been swarmed with the fundamentalists who are bent to transform the nation into a hidebound “ummah”.
They systematically wipe out the secular values of the country that have been internalized and assimilated for a long time. The AK Party establishment is painfully out of touch with the realities of the times and the imperatives of the global dynamics. They are hard at work to expunge Ataturk’s legacy from the collective memory.
The nation won its cherished values fighting an Independence war and paid for it dearly. We hope that the country will rise to this challenge, and resist to being driven back to that treacherous dark road that leads nowhere but failure and dashed hopes. It would be so much waste to squander those hard-won values, time and energy on adventurism.