Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased and honored to be here with you. I extend my sincere gratitude to you for coming, and particularly to Dr. Bülent Atalay and the Members of the Board of the Atatürk Society of America for organizing this event… that I will regard as a life-long honor.
Today is May 19th, 2012…
I am very happy, because I am among people who know the significance of May 19th, and still celebrate it as a national holiday, a day that the Great Atatürk conferred on Turkey as the National “Youth and Sports Day”.
I would like to quote a few words from Cem Ryan, an American who lives in Turkey, who understands the significance of May 19th to highlight the essence of this day.
“19th of May is a day that belongs to the youthful heirs of the secular revolution , not to the government. It is a celebration of their responsibility to protect the republic from all enemies , both foreign and domestic. As Ataturk said at the Sivas Congress in September 1919: “Youth, all the hope and future of the fatherland depend on you! Our motto is one and unchangeable: IINDEPENDENCE OR DEATH!”
19th of May is such a day, a day of remembrance and recommitment. It is a day for us all to be reborn.
And that is precisely why the government seeks to eliminate this vital day of celebration and reaffirmation. (…) In January, it banned the nationwide use of stadiums for 19th of May ceremonies claiming that it might be too cold for the children. Imagine it being too cold in May.”
The allied nations who were victorious in the war deployed troops all over the country, with heaviest concentration in the capital city of İstanbul, and in Izmir. They were finally implementing their centuries-old plan of carving up the Ottoman lands, and leaving a small section of Anatolia for the Turks. For Turks to succeed under these conditions — I would venture, without exaggerating — an army would have been required that was 10 times larger than what was available.
Against all the internal and external forces, however, the impossible was achieved under the leadership of Atatürk, with the rag-tag army that he was able to mobilize. And with this he proceeded to lay the foundations of a new, independent, and secular Turkish Republic.
Ladies and gentlemen!
As everyone knows and accepts, the United States of America is a “great” nation. And great nations exhibit an important trait: Their allies are determined by their domains of influence, and not by their geographical borders. In light of our histories we have been allies with you for a long time. I want to underline this important statement at the beginning of my remarks because I will come back to it.
Your present ally Turkey, however, is not the ally you have known in the past.
One of the individuals who best understood Atatürk’s Turkey is the Honorable John Grew, the first US Ambassador to the newly established Turkish Republic.
In 1928, Mr. Grew, in his memoirs entitled, “Turbulent Era” writes that Ataturk’s reforms are necessary for the nation to become more civilized and at least one generation must be raised to cement these reforms in the society.
In fact, after Mr. Grew made this statement, four generations were raised in Turkey. However, the threat shown by those against Ataturk’s reforms have not subsided. The enemy of the reforms gave a misleading perception of the reforms being against Islam. Furthermore, some conservative political parties used religion and supported the enemies of the reforms to win the votes of the conservative electoral base.
The resentment against the Modern Republic grew during Turgut Ozal’s government in the 1980’s. Today, such enmity is at its peak.
In present day Turkey there have been no direct insults expressed towards Atatürk YET! There are no suggestions of pulling down his statues or taking down his pictures from the walls of government and private institutions. However, something that is being done at every opportunity, without saying anything malicious about Atatürk, is keeping only the name of the secular Republic while systematically converting it into an Islamic Republic.
How do we know this?
Among all the attributes of Erdoğan and his government, the most important one concerning Turkey today as well as Turkey in the future is that Erdogan himself is a zealot Muslim, his devotion bordering on fanaticism. The debate regarding a Secular system versus Sharia (Religious Law) has been going on for the last two hundred years in Turkish society. Tayyip Erdoğan, however, is a strong advocate of Sharia in this debate.
I quote him in his own words:
“Even if the skies and the earth open up, and floods and volcanoes rain on us, we will not return to secular governance. Islam is my reference.”
“One cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time. You are either a Muslim or a secularist, but not both.”
“It is meaningless to stand like a [mindless] statue, pretending to show respect for Atatürk instead one should pray.” (May 12, 1994 the newspaper Hürriyet)
“All schools will be turned into Religious Schools” (September 17, 1994, the newspaper Cumhuriyet)
I continue with direct quotes from Mr. Erdoğan:
“Thank God 99% of Turks are Muslims. Accordingly, 99% must say, ’Thank God for Sharia.’ I am for Sharia. And Sharia is synonymous with Islam, offering the very Rules of God.” (November 21, 1994)
“I claim, people cannot be secular. As a matter of fact, our constitution states: ’The Turkish Republic is secular not that Turkish citizens are secular. Secularism cannot preempt Islam.’” (July 10, 1998, the newspaper Hürriyet)
”We gave into Western immorality, to DRINKING AND GAMBLING”
“Our purpose is to nurture a religious and VINDICTIVE youth.”
The foregoing statements clearly reveal Erdoğan’s core beliefs.
I said earlier, ”America’s present ally Turkey is not the ally you know!”
Last March, Erdoğan, with that mindset seen in those quotes, passed legislation in Parliament requiring Public Schools to offer “elective classes” in the Quran and on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Although described as “electives”, they become de facto “required classes”, because of prevailing peer pressure, and pressure from teachers, who in turn feel pressure from the government.
The proses thus delivering a fatal blow to secular education, the Turkey of 2012 is no longer the Turkey, that Mr.Grew knew in 1927.
Mr. Erdoğan’s plan “… to transform secular schools to religious schools” (the newspaper Cumhuriyet, September 17, 1994) is right on course. In time, 80-90% of Turkey’s population will comprise Erdogan’s electoral base. Of course, if the ’religious and vindictive youth’ he creates can turn around and devour it’s creators, only then. Erdoğan would be able to realize what he has done.
It is reasonable in progressive, and predominantly Christian countries to say, ”Where is the harm for a person to learn about the Scriptures of his own faith, and about the life of the Prophet who brought the Scriptures?” This may seem sensible in Christian societies that have long come to terms with the separation of Church and State, but it is entirely different in Islamic societies, where the religion is regarded not as a moral code, but a legislated code, the Law. Thus, the Mosque still strives to take over the reins of government. There is no separation of Mosque and State. Islam controls all aspects of a practicing Muslim’s life, from prenatal to postmortem. Secularism cannot exist where there is Sharia. These systems of governance are mutually exclusive. If the national religion is Islam, then Islam must be the law of the land. The fanatic Muslims are UNFORGIVEN ENEMIES of Atatürk and his principles of secularism. They can never forgive him for separating Mosque and State.
Educating the youth in the Quran, specifically in “elective” religion courses, will prepare a generation of individuals who will seek to govern the nation according to tenets of Islam thereafter.
Earlier, I promised to explain the reasons zealot Muslims are still unable to openly attack Atatürk. In the past, the civilian governments had behaved cautiously, knowing that a secularist Turkish Army, dedicated to preserving Atatürk’s legacy, was keeping a watchful eye. But now, the influence of the Armed Forces has disappeared. The reason Atatürk has not yet become an open target is that Erdogan sees the majority in all sectors — the judiciary, academic, media, the business world — all except the religious sector, is still devoted to Atatürk. Atatürk still stands tall in their minds. And his tomb, Anıt Kabir, is overflowing with in ever growing numbers of visitors.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
again, I will quote Mr. Ryans on the state of affairs in Turkey:
“Consider conditions today (…) Labor unions bludgeoned to submission. Culture ignored. The arts devalued. Artists abused. Dramatic theater collapsed. A brutal police force forever attacking the citizens with pepper gas, clubs, water cannons. (…) The thoroughly disreputable Turkish judicial system where electronic eavesdropping, forgeries, secret witnesses, tampered evidence, and political meddling pollute the law. Consider further the rampant jailing of all opposed to this socio-political nightmare. The purge and collapse of the army…”
As for plight of media in Turkey:
During his December 2009 visit to the United States, Prime Minister Erdoğan gave a speech to students at Johns Hopkins University, in which he claimed, “The Turkish press enjoys more freedom than the American press.” Later on, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay delivered a similar message to Turkish journalists in Turkey.
However, a number of watch dog organizations, for examle The Committee to Protect Journalists, and Freedom House, both based in the US; the International Press Institute, the European Federation of Journalists, and Reporters without Borders, all based in Europe; — without a single exception, choose to disagree. They reveal the truth that the Turkish Press is under unprecedented pressure,beyond anything seen before. I offer you a few examples: When journalist Ahmet Şık announced the title for a prospective book, “The Imam`s Army,” on which he had been working on, he was arrested. This happened even before the manuscript was submitted for publication. It was assumed by the government that the book was going to target Fethullah Gülen Hodja, the leader of the religious organization, “GÜLEN Movement,” operating around the world, including the United States. Ahmet Şık spent an entire year in prison effectively on trumped up charges. A similar experience befell journalist, Nedim Şener, the 2010 recipient of the prestigious, ¨Press Hero Award ¨ of the International Press Institute. He was in jail for a year, without any tangible reason… without any evidence. Nedim Şener’s real crime was also to publish a book exposing the Gülen Group’s questionable goals, specifically the placement of its members in government establishments. In the context of the pressure placed on the Press in Turkey, it behooves me to point out the following facts:
Not only the professional establishments, but also the European Union Commission point out the extremely heavy pressures on the press. Here are a few final examples:
The organization Reporters without Borders keeps tabs each year on the freedom of press around the world, according to 43 criteria, and publishes its yearly findings. Reporters without Borders declared that in 2011, among 179 countries, Turkish media is 148th when it comes to freedom. In a hierarchy for the freedom of the press, the report places journalists in Nigeria, Burundi, Angola, Uganda and Gambia above Turkish journalists, with journalists in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Syria below their Turkish counterparts. This is not an enviable position for Turkish journalists to find themselves in.
Sadly, under the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey is seen to hold a dubious record as the country that imprisons the most journalists. According to the International Press Institute, the number of journalists who are in prison is greater in Turkey than in China, a country that has a population 20 times greater than Turkey. According to a new report by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) the number of journalists under arrest in Turkey nearly doubled since 2011 to present, from 57 to 95.
Certainly there are countless other issues in speaking about Turkey. But, with your permission, I would like to end my talk here and answer your questions.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to you for listening….