Secularist Protest in Turkey


Turks stage rally against Islamic-rooted government

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 13, 2007

IZMIR, Turkey: More than a million secular Turks demonstrated in the Aegean port city of Izmir on Sunday in a major show of strength against the Islamic-rooted government as Turkey prepares for early general elections.

The huge demonstration in the country's third-largest city — a secular stronghold where Islamic parties fare poorly — followed similar protests in Ankara and Turkey last month. On Saturday, a bomb placed at an Izmir market killed one person and injured 14 others, but there was no claim of responsibility for the attack, nor evidence that it was linked to the demonstration.

About 1.5 million people joined the rally, a military official told The Associated Press, which would make it the largest protest so far by secular Turks fearful that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's is conspiring to impose religious values on society.

The demonstrators called on leaders of the fragmented secular parties to unite against Erdogan's party.

"Unite! Unite! Unite!" the crowds chanted. "Unite or tomorrow may be too late!"

"Either they will unite or they will disappear," legislator Zulfu Livaneli told the cheering crowds.

Some wore paper hats with the slogan: "No to Islamic law, no to military coups: a democratic Turkey" demonstrating disapproval of a military threat last month to intervene in the presidential elections in order to safeguard secularism. The military has ousted civilian governments in the past.

The protests have aimed to pressure Erdogan not to nominate Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as a presidential candidate. The secular establishment sees him as an Islamist and he was forced to suspend his bid after the secular opposition boycotted the voting process in parliament.

Erdogan called early general elections for July 22 and passed constitutional amendments to enable the people — and not parliament — elect the president. The amendment must be endorsed by current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, to go into effect.

The political turmoil displayed an ever growing secular-Islamic rift in this mainly Muslim country of 75 million, whose secular laws are enshrined in the Constitution and fiercely guarded by the judiciary and by the military. Turkey is seeking European Union membership, and the 27- member bloc is closely watching the political process.

"We stopped Abdullah (Gul) on his tracks, we must now stop Erdogan's party in the elections," said 23-year-old student Kerim Yilmaz.

Protesters, many of whom traveled to Izmir from other cities, gathered under the blazing sun filling an estimated 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) strip of seafront.

They carried anti-government banners, red-and-white Turkish flags and pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic in 1923. Turkish flags and pictures of Ataturk hung from balconies, buses and boats bobbing in Izmir's bay.

Thousands tried to reach Izmir throughout the morning, choking traffic on highways leading to the city.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, which commands a strong majority in parliament, came to power in 2002, as Turkey struggled to emerge from a financial crisis, and quickly established a strong reform record. The opposition, viewed by detractors as an elitist group resistant to change, now seeks to overcome internal differences before the July polls.

Erdogan spent time in jail in 1999 for reciting an Islamic poem that prosecutors said amounted to a challenge to Turkey's secular system. Many of his party's members, including Gul, are pious Muslims who made their careers in the country's Islamist political movement.

Erdogan's supporters have spoken against restrictions on wearing Islamic-style head scarves in government offices and schools and supporting religious schools. His government also tried to criminalize adultery before being forced to back down under EU pressure, and some party-run municipalities have taken steps to ban alcohol.

However, Erdogan's government rejects the claim that it has an Islamist agenda. It has done more than many other governments to implement Western-style reforms as part of its effort to join the EU, and has worked closely with the International Monetary Fund on economic reforms.

Some protesters in Izmir held banners that denounced the EU, which many Turkish nationalists believe is interfering in their country's affairs, as well as the United States, whose forces occupy neighboring Iraq.

ところで、Sabrina Tavernise “In Turkey's religious heartland, secularism thrives” *1という記事では、土耳古中央部の都市Konyaにおけるイスラミストvs.ナショナリスト世俗主義者)の攻防が描かれているが、これはバランスが取れた記事だと思った。また、「宗教的」土耳古人は(イスラーム系政党が政権を取ったにも拘わらず)未だ国家に対して不信を抱いており、イスラーム系の市民団体の多くも政治参加よりも宗教的なスペースを確保することにフォーカスしているという指摘は興味深い。によると、土耳古の人口の99.8%はムスリムムスリマ)ということになる。これには少し吃驚。もう少しクリスチャン(特に東方教会)が多いと思った。オスマン帝国時代よりも基督教徒、またユダヤ教徒の比率は確実に減っているんじゃないかしら。また、この数字からすると、これはいうまでもないことだが、イスラミストvs.ナショナリスト世俗主義者)といっても、ムスリム内部の争いということになる。
なお、Rob Annandale ”Turkey's difficult balancing act”*2もマークしておく。