News / Europe

Turkish Troubles Highlight Cultural Divide

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan waves to his supporters next to his wife Emine Erdogan in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan waves to his supporters next to his wife Emine Erdogan in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
Reuters
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stands before a sea of cheering faithful waving Turkish flags and, to shouts of "Allahu Akbar," God is Greatest, summons the spirit of pious Ottoman poets in denouncing protesters who challenge his power.

Supporters wave flags backdropped by a large picture of Turkish PM Erdogan as they wait for his arrival in Ankara, June 9, 2013.Supporters wave flags backdropped by a large picture of Turkish PM Erdogan as they wait for his arrival in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
x
Supporters wave flags backdropped by a large picture of Turkish PM Erdogan as they wait for his arrival in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
Supporters wave flags backdropped by a large picture of Turkish PM Erdogan as they wait for his arrival in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
Across Istanbul, the same flags, white crescent moon and star on a red background, are raised, but they proclaim what some Erdogan critics see as a different kind of Turkey.
    
Riots and protests have highlighted an underlying schism in Turkish society reaching back to the 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk forged a secular republic from the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy.

He banished Islam from public life, replaced Arabic with Latin script and promoted Western dress and women's rights.
    
What emerged was a sometimes uneasy cohabitation of what some have called "White Turks," a secular Western-facing elite, and "Black Turks" -  a more conservative, religious population largely excluded from the privileges of state power and viewed warily by generals long considered guardians of secularism.

"I was surprised to see those crowds carrying the Turkish national flag," said Ugur Genc, 42, standing on the Istanbul square that has become the Centrex of protests. "We too carry the same national flag, but we're not the same."

At a nearby barricade stands a woman in a red cap emblazoned with the words "This Is My Republic" and a tee-shirt bearing the face of Ataturk. She sees Turkey's secular constitution under threat from the more religious followers rallying to Erdogan.
    
The Turkish flag, has become the rallying point of both sides claiming the republic for their cause.

Erdogan dismissed any suggestion the forces ranged against him, especially those who have fought street battles with police over the last week, represented the true Turkey.
  
Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses his supporters in Ankara, June 9, 2013.Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses his supporters in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
x
Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses his supporters in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses his supporters in Ankara, June 9, 2013.
"Aren't those who gathered at Istanbul airport in two hours, in Adana, Mersin, and here in Ankara - the people?" he asked during one of six meetings he addressed on Sunday.
    
The objections of Erdogan were shared by his supporters.

"I love my country," a woman giving her name as Zeynep says. "We will not let some looters hijack our country and our flag."
    
Erdogan's rallies also carried a nod to Ataturk, with some portraits and banners showing his face.

Erdogan, who might have fallen into the category of "Black Turk," made history in 2002 when he led to power a new party amalgamating Islamists, liberals and nationalists. Impatient with fractious traditional secularist parties, voters welcomed his plans for social reform and renunciation of political Islam.

Only three years earlier, he had fallen foul of his love of words, jailed for reciting a poem by a Turkish nationalist deemed an incitement to religious hatred. "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets."

Protesters on Taksim Square and in other cities across Turkey believe that three election victories later, Erdogan's blustery, florid style so beloved of voters has turned to intolerance with any challenge inside or outside his AKP party.

Erdogan denies any intention to subvert the secular republic and impose an islamist order.

Turning Eastwards

"I cannot applaud cruelty, I cannot love what is cruel," Erdogan told a rally, quoting Mehmet Akif, an Ottoman poet who wrote the Turkish national anthem, but who abandoned Ataturk's Turkey, unhappy with its secular constitution. "I am the enemy of the wrong do-er but I love the wronged."

The protests draw an unlikely coalition; Kemalists alongside Kurdish activists, liberals and leftists, unionists and gay rights activists, the bones perhaps of a new civil society. In ways Erdogan himself may not have anticipated and clearly does not approve he has lifted the expectations of rising generations critical of what they see as state interference in their lives.

Cafes are banned from serving wine at pavement tables, new restrictions on alcohol sales have been introduced; similar to those in Western countries, but critics see in this Erdogan's pious objection to alcohol rather than health concerns.

PM Erdogan (3rd L), his wife Emine (4th L), President Abdullah Gul (6th L) and his wife (5th L) attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the third Bosphorus bridge, May 20, 2013.PM Erdogan (3rd L), his wife Emine (4th L), President Abdullah Gul (6th L) and his wife (5th L) attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the third Bosphorus bridge, May 20, 2013.
x
PM Erdogan (3rd L), his wife Emine (4th L), President Abdullah Gul (6th L) and his wife (5th L) attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the third Bosphorus bridge, May 20, 2013.
PM Erdogan (3rd L), his wife Emine (4th L), President Abdullah Gul (6th L) and his wife (5th L) attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the third Bosphorus bridge, May 20, 2013.
Some see Turkey's face changing in other ways. The head scarf, symbol of female piety once banned from state offices, is now seen in colleges and even the presidential palace. Erdogan's wife stands alongside him, head covered. His public reflections on women's role suggest a more traditionalist view.
    
But many Erdogan supporters see these changes as liberation.

When Erdogan quotes poet Akif on his love for those "wronged," he speaks among other things of women who have in the past been denied higher education because of a scarf ban. The ``wrong-do-er'', his enemy, is by implication a pre-Erdogan order that denied traditional Turkish values.

For many middle class Turks raised in a strictly secular republic Erdogan's words and his message smack of a foreign land, a Turkey facing the Middle East rather than Europe.
    
"I salute my brothers in Sarajevo, Baku, Beirut, Damascus, Gaza, Mecca, Medina," Erdogan says. No mention of Berlin, Paris or London to the cheering masses. But Erdogan can contest his opening to the Arab world brings commerce and influence alike.

Turkish youths shout anti-government slogans as they march in Ankara, June 4, 2013.Turkish youths shout anti-government slogans as they march in Ankara, June 4, 2013.
x
Turkish youths shout anti-government slogans as they march in Ankara, June 4, 2013.
Turkish youths shout anti-government slogans as they march in Ankara, June 4, 2013.
Many on Taksim and at protests across Turkey are young enough to have known only Erdogan as prime minister. He might  argue youth blinds them to the scale of his reforms.

In his first terms he opened EU entry talks, extended minority rights, outlawed torture, and showed courage in seeking to end a Kurdish rebellion that has cost 40,000 lives. He won the blessing of liberals, secularist and the religious alike.

Arguably his greatest single achievement was in bringing to heel, in line with EU requirements, a military that had toppled four governments in four decades; though sceptics who will never trust Erdogan argue this was done not in the name of democracy but to remove a barrier to political Islam.

The economy has boomed, per capita income tripling.

Erdogan, raised in Istanbul's rough-edged Kasimpasa district, far from the world of big business, clearly now sees hypocrisy among influential businessmen abandoning him.

"If a bank general manager claims he sides with these vandals, he'll find us against him. Those who came and told us they had got five times richer in our time now change sides."

Picture gallery on Turkish protests


  • Riot police officers gather in central Ankara, Turkey, June 10, 2013.
  • An anti-government protester gestures during a demonstration in central Ankara, June 9, 2013.
  • Anti-government protesters remove bricks from a sidewalk to build a barricade in central Ankara, June 9, 2013.
  • Riot police chase protesters at Kizilay Square in central Ankara, June 9, 2013.
  • Supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan listen to his speech at the Ankara airport, June 9, 2013.
  • Supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cheer upon his arrival at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, June 7, 2013.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters after arriving at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, June 7, 2013.
  • Pedestrians walk among tents set up by protesters in Gezi park, Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 6, 2013.
  • People observe a destroyed urban bus with a destination sign that reads ''This bus goes to Dictator'' at Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 6, 2013.
  • Thousands of protesters gather for another rally at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 3, 2013.
  • Protesters carry the Turkish flag and shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Gezi Park near Taksim Squar, Istanbul, June 3, 2013.

Changing places

Some on Taksim suggest what they are seeing is a settling of accounts for restrictions on religion in the past.
    
"The prime minister says we're provocateurs, but he's the real provocateur," said Ece Simsek, 17. "He's using religion to provoke people...He boils religion down to whether we're wearing a miniskirt or a headscarf, and that's wrong."

Islamist parties have been banned repeatedly, and in 1997 the first Islamist-led government was ousted by the army in a campaign of pressure since dubbed the "post-modern coup."

"I've been in politics forty years," Bulent Arinc, a victim of that "coup," said. "I'm someone who's felt kicked around, ignored; my wife, myself, my lifestyle, with my opinions. But we didn't consider fighting. We sought solutions within democracy."

Erdogan's critics argue that democracy is being rolled back.

Investigation of alleged coup plots against Erdogan sprawled, bringing the arrest of hundreds of top generals, intellectuals and journalists. In a display of well choreographed press, seven newspapers carried an identical headline last week commending Erdogan's handling of protests.

Some critics say the decisive sea-change in the AKP after the 2010 election gave Erdogan a record 51 percent vote.

Former AKP deputy Suat Kiniklioglu recalls a purge of centrist and liberal forces in the parliamentary group in 2011.

"Many who were critical in shaping the perception that the party was moving to the center in 2007 were expelled," he writes in Zaman daily. Executive organs were similarly purged in 2012.

This might resonate with those who see Erdogan using democracy as a path to the Islamic order poet Akif cherished.
    
While the drama and rhetoric of recent weeks may for some speak of "two Turkeys," 10 years of Erdogan has in fact blurred somewhat the disputed notion of White Turks and Black Turks.
    
"These terms are not significant today," said Cengiz Candar, a journalist who has followed Erdogan's career. "Erdogan's complexion has changed. His skin has become lighter."
   
Meant here is that Erdogan has succeeded in breaking the hold on the old elite on the state, from the military to the courts, and built his own power base with all its prerogatives of patronage. One result has been an economic boom in AKP's central Anatolian heartland. Wealth is being redistributed.
    
"Erdogan unleashed the potential of a rural-provincial populous who in less than a decade managed to replace the cronies of the old establishment," said writer Alev Alatli.
    
The new elite now build their own mansions and visit shops and hotels once the preserve of the old elite. They claim places at top schools, and send their children to U.S. colleges.
    
Akif saw a Turkey in the late Ottoman era too much in thrall to Western power. Erdogan, his admirer, steers a delicate path restoring what he sees as a neglected Islamic cultural legacy while accommodating deeprooted secular traditions.
    
More ructions could follow before Turkey finds that balance.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid