AKP's Kemalism without Atatürk: November 10th

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) apparent rediscovered respect for modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk runs contrary to the party’s rhetoric and practice during its 15 years in power.

In recent weeks, many Turks have been surprised to see President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turn into one of strongest proponents of Atatürk, who founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and transformed it into a staunchly secularist country. Every year, at 9.05 am on Nov. 10, the country traditional comes to a halt as sirens wail and car horns blare as Turks mark the time when Atatürk died in 1935.

It was only a few years ago that Erdoğan described Atatürk as a "lush" for his affection for the Turkish spirit rakı. It is whispered in Ankara that the presidential palace's addiction to opinion polling may have shown Atatürk's popularity rising as Erdoğan's falls.

In 2012, the AKP ended nationwide official May 19 commemorations of Atatürk’s landing at the Black Sea port Samsun on May 19, 1919, the day historians consider to be the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.  

In 2013, the AKP government abolished the oath of allegiance that had been sworn every day at elementary schools and included a pledge to follow the path set by Atatürk.  

Atatürk's name was removed from the stadiums, schools, streets, and boulevards. For example, the AKP-controlled council of the central city of Yozgat decided to rename its Atatürk Boulevard after the deputy prime minister and local AKP member of parliament, Bekir Bozdağ.

Atatürk stadiums across Turkey were demolished one by one, and the new stadiums renamed "Arena."

Many close to the AKP insulted and assaulted Atatürk without any reaction from the party. A recent example is the editor-in-chief of the Deep History Magazine Mustafa Armağan who wrote an article entitled "Mustafa Kemal was a wanna-be Napoleon."

Beginning this academic year, Atatürk-related topics were either removed or reduced in secondary and tertiary school curricula.  

So what does the AKP aim to achieve with its "Atatürk Initiative"?

Veteran lawyer and journalist Ali Sirmen doubts the AKP's sincerity. "AKP is not a party that is at peace with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk," Sirmen said. "Since Mustafa Kemal is the founder of a secular, democratic republic, the AKP is trying to erase their own history of removing Atatürk's name from public places, attacking his legacy and warping historic facts."

Facing presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 2019, the AKP may be trying to appease Kemalists, Sirmen said.

"Mustafa Kemal's ideals and AKP values are not compatible. AKP is against secularism. The AKP regime wants to loot and control the country under the guise of religion. This 'initiative' is just smoke and mirrors," he said.

Ömer Faruk Gürer, a member of parliament for the secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), initiated a parliamentary inquiry into the name changes in public places.

"Removing Atatürk's name from public places is not acceptable to us. While pretending to defend founding values, the AKP removed both Atatürk's name and his ideals, one by one. Most stadium names were changed to arena. I am surprised that those sports clubs did not protest. Unfortunately, they chose to keep quiet for financial reasons," Gürer said.

The head of the teachers’ union Feray Aytekin Aydoğan said the government started fazing out topics related to Atatürk after changes to the education system in 2012.

"The new curriculum is a continuation of this process, it focuses mostly on values like the importance of prayer, thankfulness, modesty, and worship,” Aydoğan said. “Although it is supposed to try and build common values, we do not see the values our republic as based on among those values anymore. There is no focus on secularism, democracy, or equality. Atatürk is not mentioned in any way."