But the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has
ruled Turkey since 2002 takes a polar opposite view, setting in motion a
rethink on Turkey's relationship with Kemalism, the radically secular
ideology of Atatürk.
"I think there is a cultural war unfolding," said Mustafa Akyol, a
popular columnist for the English-language Hürriyet Daily News.
Under the AKP, Islamic organizations became confident enough to hold
protests against "Our Oath," a national pledge of allegiance that
asserts Turkey's secular identity and glorifies "Turkishness" while not
acknowledging other ethnic groups living in Turkey.
The political power of the military, which traditionally saw itself
as the guardian of Kemalism, has been eroded. This year, the AKP
dispensed with the parade of tanks and troops that usually marked the
May 19 celebrations of the start of the 1919-1923 War of Independence, a
conflict fiercely pursued by Atatürk against European invaders that led
to the 1923 foundation of the Republic of Turkey by the army officer
and his supporters.
Erdoğan has described the national holiday as "now a symbol of change
and transformation," rather than an event that brings to mind the
former "Iron Curtain countries."
The liberalization of Turkey's economy, which began in the 1980s and
continued with the AKP, is another step away from Atatürk, who believed
that the state should have a large role in the economy.
Others fear, though, that the most damaging effect of Turkey's move
away from Kemalism is the loss of the strictly secular state. Recently
passed legislation makes it possible for students to receive a religious
education once they are 10 years old and for parents to home-school
their daughters, which could have the affect of lowering education
levels for women.
Another issue is abortion, legalized under Turkey's military regime
in 1983, but currently facing a possible ban favored by the prime
minister, who has called for all Turks to have at least three children.
Yeşilada termed the dispute a "red line" that is seen as a symbol of the
AKP rolling back the Kemalists' sense of modernity.
Certain similarities between the style of rule of Atatürk and the AKP
do seem to exist, however. Never known as a leader who suffered critics
gladly, Atatürk tried to modernize Turkey "by force, if necessary,"
noted Yeşilada. Similarly, many observers fear that recent arrests of
scores of journalists, senior military officers and Kurdish activists
show that Erdoğan, as he consolidates power, has little tolerance for
opponents of his reforms.
Yet columnist Akyol maintains that, ultimately, it was inevitable
that Turkey, as a democratic country, would try to redefine its
relationship with Atatürk and Kemalism.
"Atatürk's legacy ... is undemocratic," he said. Even Turkey's
attempts to join the European Union are against Atatürk, who espoused
more isolationist, nationalistic beliefs, he added.