Turkiye celebrates its 100th anniversary

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ISTANBUL, TURKIYE - OCTOBER 28: People walk at Istiklal Avenue decorated with Turkish flags within the 100th anniversary of Turkish Republic, in Istanbul, Turkiye on October 28, 2023. Mehmet Murat Onel / AnadoluNo Use USA No use UK No use Canada No use France No use Japan No use Italy No use Australia No use Spain No use Belgium No use Korea No use South Africa No use Hong Kong No use New Zealand No use Turkey

The Turkish Republic, established on October 29, 1923, by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a national hero of independence, emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk initiated profound reforms that included the abolition of the caliphate, the replacement of the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet, women gaining the right to vote, and the adoption of European laws and codes, resulting in a Western-oriented, secular state.

Nevertheless, under the leadership of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades and whose political roots lie in Turkiye’s Islamic movement, the nation has gradually embraced a more conservative identity. This centennial marks an opportunity for Erdogan, who was re-elected for a third term in May, to reshape the country and usher in what he calls “Turkiye’s Century.”

After the Ottoman Empire lost the war and was partitioned through the Treaty of Sevres, the Turkish War of Independence was waged, with the aim of revoking the terms of the treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923, which superseded the Treaty of Sevres, led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly formed “Republic of Turkiye” as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire. The new treaty gave way to Turkish sovereignty over its own territory. On 4 October 1923, the Allied occupation of Turkiye ended with the withdrawal of the last Allied troops from Istanbul, and the new Turkish Republic was officially proclaimed on 29 October 1923 in Ankara, the country’s new capital.

The ongoing debate between secularism and conservatism remains the most significant cultural divide in Turkiye. Ataturk, the nation’s founding father, believed that secularism was a fundamental prerequisite for modernity, leading to a longstanding separation of religion and state. This separation resulted in various policies such as banning headscarves in schools and public institutions, imposing restrictions on religious education, adopting liberal alcohol policies, and converting the iconic Hagia Sophia into a museum. However, these policies have been reversed under Erdogan’s leadership, with official functions beginning with prayers, increased funding for the Directorate of Religious Affairs, a rise in religious schools, and even economic policies grounded in religious reasoning.

There are parallels between Ataturk and Erdogan’s desires to transform Turkiye into a significant global power. However, their approaches differ significantly. Ataturk looked to European powers for inspiration and adopted their policies, while Erdogan is more focused on achieving greatness independently, with little interest in aligning with Europe, Turkiye having been rejected from joining the EU.

In the realm of diplomacy, Turkiye, once Western-oriented and a NATO member since 1952, has pursued a more assertive foreign policy in recent years. This new independent stance has caused friction with Western interests, particularly in Syria, where Turkiye has clashed with Kurdish forces supported by Europe and the United States. Turkiye’s non-alignment on the Russia-Ukraine conflict positions it as a potential mediator in global disputes, although it challenges NATO cohesion.

Turkiye’s growing domestic defence industry has lessened the impact of arms embargoes, as the country now produces the majority of its defence equipment. Turkiye is also a major arms exporter, particularly in the field of combat drones.

Ataturk’s modernisation efforts lifted Turkiye out of deep poverty, and it is now a member of the G20. Erdogan’s era is marked by a massive construction boom, with numerous infrastructure projects and religious conservatism.

Despite a century of existence, Turkiye faces unresolved issues, including a longstanding conflict with Kurdish rebels, fluctuating relations with neighbouring countries, and a shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system that has concentrated power in the hands of the president. Democratic backsliding, economic challenges, and concerns about corruption and press freedoms are ongoing challenges.

Yet, Turkiye is a force to be reckoned with as history should indicate, both ancient and modern. A founding member of both the OECD and the G20, it had long been seen as such. In 2023, Turkiye is the world’s 17th-largest economy and Europe’s 7th-largest by nominal GDP. Erdogan will need to build back the foundations to restore Turkiye to its former glory, if he is to fulfil his re-election promise, to make the coming 100 years “Turkiye’s Century”.

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