Turkey, Bridging West and the Middle East

Map, Syria, Aleppo, Refugees, Asylum

After some time reviewing the Honduran constitutional crisis, I have chosen to test another example of a state where the constitution has generated controversy: Turkey. Although I think Turkey has turned out to be a success in bridging Islam and the West, I need to be clear that Turkey is not a country with no faults. Its refusal to accept responsibility for the Armenian genocide during World War 1 is deplorable. Also, Turkey’s suppression and attempted forced assimilation of its Kurdish citizens and their culture is inexcusable.

Notwithstanding these two issues, Turkey represents an Islamic country that is a modern secular democracy, fully inclusive of woman’s political rights. This country’s secular constitution was instituted in the 1920s and 1930s by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey’s republic from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk is the father of the nation and his legacy remains in full force today.

Turkey is integrated with the west being a member of such organization as NATO, the G20 and the OECD. The country is a parliamentary representative democracy with three branches of government such as, executive, legislative and independent judiciary. Turkey has good relations with the West, and is currently reaching out to other areas of the world. 1 interesting truth that differentiates this country from most of the Islamic world is its relationship with Israel.

A major controversy surrounding the Turkish democracy is the army’s involvement in government. The Turkish army has taken on the role of the guardian of secularism and the constitution. The country’s current ruling party, the AKP, has been carefully treading towards a more Islamist stance. In response to the AKP’s politics, the military issued a statement in 2007 that made it clear it’s still a power broker. The statement entailed that the army is going to be a party in all arguments over secularism and warned they are ready to perform their responsibilities to protect the features of the Republic. This proposal was annulled by the constitutional court and resulted in the AKP receiving a fine.

Although controversial, there are many who claim this deeply instituted secularism and contemporary approach has resulted in Turkey’s financial success, considered both a”developed” country and a regional power. This issue is divisive within the country, with many claiming that the present system of army enforced secularism is anti-democratic. If the country compromises on its secularism, could that be the first step towards a religious state? If so, is the current alternative not preferable to a model like the theocracy in Iran? At least under the current model democracy and personal freedom exist as long as religious based laws are not changed or instituted? On a comparative basis, in spite of its issues, is the Turkish system not preferable to many other people in the middle east? My hope is these questions fuel constructive dialog around the search to improve coexistence among nations and religions of the world.

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