Future of Turkey

December 2007 • Volume 1, Issue 12
Is Turkey's secular tradition eroding?
By Brian Beary

Introduction

Waving Turkish flags and pictures of Ataturk — modern Turkey's secular founder — demonstrators rally in Ankara last April 14 against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's proposed run for the presidency, a traditionally secular post. Religiously conservative Erdogan decided not to run, but his equally religious colleague Abdullah Gul ran and won the Aug. 28 election.  (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Waving Turkish flags and pictures of Ataturk — modern Turkey's secular founder — demonstrators rally in Ankara last April 14 against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's proposed run for the presidency, a traditionally secular post. Religiously conservative Erdogan decided not to run, but his equally religious colleague Abdullah Gul ran and won the Aug. 28 election. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

For centuries the crossroad between East and the West, Turkey today finds itself at a crossroad of its own: The militant secularism installed in the 1920s by the country's founding father, Ataturk, is being challenged by an emerging middle class no longer willing to hide its Muslim beliefs. Meanwhile, the religiously conservative party that has governed Turkey since 2002 is pushing the country toward membership in the European Union, even though many Europeans don't want Muslim Turkey in their Christian club. While Turkey is often seen as role model for how democracy can co-exist with Islam, the historical enmity between Arabs and their non-Arab former Ottoman overlords limits the extent to which Turkey can be a stabilizing force in the region. Adding to Turkey's turmoil, its long friendship and military alliance with the United States has been badly damaged by both the war in Iraq and a move in Congress to label as genocide the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

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