On Turkey and the destruction of Atatürk’s legacy

“I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men.” —Kemal Atatürk


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

I’ve been to Turkey several times, and absolutely love the place (I’m going back, I hope, next year). The last time I was there, I lectured on evolution in Ankara, talked to the knowledge-hungry biology students at Middle East Technical University, and was taken to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum and memorial to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). Atatürk is one of my heroes. For it was he who, almost singlehandedly, brought Turkey into the modern world—largely through secularizing his nation. He is a living refutation of Tolstoy’s idea that history is not created by “great men” but by sweeping social movements. Without Ataürk, it’s entirely possible that Turkey would be like Syria—or Egypt.

Atatürek’s massive reforms included abolishing the Caliphate and instituting democracy, massively expanding public eduction, reforming the alphabet from Arabic to Roman text, instituting education that was not only compulsory, but free, banning religious garb (including the headscarf—but only in universities), enforcing an absolute separation of church (mosque) and state, mandating legal equality and universal suffrage for women (in 1934: 37 years before Switzerland!), reforming industry and agriculture, and so on.

It was because of this that Turkey is the only Middle Eastern country that’s even been considered for membership in the EU.  Yes, it’s religious, but until recently religion didn’t dominate the country, and certainly not the government, which is run not by imams, but civil bureaucrats. It was a wonderful place to visit. When I lectured on evolution to the largest crowd I’d ever addressed—about 1200—I finished up with a slide showing Atatürk and some positive things he said about evolution. I also added how much I admired him. Well, the audience went wild with applause (for him, not me)—it was clear how much they admired the man and appreciated what he had done for Turkey.

Sadly, that’s all being undone by Recep Erdogan, who is becoming not only a dictator, making it illegal to criticize him, but a theocrat, supported widely by imams and devoted to the Islamification of his country.  I weep to see a great country undone by a petty tyrant.

The Turkish military, always a bastion of secularism, finally had enough.  They started a coup, failed, and the instigators are now either dead or in custody. Erdogan has consolidated his power, and he’ll get even more heavy-handed. The sad thing is that he was supported by many of the people of Turkey, who came out in the streets to oppose the coup.  It’s not as if Erdogan, by opposing the coup, was standing up for democracy, for he’s fundamentally antidemocratic. Were Atatürk still alive, he’d be bitterly opposed to everything Erdogan has done.

But the coup wasn’t a good idea anyway. Besides driving out a supposedly democratic regime, it would have led, I suspect, to increased terrorism. Muslims, enraged that an elected, pro-Muslim government was overthrown by a bunch of secularists, would do all they could to topple any new government created by the military.

Turkey is a mess. I’m immensely saddened that Erdogan is rolling back all the progress of the last century, and especially that he’s widely supported by Turkish people. Supposedly our ally, Turkey has finally scotched for good its chances to join the EU. And I feel bad for my Turkish friends, who must be chafing under the Erdogan regime but are forbidden to criticize it.

Sometimes, it seems, at least parts of our world are going backwards in time, guided by the Worse Angels of Our Nature. We hope that Islamic countries like Turkey, where terrorism is on the rise, will become more moderate, embrace Enlightenment values, and thereby reduce religious violence. But that’s precisely the opposite of what’s happening in Turkey—a great country brought low by a two-bit tyrant. The solution isn’t a military coup, but an electorate that isn’t bamboozled by someone like Erdogan.



  1. Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Wow, I had no idea Ataturk was so enlightened. It is indeed a refutation of the great man theory if what the great man created, a petty tyrant can destroy.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Wow and double wow. The bottom of the sea…indeed.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Turkey has for so long struggled to be a secular democracy. I fear what will happen if it falls back into theocracy.

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      There is a fairly significant minority who are Christians. If hte Islamists get the upper hand, I shudder to think of what will become of the Christian community.

  3. rickflick
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    “an electorate that isn’t bamboozled by someone like Erdogan.”

    So, that’s what’s puzzling me. Where are all the secularists in Turkey? Why have they let things get to this point? How can a population, steeped in secularism, be swept under by a total demigod? Could that happen in any other western countries? Here in the good ol’ US of A?

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Like here, they have their heads in the sand while government is taken away from them without their observation and knowledge. I recently saw a map of the U.S. which showed all the states with Republican governors: the majority of them. Whose money do you think bought that?! I haven’t seen a map of all the gerrymandered electoral districts changed so that only the “right” people could be in the majority in a vote. Whose money do you think bought that?! I don’t like to sound like a conspiracy theorist and, if I took the time, could identify at least some of the organizations involved in “overthrowing” our government, but will leave it to you. Over the
      last forty years, at least, a great deal of effort and money has been invested in quietly subverting our form of government at virtually all levels, including federal, state, county, local and judgeships. We didn’t need a military coup. We had a coup by the wealthy.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        The wealthy have probably always had a big say in the affairs of every civilization. During the late 19th century the barons pretty much had the country locked up. They lost power to populist politicians which brought about a new equilibrium. We seem to be shifting to a new “Koch Brothers” world.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Erdoğan has systematically been getting rid of opposition for years.

      Ataturk actually gave the military the task of maintaining a secular state, and there have been coups in the past when the government has drifted too close to conservative Islam. One of the reasons the coup failed is that Erdoğan has removed any military leader who speaks against him from his job – we’re talking hundreds in the last few years.

      When he arrested the military leaders who stood against him in this coup, he also arrested hundreds of judges. The judges have been standing up against him. There will be executions carried out, which is a pretty effective way of stopping dissent.

      The coup was actually pretty incompetently carried out and there are people saying it was staged to allow Erdoğan to justify measures like arresting judicial opponents.

      He has also jailed multiple journalists and Turkey’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index has been going down gradually since he came to power. It’s currently 151/189 iirc.

      He’s also been taking control of media outlets.

      He’s currently trying to change the constitution to further reduce the power of the prime minister and concentrate more power in his hands. Recently a new pm was installed who’s seen as an Erdoğan puppet.

      Personally I’m very worried about Turkey’s future.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the background info. I’m enlightened, but depressed.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      So, that’s what’s puzzling me. Where are all the secularists in Turkey?

      Well, as I figured out from conversing with Turkish colleagues when I was working there for about 5 moths of last year, they’re well aware that by not being in tune with the current government, their lives are in danger. So they’re keeping their heads down.
      That was my impression this time last year (obviously nobody talks openly about such things). With this first coup attempt failing … I don’t know if there’s a way forward that doesn’t involve civil war.
      Jerry’s trip is one he’d better keep a very close eye on, and be prepared to drop if the crisis is looming.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like a bitter situation. Why can’t things go right for a change?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 18, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Why can’t things go right for a change?

          Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      First, Erdogan didn’t come out of the gate acting theocratic. Indeed, the main target of his fake coup is a Sufi Muslim cleric with quite the following, who supports democracy, modern science and secular government and who originally supported Erdogan, too, until Erdogan started turning theocratic.

      Second, as the change occurred, that Sufi cleric saw what was coming and fled to Pennsylvania, where he remains in “self-imposed exile”, as NPR/PBS put it. He couldn’t stop Erdogan, and he realized he’d be targeted soon enough.

      Third, everyone of lesser importance realized it, too, and started shutting up. Those who took part in the coup were probably misled into doing it, either by an Erdogan operative or falsified information to back the coup. They’re now dead or arrested and being tortured. Others who didn’t but were known to be sympathizers of a true secular democracy are also being picked up.

      This is my understanding. That Sufi cleric is named Fethullah Gulen. The coup, which I believe Erdogan set up and directed, which would explain why he’s still alive and free, is excuse to demand the USA extradite Gulen to Turkey, where Erdogan can torture and humiliate him, in order to further discourage secularists.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        What started bad is ending up tragic.

  4. Ariel Karlinsky
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    He did plenty good but let’s not turn him into some sort of “god emperor”… see for example this enlightened turkish law:

    “Anyone who publicly insults or curses the memory of Atatürk shall be imprisoned with a heavy sentence of between one and three years…”


    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      That was a law passed after his death, so Atatürk wasn’t responsible for it, and I’m sure he would have decried it. I’m not defending everything that happened after he died.

      • Ariel Karlinsky
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        From what I know, plenty of laws prohibiting free speech were enacted by Ataturk himself. but I am unable to find these now so I’m seceding this argument🙂

        • Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          I suspect some of these laws he instituted may have come about as a way to keep the Kurds in their places.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 17, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

            The Kurds will be one of at least three major players in the civil war when it takes off. I’ll be optimistic : “if” it takes off.
            Was the genocide of the Armenians sufficiently thorough to count them out as a player when the war kicks off? I certainly never met anyone from that end of the country, but that could mean they’re another suppressed minority, and therefore a potential player.

    • Ariel Karlinsky
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Also, before Ardogan was in power (the “ataturks” were), he was imprisoned for 10 months for reciting a poem (he was then the mayor of Istanbul):

      Note also article 301 in the turkisn penal code (passed in 2005, by the “ataturks” again) which “makes it illegal to insult turkey, the turkish nation, or turkisn government institutions”:


      From what I gather, the struggle for control in Turkey, between Ataturk & Islamaists and between “Ataturks” & Islamsits is not so much a struggle of good vs evil but rather… something much more complicated. in some ways similar to the struggle between the secular Assad & the islamists in Syria.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Assad isn’t secular, though he may look so in comparison to the Islamic State. I know of particular child custody disputes in Syria before the civil war, and they were settled by Sharia courts.

  5. Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    i must say that the coup attempt is not about secular soldiers who had enough of current tgovernment. There is an extensive secret network (hizmet, the service, led by Fethullah Gülen who resides in USA) that was goverment’s best ally for a long time but they had huge falling out. They are In judiciary and police force they were erased. But they were also present in the army. Coup appears to be continuation of this clash

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      All earlier Turkish military coups have been fomented by the “democratic” seculars, unless I am mistaken.

      How could this then be a non-secular coup? That Erdogan claims it is not makes it suspect, he will use any means to oust both parties, and he has already called this a “God given” opportunity according to media.

      But we lack evidence any which way.

  6. Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Extraordinary post. I learned a lot about Turkey that I didn’t know in just a few short paragraphs.

    I particularly enjoyed the quote from Ataturk. Wow, he was truly an enlightened person.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    My connection with Turkey goes back long ago, to roughly 1969 if I recall. Went to the Izmir area on the Aegean Sea to a little known air force base (Cigli AFB). In those days it was part of our NATO commitments. One of the things going on at that time which would seem very unusual was a worker strike. All the local Turkish employees that worked for the Americans on base and in the city were striking for more money. I have no idea how wide this strike was but many of the facilities were close. As I recall we had to land at Istanbul to clear customs and then fly on the Izmir. Democracy in action.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      There are still 26 NATO bases in Turkey. The size of Turkey’s military is second only to the US in NATO – 650,000 iirc.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        That is allot. Possibly then, many other countries in Turkey besides U.S. My recollection of Cigli at Izmir was that it was a shared base with Turkey. And we had things in downtown Izmir, such as a PX and maybe the DOD school.

        The rotation of squadrons of U.S. from RAF Lakenheath, England probably ended years ago, I’m not sure but I was only there 30 days. The enemy then was Russia, so our commitment was somewhat nuclear.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

          I think they’re all shared and that the US is present at only four, and one of them is fairly recent – Incirlik – which is close to the Syrian border. Turkish air space is closed at the moment which is causing problems for the US because they’ve had to suspend bombing raids on DAESH targets.

          I’d love to talk to you about your experiences one day!🙂

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            Sure, be glad to…

            I’m guessing the access to bases in Turkey are critical for the U.S. considering the location. The proximity to Russia was the reason way back then. At one time Aviano, Italy was also a great location – during the troubles after the break up of Yugoslavia. I did Aviano six times way back when.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 18, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            Turkey has nuclear warheads at some of its NATO bases (one of only 6 European locations to have such things) so Turkey being unstable is a very bad thing.

  8. James Walker
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Sad days indeed. Many of my expat Turkish friends in Europe and Canada had mixed feelings about the coup. They don’t like Erdogan but they don’t think a military coup is the best way to reverse what he’s been doing to the country. Now Erdogan will use the attempted coup as an excuse to further curtail civil liberties and secularism.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Democracy won, and democracy lost. But the generic Turkish support for democracy means the Ataturk ideals live on!

  9. Historian
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    See this article just published in the New Yorker that discusses the rise of Erdogan in reaction to a 1997 coup that had put Turkey on a secular course. It is clear that Erdogan’s policies are now pushing the country into a more Islamist direction. The question, as raised previously, is why the secular nature of Turkey is in jeopardy? What is it that has allowed religion to maintain its grip? Since Erdogan was democratically elected, one can only conclude that the majority of Turks are still quite religious in orientation or his non-religious policies were more important than his religious views. I fear that Erdogan’s policies may end democracy in Turkey although he himself was democratically elected. The future is not bright for both democracy and secularism in Turkey.


    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      It’s the urban/rural split, again. If you get the mostly rural rubes to weigh in on your democratic institutions, there are enough to tip the scales (esp. as one rounds up your better-educated opponents). It happened in Iran, and pretty soon it will be happening here. (Turkey has always seemed to me to be a spitting image of the United States, in SO many ways… even in our acceptance of evolution–we’re neck and neck).

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      from a friend on the ground (who shall go nameless), somewhat near the Syrian border, midway east-west in the country… typing this at me in real time:

      (he’s been in a relatively-educated enclave for at least 5 years now)

      This situation should be a wakeup call for other countries, like the US. This president is well on his way to becoming a dictator, which secretly most of the locals want. They’re raised with an infatuation of the ‘glory days’ of the Ottoman Empire and just like the Russians and other cultures, they long for the days when ‘the world feared us’ and this despot plays into that dream beautifully. However more and more of the ‘modern’ Turks, those that live in the big cities and are aware of the rest of the world, are very much against him. It should be interesting to watch.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for this quote!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        from a friend on the ground (who shall go nameless),

        For the same reasons I don’t name my correspondents. Very wise.
        The Turkish security forces may not like social media, but they definitely know of it’s existence, and how to monitor it.

      • RPGNo1
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Citation. “They’re raised with an infatuation of the ‘glory days’ of the Ottoman Empire and just like the Russians and other cultures, they long for the days when ‘the world feared us’ and this despot plays into that dream beautifully.”
        Erdoğan has the same dreams as Putin. Both are soul mates. It won’t take long, and Turkey will be the same guided democracy as Russia, I fear.

  10. Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Seems more like a false flag operation to me. Erdogan even had his lists of thousands at the ready. Something is really, really wrong about the mainstream narrative.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Similar suspicions, or at very least a scenario worth considering.

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I can’t believe that even Erdogan would set something like this up to kill so many people. Arresting, maybe, but it looks to me as if there really WAS a coup attempt.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        I wonder why such a coup attempt would involve a handful of tanks, a plane, and a couple buses… and be localized to one place in Ankara. (that immediately gets flooded by supporters carrying Turkish flags) Seems too pat, to me.

        Am getting some reports that coup soldiers got word out that they thought they were engaging in a simple military exercise on the bridge. Tough thing, is that conspiracy nuttery is a teatime sport over there. Pretty much impossible to tell from the vantage point of this little Colorado cow town, though.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Another disquieting thing is that one doesn’t start a coup without first arresting the head of state. (also, one doesn’t start with only 5,000 people). Instead, they started when they didn’t know where Erdogan was? Too many anomalies for me.

        • stephen
          Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Godwin forgive me,but Erdogan seems to be baby-stepping Herr Hitler’s path to absolute power: might this not be another Reichstag burning?

          • Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

            Sure looks that way to me. And pulled off while he was safely in the air.

          • Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

            …and as of yesterday, reports of reinstating the death penalty (reuters, independent, RT). Would possibly get them kicked out of the EU, but what the hell. As long as they are going for an Islamic republic, why not? Mixing mosque and state would get them kicked out, anyway. And this is clearly where Erdogan and his supporters want to go.

            Looking like 1934 Germany more and more, by the minute.

            • stephen
              Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

              Quite so.I should perhaps object that although Turkey is a NATO member, it is not an EU member; and if it sought to become one would have to comply with EU standards.

              • Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                That’s right – I mis-typed. Wished I could go back to edit. It is just that they are so friggin close, having worked at it for so long.

                Looks like a fatal setback, in any event. News now showing 5,000+ people detained, including 2,000 supposedly impartial judges.

                I think the real coup is happening right now.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Erdogan has had his “little list, of people who will not be missed,” filled in, printed and distributed to the appropriate offices for years. The rational thing to do would be to have separate lists for different levels of the government’s confidence in being able to dispense with democracy, so that only a few hundreds “disappear” in a small crisis like this, but thousands are listed for the small dark rooms with the thick sound-proof walls after the next (unsuccessful) coup.
      It is a well-trodden path. Start with Niccolo Machiavelli and work though political theory from there on.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        Speaking of teatime conspiracy sports… this just in: Gulen speculates on the possibility the coup was staged. (and the Guardian also offers an opinion piece that a coup is currently underway–by Erdogan).

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          Where do you draw the line between someone staging a “false flag” coup, and someone giving coup plotters plenty of rope, quashing lines of investigation etc?
          The political costs of getting caught half-way through the first are severe; in the second, you fire a few low-level functionaries for incompetence.
          Erdogan is no idiot.

          • Posted July 18, 2016 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            The second scenario seems to be carrying more weight with me. And not sure where the line is drawn. Seems more like a smaller group of soldiers were tricked into thinking they had more support than they had. What… were there, like 150 of them?

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted July 19, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

              A couple of hundred cannon fodder did what cannon fodder are meant to do. How many of the actual plotters were caught or got away won’t be clear for some time (these things never are).

  11. Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  12. Posted July 17, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    “I’ve been to Turkey several times, and absolutely love the place (I’m going back, I hope, next year).”

    Considering what you have written about Islam, Erdogan, and evolution doesn’t that seem a risky thing to do, in light of Erdogan’s history of arresting people who write things he doesn’t like?

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      I suppose it’s a bit risky, but I’d be more worried about religious anti-evolution sentiment than Erdogan’s people arresting me. I’ll still go if asked. I love that country.

      • Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        You are a braver man than I. Fingers crossed for you if you go. 🙂

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        I really enjoyed Turkey too. But I’d be very cautious about returning there after these events. You don’t need to be targeted to find being in a country having a coup to be an unhealthy experience.
        I’ve never met a Somali or Sudanese person who I didn’t like. But I’ve turned down work in both countries.

  13. Jose
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    He’s not a refutation of Tolstoy’s idea. Any “great man” (Caesar, Napoleon, whoever), rides the wave of social changes, at most can shape them, and be a brilliant an better rider than any other. There’s an easy though experiment you can do. Imagine Atatürk in today’s Iran, or Arabia Saudi, or any kingdom in the early Middle ages in europe. Can you really think that he would have achieved the same?

    Now I have a degree in history (5 years) but I’m not an expert in XIX-XX century Turkey, but I would expect, if looking into It, to find a society with undergoing social changes which Atatürk found and led to “his” achievements. Achivements which would have arrived, anyway without him, in one way or another.

    • dashersw
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, that’s a very shallow assumption. Ataturk overthrew a pretty powerless sultan and his empire, yes. Anybody riding a social wave might have had done it, too.

      His genius lies in his later deeds. He could have announced himself as the new sultan, continuing the monarchy. Instead, he chose to modernise the country, much to the discontent and violent opposition from Islamists and conservatives.

      That was not a social wave. That was a wave against a social wave. And he succeeded. There lies his glory.

      Iran and most other Middle Eastern countries had revolts about the same time. Just look at how they turned out, and the picture will be much clearer.

      • Jose
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        If by shallow you mean that studying centuries of history (from a materialistic paradigm) we always see social changes evolving by themselves, so that’s the way we expect history to work, then yes, it should be a shallow asumption. Asuming that he could have declared himself sultan and goten away with it, should be a deep study of history then. If I wanted to play counterfact, I can asume (shallowly)that once declared himself sultan, he would have been overtrown by the wave he first rode, and Turkey would have become in the end, more or less, what It became actually. I could even asume that even succeeding in remaining as sultan, Turkey could have become a constitutional monarchy, much in the same way the remaining european monarchies became, and in the end and in an historical sense, be more or less the same country as today.

        That, and the fact that every alleged “great man” is always a product of his own time: Atatürk was a product of his time, as every human being, and in another circumstances he would have not been Atatürk and not achieved what he achieved, son in the end a great man is a product of his time, and not the other way around. If you prefer a more poetical estatement, the wave was shaped by a man who was himself made by the wave, so the wave shaped itself.

        • dashersw
          Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          Still making the same tepid argument. There were no waves for modernism in the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Literacy rates were around 10%. And Ottoman Empire in fact *was* a constitutional monarchy before it ended, and it didn’t do any good to the situation.

          Ataturk was also one of the army members who made a coup to force the Sultan to accept the constitution and the parliament in 1908.

          He is the product of his own time. But he changed the course of his country unlike any other. No one else would do the same reforms, would even think of proposing them. That is even apparent in the fact that none of his comrades could succeed looking after his heritage. Turkey is in constant decline more or less since his death.

          Read more about his reforms here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atatürk%27s_Reforms

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        Iran and most other Middle Eastern countries had revolts about the same time [pre-WW2].

        Iran (and Iraq) had Western-organised counter-revolutions in the 1950s, to install oil-company friendly dictators. I’ve friends who spent months in the “dark rooms with the sound-proof walls” in both countries after that liberating experience.
        That worked out really well in the longer term.

    • Historian
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Historical development is a combination of both social forces and the influence of a great man or woman. I think both must be considered in analyzing historical events. The way a great person can “shape” events can be critical in how events unfold despite the underlying social forces. There are countless examples. Most of us are familiar with the 2000 election in the United States in which George W. Bush became president by the slimmest of margins. If Al Gore had become president it seems unlikely that he would have invaded Iraq and, thus, the world today would be a different place despite the inexorable grinding of social and economic forces.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Another great historical question – do great men and women make history or do events make great men and women? As best I can say, it is a little of both.

        The what if’s can drive you crazy. Such as, what if Hitler had not shared Poland with Russia in 1939 and his attack on Russia two years later had been two hundred miles closer to Moscow. Or what if Lincoln had not been elected in 1860 and it had been Seward or someone else.

        • Historian
          Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          I was thinking of using the Seward example. He came close to getting the Republican nomination in 1860 and probably would have won the general election. Playing the game of “what-if” history, I think the lower South would have seceded if Seward was president. But, it is possible that Seward would not have taken military action against the lower South as Lincoln actually did, which means that the upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas) would not have seceded. What would have happened after that is anybody’s guess, particularly to the institution of slavery. The only thing we can say for sure is that the course of American history would be quite different from what actually happened.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            That is certainly one way it could have gone but then again, many states had seceded and it is doubtful anyone but Lincoln would have held Ft Sumter and attempted to get supplies to them. Secession would have been allowed to stand, the United States would have split permanently and who knows what then. Most likely Virginia and other slave holding states would have followed the others eventually. Once splitting is allowed once, how many more times?

            Lincoln always considered secession illegal and more or less treason but no one else seemed to think so. For this reason alone he is the guy who saved the country.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              Once splitting is allowed once, how many more times?

              So, Putin’s efforts to reunite the CCCP are a good thing?
              And Brexit?
              Is that goose sauce, or gander sauce?

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

                I think you may be comparing apples and oranges. The U.S. states were married constitutionally, at least the first 13 states were. After that individual states came in by reaching certain populations and asking to come in. So by Lincoln’s view it was the Federal government that created the states and it would be the federal govt. only, who could let any of them out. In other words, pulling out is not optional and we have 600,000 dead to prove it.

                I’m not sure how Russia gained other areas/regions or legally what kind of deal they had. Many of them were simply taken by force after WWII. I’m pretty sure Poland and many others did not want to be there. And for Brexit, isn’t that a economic union of separate countries who still retain their own state? Maybe they even have rules as to how they depart company, I do not know?

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted July 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure how Russia gained other areas/regions or legally what kind of deal they had.

                Plain vanilla colonisation at gunpoint. Same as every other European power of the time. (In consequence, that’s how the USA got Alaska – taken at gunpoint by the Russians, then sold to the Americans.)

                Many of them were simply taken by force after WWII.

                The Baltic states, yes. Poland was a separate state both before and after WW2. Sure, dominated by Russia. But as someone who grew up in the overlapping vapourisation zones of two foreign missile bases, I can sympathise with the desire to have the foreign troops out of my country.

                And for Brexit, isn’t that a economic union of separate countries who still retain their own state?

                Well, some of us were trying to destroy that state to choose to join with our neighbours. But I guess we’ll just have to leave and take our tax revenues with us.

                Maybe they even have rules as to how they depart company,

                Article 50. So far the UK government hasn’t tried to invoke it.

      • Jose
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Homeopathy is both a combination of sweetened water and some active principle. And thats True. But that does not say much by itself, and of course doesn’e make the alleged properties of homeopathy true. In the end, the (alleged) active principle becomes irrelevant.

        • Jose
          Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          *doesn’t make

          • Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

            Methinks you got it right the first time. Homeopathy has no “active principle.”

  14. Posted July 17, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve only been to Turkey twice, but loved the place. The Turks I met were all friendly, open and helpful. Charming, even. So I am very upset by what is happening. Personally, I am afraid to go back for the moment, ever since the bombing at Sultanahmet.

    There is a fascinating somewhat fictional bio of Ataturk, especially his activities in WWI, in the book “Birds without wings” by Louis de Bernieres, if you are still looking for books to read.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I am not conversant with Turkey history, but the many successful military coups (by the seculars in the army) does not indicate democracy to me.

    As a matter of fact, I think I read yesterday that the early Erdogan/Gulan government strengthened the bulwark against coups.

    But that was before Erdogan became crazy and attacked his friends and enemies alike.

  16. W.Benson
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Were Atatürk a contemporary political activist, Erdogan would find some way to imprison him. The only reasons I see for keeping Turkey in NATO are perverse military ones in which looks to Russia as the ultimate prize. Certainly Erdogan is doing little to combat ISIS or to foster peace along Turkey’s southern border.

  17. Raul
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Well said. Authoritarianism and islamification in Turkey have been coming in what seems a replay of the old frog-in-boiling-water tale. The failed coup will accelerate the process. It’s a sad sight.

  18. Joe Dickinson
    Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    When we visited Turkey some years ago, our guide said the military would never allow the reversal of secularization. Sadly it looks as if he was too optomistic.

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      The mere (implied) statement that the country needs periodic military coups (or at least the threat of them) to remain secular speaks volumes.

  19. Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    “The solution isn’t a military coup, but an electorate that isn’t bamboozled by someone like Erdogan.”

    We could say the same of US. The solution is an electorate–and a Congress–that aren’t bamboozled by the NRA and by Tr*mp, our two-bit tyrant.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Right now Tr*mp isn’t “our” two-bit tyrant, he is the Republican’s. Come November, he could become “our” two-bit tyrant. Scary as that is.

      And also bamboozled by big oil, big pharma, military industrial complex, banksters/Wall Street…the list goes on.

  20. Posted July 17, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    What’s happening sociologically and economically that two-bit tyrants come to power in our era of immense progress? Why do we fall for demagogues and sociopaths? How can such personalities threaten democracy so easily? It’s absurd that this occurs over and over and over, given the tremendous knowledge we have about what makes for peaceful and humane living.

    • Historian
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Undoubtedly there are many volumes written by scholars that attempt to answer your questions. My brief answer is that all too many people throughout the world do not believe we live in an age of progress. Rather, they believe we live an age of uncertainty and the future doesn’t look that great. Of course, every age has a degree of uncertainty, but to the socially and economically anxious this age is more uncertain than most. Such people crave for a return to a mythical golden age and are willing to surrender their freedoms to a strong man who promises to achieve this. Such a person is Trump and probably Erdogan. History is replete with examples of strong men and the disasters they created, Hitler being the example known to most.

    • Posted July 17, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      To me, because “democratic” politicians refuse to listen to voters. So voters in their despair turn to figures like Trump.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 17, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes, as stated by others here, desperate times and desperate people make bad decisions that often make things much worse. It depends also on what choices are available. We know the choice for Hitler was very bad for Germany and the world. The choice for FDR in very bad times was good and an example of times making the man.

      Today in this country there seems to be no good choices showing up. Once govt. becomes so dysfunctional it gets very hard to change course and this is especially true in our form of govt. Nothing good domestically or internationally will come from a Trump.

      It seems to me that Ataturk set Turkey on a course much different from nearly any other Muslim country and that was to primarily get Islam off the backs of the people. That is why he is a hero in Turkey and this is something that should be more in view and talked about today all over the world.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      As prayers were pushed out of the school system, public education, itself, was attacked and weakened, leaving children growing into adults without the critical reasoning skill to question and identify demagogues.

      • Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        It’s almost as if the religious faction decided that if it couldn’t have its way against the secular faction, it wasn’t going to let the secular faction have its way, either, in the long run.

  21. Posted July 17, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on ÜNTAÇ GÜNER and commented:
    Not easy to govern Turkey, in the center of the World, while there are many politic actors, operating for and on behalf of other governments.

  22. Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    For all the dandy things Ataturk did, he annexed the Kurdish regions which the British intended to be an independent country at the time. This fomented a civil strife that well continues to this day both in Turkey and Syria.

    The very existence of a Kurdish nation was denied by Kemalists (I’m not sure if by the man himself). They were called “mountain Turks!” and were repressed harshly throughout he history without much of a reaction from the West or the US.

    As for the coup, it seems it was a real one. But it was botched from the very beginning. Planners’ conversations was overheard by Erdogan’s intelligence agency and they saved Erdogan from the planned assassination. One of the coup leaders was killed early in the night and it disrupted their plan.

    That being said, it is interesting that Erdogan called for the people to go to the streets and possibly get themselves killed for “democracy”. He didn’t even ask the police or his loyalists to arm the people in case the military retaliated. This is how ME politics work. Get a lot of people killed. Call them martyrs and gain power with their blood!
    The recipe was created and developed by Hitler himself. Iran’s Khomeini also used it very effectively with great results. Erdogan is doing good because he is learning from the best!

  23. Posted July 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Some credible observers have noted that the coup was conducted remarkably incompetently. The military erected blockades in silly ways and it was all over like the midnights’ spook. Curiously also, that Erdogan’s faction quickly produced a list with thousands of opponents, including even judges, and swiftly arrested them. This was described as curious.

  24. Mike
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    ” Without Ataürk, it’s entirely possible that Turkey would be like Syria—or Egypt.” exactly PCC, and that’s where it is heading under the odious Erdogan. Look forward to a future for Turkey of civil & religious strife.

  25. Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what to make of all of this.

    But the Turkish people are likely to be caught in the middle, as usual.

  26. Mohammed
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    The West must be careful of Mr Erdogan’s future attitudes. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a sly and vicious politician. He’s planning to turn the secular Turkey to a more fundamentalist and Salafi Sunni Islamic country. He’s the godfather of the international Muslim Brotherhood movement. His role model and mentor is the well known religious scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who resides in Qatar and the one who issued many fatwas against Muslim Shi’ites and other Islamic minorities. He is also known for his fatwas regarding permissible suicide bombings against civilian in Syria and Libya and other countries. Mr Erdogan is planning to put an end to the Alawites, Shi’ite, Kurdish presence in Turkey. He’s going to make use of the so-called coup by replacing those who hate with men from his Islamic party. Mr Erdogan holds many terrorist groups in his hands. He can use them against US and Europe if he was urged to do so. Remember that ISIS and other terrorist groups working in Syria and Iraq are under his command. If the West keeps eyes shut, the coming days will be very gloomy.

    • Posted July 18, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like time for an assassination, but, then, who would succeed Erdogan? Would the successor be even worse? (Is it possible to be any worse?)

  27. Yolanda
    Posted July 21, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I full heartedly agree with the writer. However, let us not forget that the reforms that Kemal brought forward came at a price. He enforced these reforms to his deeply conservative people with an iron fist. He also ruthlessly suppressed all other ethnic minorities in modern Turkey like the Greeks, the Jews, the Kurds and the Armenians. In fact, he and his successors ethnically cleansed modern Turkey. Kemal was a leader with a modern and forward looking vision for his country, there is no doubt about it. But he was also a nationalist with his values and ruling methods rooted in his military training. As such he created 20th century Turkey. Both sides of his legacy should be remembered.

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