President Erdogan who after winning a referendum on vastly expanded Presidential powers, has given a surprisingly moderate yet historically inaccurate victory speech. Shortly thereafter, he said that he approves the restoration of the death penalty.
Erdogan said in his victory speech,
“Today is the day when a change, a decision to shift to a truly serious administrative system was made.
…I would like to thank all our citizens, regardless of how they voted, who went to the polling stations to protect their national will”.
“For the first time in its history, Turkey has decided such an important change by the will of its national assembly and people.
In the past, our constitutions and the governmental systems formed by these (constitutions) had been decided either in extraordinary conditions like our independence war or during coup times. For first time in republic history, Turkey changed governmental system through civilian means”.
This isn’t entirely true. Ataturk did found the Republic of Turkey after a military struggle against the Sultan’s government in Constantinople.
However ,the recognition of the borders and legitimacy of Ataturk’s state came about through The Treaty of Lausanne, a legal internationally recognised document which negated many of the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres which had been signed by the victorious powers of the First World War with the the Ottoman Sultan’s government which Ataturk had forced from power.
Prior to 1923, Ataturk signed a Treaty of Friendship with Soviet Russia, ending centuries of hostility between the Russian and Turkish states in 1921. This historic accord helped bring lasting peace between powers which had traditionally settled their disputes through war.
Ataturk’s reforms were sweeping but surprisingly peaceful. It is true that many in the central Anatolian heartlands who have supported Erdogan, opposed Ataturk’s modernising of the Turkish state at the tiem, but Turkey had become peacefully settled upon these changes in rather rapid order.
Continued problems in Turkey such as civic rights for the Kurdish minority and Christian minorities like Greeks and Armenians, continued to plague Turkey under Ataturk’s successors.
The illegal invasion and occupation of Cyprus in 1974 continued under many Kemalist leaders and shows no signs of peacefully ending under Erdogan. Quite the opposite now seems to be the case.
So, yes, modern Turkey did have problems, but not the ones that Erdogan hints at.
Turkey’s 20th century coups have generally been peaceful by international standards. Also, unlike in other countries, the army has typically acted on the behalf of those who fear that the secular Constitution was being political subverted and they generally remained in power for a very short time before fully restoring civilian government. This is a fact that Erdogan seems perpetually blind to.
Erdogan spoke of the vote resolving a ‘200 year old conflict’ in the administration of the Turkish state.
This of course means going back into Ottoman history. He may well be talking of the Tanzimat reforms of 1839 which sought to modernise the outmoded Ottoman legal system. The reforms were largely viewed as failures.
Between 1876 and 1878, The Ottoman Empire also experimented with a Parliamentary system. The general failure of these reforms led to an extreme regime of Abdul Hamid II. During the last decades of the Ottoman Empire ethnic and religious tensions broke out, paving the way for the brutality which was witnessed in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the first modern genocide in history.
It is unclear how Erdogan thinks his successful power grab can solve any of these historical problems, not least because some of them had all ready been solved by Ataturk.
However, shortly after his magnanimous victory speech, he shone a bit of clarity on his ‘Make Turkey Ottoman Again’ campaign.
He said that if given the opportunity, he would happily reinstate the death penalty. He also said that he’d happily conduct a referendum on the matter.
It seems therefore that the first page in Ottoman history that Erdogan wants to restore is a violent one. By contrast, no mainstream Russian political parties call for the restoration of the death penalty in Russia.
For all of its internal problems, Kemalist Turkey was a modern, forward looking country, one that shunned its colonial past in favour of an internally nationalist, secular Republic.
Ataturk was a man who helped to bring Turkey into the future. Erdogan is a man who wants to drag it into a conflicted and often confrontational past.
In a way he has all ready succeeded. In the 19th century, western powers, particularly Britain, looked the other way when the Ottomans committed heinous acts, particularly against Christian minorities. They did so because they were desirous of having an Ottomans bulwark against a healthy Russian state that was overwhelmingly victorious against Ottoman Turkey on the battlefield.
Today, the west wants to sow new discord between Russia and Turkey. This time, under the intelligent leadership of President Putin, Russia is prepared. The rest is up to Erodgan.