[This news report on the constitution referendum in Turkey, while presenting things through the lens of EU imperialist and expansionist interests, nonetheless provides some useful information on the divisions within Turkey today. Throughout Turkey, it reports a turnout of 77%–but a boycott in the Kurdish southeast region resulted in a turnout of only 35 percent.-ed.]
By Ibon Villelabeitia
ANKARA | Mon Sep 13, 2010
A referendum on constitutional reform in Turkey handed a clear victory to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan — but has underscored the deep ideological and geographical divisions in the European Union candidate.
According to unofficial results, the reforms passed by a margin of 58 percent to 42, on a turnout of 77 percent.
Erdogan, who leads a government of conservative Muslims that secularist opponents accuse of seeking to undermine Turkey’s secular founding principles, declared the result a triumph for democracy and a break with a past of military coups.
But analysts say the outcome will widen a gulf between the religious-minded and the secularists over Turkey’s identity.
Electoral maps show a secular rim along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts opposed to the reforms, and a bulging Anatolian hinterland, stretching all the way to Turkey’s eastern borders, dominated by religious conservatives who backed them. For their part, the Kurdish minority, who have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the state, appeared to have heeded calls from their politicians for a boycott in the Kurdish southeast, where turnout was only about 35 percent.
“Turkey has been de facto divided into three,” columnist Oray Egin wrote in Monday’s Aksam daily.
“The republic of Turkey is in reality made of three regions: The southeast, central Anatolia and the coastal areas. Federation and separation will be discussed even more.”
Since its establishment as a secular state in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey has been traditionally ruled by a Westernised elite in Istanbul and Ankara.
The Anatolian masses were economically and politically excluded, while the state’s nationalist ideology forbade Kurds to express their identity.
That began to change with the advent in 2002 of Erdogan’s AK Party, which drew its core support from a rising middle class of pious Muslims from the Anatolian heartland.
Since then, religious Turks have gained wealth and status while the military, self-proclaimed guardian of Turkey’s secular values, has seen its power clipped by EU-driven reforms.
The symbols of religion, such as the headscarf worn by Erdogan’s wife, are much more common than they were 20 years ago as pious Muslims have become more confident about their identity and occupied more visible and influential positions.
The Kurds, seen as a separatist threat in the past by the nationalist secularist establishment, have also become more assertive under Erdogan, who has been less worried by the concept of Kurdish identity and has boosted their cultural and political rights.
The nub of the constitutional reforms approved on Sunday was an overhaul of the judiciary, seen by secularists as their last line of defense against the AK Party’s growing power.
Opponents now fear an emboldened AK Party will unleash a hidden Islamist agenda and may seek to push through legislation that will endanger the secularists’ lifestyle.
Critics point to anecdotal evidence such as alcohol bans in some AK-run municipalities and growing social pressure to fast during Ramadan as evidence of a creeping Islamisation. AK politicians dismiss this as scare-mongering.
“We are seeing an increasing polarization in Turkey over lifestyle and value issues, and this goes along geographical lines,” said Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.
“The government may feel a mandate to push ahead with its values and lifestyles. It is a worrying trend for those who remain the minority because they feel the pressure of the majority in terms of an increasing conservatism.”
The Constitution Court has in the past blocked attempts by the AK Party to lift a ban on women wearing Muslim headscarves at university. Analysts say the party may try again.
AK denies opponents’ accusations that it has an Islamist agenda and depicts itself as a Muslim version of Europe’s Christian Democrat parties, liberal on economic issues and conservative on social policy matters.
Erdogan, who has boosted his chances of winning a third consecutive term next year with the referendum victory, had portrayed the reforms as an effort to boost Turkey’s democracy and help its European Union candidacy.
But even if secularist fears that he has a secret agenda are unfounded, the growing influence of Islam is already a fact.
“The vote was not about the secular nature of the republic but about a social and economic shift that is taking place in Turkey and the incorporation of formerly excluded people into power structures,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.