Turkey: Back To The Past?
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a theocratic Muslim, appears unstoppable in today's presidential election. With a close ally Recep Tayyip Erdogan as prime minister, a majority in parliament, a wife who wears a head scarf despite bans against headgarb in government, and an Islamist platform, what's to stop Gul from being the next Ahmadinejad?
One thing: The military. Every time the Islamists have threatened to destroy Turkey's' secular government, they've stepped up with a handy threat or a swift coup, and they're still talking that talk:
"Our nation has been watching the behavior of those separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature, and centers of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic," Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on the military's Web site Monday. (AP)But here's the rub: Is the Army itself free enough of Islamism to stand behind Buyukanit and against Gul? Chances are all too good we'll find out soon enough.
A question I wish I didn't have to ask but must is this: Is the U.S. prepared for a Turkey that's stepping back into the 17th Century? What would happen to our alliance, our key bases and our strategic interests? I found little solace in this passage from a recent State Dept. press briefing a couple weeks ago:
QUESTION: Abdullah Gul's announcement earlier this week, that he's going to renew his -- that he's renewing his bid for the presidency in Turkey, was followed by the head of the army saying that the next president would have to adhere to democratic principles in Turkey. How concerned are you that the head of the army is making pronouncements on the workings of a democratically elected government in Turkey?A friend who's a missionary in Turkey emailed a prayer request out yesterday. Pray for secularism in Turkey (even missionaries aren't hot on theocracies, it seems); pray that if Gul wins, a door will remain open for missionaries in Turkey, and pray that the military won't have to stage a coup.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, any decision about who's going to be the next President of Turkey is going to be one for the Turkish Parliament and the Turkish people to make. And we have confidence in Turkey's democracy. We have confidence in Turkey's secular democracy. And there are going to a variety of -- there are going to be a variety of different points of view within Turkey. That is the nature of democracy. But any of these questions need to resolved within the confines of Turkey's law and Turkey's constitution. And we have full confidence that the Turkish system will come to terms with whatever differences there are within that system to produce a result that is democratic, that is consistent with Turkey's history, and consistent with Turkey's laws and constitution.
QUESTION: How concerned are you that there are fears in Turkey that their whole step may lead to another showdown with the secularists, thus undermining the stability of the political system in Turkey?
MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to political scientists who are better versed in Turkish domestic politics than me. But look, what you are seeing, as far as we can see, is a debate about Turkey's future course; a debate about Turkish politics and how Turkey's values manifest itself within a political system. That is the functioning of a democracy, as it -- I think anybody would recognize it's a debate that we would have here in the United States or in Western Europe or elsewhere. But ultimately, the Turkish people are going to have to wrestle with these questions and figure out how to deal with them within the confines of their political system.
The first prayer and third may be contradictory, but I'm going ahead with the prayers as he requested.