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EXCLUSIVE – The New Turkey: An Islamic State in the Making

Dr Can Erimtan
21st Century Wire

The outcome of last month’s elections in Turkey did not come as a surprise . . . in spite of the fact that the result was all but a foregone conclusion, I was nevertheless correct in describing them as a ‘Do or Die Moment.’ The June, 24 elections namely constituted the final nail in the Mustafa Kemal’s coffin or, otherwise put, they marked the official end of the Atatürk (1881-1938) legacy in the land, and constituted the prelude to the final implementation of, what I have previously termed, the AKP policy of Sunnification. Meaning that Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) will now effectively replace the figure of Atatürk in the hearts and minds of not most, but all inhabitants of the Republic of Turkey (colloquially known as Turks or in future merely as Muslims or perhaps as Turkish Muslims).

Even though anyone with half a brain knew full well that the conclusion of last month’s election was not in doubt, the opposition dutifully went through the motions behaving as if  Turkey still had a viable and functioning democratic process. Rumours of election fraud and the main opposition candidate Muharrem İnce’s conspicuous absence from view and deafening silence during election night notwithstanding, no major or even minor challenges were launched subsequently and the Prez proceeded unhindered to don the mantle of the first popularly elected Absolute (or merely executive, if you insist) President of Turkey – even having coins minted in his own name to mark the occasion of his accession (or rather commencement of his term in office) on 9 July 2018 – like any self-respecting Muslim ruler (or sultan) in the past has done, continuing a tradition introduced by the 5th Umayyad  Caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705 CE). On that memorable day, Erdoğan took the oath of office in the nation’s first Parliament building (in Turkish, eski Meclis Binası), but before proceeding to his Presidential Palace (or Complex to correspond to the Turkish noun külliye, a noun normally reserved for large mosques and their attending structures) at Beştepe to finish off the occasion with a bib bang, he visited the Anıtkabir, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum, ostensibly to pay homage to the nation’s founder but really to signal that an effective regime change has now taken place in Turkey, and that he, meaning Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is now the sole proprietor of power and influence in the land. In doing so, he effectively deposited Atatürk in the proverbial dustbin of history while his AKP-led government takes its final steps towards turning the Turkish nation-state in to a veritable ‘Nation of Believers.’ Standing in the spiritual presence of Turkey’s founding father, a figure much hated by the Prez and his henchmen as well as wide swathes of pious Turks, Tayyip Erdoğan made the following declaration: “As the 12th president of Turkey and the first president of the new presidential governmental system, I promise to strengthen our nation’s unity and fraternity, to develop our country and to elevate our state.” And then he went straight to his private homestead at the Beştepe Presidential Palace, where the grand celebratory ceremony and festivities took place. Going there, Erdoğan was accompanied by Cavalry Unit, and upon arrival met by 101 cannon salvos and a Mehter (or Janissary) band playing Ottoman march melodies.

Back to the Future Redux: Tayyip Erdoğan vs Atatürk

The fact that the actual oath-taking ceremony took place in the eski Meclis Binası was more than just substantial and pregnant symbolism. Instead, I would like to argue, the man that is Tayyip Erdoğan purposefully picked that venerable location to exact a measure of revenge on the figure of Mustafa Kemal. As the nation’s founding father, Atatürk spent the last 14 years of his life (1924-38) enacting policies that aimed to turn the public religion of Islam into a private affair and drive a wedge between Turkey and the rest of the Islamic world. The Kemalist reform policies, known as İnkılap, in Turkish, had the purpose of transforming the Republic of Turkey into a truly contemporary nation state at the forefront of new developments in science and technology and oriented towards the West, meaning Europe and America. As I have written in 2013, Erdoğan has in the past years oftentimes referenced the “the first assembly of what was to become Turkey’s parliament on 23 April, 1920.” For, at that stage in Turkey’s history, any intimations of the coming İnkılap were still far removed from reality, and the gathering in the building now known as the eski Meclis Binası consisted of “representatives of Anatolia’s Muslim population, the then-Kemalist constituency, who had pledged allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph, Mehmed VI.” At that early stage, the fate of the Anatolian resistance movement was still uncertain. Only after Mustafa Kemal’s forces had defeated the Greek invaders and the treaty negotiations in Lausanne were on the cards did the effective “transformation of Anatolia’s Muslims into Anatolian Turks beg[i]n in earnest,” and that was but more than “two years later.” As I explain in great detail in a scholarly article published in 2008, following the successful negotiations at Lausanne (20 November 1922-24 July 1923), the Kemalists started moving the Anatolian population towards a republican political structure, having abolished the Ottoman Sultanate and Caliphate in 1922 and ’24, respectively, and only after the latter had been accomplished did the bold goal of Westernisation raise its pretty or ugly head. And that is really where Tayyip Erdoğan’s hatred of Atatürk stems from . . . as the “Republic’s leadership . . . chose to abandon the cultural idiom of Islam and to opt instead for the civilisation of the West as Turkey’s structural and intelllectual framework.” Arguably, he and many other pious Muslims felt betrayed by their founding father, who on 23 April 1920 had so successfully united Anatolia’s Muslims, in an effort to save the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph, only to abandon the Ottoman cause subsequently. And now, on 9 July 2018, the shattered dreams and aspirations of Turkey’s betrayed Muslims have finally been vindicated. Rather than outright condemning the figure of Atatürk, the AKP establishment has now effectively co-opted the nation’s founding father in order to present Tayyip Erdoğan as the leader to perfect Mustafa Kemal’s admittedly or supposedly incomplete creation.

Regime Change through the Ballot Box

Turkey is now once again a Muslim nation, led by an executive president who had the courage to create a link with the Umayyad Caliphate, having his newly-minted coins visualise his ultimate goals for the country: namely, to transform “the nation state Turkey into an Anatolian federation of Muslim ethnicities, possibly linked to a revived caliphate” and soon to be beholden to the divine law of Sharia. The latter topic seems to be in the public arena at the moment as the debate concerning capital punishment has flared up again recently – capital punishment being but a gateway to having the population demand stricter and firmer rules and regulations and none firmer and stricter than the divinely ordained Sharia. The first goal has also surreptitiously managed to enter the public eye as  Erdoğan’s intention to divide the nation’s territories into states (or eyalet, in Turkish) instead of mere provinces (or il, in contemporary Turkish) is now also being hotly debated – with states arguably corresponding more congenially to ethnic population groups as such (for instance, the South-East could be referred to as Kürdistan). But on the international platform and for an international audience such concerns remain largely unexpressed. At the official inauguration ceremony in Beştepe a grand total of “more than 50 high-level foreign leaders, including 22 presidents” were present: such neighbours like Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, for instance, attended, but also more distant allies like the Amir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, or Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain were happy to honour Erdoğan with their presence. Even quite controversial figures descended upon Ankara, particularly, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, “indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including genocide,” and Kosovo’s Hashim Thaçi, the former UÇK (or KLA) leader who has been named an “organized-crime figure” by the Council of Europe. Another controversial and surprising guest was Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, whose love for the AKP-approved Turkish pseudo-historical soap opera Diriliş: Ertuğrul is well-known in the Turkish media and beyond. In fact afterwards Maduro tweeted unabashedly that Tayyip Erdoğan is a  “friend of Venezuela and leader of the new multi-polar world.” And that is very much how the Prez wants the world to see him, namely as a veritable champion of the down-trodden and a staunch opponent of imperialism, arguably U.S. Imperialism. This unlikely alliance between the Bolivarian Venezuela and the post-Kemalist Turkey does not only benefit the latter’s PR needs, as the former’s “central bank this year [has] beg[u]n refining gold in Turkey following a wave of international sanctions that have left it unwilling to carry out such operations in [ostensibly neutral] Switzerland.”

One of Erdoğan’s top aides, Mehmet Uçum, has recently come out attempting to present the New Turkey in a positive light for domestic as well as international audiences, employing language far removed from religious rhetoric and really quite investor-friendly, one could say: Uçum starts off by saying that Turkey’s new system is a “one-man government in political terms,” but a “one-man” structure which is conducive to “collective and collaborative teamwork.” Speaking to the journalist Hande Fırat, the senior adviser explains that a fitting “metaphor . . . in terms of performance and efficiency” would be to talk about Turkey’s new presidential system as a way of “[m]anaging the government like a joint-stock company.” And, sticking to this managerial metaphor, following his inauguration the Prez had “four presidential offices, which work directly under his command“ set up, downsizing the company that is the government, with “[m]ore than 100 directorates, as well as more than 30 related institutions” summarily abolished, and reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 16. As a one-man operation, Erdoğan quickly appointed the members of his new cabinet meant to run the country like a business, somewhat like his big-league U.S. counterpart is doing at the moment as well. The Prez gave the covetted spot of Treasury and Finance Minister to his son-in-law (or Damat, in Turkish), Berat Albayrak – a move heavily criticised by the formidable Financial Times, saying that “foreign investors . . . anxious about the health of the Turkish economy and the independence of the country’s central bank” would not applaud this choice. Another appointment sure to raise eyebrows was General Hulusi Akar’s promotion (or perhaps demotion) to the post of Defence Minister. As head of Turkey’s Armed Forces, Akar’s role in the aftermath of 2016‘s Coup-that-was-no-Coup was crucial and critical as Erdoğan set about villifying his erstwhile ally Fethullah Gülen and prosecuting each and every individual suspected of sympathising with or being a part of the former’s Hizmet movement. As a good manager, Tayyip Erdoğan is clearly in the process of rewarding loyalty and dedication – again, very much like his cross-Atlantic counterpart. As would also seem to be illustrated by the  continuation of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an obedient if not obsequious minister compared to his illustrious forerunner Ahmet Davutoğlu, and the appointment of Fahrettin Koca at the head of the Ministry of Health – after all, Koca was not just the physician taking care of the Erdoğan family but also a shrewd businessman who founded the Medipol chain of private hospitals. In promoting such a businesslike way of running things, Tayyip Erdoğan is actually following the example of the Prophet closely – prior to receiving Allah’s words via the intercession of the Archangel Gabriel, Muhammad had been a successful businessman and manager in his own right, as Islam is not averse to the accumulation of wealth in this world, provided appropriate alms (zakat or zekat, in Turkish) are given and usury with interest is not practised.

The Naqshbandi-Khalidi Doctrine

As a pious Muslim Tayyip Erdoğan, in conjunction with like-minded friends and fellow-believers Abdullah Gül, Bülent Arınç and Abdüllatif Şener set up the Justice and Development Party (or AKP) at the outset of this century (the official date being 14 August 2001). This party sprang up as a reformist movement within Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011)’s Refah Partisi (or RP), ultimately suppressed in 1997. Erbakan’s party, in turn, was the product of the so-called Milli Görüş (or ‘National Outlook’) movement, that, in turn, had sprung from the İskenderpaşa lodge in Istanbul. This lodge was (and continues to be) the social and organisational hub of the Khalidi (spelt as Halidi, in Turkish) order (known as tarikat, in Tuirkish). And the Khalidi order then is a branch or sub-order of the Naqshbandi order, which traces its origins to the figure of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318-89). Originating in Central Asia, the Naqshbandi became particularly successful in India, where the order arrived in the 16th century and then became intimately linked to the ruling house, colloquially known as the Mughals. A central figure in the order’s development is Sheikh Ahmad al-Sirhindi (1564-1624). Sirhindi reinforced the strict orthodox character of the order and its rigorous opposition to Shi’a Islam. Sirhindi ensured that the deeds and thoughts of the Naqshis remained “within the bounds of the Quran and Sunna,” as worded by the eminent scholar Albert Hourani (1915-93). Together with his “activist” stance, that encouraged “political and social” engagement in favour of more commonly accepted and known “Sufi practices of withdrawal from public affairs,” this adherence to strict Sunni orthodoxy would dominate the affairs of the Naqshbandi order in centuries to come. And then this Central Asian brand of Sunni fundamentalisms travelled west, to the Ottoman lands and particularly, tp the area which now forms Turkey.

Khalid-i Baghdadi (1779-1827), the man credited with introducing the Naqshi way into the Ottoman lands, was himself introduced to the order in India and became a proponent of Sirhindi’s activist practice. As a Kurd “born in Qaradagh, a town in the district of Shahrizur in [what it today] Iraqi-Kurdistan,” as worded by Professor Butrus Abu-Manneh, Khalid returned west at the end of his education, ending up in Baghdad and then in Damascus, where he remained till his death. Abu-Manneh explains that, starting his work at the age of 35, Khalid-i Baghdadi was “imbued with a sense of mission.” From his base at the fringes of Ottoman power, Baghdadi dispatched a “large number of disciples – 116 in al – to spread his teachings across the Ottoman Empire and beyond, including destinations as far away as Indonesia and Afghanistan,” as related by the Swedish specialist Dr Svante E. Cornell and the Ankara-based independent researcher. M. K. Kaya. And in this way, Khalid-i Baghdadi’s influence was able to penetrate the upper echelons of Ottoman society, as the leadership as well the membership of these tarikats was primarily made up by members of the Ulema, or the body of Muslim scholars with particular knowledge of theology and the Sharia with its members occupying the religious institutions of the empire, from lowly kadı (qadi or magistrate/judge) to lofty Şeyhülislam (Sheikh-ul-Islam or chief religious official in the Ottoman hierarchy). The above-mentioned İskenderpaşa lodge, then, “was established by the sheikh, Mehmet Zahid Kotku (d. 1980),” according to Princeton’s İren Özgür. Kotku was a well-known figure in Turkey’s public and religious life, having famously been the teacher (or mürşit) of the important poltician Turgut Özal (1927-93), whose premiership in the aftermath of the 12 September Coup ushered in the official albeit somewhat surreptitious return of Islam to Turkey’s public life. For one thing, tarikats, which had been famously outlawed on 13 December 1925 by means of the promulgation of Law 677, made their comeback after having operated underground for more than half a century. Dr Özgür is thus correct in stating that “Kotku played a formative role in the evolution of an Islamic political identity in Turkey.” One could argue that, through his lodge’s activities and Erbakan’s political legacy, the Naqshi way has found its home in the post-Kemalist Turkey of the 21st century.

The AKP Policy of Sunnification: Applying the Khalidi Doctrine

Ever since Tayyip Erdoğan entered public life in 1994, as the elected RP Mayor of Istanbul, he has also been “imbued with a sense of mission” in his political life. Nearly a quarter century later, Erdoğan seems to have finally fulfilled his “mission,” as he and his AKP henchmen have now been able to institute a veritable coup by means of appealing to the ballot box. This coup introduced regime change into the body politic of the republic, and Turkey’s future as a functioning Islamic ‘nation state’ inhabited by a pious flock of Muslim seems beyond doubt. And in this respect, the influence of Khalid-i Baghdadi’s thinking and the Naqshi ideology appears paramount. Though Tayyip Erdoğan’s political godfather Erbakan broke with the İskenderpaşa lodge in the late seventies and early eighties, as a young man Erdoğan had always been close to Zahid Kotku’s son-in-law and successor, Mahmud Esad Coşan (1938-2001). But eventually, his political ambitions did not appear to be conducive to continued good relations with the İskenderpaşa lodge, and the demise of its leader right at the time when the AKP was being engendered seems most suspicious to some. As it is, the AKP establishment became allied to the movement led by Fethullah Gülen – a mutually beneficial relationship until 17 December 2013 when the scandal sometimes referred to as #AKPgate revealed underlying tensions and rivalries. And now, the Prez and his AKP henchmen readily employ Gülen as a bogeyman to mobilise their following and manipulate the public-at-large. Unencumbered by Gülen and his message of interfaith dialogue, the AKP establishment is now forging ahead, building a system that will create “pious generations” in the years to come: as I have written in 2015, “the best way to influence the future behavior of a population is through tampering with the education system. In December 2014, the 19th National Education Council (or Şura) took place in the coastal city of Antalya and during that meeting a momentous 179 ‘recommendatory decisions’ were taken.” The recommendations have by now been put into practice, ensuring that now Turkish “pupils will learn about religion (Islam) all throughout their school-going years, which will arguably mean that they will become well-versed in Islamic doctrines, beliefs, and practices later on in life.” And famously, even before these steps were taken and Tayyip Erdoğan was still Turkey’s Prime Minister, namely in 2012, he publicly declared his goal “to raise a pious generation,” at the time appealing to “national, [and] spiritual values” and eventually leading to today’s situation with systematic classroom indoctrination to instill values and sentiments, arguably, in line with Sunni Orthodoxy, as advocated by the Naqshbandi-Khalidi example. Just the other day, on 18 July, the Islamist academic and columnist Yusuf Kaplan tweeted his support for the Prez’s mobilisation of education, saying that a “revolution” must be done in order not to “lose” the “future, the youth [of the nation]” . . . even proclaiming “education” to be a “matter of [national] security,” of greater urgency even than “terrorism.”

And this drive towards a greater degree of conformity with strict Sunni orthodoxy was even illustrated by the first “Executive Order Nr 703” (or 703 Sayılı KHK, in Turkish) signed by the Prez following the start of his new term in office. The order ties the State Theatres and State Balet and Opera directly to the office of the presidency, arguably as a way of enabling an easier measure of control and censorship. But the national press did instead carry the news of this order as if these hallowed state cultural institutions would be shut down now. Still, this nevertheless seems to indicate that the performing arts will now no longer receive liberal government support, arguably in line with a Sunni orthodox attitude which all but frowns upon the performing (and other) arts. Arguably more directly relatable to a greater drive towards Sunni orthodoxy was the arrest of the “televangelist” and prominent creationist agitator Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya). The BBC reported that the self-styled preacher (his followers address Oktar as hoca, or master, a term usually reserved for preachers and teachers) “was detained on [11 July 2018] morning on suspicion of fraud, alongside more than 100 of his followers in a series of raids.” In the past, Oktar has been supportive of the AKP government and instrumental in its drive to ban Darwin and evolutionary theory from Turkish school curricula. The fact that he is now charged with “fraud” is probably nothing but a legal ruse, as his preaching activities primarily involve the display of nubile female flesh and of his own boasts at sexual prowess. Such immodest and indecent exhibitions are all but anathema to the Prez and his Naqshbandi-Khalidi value system. Therefore, the timing of Oktar’s arrest seems to point toward an official drive to impose a greater degree of decency and sexual modesty in the land now that Turkey’s system has been irreversibly altered.

From the Law of Maintenance of Order to the State of Emergency

In the past, Turkey’s Kemalist government proclaimed the ‘Law of Maintenance of Order’ (or Takrir-i Sükun Kanunu) in the period 4 March 1925 and 4 March 1929, and “[i]n those four years the most drastic [Westernising] reforms were introduced . . . [in order] to transform Turkey into a new country, into a new European nation,” as I have written in 2008. And now, not even a century later, the Prez and his AKP henchmen arguably want to employ the State of Emergency introduced in the aftermath of the Coup-that-was-no-Coup to push through a radical and thorough Sunnification of the nation, a radical and thorough return to Sunni Orthodoxy. Even though, the lifting of the State of Emergency had been a much-publicised election promise, in reality – though the State of Emergency formally ended on 18 July 2018 – a “draft law [is now] being rushed through Turkey’s parliament [that] will preserve many of the abusive powers granted to the president and executive under the country’s recent state of emergency,” as expressed by the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch. And driving home the point, on the same day, the pro-AKP Islamist daily Yeni Akit published a piece proudly proclaiming that a grand total of 70,000 individuals had been arrested during the State of Emergency (officially lasting from 20 July 2016 till 18 July 2018).

In the end, it seems fitting to repeat some words I originally published in the summer of 2016: “Reversing L. P. Hartley’s by now near-proverbial 1953 phrase . . . [one can only say] that the present is ‘a different country,’ that they really ‘do things differently there’ . . . the country and nation-state founded by Mustafa Kemal in 1923 now appears to be on the brink of disappearing.”

21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans. the greater Middle East, and the world beyond.. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in the English language Turkish press, culminating in him becoming the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @TheErimtanAngle. Read Can’s archive here.

READ MORE TURKEY NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Turkey Files




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