14 August 2007

Fresh Presidential Showdown

Abdullah GulForeign Minister Abdullah Gul was a member of the Islamist Welfare Party cabinet ousted by the Turkish army ten years ago for being too Islamist. Today, despite recent protests, the country's ruling AK Party has announced that it supports his renewed bid to become Turkey's next president.

You may wish to comment on the following, which I received from one of our correspondents in Turkey:

What the great Kemal Ataturk established in 1923 was a country that held all people in high esteem regardless of race or religion, hence the popular saying "insan insan olsun" — let all people be people. If we are to understand the events of today in Turkey we need to view them in their historical setting — something I think the foreign office in more than one country fails to do when considering this part of the world.

The Republic of Turkey and its constitution were born of the Ottoman Empire. This is a source of pride, but nobody would want to return to the days of a "Universal Empire" any more than those who take pride in "Great Britain" would want to go back to colonialism. Instead we want to build relationships with other countries for mutual benefit and work together to live in a better world. To quote Ataturk, "Peace at home, peace in the world."

What threat do Abdullah Gul and Tayyip Erdogan make toward this very normal and modern thinking? They were welcomed into office and many people were delighted at their appointment as Prime Ministers. There was no threat to the secular constitution as long as President Sezer was in office and overseeing the all important Army - the defenders of the secular constitution. That guarantee is now under threat and that is what the people are disturbed about. Many members of this political party are linked to other parties that used to promote an Islamic state in Turkey. It is feared that they could rewrite the precious constitution in favour of an Islamic constitution. Yesterday Iran, tomorrow Turkey?

Would they do it? Looking at the history of the prime minister, who was photographed with known terrorists, and with so many of the party historically associated with a pro-Islamic constitution, one can understand the concern of the people. We will hear statements from the EU and the USA about democracy and human rights. Yet these democracies have a history of supporting the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the name of promoting democracy, so I hope they will think a little longer before expressing their opinions about Turkey and consider more deeply the issues that these great people are working through.

For further analysis, see CNN: The man splitting Turkish society