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memri
October 10, 2006 No.
1313

Turkish President and Military Warn of Increasing Islamism in Turkey, Point to AKP Government

Addresses by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer at the opening of the new session of the Turkish parliament and by the Turkish Chief of General Staff at the opening of the academic year at the Turkish War Academy had a common theme: the growing threat of Islamism to Turkey as a secular state.

Tension and concern among Turkey's secular circles are on the rise because of numerous phenomena: the Islamization of national education and of state institutions such as Turkish radio and television and Turkey's national airlines; the appointment of imams and other Islamists to government positions, including in the security forces; the increasing number of religious schools and of once-banned Koran courses; the government's preoccupation with Islamic issues (such as the Islamic headscarf); and the rift between the government and the universities. [1] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of the AKP government have denied that any such threat to Turkey's secularism exists.

The warnings expressed by President Sezer and by Chief of Staff Gen. Buyukanit in their addresses - which came during an official visit by PM Erdogan to the U.S. - seemed to draw the lines between the sides in the controversy about the upcoming election by parliament of a new Turkish president, slated for May 2007. It is expected that PM Erdogan, an Islamist and a former member of the banned Islamist party Erbakan, [2] will be elected - and this would mean the AKP's capture of the presidency. Secular circles in Turkey fear that if the AKP has both a majority in parliament and the presidency, it will then have the power to change the country's constitution.

The Islamist press has expressed dismay at these warnings of an Islamic threat in Turkey voiced by President Sezer and Gen. Buyukanit. On the other hand, most of Turkey's secular press applauded and supported the addresses.

The following are excerpts from Turkish media reports on the addresses:

President Sezer: The Fundamentalist Platform is Expanding Day by Day

On October 1, 2006, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer opened the new legislative year of the Turkish parliament; in his address, he emphasized that Turkey was facing many internal and external threats against the country's integrity, national unity, and political system. He cautioned that the fundamentalist platform was expanding day by day, and reiterated that the Turkish Armed Forces were the guardian of the regime and of the country.

President Sezer's speech and the reactions to it were widely reported in the Turkish media. The following are excerpts from the report by the Islamic daily Zaman: [3]

"[…] In his speech, Sezer dwelled on issues such as freedom of the judiciary, secularism, and Turkey-U.S. relations. He underlined the existence of a steadily growing threat of religious [Islamist] fundamentalism in Turkey, emphasizing that the principle of secularism does not need to be redefined [as is frequently demanded by AKP officials]. […]

"The president expressed that Turkey's E.U. membership goal still has priority, and its accession process should not be hindered by superficial problems. […] 'The religious fundamentalist threat, which has existed since the establishment of the Turkish Republic, has recently increased,' said Sezer […] 'Fundamentalism aims to change the core principles of the state.'

"He also talked about increased efforts [by the Islamists] against the achievements of the secular republic... 'These have included the appointment of Islamist-minded officials to key civil service positions; recent statements by AKP officials questioning the definition of secularism; and efforts to make religion part of society and politics,' said Sezer.

"Sezer particularly focused on the issue of secularism in the state's regime and future, underlining that secularism was functionally defined in the constitution and did not need to be redefined - which contradicts the AKP government's desire to redefine secularism. 'Turkey has adopted secularism, with its very appropriate content, in the context of its traditions, social structure, social realities, and circumstances,' said Sezer […].

"Sezer explained, 'Religion cannot be allowed to exceed beyond the individual's spiritual life and influence social order. Restrictions can be imposed […] to protect public order, safety, and public interests. Abuse and exploitation of religion can be banned.' The president emphasized that Turkey was a state of law and that the president and the judiciary act as a power balance […]

"[On the importance of the judiciary,] Sezer said that all the legislative amendments were made not to elevate the judiciary above the legislative and executive branches, but to restrict the authority of government over the judiciary and to harmonize it with the laws. 'Because,' he said, 'in modern societies that have adopted the supremacy of law, the final decision is to be taken by the judiciary. […] Turkey has taken important steps on the path of being a respected and trusted member of the modern world, with the contributions of our foundations established in light of Ataturk's philosophy. We will proceed towards the future with great self confidence, by being aware of the values that we have, by protecting our democracy, by preserving our unity, by sustaining national reconciliation […] These are the duties and responsibilities of all our citizens.'"

Chief of General Staff Buyukanit: "A Fundamentalist Threat Exists"

Marking the opening of the new academic year at the military academy in Istanbul, Turkish Armed Forces Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit delivered a strongly worded speech warning of increasing Islamist fundamentalism. His speech came in response to PM Erdogan's recent assertion that there was no fundamentalist threat in Turkey. Gen. Buyukanit's speech was broadcast live on 10 Turkish television channels, and was widely reported in the Turkish media. The following are excerpts of the reports:

"[…] Gen. Buyukanit made the following thinly veiled jabs at the AKP government: 'Are there not those who take every possible opportunity to cry out, 'Let us redefine secularism!'? Don't these same people occupy the highest levels of government? Isn't [it true that] the great founder of our republic, Ataturk, and the mentality he put into place, as well as the basic principles of the regime of our republic, are under attack? Are there not those who grab every chance they get to chip away and wear down the Turkish Armed Forces? Are there not elements that want to destroy our societal structure, and drag our people back into anachronistic ways? If you cannot answer all these questions with a 'no' and say 'these things do not happen in Turkey,' then yes, there is threat of religious fundamentalism in Turkey, and we must do everything we can to fight it.'" [4]

"Chief of General Staff Buyukanit accused the government of encouraging Islamic fundamentalism, and rejected E.U. criticism that the military had too much influence in politics."

“Turkey's generals have been speaking out in defense of the military's role as guardian of Turkey's secular regime and pro-Western vision, amid E.U. calls for Turkey to curtail its generals' outspokenness. The military is deeply suspicious of both PM Erdogan's government, which has appointed Islamic-minded officials to all key civil posts, and governing party members - including Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc - who have questioned the definition of secularism. Military leaders suspect that the government is giving priority to an Islamist agenda over Turkey's bid for E.U. membership. Buyukanit justified the military's actions by saying that they were based on laws empowering it to protect the secular regime against both external and internal threats.

"'Which action of the military is undemocratic?' he asked […] 'I am a soldier and I am carrying out the duties given to me by law. As soldiers, we have nothing to do with politics; however, there are those who are disturbed by our assessments on security and [our secular] regime […]' The military has urged the government to crack down on radical Islam, saying that demanding such action was part of its role of protecting [Turkey's secular] regime. […]" [5]

"[…] [In response to comments by some E.U. officials, Gen. Buyukanit said] 'They are trying to portray the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] as a roadblock on the way to democratization. The Turkish Armed Forces support [Turkey's] E.U. membership. As soldiers, we do not interfere in politics. What statements were ever made by TSK outside the framework of democracy? It is very clear to whom the chief of staff reports [i.e. the prime minister].'" [6]

The Taqiyya of PM Erdogan

Columnist Burak Bekdil, of the centrist, English-language Turkish Daily News, wrote in an article titled, "Is There an Islamic Fundamentalist Threat in Turkey?": [7]

"There isn't, according to the prime minister, parliament speaker, deputy prime minister, probably the rest of the cabinet and those who sit on the government's bench in parliament. [But] according to the president and the head of the military and three service commanders, there is. Somebody […] must be 'abstaining from the truth.' […] One may agree or disagree on whether there really is a threat from Islamism against Turkey's secular regime. But the 'who is abstaining from the truth' part is unambiguous.

"Last year, the National Security Council drafted a security threat paper […]. The draft was discussed at various meetings of the Council, took its final shape, was sent to the ministers for approval, and was eventually sent to the prime minister for the final signing. Earlier this year PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the white paper. The document clearly defines Islamic fundamentalism [Islamism] and separatism […] as principal domestic security threats to Turkey. So, if Mr. Erdogan has any doubt as to whether that threat exists in the country he governs, he can always look in the document he himself signed only [a few] months ago. However, Mr. Erdogan is certain that the Islamist threat does not exist.

"If Islamism is not a security threat, why did he sign the most sacred of all security documents that says that it [is]? Does he - and how often - sign policy papers of supreme significance despite his disagreeing with their contents? If yes, which ones are they? […]

"Or, did he believe Islamism was a threat earlier this year but no longer does? […]For example, does he believe Iran's nuclear ambitions are a security threat? […]

"[…] The answer that helps us understand the difference between Mr. Erdogan who signed the white paper that says Islamism is a threat and Mr. Erdogan who says it is not can be found in the Arabic word taqiyya. For some dogmatic Muslims, cheating is not a sin if committed 'for the good of Islam.' It is no secret that remaining in power, for Mr. Erdogan and his men who think Islamism is not a threat, is the sine qua non, a prerequisite, to change Turkey's demographics in favor of Islam. These men are perfectly aware that demographics is the mother of all politics.

"It's like hating America but trying to look pretty to the men who govern America 'for the good of Islam' [and for themselves, of course]. How else […] can they serve Islam if they are not in power? It's like defending the headscarf but fearing to remove the ban on the headscarf. How else can they serve Islam if they challenge too much the 'other' - 'the other' being the powerful men who say Islamism is a threat? It's like dogmatically believing in the Koran that tells [Muslim] believers 'not to make friends with Jews and Christians' but boasting good friends who are non-Muslim statesmen - all those 'my good friend Silvio's,' 'my good friend Costas's,' and 'my good friend 'George's…'

"[…] Fortunately, we 'have generals who think democracy is not what Mr. Erdogan thinks [it is] […]"

"Has a Party Like the AKP Ever Come to Power in the U.S. or E.U. Countries?"

Columnist Ozdemir Ince, of the secular, mainstream, high-circulation Hurriyet, wrote: [8] "[…] Mr. [Hansjorg] Kretschmer [head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey] has said that the [Turkish] military performs not only the duties assigned to it, but thinks itself the protector of the Turkish Republic. He emphasizes that civil control over the military is one of the 'key' issues in Turkey's membership process. […]

"I have a question for Mr. Kretschmer: In the U.S. or the E.U. countries, can a political party that clearly is against their constitutional order and against the founding principles of their states come to power? It would not be able to. But let's assume that [such a party] did come to power. Would this party be allowed to execute policies against the republic?

"Has a party like the AKP ever come to power in the U.S. and the E.U. countries? I wouldn't want to compare, but I cannot think of any examples other than Mussolini's fascist party and Hitler's Nazi party.

"Let Mr. Kretschmer note this: It is the Turkish Armed Forces that is protecting Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP from the fate of Mussolini and Hitler.

"Mr. Kretschmer should read the history of Turkey's Sunni Islamic sects and communities. Let him learn about the Islamist plots and uprisings. Let him examine the political ambitions and claims of sects such as Nakshibend-ism and Nur-ism and Fethullah-ism. [9]

"And then let him answer my question: Can a political party that represents un-democratic [Islamist] sects be respectful of democracy? Wouldn't it seal the door to democracy, at the first opportunity? Is this gentleman our friend or a saboteur?"

PM Erdogan, Ministers, Parliamentary Speaker Say "There is No Fundamentalism"; President Sezer, Chief of Staff Say "There is"

Turkish columnist Guneri Civaoglu, of the secular, mainstream daily Milliyet, wrote in a column titled "Who Has the Right to Speak?": [10] "PM Erdogan and his ministers, and the parliamentary speaker, say, 'There is no fundamentalism.' [But] according to President Sezer, Chief of Staff Buyukanit, and the commanders of the armed forces, 'there is.'

"In the minds of the first [group], there is no clear definition of 'secularism.' According to them, 'fundamentalism' is not a Turkish reality. They associate fundamentalism with 'radical Islam,' such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah… bin Laden's Al Qaeda, Ahmadinejad's Iran, the Taliban's Afghanistan… Saudi Arabia [where] they practice flogging, cutting off arms or heads […] Sudan with the strictest religious rules… The label of 'fundamentalism' does not fit Turkey, which does not belong to this category.

"In contrast… For the second group - and the majority of the Turkish people - 'fundamentalism' is abandonment of Ataturk's principles; [it is] the slippery ground on which we have found ourselves sliding for quite some time. It is our knowing where this is leading us. It is the emptying of Ataturk's definition of modernity.

"It is about the beginning [in this country] of 'subordination of individuals to other individuals' in a network of relationships of 'hodjas [religious sect leaders] and followers,' and of gathering under such religious sects, orders, and cults that had no place in Koranic times and that were banned by the laws of [Ataturk's] Turkish revolution… [It is about] exploiting relationships with these religious sects and communities for political and economic gains… [It is about] exploiting the faith of sincere believers… the brainwashing of children and the young with irrationalities and myths… the rejection of the country's founder and leader of its independence, Ataturk, and [the excommunication of] all his followers - the military, the university professors, the teachers, the judges, the prosecutors, the administrators…

"Does the fact that the perpetrators of these things can use computers, speak foreign languages, and have diplomas make them 'modern' or contemporary?

"The Turkish Armed Forces have an important place among the republic's institutions that defend Ataturk's principles, beginning with secularism. Gen. Buyukanit's speech must be evaluated in this light.

"[…] In the recent period, there has been a campaign to wear down the armed forces, waged from within and from without. […] Has anybody in the government voiced anything at all to defend the armed forces? […] If 'soldiers should not speak politics and must be silent,' why didn't those who should speak, speak? Why are they silent? Shouldn't at least the defense minister say something?

"Buyukanit complained about a TESEV [11] report accusing the Turkish Armed Forces of 'influencing politics,' and he mentioned that nine chapters of the report were prepared by people under the civil authority [i.e. the police]. If the civil authority, which should defend the Turkish military, remains silent, and furthermore, if there are suspicions that it supports these reports targeting the military, should the soldiers remain silent and appear to agree with these accusations?

"It is laws enacted by the free will of the Turkish parliament that have given the armed forces certain duties and responsibilities, and reminding the students and officers of the military academies of this is legitimate - and does not constitute opposition to democracy or to the E.U."


[1] 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 13, 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’ ; 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.

[2] The political Islam (Milli Gorus) movement was founded by former PM Necmettin Erbakan. In 1980 and, more recently, in 1997, Erbakan was removed and banned from politics by military intervention, due to fears of the Islamization of Turkey. The AKP and PM Erdogan are offspring of this movement, and now share an electoral base with the Saadet Party.

[3] Zaman (Turkey), October, 2, 2006, October 1, 2006.

[4] Hurriyet (Turkey), October 3, 2006.

[5] Turkish Daily News (Turkey), October 3, 2006.

[6] Hurriyet (Turkey), October 2, 2006.

[7] Turkish Daily News (Turkey), October 4, 2006.

[8] Hurriyet (Turkey), October 3, 2006.

[9] Turkish Islamist sect leader Fethullah Gulen is known to be a sworn proponent of the shari'a and the establishment of a caliphate in Turkey, but has in recent years been a relatively moderate voice advocating interfaith dialogue. (This is regarded as taqiyyah by Turkey's secularists.) Following his indictment in Turkey for Islamist activity against the secular regime, he fled to the U.S., where he has lived since 1999. His sect owns many media organs in Turkey, including the Islamic daily Zaman, Samanyolu TV, many magazines, and radio stations. Many of his followers occupy positions in Turkish government ministries, the police, and the military. There are thousands of Islamic-Turkish Fethullah Gulen schools in Turkey, and hundreds more in over 70 countries worldwide.

[10] Milliyet (Turkey), October 3, 2006.

[11] TESEV, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, is a non-governmental organization sponsored by George Soros.