April 8th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: shutting up by shouting down

EUTHANASIA British actress tells it like it is

CANBERRA OBSERVED Move on 18C a return to a classic Liberal position

EDITORIAL Kowtowing to China is a serious mistake

ENERGY Hazelwood is vital to Australia's power supply

FOREIGN AFFAIRS UK sets out on the bumpy road to Brexit

QUEENSLAND Women have a victory over the abortion industry

BEHIND THE NEWS Ataturk and modern Turkey out of the shadow

WEST AUSTRALIAN ELECTION Unions and Emily's Listers reap WA Labor's harvest

LITERATURE The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Chesterton for today

HUMOUR Excerpts from the revised and updated edition of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods

MUSIC Program notes: Jazz's two-tiered appeal

CINEMA The Boss Baby: Tots that mean business

BOOK REVIEW End to history nowhere in sight

BOOK REVIEW That sinking feeling



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Ataturk and modern Turkey out of the shadow

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, April 8, 2017

Turkey is holding a referendum on April 16. Eighteen proposals are being put to the people, with the aim to replace the parliamentary system with an executive presidency. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, below left, is pushing the “yes” vote hard. Erdogan wants to be dictator. He seems to have crippled the army, which is the only force that could oppose him.

A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

The Turks were latecomers to Anatolia, known in ancient times as Asia Minor. Many of its inhabitants were Greeks. Asia Minor’s great cities included Constantinople and Ephesus, where St Paul the Apostle preached. The Turkic tribes were warriors and nomads from central Asia. They are still there. The restless Chinese province of Xinjiang is inhabited by Turkic peoples.

Turks, whatever their location, can still understand each other reasonably well. The eastern Roman Empire persisted for almost 1,000 years after the fall of the city of Rome. The Turks, who had been nibbling away at Byzantium for centuries, finally conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453. Emperor Constantine XI was killed in the melee following the fall of the city.

The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent in 1683 ruled the Balkans, a large part of Eastern Europe, Greece, Arabia, Egypt, the Levant, Iraq and the Maghreb, that is, the northern part of the African continent along the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic, from the Nile Delta to Morocco. The Turkish heartland was, and remains, Anatolia.

The Turks did not expect all their subject peoples to believe in the same religion. At one time, more than half the population of the Ottoman Empire was Christian. Under the millet system, non-Muslim communities could govern themselves using their own private law in family, religious and social matters.

In 1839, Sultan Abdulmecit I declared that all subjects of the sultan should be equal before the law, as part of a process of tanizmat, or “putting the house in order”. Jews and Christians would cease to be second-class citizens. Tanizmat began the process of modernisation. The sultan acknowledged that religion had a place in the Turkish Empire, and that Christians and Jews should be able to build schools and places of worship.

Tanizmat put in train a process that is still playing out. The conflict between religion and the secular state goes on today.

Modern Turkey is a secular state. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to public notice as Mayor of Istanbul (1994–98). He gained a reputation for honest and efficient government. As a standard bearer for the Islamic party, he became Prime Minister in 2003 and then President in 2013.

A Turkish saying goes: “One disaster is better than a thousand pieces of advice.” (Turkey: A Short History, Norman Stone, 2010, p88). When Ataturk took command of the Turkish army, the country was in chaos. Ataturk had commanded the Turkish troops in the defence of Gallipoli, where the Turks successfully repulsed the Australians and other Allied invaders.

“The ordinary Turkish solider, whatever his weak points as regards overenthusiastic attack, did not know the meaning of the word ‘panic’” (Stone, p146).

Ataturk understood his troops. Before facing the Allied onslaught, he told his soldiers: “Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die” (US Army Command and General Staff College, 2007).

Little remains of Turkey’s European empire, just an area of western Thrace. This is the basis of Turkey’s oft-quoted assertion that it is a European power. Ataturk was born in Salonika, now part of Greece. More properly, it was then called Macedonia. His name was Mustafa. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and golden hair. His mathematics teacher was so impressed by his application that he gave him the second name “Kemal”, meaning “perfect”.

The Turkish parliament later gave him the name “Ataturk”: “Father of the Turks”.

Ataturk rallied his shattered army to defeat the Greeks, who attempted to crush the nascent Turkish republic. He also outmanoeuvred the British, who had interests at stake. Turkey, overcoming all odds, became a republic on October 29, 1923.

Ataturk was a secularist, who was said in private to have religious doubts but recognised the role of religion in Turkey’s national life. He was a heavy drinker, who probably said things that were ill advised.

He was also a moderniser who, among other things, adapted the Latin alphabet for the Turkish language. Ataturk wanted to wean Turkey off its traditional attachment to the Middle East and to become a European nation. Turkey is, for example, now an essential bloc in NATO’s southern tier. Its armed forces, numbered at over 600,000 full-time active personnel, are among the most powerful in NATO.

When I visited Turkey in 1979, the atmosphere was tense. The Army, which is the inheritor of Ataturk’s tolerant secularist values, staged a coup shortly afterwards. In the cities, it was uncommon for women to wear headscarves, although in the countryside it was not uncommon. Women who wore scarves, about half the female population, were not allowed to enter university.

The most recent coup attempt, if that is what it was, as it was very clumsily handled, gave President Erdogen a chance to clean out the officer corps. The purge means that the operational effectiveness of the armed forces has been impaired. Under Erdogan, the Islamist government has become more intolerant and more repressive. The Kemalists and the Islamists will continue to lock horns.

Ataturk remains the towering figure in modern Turkish history. One cannot understand Turkey – or indeed the evolving world order – without understanding Ataturk. The best introduction to Ataturk and his legacy is Ataturk: the Rebirth of a Nation, by Lord Patrick Kinross (London, 1993). A more recent biography is Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey, by Andrew Mango (New York, 2002).

Ataturk was laid to rest in Anitkabir, the impressive Ataturk Mausoleum in Ankara, the national capital he created in central Anatolia.

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