While Ankara will celebrate in October the 100 years of the republic of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has Turkish secularism lived? We still have to agree on this particularity. “From the start, secularism in the Turkish system is not, and far from it, the separation of the state from religion. On the contrary, it is a matter of including the religious system in the State, not only to control religious discourse, but also to use it as one of the strongest transmission belts from the top (political regime) to the bottom (the “people”)”recalls the historian and political scientist Samim Akgönül (1).
When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew he had to embody moderate Islam if he wanted Turkey to have a chance of joining the European Union. . And during the first decade at the head of the country, while the revolution shook the Arab countries, Turkey wanted to appear as a unique example of “Islamic democracy”, with an attachment to pluralism and respect for human rights.
An Islamic democracy
Under his leadership, “Islam, long put at a distance, has once again become a force for political mobilization”, analyzes Dorothée Schmid, doctor of political science and director of research at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). The electorate of the AKP is notably made up of the pious petty bourgeoisie with conservative values of Anatolia, left behind by previous secular governments.
“By his charisma, the founder Atatürk knew how to impose a principle of secularism at the heart of the life of the city. But Turkey remains a deeply Muslim country.recalls Bayram Balci, former director of the French Institute for Anatolian Studies (Ifea).
AKP imposes new rules
Gradually, the AKP, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is imposing new rules, bringing about major changes in the very identity of state and society in Turkey. The Islamic headscarf, banned in education and the public service, is being restored step by step, especially as several wives of government ministers present themselves veiled alongside their husbands. The ban on wearing the veil was lifted first at the university, then at the college, in the administration, in Parliament and even in the police.
Didem, a 29-year-old Anatolian, remembers. “I was going to enter university in Kayseri (very conservative city in central Anatolia, editor’s note) when the law had just authorized the wearing of the veil. I was relieved because, in my family, the women wear it and it was important to me”explains the woman, who wears her headscarf loosely.
Today, “the veil is not even a campaign theme anymore “, observes Jean Marcou, specialist in Turkey at Sciences Po Grenoble. The leader of the opposition and president of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, accused by his rival of wanting to restore the ban on the veil, has even proposed to include this right in the legislation, in order to reassure the conservatives worried. Sunday May 14, Didem will vote for him.
The Neo-Ottoman Atatürk
Since his election by universal suffrage as President of the Republic in 2014, armed with all the powers, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has changed his speech. He Islamized and “Ottomanized” it. The leader of Turkey seems to pose as a neo-Ottoman Atatürk.
He attacks symbols by deciding in 2020, by decree of the Council of State, to convert the former Hagia Sophia and the former Saint-Sauveur-in-Chora church in Istanbul into mosques. He built thousands of mosques and multiplied the number of imam hatip religious public schools, supposed to train imams. Is Turkey therefore more Islamic, more religious, twenty years after the AKP came to power?
From mayor to president
1994. Mayor of Istanbul until 1998
2001. He founded with Abdullah Gül the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which obtained a landslide victory in the legislative elections the following year.
2003. Prime Minister, he amends the Constitution so that the Head of State is directly elected by the citizens
2005. Opening of negotiations for accession to the European Union, bogged down for years
2013. Millions demand Erdogan’s resignation after a violent crackdown on protesters against an urban development project in Istanbul’s Taksim Square
2014. After eleven years at the head of the government, Erdogan becomes the first President of the Republic of Turkey elected by direct universal suffrage
2016. Coup attempt that strengthens his position and leads to mass purges
2018. Re-elected to the presidency after an early election, he inaugurated a presidential regime.