True secularism was never realized in Turkey, it never will...

Turkey is often praised for being a secular Muslim country, which can serve as a role-model for other mainly Islamic societies because of its rich history of secularism. America, the United Kingdom and other Western nations often claim that Turkey is a beacon of hope, and that it serves as evidence that democracy and secularism can thrive in mainly Muslim states. However, during this so-called “golden age” of secularism in modern Turkey, religious and ethnic minorities have clearly suffered greatly. This raises the question: truly how secular is Turkey?

If we look at Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, it becomes clear that he himself supported exclusively "Turkish" nationalism and the destruction of Christianity, which continued to take place after the genocide of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Orthodox Christians in 1915.

Therefore, it is clear that Turkish nationalism and secularism is tainted by its anti-Christian as well as anti-Kurdish nature. After all, the nation state of Turkey was about Turkish nationalism, and secularism did not protect the religious or ethnic minorities of this diverse nation.

In spite of this, the myth of modernity and secularism based on the founding father prevails and Western nations are very optimistic about Turkey. Yes, Ataturk faced many difficulties; and from a Turkish point of view, he was very astute because he preserved a Turkish state when it was threatened by others. Yet, in order to do this, he crushed others. Therefore, the “bedrock” of secularism from the start was “frail”, because it was based on purely "Turkish" nationalism.

Ataturk did implement many reforms in order to modernize Turkey and did lay the foundation stone for a secularism-based state. In this sense, he crushed Islamists' hope of a Sharia Islamic state, and he gave more rights to females which did not exist in the old Ottoman Empire. However, his legacy of modernity and secularism is tainted by the overt nationalism of old Turkey, which is still strong in today's Turkey.

If secularism means having the right to crush various minorities, namely Christians, moderate Muslim Alevis, as well as the Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians and Kurds in modern day Turkey, then it cannot be called secularism at all. Therefore, modernization and secularism of modern Turkey is tainted by its overt nationalism; and of course, the Sunni orthodox mindset means that religious inequality is the norm.

In the 1990s, Alevi Muslims witnessed an upsurge in attacks against them. For example, David Zieden, who wrote an article called, The Alevi of Anatolia, states that “Renewed inter-communal violence is sadly on the rise. In July 1993, at an Alevi cultural festival in Sivas, a Sunni fundamentalist mob set fire to a hotel where many Alevi participants had taken refuge, killing 35 of them. State security services did not interfere and prosecution against leaders of the riot was not energetically pursued. (41) In 1994, Istanbul municipal leaders from the Refah Islamic political party tried to raze an Alevi tekke (monastery) and close the Ezgi cafe where young Alevis frequently gathered.

Meanwhile, if we focus on recent times, it becomes clear that persecution is still continuing. In 2007, three Christians had their throats slit. Two of the victims had converted from Islam to Christianity; therefore, Necati Aydia, 36, and Ugur Yuksel, 32, were killed by Islamic fanatics on the grounds of merely leaving Islam; the other murdered Christian, Tilmann Geske, 46, was a German citizen. One of the killers stated in the Hurriyet newspaper that “We didn’t do this for ourselves. We did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion.

Before concluding, it is important to state that there are many positive elements within Turkish society, who desire change and support a genuine inclusive secular-democratic Turkey. Viewed from its past history and from a Turkish perspective, this nation clearly faced many obstacles; for Ataturk, the infancy of Turkey was about survival and many Turks also suffered greatly. Apart from this, Turkey is also a valued member of the NATO and a vital strategic ally for America and the West.

Despite these positives, seen from perspectives of the rights of Alevi Muslims and Christians in modern day Turkey, plus the persecution of Kurds, clearly orthodox Sunni Islam and nationalism is still being used by conservative elites. These elites still desire to crush both religious and ethnic minorities, and depriving them of equality in modern Turkey.

Events and incidents in recent years makes it clear that the Sunni Islam, recognized by the Turkish state, is favoured at the expense of other faiths, including minority Muslim sects, like the Alevis. Moreover, Sunni Islamic extremism is on the rise, while the current Islamist leadership of Turkey clearly favours a return to the past.

It, thus, can be concluded that true secularism was never realized in Turkey. And the latest turn toward puritan Islam and Sharia would leave the realization of secularism in Turkey a distant dream.  The nature of Islam and the mindset it creates toward all others make it impossible for a mainly Muslim state to become truly secular.

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