It’s Erdogan vs. Ataturk in a battle for Turkey’s soul
Joseph Dana

The West, in its praise for Mustafa Kemals reforms, too often overlooked the consequences and the methods, both of which left deep scars in turkish culture and turkish people’s hearts.

As to culture: can you imagine that after about half a generation hardly anyone was left who would be able to read literature, law or anything written before that dictatorial decision? Turkey’s Arab neighbors often wonder why so many Turkish people are ignorant of lots of history and islamically important things — “normal” people could not read the books to learn these since decades. Mustafa Kemal just stole history and culture of a complete people.

Methods: he did not just say people should learn and use the new Turkish: he banned everything arabic — books, language, teaching — to a point where people who taught reading Quran in their private houses to small groups of students were persecuted, hanged in public and the students, small children, mistreated and imprisoned. None of this is usually mentioned in western literature about their beloved “Ataturk”.

The forced secularisation split the people in the country — a westernized upper class, their military and their police for decades treated the country like an occupying, colonizing force. Attempts to change this were crashed with force, until the mostly silent majority could no longer be overheard.

Very many people voted for Mr. Erdogan because he promised — and later gave — them freedom: no more disadvanteges for children from poorer families whose best chance at education were the Imam Hatip schools, but when successful there they would be punished by having points discounted in the enty exams for University and later forbidden to work in certain positions. And the demonstrations of thousands girls desperate for education but kicked out of schools and Universisties because of their hijabs, beaten and tortured while the west looked the other way — today demonstrations and the often too hard reaction are under close scrunity.

This two-faced approach of the West is not well received especially by those who were suffering under the secularists absolutism. Blaming Erdogan for his mistakes now sounds often very false even to those who do not support his every move. Blaming him for letting Turkey’s old culture resurface would be ridiculous.

Letting students on schools — not all schools, mind — learn the Ottoman language besides Arabic will enable them to study all religious literature of the time before Ataturk. A treasure of cultural and religious history and wisdom which was until now sealed for most people in Turkey.