memri
February 7, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1086

The AKP Government's Attempts to move Turkey from Secularism to Islamism (Part III): PM Erdogan: Islam is Turkey's Supra-Identity

February 7, 2006
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 1086

Since Prime Minister Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002, the rift between Turkey's secular circles and the government on many issues has deepened, often due to remarks by PM Erdogan himself.

Erdogan's statements on Turkish identity occupied the public agenda throughout December 2005. First, he defined Turkey's ethnic groups as its "sub-identities," with "citizenship in Turkey." His refusal to accept "Turkish" as the supra-identity of the people of Turkey, and his rejection of the concept of "the Turkish nation," sparked furious reactions from Turkey's secularist and nationalist circles.

Then, in response to a question about Turkey's Kurdish minority (during an official visit to New Zealand), Erdogan said that Turkey's dozens of ethnic groups were tied together by their shared religion - meaning Islam: "Turkey is 99% Muslim, and above all, it is our religion that ties us all together." Upon his return to Turkey, he clarified his statements: "I did not say that Islam is our supra-identity [as the media reported]. I said that Islam is the cement, and the most important factor, uniting our people."

While the Islamist media in Turkey hailed Erdogan's expression of these views, the secular media protested, stressing that the Turkish people's only higher identity was Turkish citizenship in the secular Turkish republic.

The following are excerpts from the reactions in the Turkish press to Erdogan's statements:

"The [AKP] are in an Overall Offensive Against [Our] Secular Republic"

On December 10, Oktay Eksi wrote in Hurriyet: "This is a friendly warning. […] The ruling AKP government is following a very wrong and dangerous path. They [the AKP] are in an overall offensive against [our] secular Republic. They used to say, 'We respect the Law.' Then, when they were displeased with the law in Turkey, they carried it to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]. When they did not like the results of the Leyla Sahin case, [1] they defied the ECHR and the law. [2]

"They used to say that they respected science. Yet they launched an all-out war against the [Turkish] Higher Education Council and the universities. [3] […] In dealing with the European Union [membership] criteria, they kept saying 'one flag, one nation, one homeland' - but they changed, very quickly, 'one nation' into 'one ummet' [umma]." [4]

Opposition Party MP: "If Religion is Our People's Cement - What are We Supposed to Do About our [Non-Muslim] Minorities?"

On the subject of Prime Minister Erdogan's definition of Islam as the "cement" of the people of Turkey, opposition CHP (Republican People's Party) member of parliament Ali Topuz was quoted in most of Turkey's mainstream newspapers: "[…] If religion [Islam] is the cement of our people, what are we supposed to do about our non-Muslim minorities [and] the atheists? Are we going to exclude them from our nation? […] The prime minister must remember that Ataturk brought us secularism, and absolute separation of state and religion is one of the most important principles of the Turkish revolution. […] I call on the prime minister to demonstrate political maturity."

On December 18, 2005 Hayrettin Karaman wrote in the Islamic daily Yeni Safak: "[…] Being a Muslim demands the subordination of tribalism (which corresponds to nationalism in today's language) to the unity of Islamic brotherhood. Islam comes above all other ties. […] When the Islamic nation (umma) is united, no Muslim individual or group will be left out; they will be part of it. […] According to the Lausanne treaty, only the non-Muslims are recognized as minorities in Turkey." [5]

On December 11, Murat Bardakci wrote in the secular mass-circulation daily Hurriyet: "[…] If what the prime minister said were true, and that religion was such an important uniting factor, how come we [Turks], during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, were bitterly betrayed by Muslims […] and why was it that the [bloody] uprisings during the initial years of our republic were by the [rebelling] religious [Muslims]? […] In 1914, at the outset of the [First] World War, wasn't it Hussein, the sharif of Mecca, who issued the fatwas against the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph Reshad inciting all Arabs to a rebellion that painted the Muslim lands with the blood of tens of thousands of [our] sons? […] In 1925, Sheikh Said issued calls from southeast Anatolia to arm and attack the Turks: […] '…Capture their soldiers, […] the infidel Turks' cannons, the Turks' guns […]. Your guide is Mohammed, your helper is Allah. You are many times stronger than their government [in Ankara] […] Save and protect the sanctity of Islam […]'" [6]


[1] The case was brought before the ECHR by Leyla Sahin, a Turkish student who in 1998 was forced to abandon her medical studies at the Istanbul University because she refused to remove her turban. See: MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1048, "The AKP Government's Attempts to Move Turkey from Secularism to Islamism (Part II): Defying European Human Rights Court Decision on Headscarf Ban; PM Erdogan: 'Ulema, Not Courts, Have Right to Speak on Headscarf,'" December 14, 2005, The AKP Government's Attempts to Move Turkey from Secularism to Islamism (Part II): Defying European Human Rights Court Decision on Headscarf Ban; PM Erdogan: ‘Ulema, Not Courts, Have Right to Speak on Headscarf’.

[2] See: MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1048, December 14, 2005, The AKP Government's Attempts to Move Turkey from Secularism to Islamism (Part II): Defying European Human Rights Court Decision on Headscarf Ban; PM Erdogan: ‘Ulema, Not Courts, Have Right to Speak on Headscarf’.

[3] See: MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1014, "The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities," November 1, 2005, The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities.

[4] Hurriyet (Turkey), December 10, 2005.

[5] Yeni Safak (Turkey), December 18, 2005. The Islamic daily Yeni Safak is recognized as the semi-official mouthpiece of the AKP government.

[6] Hurriyet, December 11, 2005.

Share this Report:

HELP BRIDGE THE LANGUAGE GAP – DONATE TO MEMRI’S 2020 SUMMER CAMPAIGN