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Turkey, by Dr. Meryem Saygili for Great Decisions (March 5, 2014), recorded by Joffre D. Meyer

Modern Turkey began in 1920 after World War I with the Treaty of Sevres. Territory from the Ottoman Empire was ceded to France, Great Britain, Armenia, Italy, and Greece. Mustafa Kemel Ataturk was elected President of Turkey in 1923; his goal was to have a secular, modern nation-state. He viewed Modernization to be the same as Westernization. Traditional Arabic script was replaced with Latin print. Ataturk banned religious-based clothing and established a hat law for men in 1925. Ataturk was re-elected in 1927, 1931, and 1935—dying in office in 1938. The parliament guaranteed universal male suffrage in 1924, and it was extended to females in 1934. The cabinet was responsible to the parliament.

The CHP was the original party; multi-party democracy didn’t begin until 1946. The Six Arrows of Kemalism are republicanism, nationalism, statism, populism, secularism, and revolutionism.  Adnan Menderes was the President of Turkey from 1950-1960. Tragically, he was executed through a military coup in 1960. Two more coups would follow in 1971 and 1980, together with a “soft coup” in 1997.

The PKK began to suffer from problems: ethnic nationalism, forceful reforms (such as the hat law), and the question of secularism: anti-religon or religion neutral? Elitism plagued the Republican People’s Party. Then Turkey saw the rise of the AKP, the Justice and Development Party. The AKP won a plurality in 2003 (34%), 2007 (47%) and 2011 (49.8%). They’re conservative democratic and not Islamist. They are unlike the elitist CHP. No longer does Modernization mean Westernization, except there isn’t a call to return to Arabic script for it would disconnect generations. There has been good management of the economy, a more confident and independent foreign policy, and the rise of a middle class with better access to health care. Democratization means religious freedom with human rights.

Here are some statistics on Turkey’s improving economy. Inflation dropped from 23.3% (2003) to 6.85% (2012). The Gross domestic Product (GDP) rose 5% from 2003 to 2012; meanwhile the USA only grew by 2.8% and Canada grew by 1.9%. Turkey has the world’s fifteenth largest economy. Salaries have rocketed from $4595 (2003) to $10, 666 (2012). The GINI Index is a measure of equality in distribution of income and consumption, according to the World Bank. Turkey has improved from 43.42 in 2003 to 39.7 in 2012.

However, there have been some problems. The recent well-publicized Gezi Park protests were met with government suppression. The general population didn’t want a mall built in a favorite park. Addiction to power leads to corruption, and investigations have been made. Dr. Saygili noted, “Let others rule for awhile; if you’re better, then you’ll be re-elected.” politics is cyclical. One should have confidence in democracy and people’s choice,but developing countries don’t know that principle as well as their advanced counterparts.

The Kurdish minority has had problems with the PKK. The Kurds have been suppressed by the military, their language was even banned, and the Kurds became the butt of ethnic jokes. Such negative actions create opportunities for outside powers to step in and mobilize people against the state, explained Dr. Saygili. She couldn’t stand the friction between the Turkish government and the Kurd minority. A Kurdistan Workers’ Party began in 1978—a terrorist organization financed by drug trafficking and international support. Turkey was especially bloody from 1984 to 1993 and again in 1999. Dr. Saygili disagreed with the Great Decisions author on the nature of the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925. Tens of thousands of civilian casualties resulted from the PKK struggle with the Turkish army. One could easily ask, “Should the Kurdish people separate from Turkey?” Many Turks have Kurdish relatives, including Dr. Saygili. Kurds are well-integrated into Turkish society and are better off being part of the country than starting their own. Kurds and Turks share the same religions too.

The AKP is a popular party. It’s conservative. There is freedom and investment in the economy, education, and infrastructure. Tension is being alleviated, and Turkey is the strongest country in the region. The Turks have access to education and health care.

The peace process accelerated under the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), granting the Kurds more cultural rights. The teaching of Kurdish language is now legal, as is broadcasting in Kurdish, and the use of Kurdish names. Peace has not been easy because some groups and countries benefit from unrest.

Foreign policy for Turkey has been largely successful as they carve out their own path. Unique in the Islamic world, Turkey became a member of the OECD in 1948, the Council of Europe in 1949,and the sixth country in NATO in 1952. Negotiations with the European Union (EU) began in 2005, but the big hurdle concerns the Turkish occupation of the island of southern Cyprus. Turkey is growing tired of the accession process with the EU. Turkey continues with reforms to be fully democratic an serve as a role model for the Islam world, not just to get in the EU. The Erdogan policy is to have zero problems in the new era. Realpolitik isn’t an answer to the Arab spring. Turkey turns its face to where there is goo. The AKP and Erdogan are popular in the Arab world.

Turkey has a pragmatic relationship with Iran because it needs oil and gas. The Turks believe it’s unfair for the West to expect Iran to get rid of all its nuclear programs—even for energy needs. Yet mutual benefits don’t mean closeness.. On the other hand, Turkey is skeptical of Iran for its support for the PKK and the hated Assad regime of Syria. Relations with Syria were sour before 1998 until the rise of the AKP in Turkey with increased trade. Turkey broke all ties with Syria in 2011 because of the violent dictator Assad, who has ruined his country through genocide.

Turkey-Israel relations were very good until lately. Turkey protested the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09 and argued with President Peres in Davos, Switzerland in 2011. Israel even attacked an international flotilla with humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. Turkey doesn’t approve of violence toward Palestinians, Still Turkey and Israel have strong ties through trade and the military—information exchange, joint training, and defense contracts.

How does the future look for Turkey? Turkey is in a unique geopolitical location. Its people are young and educated; the country is important both politically and economically. Turkey wants to be a modern state while maintaining cultural traditions Turkey is diverse in terms of religion, ethnic groups, and culture. Muslims, Christians, and Jews live in Turkey. Turkey has a rich history too. Turkey disapproves of support for Assad from Russia, China, and Iran. The US basically ignores Syria and lets Israel do anything. I asked Dr. Saygili if Turkey has much of a relationship with Indonesia because they seem so nice through their constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. Furthermore, Indonesia is the most populated predominately Muslim country in the world. She replied that trade has increased lately, but cultural connections are still weak because the countries are so far apart and don’t know each other that well.

Dr. Saygili’s lecture and Power Point presentation was a big success. She showed how Turkey has been a pioneer in the Islamic world, and have overcome some serious internal struggles and developed a solid economy. Moreover, Turkey is not going to be the pawn of another country in its foreign policy. It was really great to host Dr. Saygili as part of the Great Decisions planning committee.