In Defiance of Secularism, Democracy and Freedom of Expression


The behaviour of politicians and national leaders often makes me feel the urge to scream at my computer screen and risk the neighbours calling for psychiatric assistance, but the reactions to last week's coup attempt in Turkey have given me even greater concern than usual (by which I mean I only managed to narrowly restrain myself from smashing the crockery and charging into the street with a burning torch).

I've not spent much time in Turkey, but I have rather a mixed perception from what I've seen in the time I have spent there. My negative views were further vindicated by stories my wife told me of the country; as a young medical student of 21 (a number of years before I met her), she worked in a Turkish hospital as part of an internship experience program for one month. During that time, she was told not to leave her accommodation after five o'clock at night (yes, that's right, five), and was very nearly raped on two occasions – and undoubtedly would have been, had her friends not been with her. All of this, mark you, in a 'secular' and modern European-Asian state.

I do not believe that one can truly like or dislike anything without proper study and understanding, and my Turkish research eventually led me to Kemal Ataturk. I had originally thought the praise given to the memory of Ataturk by politicians (Saakashvili amongst them) was the typical fawning of politically correct-minded public figures, but the ignorance of fashionable thinkers was, in this case, nothing compared with mine. I learned that this was a man who recognised the rotting Ottoman cancer for what it was, and resolved to drag his country into the modern world and create a secular republic; he was also quoted as saying that all the best things in the world were a result of the work of women, and I, as a misandrist who despises all men, found myself in ready agreement.

Yet what I had seen and heard of modern Turkey – in both its culture and its government – did not resemble Ataturk's vision. Plainly the Turkish military have had similar misgivings, as they have never been afraid to launch coups against the government whenever they feel that Turkey's secularism was at risk. In addition, since the instigators of the coup – the Peace at Home Council – took their name from an Ataturk quote, it is highly unlikely that they were in any way connected with Fetuhullah Gulen as Erdogan would like the world to believe.

Turkey's secularism has never been more at risk than it is now. That Erdogan's government has become increasingly Islamist over the years is common knowledge, but the reaction by the rest of the world to the attempted coup has served as another example of the spinelessness of the West. Washington hedged its best by originally simply stating that it 'supported democracy', which could be taken to mean that it was hoping for the downfall of the Erdogan dictatorship or that the US supported the elected government. The strongest step the West has taken is stating that Turkey's membership in NATO will 'maybe' be at risk if it reintroduces the death penalty to execute the revolutionaries.

As a Georgian citizen, it causes me considerable alarm when the Georgian government periodically announces more Turkish investments in Georgia, or 'deepening cooperation' with Turkey, or 'deepening bilateral ties' with Turkey. Though Georgians have such long memories of Russian domination over them under the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, it often surprises me that they seem to have forgotten the centuries of Ottoman raids, enslavement and conquest...and the ideology behind all of it, which is the same as that which Erdogan adheres to.

Georgia naturally needs to maintain good relations with a neighbour as big and powerful as Turkey, but I was truly shocked by the support Erdogan enjoys, especially as his ideology is so at odds with that of Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey; one can only assume that modern Turks don't care too much for modern Turkey, and would prefer a return to the Ottoman which case, Georgians might do well to recall their history before the Russians annexed Georgia for their empire. A country which has been dogged by allegations of sympathy for the Islamic State, and launches attacks against the Kurds (the only people who have fought effective campaigns against IS) and openly talks of reintroducing the death penalty and headscarves for women in defiance of secularism, democracy and freedom of expression, is not a country I would want Georgia getting any closer to.

Tim Ogden

21 July 2016 21:05