Erdogan Dragging Turkey into an Islamist Path

Published: 21st May 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th May 2015 10:59 PM   |  A+A-

On April 24, Armenians organised events in the memory of the 1.5 million people killed by the Ottoman Turkey a century ago. The massacre, occurring through the World War I and till 1922, is dubbed as the 20th century’s first genocide. The Christian Armenia was ruled by the Ottomans. The scale of the massacre can be gauged from the fact that 10 million Armenians, more than three times the current population of Armenia, live abroad as their grandparents had to flee for their lives. Turkey was heading the Islamic caliphate. From 1915 onwards, the Ottomans had implemented a policy of expulsions and killings of Armenians, much as Pakistan kills Baloch intellectuals today. Images from the time show Ottoman soldiers rounding up Armenians and marching them to deserts and prisons. Recently, Turkey criticised Western nations for recognising the Armenian genocide.

Around that time, the Nizam of Hyderabad owed allegiance to the Ottoman caliph. After the secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924, the Hyderabad Nizam used to pay for the upkeep of the fallen caliph Sultan Abdul Majeed II, according to Saqlain Imam, a senior Pakistani journalist based in London. A daughter and a niece of the fallen caliph were married into the Nizam’s family. Around this time Indian Muslims, led by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Mahatma Gandhi, supported the movement for the restoration of the caliphate, something jihadist group Islamic State (ISIS) is trying to revive now. The Arabs, having been ruled and mistreated by the Ottomans, disliked Azad, though he was respected for scholarship. Speeches were delivered in Mecca in which Maulana Azad was dubbed as Abul Kelab, or father of dogs.

After 1924, Ataturk put Turkey on a secular path, which is being reversed now. Turkey’s Islamist turn has drawn international attention, especially since Tayyip Erdogan took over power, first serving as the prime minister from 2003 and as the president since last year. The 2002 victory of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party marked the rise of Islamists in Turkey. In terms of the policies implemented under him, Turkey’s Islamism has also been described as Erdoganism, which has created hospitable environment for Islamists and their armed ideological cousins, jihadists. Turkey is one of the biggest centres of recruitment for the ISIS. In a September 15 report, the New York Times estimated: “As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS.”

Alarmed by such reports, Turkish daily Hurriyet sent 11 journalists and photographers to five Turkish cities, and to France and Germany, to trace the paths taken by Turkish youths to join ISIS. The five cities considered recruitment hubs for ISIS are Gaziantep, Kocaeli, Ankara, Diyarbakır and Istanbul. In Ciksorut area of Gaziantep, the Hurriyet journalists were told by a grocer that “up to 4,000” locals joined ISIS. In Dilovasi area of Kocaeli, a coffee shop owner said “a thousand” youths joined ISIS, though others put the number at ten. Others noted that 3,000 Turks hold top positions in ISIS. From the Hacıbayram area of Ankara, 100 youths joined ISIS, though others in denial put the number just as three.

In Diyarbakır, journalists were told that ISIS’s “main platforms for its organisational activities are Facebook, dervish lodges (dergah) and bookstores”. In Istanbul, a youth who had joined al-Qaeda said: “[Hijra, or migration] is a religious obligation, just like jihad or daily prayers. Those who don’t go will have troubles, not those who go. If a Muslim is hurt in the Arctic, we would go there too.” From Germany, 200 German citizens—a third of Turkish origin—joined ISIS. From France, 1,000 French citizens, many of them Turks, joined the jihad in Syria.

Some writers say it is not necessary that the ISIS jihadists returning from Syria could pose threats to Turkey and Europe. But a template exists: top jihadist commanders in Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq were trained in Afghanistan in the 1980s. If we consider this template, Turkey could look like Afghanistan in coming years. Along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey is among the three key states that have aided ISIS against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Here is how Erdogan’s Islamism enters people’s lives. He lifted ban on headscarf in schools; he said women cannot be equal to men, and urged women to have at least three children. He advocated alcohol-free zones, cracked down on secularists and journalists, directed schools to teach Turkish in Arabic script. Like the Taliban, Erdogan objected to the use of the term “moderate Islam” saying: “Islam cannot be classified as moderate or not.” He argued Muslims discovered America 300 years before Christopher Columbus did. He is building a $100-million mega mosque near Washington, the money he could use to send 1,000 Turkish youths to study computer engineering in India or elsewhere. For Erdoganism, Islam matters, not the people. He seeks to revive the Ottoman caliphate, as his visions are being etched in stone in the grand presidential palace he is building.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Paris, “Islam, from Andalusia to the Ottoman Empire, is the most indigenous element of this [European] continent.” Deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said women shouldn’t be heard laughing, much as Islamic clerics across India say. Pro-government intellectual Nurettin Yildiz said: “A seven-year-old girl can be married. In Islam there is no age limitation to marriage.” A high school in Antalya asked male students to form teams to harass female students who wear skirts. Imam Mehmet Sait Yaz said in Diyarbakır: “The most rabid and savage enemies of Islam on earth are the Jews. Who says this? Allah says this.”

In January, memorial prayers were offered for the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Istanbul. There isn’t much distinction between Erdoganism and jihadism. Much like jihadists, he said, “Sovereignty unconditionally and always belongs to Allah.” Before becoming the prime minister, Erdogan publicly read a poem, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

Erdoganism will bear more fruits. Watch out for Turkey.

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