Secular Turks feel their culture more at risk than ever - analysis

The clash between secular Turkey and Islamic Turkey is being overshadowed by a more pressing confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, with secularists feeling that their culture is more at risk than ever as Turkey heads to the polls on June 24, say Donna Abu-Nasr and Çağan Koç in article they penned for Bloomberg.

With Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary snap elections taking place next month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is looking to retain his seat with enhanced powers set to come into effect after the election, is looking to tighten his grip on the country after jailing thousands of dissenters, the article said.

While most polls point to Erdogan as being ahead of rivals in the presidential race, he appears to be short of the 50 percent needed for a first-round win.

Turkey’s political battle over the next few weeks will be on the country’s ailing economy, following the plunge the currency has taken, the article opines; with the lira losing 16 percent against the dollar this year and the country is plagued by inflation and a swollen current account deficit.

The article underlines that secularism is what Turks feels sets them apart from their neighbors to the east and this part of their identity they don’t wish to lose.

The president has “ignored those of us who didn’t elect him,” one shopkeeper in the Grand Bazaar is quoted as saying. “My vote will be based on the lifestyle I want to maintain -- the culture of Ataturk Erdogan is forgetting one thing: We are Turks. We are not Arabs. He can’t turn the country into an Islamic Republic.”

Turkey has a century of secularism and the erosion of secularism in Turkey is interpreted differently, the article quotes Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, who runs the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund think tank as saying. “I don’t think that Turkey will ever become similar to other Muslim nations in the Middle East.”

While Erdogan and his AK Party, which rose from the nation’s Islamic political movement, are accused of trying to impose an Islamic lifestyle on the people of Turkey through steps such as the proliferation of religious schools called Imam Hatips, Erdoğan backers accuse seculars of spreading lies about Erdogan’s Islamist ambitions.

Ebubekir Ozturk is a 27-year-old Erdogan supporter who works as a mechanical engineer in the textile sector. He holds that Turks were oppressed for years by secularists, especially with the ban on women covering their hair; however, “Now there is a conservative government, but there are no restrictions.”