The writer of this book, Stephen Kinzer, is also the writer of other books of this kind (non-fiction books), and he always works on complicated political issues, like the situation in modern Turkey. He has gained a lot of experience from his job as a journalist of a serious American newspaper. In this book “Crescent and star”, he tries to provide some explanations about the roots of the problem of the political situation in modern Turkey.
This book has been translated into other languages; the edition I read was the Greek one. The most important things he discusses in his book are: 1. the role of Kemal Ataturk (at the past and now), 2. The role of the military in the Turkish politics and society, 3. The role of religion and Islam in Turkish society, 4. The political parties in Turkey, 4. The freedom of press, 5. The problems with the “neighbors” and the Kurdish Question. Kinzer is also adding other everyday characteristics and habits of the life in Turkey; this makes the reading so pleasant.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the political and military leader that he has tainted the history, the present and the future of Turkey. He created a nation and a state from the ruins of Ottoman Empire. The influence of his political thought is still alive in Turkey after his death in November 1938.
Kemalism tried to achieve the instauration of a western type secular state. The ancien regime and the caliphate were Ataturk’s first foes. After these he was the first President of the Turkish Republic and his programme had caused many radical and modern changes inside the state, like western time of school, introduction of Latin alphabet and a new language, western dress code, etc.
After his death (1938) the military took his leading role, became the institution that made all the decisions about the society and also became the “guardian of the Turkish democracy” against all interior and exterior enemies. However, military kept Turkey in a political line of isolationism. He fought against every religious fundamentalist tension and tried many times to fill the gaps of the political leadership (government – politicians). This kind of intervention happened in the past by the military, was an anti-democratic and illiberal reaction which happened in the name of restitution of “democracy” in Turkey.
“Turkism” conceived “turkishness” as the only possible ground for political unity. This notion is totally opposite of the notion of “Ottomanism” and the idea of “ottoman citizenship”. The authoritarianism of the 1930’s prompted Turkish nationalism to deny the very existence of ethnic communities other than Turks in Anatolia. The Settlement Law of 1934, a privileged text of Turkish nationalism of the 1930’s, resisted by two large-scale Kurdish rebellions in 1925 and 1930, the new regime embarked on solving the Kurdish question by means of an extensive settlement law. It’s having been clearly pronounced that the ultimate aim of the law was the Turkification (assimilation) of non-Turks, the text produces the impression that those intended to be assimilated were some tribal people having no ethnic identity . Military forces had an important role in this procession.
But from the other side, nowadays military forces are the most reliable institution in Turkey, but with a bloody past. The hanging of the Prime Minister, Adnan Menteres (1960’s), in addition, the torture of many persons, after the military coup of 1980’s and also of many Kurdish guerrillas, in 1990’s, are some state violence and crimes made in the name of “Kemalism”.
Everything, every ideology seems to be against Kemalism has the fate of destruction (Religious fundamentalism, communistic tensions, and Kurdish nationalism). This fact had caused a lot of fear and lack of trust of the “others”. There is a kind of intolerance against the spread of ideas. The sense of the “devlet” is something very annoying for the democracy, the liberty of the speech and the human rights in Turkey. The sense of the “devlet”, from the one hand, is something, over every personal right and also, over the laws of the state. The “devlet” and the “istiklal” are two opposite concepts. “Istiklal”, from the other hand, is the independence, the liberty and the progress of a nation. This fact is very strange; the second was what Ataturk was dreamed about, a nation of progress and of westernization, but his descendances had gained quite the opposite. This is the main thesis of the book.
For many years, there is the non-existence of public space in Turkey, the basic cradle of social movements over the world. There is an informal censorship in the books, in the press and in the films. Many persons had exiled, or murdered or imprisoned about their thoughts and their writings. The most important element of democracy is always the freedom of speech and the liberty of press, in Turkish Democracy there is not.
We have to think about the crucial role of the army in the last decades of Ottoman history and in the first years of Turkish Republic. We may identify a possible continuity . The institution of army seems that didn’t change. It is always above society and acts independently of it. Turkey has a tradition in the military coups (see Young Turks Revolution in 1908). In the history there is never a total break with the past.
Another serious subject is the kemalism against Islam and religion. Mustafa Kemal by his experience against the Sultan formed the aspect that religion is enemy of logical thinking and also of national dignity. After his death, it seemed impossible these aspects to change from this descendants.
One interesting event which is described in the book is the support of the military forces to the fundamentalist leader Necmettin Erbakan in 1973. We have to underline that Erbakan’s parties belong to the sphere of anti-kemalist Islam . That happened because of the fear of an increase of the leftists in Turkey. This was a kind of strategy, but it still is a support of an Islamic party from the Kemalists. In addition the history of the religious politics in Turkey is in fact the history of Erbacan’s parties .
The military forces were opposed against the Alevies (this sect supports a more tolerant Islam toward the other ethnic and religious groups), who at the beginning of the Turkish democracy, support Mustafa Kemal and his model about secularism. The result of these actions was the turn of Alevies to the left parties.
Another subject which Kinzer discuss is the biggest scandal in modern Turkey, the “Susurluk” (1996). This scandal shocked the public opinion in Turkey, revealed a connection between the government (and Prime Minister Tansu Tsiler), the armed forces and the organized crime, including state sponsored assassinations. All these caused by chance, by an unexpected car accident. The public reaction was big, many protests happened and for the first time in the Turkish history, the military was responsible.
Another bloody subject was about the illegal and quasi-governmental organization, called Hezbollah. It caused many deaths of Kurdish by torturing. This organization was again a brunch of the military forces of the state. Turkish Hezbollah arose in 1980’s and believed as a reaction to PKK.
The most difficult subject to discuss in Turkey is the Kurdish issue. Kurdish is the larger minority group in Turkey. The Kurdish large scale revolts happened in 1925, 1930 and 1938. After the foundation of the Kurdish workers party (PKK) in 1978, and between the years 1984-1999, military forces and Kurdish guerillas engaged in an open war. The direct reaction of the military was against the Kurdish separatist movements. After the arrest of the PKK leader Ocalan Abdullah, there is a decline in PKK attacks. The situation in Turkey is better than in the previous years. In the book Kinzer presents a very optimistic point of view, about the new realism of the Kurdish. After 1990 there is a new logic of national conciliation between the Kurdish and the Turkish people. I disagree with this view; I believe it is not so realist. And also, he contrasts the Kurdish issue with the Palestinian issue, giving more chances to the Kurdish to solve their problems. I will add some more points later.
Kinzer also talks about the relationship of Turkey with their neighbors, for example with Greece. He focuses on the event of the big earthquake and the instant help from Greece. That was one more time that the state and the military forces, couldn’t help the helpless victims of the earthquake. The analgesia of state was obvious. Everybody was asking “Devlet nerede?”, “Asker nerede?”. Also in this point I don’t believe that common Greek and Turkish hate each other, but I believe that the state and the mass media many times try to renew this hate from its ashes.