Sure, it is a change that we are not discussing secularism and the military as its vanguard during an election campaign.
These two have come to the agenda following the confessions of veteran journalist Mehmet Ali Birand, who admitted that secular circles have always pushed the military to stage coups and that the mainstream media are inclined to be pro-coup. They do this, continues Birand, because they do not want to share the things they think belong to them, which are political power, economic privileges and social status.
He also named some of these secular circles: the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the military, the judiciary and the media. I think after years of ignorance Birand has got them right now and has disclosed their identity.
Their problem was that they thought the state and the people in charge of it belonged to them. No one would tell another what to do with their property. They did whatever they wished and however they liked. While enjoying their privileges, they looked down on the people, described as not being committed to “republican values” and “secular revolutions.” This was true because many people knew well that these terms were nothing more than “ideological tools” of the hegemon in Ankara. Thus the people of the nation were portrayed as untrustworthy. They needed education, meaning indoctrination and tutelage of the “republican elite,” who posed as the “masters” of republican Turkey. What people were expected to do was obey the rulers in Ankara and work for those who claim to own them. The new regime fought against any alternative source of loyalty and being, be it Islam, Kurdish ethnicity, Alevi belief, communism or a liberal creed. Authoritarian politics, a command economy and a disciplined society were the core of this system, which can broadly be described as Kemalist Turkey.
Some in the West applauded this, assuming that the Kemalist vanguards were modernizing and Westernizing the masses. In fact “modernization and Westernization” were mere means to discipline society at the hands of the state. What mattered was compelling the people to obey Kemalist rulers and refrain from questioning the “Kemalists’ right to rule.”
But by May 14, 1950 the people of Turkey declared to the whole world that they did not accept the Kemalists claim to rule and rejected the yoke of the self-proclaimed “masters.” The Democrat Party (DP) came to power, overthrowing the single-party regime of the CHP in the first free elections in Turkey. So, the power and privileges of the Kemalist vanguard were taken away by a democratic competitive regime, and the people whose only right was to obey the Kemalist elite started at last to have a say in the government. This was a white revolution, a revolution that occurred through the ballot box.
Since then the Kemalist elite has strongly disliked democracy and seen it as a life-threatening invention that empowers the people while sidelining the elite. Moreover, in the 1950s the political agent of the Kemalists, the CHP, lost two more elections to the DP in 1954 and 1957. As a result they understood that it was not possible to beat people power through the ballot box and started to provoke the military to move in and “correct” the situation, as described by Birand 50 years later.
The first military coup of May 27, 1960 came into existence under such circumstances. It was an attempt by the “old elite” to take back the power from the people by using the military. Those who could not win in free and competitive elections gained power by force. Moreover, through a new constitution they managed to set up a new system that limited the power of the people and its representatives while transferring a huge proportion of power to unelected institutions within the bureaucracy, establishing a tutelary regime under the military.
The fact that they managed this back in 1960 helped to cement this mindset and political attitude. Whenever the built-in power and privileges of the Kemalists-secularists were threatened by democratic demands, the military was pushed, as described by Birand, to move in and “save” the system.
We know now that when they cry to “save the regime” what they really mean is saving their interests, power and privileges. But it is over. The military cannot respond to their call and rescue their sectarian interests without risking the whole future of the state. Thus it is time for Kemalists-secularists to forget about past privileges and accept being equal with the rest of the citizens of Turkey.
Today’s Zaman, 29.05.2011