TWO months ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was attending a reception in capital Ankara to open a new university campus when he met up with his education minister.
The president queried why it was their country used the term “kampus”, derived from the English word campus, instead of the old Ottoman Empire word for places of learning.
“Should this be the word?” he asked his minister rhetorically. He repeated the question to his audience as he opened the new wing and then answered it declaring the word kampus would no longer be used and instead be replaced with “kulliye”, derived from Arabic and during the Ottoman times meaning a collection of buildings about a mosque.
“It would be a first in this new period,” the president concluded.
Educators and universities made note and began changing their names.
Lofty new rhetoric … Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Picture: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda Source: AP
On the face of it, it appears little more than a curious word change, but there’s recently been a few subtle changes, too many some think, that are worrying, not least of all those in Australia planning the mother of all commemorations.
While Australians will later this month mark Anzac Day and the centenary of the disaster that was Gallipoli, Turkey will celebrate with equal fervour — but perhaps not just the victory of that battle, nor its hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who rebuilt the nation into a modern secular state.
The dawn service at Gallipoli … Turkey looks to the battle in an entirely different light. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: Supplied
A new subtext has emerged that highlights Turkey’s continued confidence in casting off vestiges of Kemalism and Western influences and allowing the nation — at the geographical and metaphorical crossroads between East and West — to consolidate its position as an economic powerhouse and emerging regional power.
The rhetoric has ramped up, so too the nationalism and hints of emerging autocratic rule that perhaps has allowed the leadership to negotiate both with the European Union and terrorists from ISIS in the conflict along the length of its southern flank.
This straddling of Europe and the Middle East has started to feel tense and Erdogan’s changes and whims are only adding to concerns and violence.
Problem on the border … the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolu with released Turkish hostages who had been seized by ISIS in northern Iraq in June. Picture: Basin Foto Ajansi/LightRocket via Getty Images Source: Getty Images
THE RISE OF RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN
THEY like to discuss politics in the cafes about Taksim Square in Istanbul, considered the heart of modern Turkey. Here stands a monument that commemorates the founding of the republic in 1923 in a small adjoining park — also the scene of the greatest challenge to Erdogan’s reign.
For many here there is little doubt Erdogan, who became president last August after 10 years as prime minister, is attempting to change the face of Turkey from a secular state to something just short of an Islamic sultanate, with himself as Caliph.
At least that’s what his critics say and they are growing in number. His colleagues too inadvertently don’t do him favours.
Ground zero for protest … protesters gather at Istanbul’s Taksim Square on June 3. Picture: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images Source: Getty Images
Indeed only last week Fuat Ozgur Calapkulu, a provisional leader of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), used the “C” word (Caliph that is) for his boss on Twitter, although he later said he did not mean the man was creating a caliphate but rather was just a leader who is visionary, powerful and a protector of the oppressed. In other words, a Caliph.
The Ottoman Empire had claimed the Islamic Caliphate from the 14th to the 20th Century and it was only after Ataturk created the republic in 1923 was it abolished.
“Everyday there is another small change, words and terms and even laws against protesting changes in words and terms and anything to do with Ataturk and his legacy will be gone, erased from history,” said activist Berkant.
Founder of the modern Turkey … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pictured in 1937. Picture: AP Photo Source: AP
“Turkey is finding itself again, little by little, without trying to alarm people but it is.”
After a school in the east of the country was rebuilt last year following a collapse from an earthquake, it was Erdogan who cut the ribbon on the school’s reopening and announced he was changing its name from Ataturk primary school to Tenzile, after his mother.
More recently in December last year Erdogan announced he was making the Ottoman Arabic language compulsory in some high schools; it was Ataturk who in 1928 replaced the Arabic alphabet with a Latin-based one and dumped other Persian and Greek terms in favour of a new Turkish language.
The change, Erdogan said, would reconnect young Turks to the roots of their nation and allow them to read the headstones of their ancestors.
Bill Park, Defence Studies Department senior lecturer from University of London’s Kings College and noted scholar of NATO strategy and Turkish affairs, has seen the nation change, particularly over the last decade.
It’s got a little ugly, he says, not of the people or monuments, but the politics and rhetoric particularly “unpleasant and offensive” anti-West remarks.
This has been particularly pronounced with the upcoming centenary of April 25, a day ingrained in Turkish, Australian and New Zealand cultures.
Feelings stirring … ANZAC celebrations stir nationalist feelings for some Australians and New Zealanders … and also for many Turks. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia
Turkey has always been nationalist and there is nothing necessarily wrong about that except it’s now got a hue of anti-west sentiment.
“That nationalistic tone is a lot more marked this time around and again it’s another insight into some of the worrying aspects of Turkey’s turn,” said Park, who was also a former principal lecturer of the prestigious British military officers’ Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC).
“In the past they have been much more inclusive, the sort of statement in the past has been ‘we have all suffered — the British, Australian and the Turkish soldiers’.
“Now it’s much more ‘this was our victory over those people’ with only a slightly veiled implication that those people remain adversaries in some way.
“It didn’t use to be like this and this is a very good example actually in the way in which what could have been a healthy direction for Turkey — and I can understand why they want to reconnect with their past — has taken on, over time, an ugly and worrying aspect and I think the way Gallipoli rhetoric this time around is not quite the same as the way it was in the past.
“Turkish nationalism has never been absent, but Gallipoli specifically they have been inclusive and the rhetoric has been much more … dating back to Ataturk himself who would talk about shared suffering.”
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk … for many generations a revered figure, Turkey’s current President has looked further back in history for rhetorical inspiration. Source: Supplied
Turkey has never been totally secular and it has been conservative and devout. Move away from the urbanised Ankara and Istanbul and the Western clothes and sentiment, mosques bustle as much as traditional market places where women in veils and niqabs haggle for the best price for the week’s produce.
Prime tourist hotspot … Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar is one of the country’s big tourist drawcards. Source: Supplied
You can see on the drive from Istanbul to somewhere like the peninsula of Gallipoli that wherever a new suburb sprouts, so too does a new mosque.
There is a comfort in that for the locals and Erdogan’s reflected conservative and Islamist policy-based approach is perhaps what accounts for his immense popularity as particularly witnessed at the ballot box where he commands a majority rule.
Not many world leaders can attest to achieving 10 straight victories at the ballot box with three general elections, three local elections, two constitutional referendums and a by-election, despite his outwardly wooden persona.
Boom times … Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has benefited from a booming economy. Picture: AFP Photo / Daniel Mihailescu Source: AFP
Nor can they match his economic achievements for Turkey, which is booming and heading toward being in the world’s top 10 economies; revenues alone from tourism exceeding $30 billion a year. The nation now lends money to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rather than borrowing it.
Taksim in uproar … protesters clash with riot policemen in Istanbul in June 2013. Picture: AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic Source: AFP
For its part the AKP — backed by the conservative heartland of Anatolia that has long rejected the Kemalist drive — entered with grand notions of pushing democracy further and taking Turkey into the EU.
But that was then and this is now and it couldn’t be further away from being in the Brussels-based club, with opposition particular from France and Germany who privately are irked by the AKP’s nationalistic Islamisation.
This was never more pronounced as when ISIS began the siege of Kobani, a stone’s throw from the Turkish border in Syria and also the clashes about Taksim Square.
THE WAR ON TURKEY’S FLANK
THERE was something quite disconcerting, or even uncomfortable, to watch as ISIS began slaughtering the Kurds of Kobani and see Turkish troops and tanks sit on a hill top and watch the action through their 8x30mm binoculars.
Heavily patrolled border … Turkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the south-eastern town of Suruc, October 2014. Picture: Reuters / Umit Bektas Source: Supplied
It’s long understood the border in this region is artificial and through tribal and family ties the Kurds of Syria and Kurds of that corner of Turkey are one and the same.
It was the Turkish Government’s indifference to their plight and outright refusal to assist that NATO noted as a concern. (Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952.)
A neighbour in ruins … the Syrian town of Kobane, pictured on March 27, 2015. Picture: AFP Photo / Yasin Akgul Source: AFP
They would later be furious when Erdogan refused to allow US fighters to conduct bombing raids on the ISIS assault on Kobani from the NATO base in Turkey.
To not want to get involved is one thing but to turn your back on some of your people is another. The same happened a year earlier in central Taksim, or specifically Gezi Park.
Turks and tanks … Turkey’s ‘watch and wait’ attitude was condemned by many western nations. Picture: Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images Source: Supplied
In May 2013 the government announced it would bulldoze Gezi Park and build a recreation of an Ottoman barracks prompting environmentalists and others to stage a sit-in. Police in riot gear rammed through the protest with batons and tear gas, sparking worldwide condemnation. Protests grew and by June police began to use guns to disperse the movement.
Erdogan claimed it was nothing more than looters and alcoholics police were controlling, but by the end of the ensuing riots 11 people were dead, more than 8000 were injured and 3000 more had been arrested.
It was never just about the park; it was broader unhappiness and became a national rebellion.
Discontent … anti-government protesters demonstrate at the Gezi park in Taksim Square, June 2013. Picture: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images Source: Getty Images
As well as the Islamisation of the school syllabus, Erdogan has also introduced other changes from restricting the sale of alcohol between certain hours and banning beer ads to calling on his countrymen to replace alcohol consumption generally with the traditional yoghurt drink called ayren.
He has also pushed for a restriction on abortion, caesarean sections and birth control, said womens’ duty was to have more babies (three to four as a minimum) and not consider themselves the equal of the man and bizarrely, and quoting the Prophet Muhammad, told his nation to stop waste by starting with not buying white bread and pushing for a restriction on white flour in favour of whole wheat grain bread.
When a corruption scandal touched his family his government cancelled the probe, he accused some of treason and took tighter control of the judiciary. And Turkish history should note that America was not discovered by Columbus, Erdogan claimed, but rather unnamed Muslims three centuries earlier.
FOR as long as anyone can remember, school kids in Turkey have marked the catch-all “Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day” in May, celebrating the beginning of the War of Independence when Ataturk landed in Samsun in 1919 with colourful mass displays of athletics, parades and routines in the country’s stadiums.
Then in 2012, the Education Ministry issued an edict cancelling the mass celebrations, the national day of which was actually created by Ataturk, which it claimed disrupted the educational regime, caused “health problems” because of the cold. Any recognition should be limited to individual schools, the ministry stated.
Another day, another edict and another Ataturk initiative erased in post-Kemalist Turkey and a further reintroduction of Islam as a mainstream feature of political and social life at the expense of a further erosion of political pluralism and an effective fear-free opposition.
Gallipoli centenary commemorations began last month, the start of the attempted invasion by British and French warships.
Hallowed turf … soldiers patrol in the north-western province of Canakkale ahead of a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Turkey’s Gallipoli Victory Day. Picture: AFP Photo / Ozan Kose Source: AFP
The rhetoric has also begun about the imperialist’s defeat by the Ottoman brotherhood.
Both Australia and Turkey will commemorate but while Australia’s marks the breaking away from the mother country and old empire to become its own nation, Turkey is to mark how its old empire created new promise and can do so again.
“Tyrants across the world will never have a moment’s peace as long as we breathe,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“The Anatolian soil which we inherited from you will always be the land of shelter for the oppressed.”
The rhetoric, the change, the new face of Turkey.
A key moment for Australia and for Turkey … work has started at the dawn service site on the Gallipoli peninsula. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia