The Republic of Turkey turns one hundred years old on October 29th, 2023. I'm planning on being there, hopefully celebrating positive results from their May elections with plenty of Raki and some close friends.
If there was ever a founding father of a country, as in you can only have one dad, right? I mean one person, or else it simply doesn't come into existence, it's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The modern-day Republic of Turkey owes its existence to this 20th century leader.
Lieutenant Colonel Ataturk reportedly never left Turkey after WWI when he became President Ataturk, now a revolutionary statesmen, because he didn't "have time for back slaps and autographs." He had just finished commanding the fight in the trenches of Gallipoli for eight cold wet months against the Australians, New Zealanders, the French and Churchill's navy, and somehow managed to win! This victory saved the day for the Turkish population or they could have ended up without a country to call their own. It should be noted that the Sultans had the Turks on the wrong side of history and the war, and there was a terrible price for that to the Allies. Also the Armenians in particular suffered horribly at the hands of the Ottoman armies, and as well as the Greeks who suffered great loses.
President Ataturk began his monumental list of tasks after the war by turning the remaining population of the Ottoman Empire (thirteen million) 180 degrees on its access and poised toward the west, toward the rule of law with a constitution, civil rights and a free press. Ataturk imposed his policies as promptly as humanely possible. To begin with he imposed a Roman alphabet. He then personally influenced a new wardrobe both for his own pleasure and because it was smart business acumen toward the west. Ataturk created an atmosphere fostering religious freedom even though ninety five percent of the population were Muslim. He gave women equal rights and the vote, declaring "Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women." This was in the 1920's!
The right guy at the right time? I'm biased, but yes I think so, the sheer optics of all those levers and mechanisms of public affairs turning at the same time to try and build what would become a successful democratic model for the people of Turkey after six hundred years of rule by the Sultans, who were despotic absolute monarchists, and then to be on the wrong side of WWI, and it's 1919, that and this long sentence makes me a little dizzy. Ataturk had a republic declared and in the books by October 29th, 1923, three months after The Treaty of Lausanne was signed. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952, three years after it was formed.
Now one hundred years later and the Turks are back in the trenches metaphorically. Sadly, they're also joined by the United States, a good handful of European countries, India, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Peru, Nicaragua, Israel, Mexico and far too many other countries all in a fight for democracy and freedom. Every nation these days wear the battle scars from the 20th century and beyond as history inevitably produces a traumatic slog with some good wins and some bad loses. But, the 20th century produced for the US and Turkey a number of hard fought for and critically important political and social victories for our respective populations. Principally enfranchisement, civil rights and liberties with protections.
These are all at risk. Also at risk these days are impartial and independent courts. In Turkey freedom of the press is dead, for now, protection from tyranny is under serious attack, for now. In the US we're battling against a false narrative about what it even means to be American, our very foundational stuff, inclusion and freedom with protections for the vast majority of us, a very basic social contract for such a wealthy and supposedly enlightened country. Recently at least one villain, Tucker Carlson, was slapped and demoted but not imprisoned; this man who is a true traitor and spreader of false propaganda has simply been replaced. But of course the bigger more important target as for the media end of the snake is Fox news and Rupert Murdoch. Fox and other social media propaganda left unchecked will catch up with us and hate filled violence will ensue if it's not checked and ultimately stopped.
We've hit a critical juncture in democratic countries, and as a whole our populations are unprepared in far too many ways to fight, we're battling fierce propaganda machines and this makes serious effective change incredibly difficult. That said, a good finger in the dike could be had at the ballot boxes in the next year and a half in both Turkey and the US. If the US and Turkey can, God Willing, stand together in defense of democracy and the social victories that each country experienced during the past 100 years we could log big wins for democracy world wide. What our two countries cannot afford to do is fall asleep and or believe the false propaganda, this will allow the sociopathic clowns, demagogues and scoundrels to take over and sustain power by sleazy political means and literally crush our essential victories of the 20th century, sending us and the world backward. That could be too much to over come for a very long time, if ever.
As flawed as our systems in the US and Turkey are we are still young liberal democracies (at least on paper) and still with enough freedoms intact to learn, grow and improve upon our progress of the past 100 years. Admittedly I may be somewhat naive about the huge global picture since it becomes more convoluted and complicated daily, but after witnessing what it's like for other people, some close friends, living where their voices are stifled by threat of arrest, and their choices are seriously curtailed by flimsy sometimes meaningless ballot boxes, I wouldn't change our messy democracies for anything. True justice remains a hope everywhere, but we have to stay free if we want to get there.
The alternatives to democracy have been played out in many ways throughout history and it never turns out well. Without the dilution of power that democracy produces authoritarian figures and regimes will fill the vacuum, the rule of law will be replaced with some form of autocratic rule, might makes right will prevail, checks and balances will evaporate, and added all together we could essentially erase all of our 20th century victories and well beyond. That would be a disaster that would step our societies and the world backwards, just when we desperately need to progress in all areas and come towards each other as opposed to retreating into tribalism.
These days are a good time to remember the quote: "Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely" Lord Acton.
Or if you like, "Democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others that have been tried" Winston Churchill.
Turkey and America are two of the most important and enduring democracies still left in the world, the US is the vanguard of the west and the worlds oldest democracy, while Turkey sits just inside the volatile and extremely complicated Middle East, with the Mullahs of Iran and dictators of Saudi holding down there antiquated religious tribalism and anti democratic ways. In 2023 and 2024 respectively Turkey and the US are having elections which are critical for the myriad of reasons mentioned. Hopefully, our populations will rise up and make the right choices with what's still available at the free but not so always fair ballot boxes. It's a new world order, and there's a cold war and some hot wars in play between democracy (freedom), theocracy and autocracy. It's that simple. It's an end game I believe. The Turkish and the American people need to be out front in this fight and remember the lessons taught by our respective founding fathers. Otherwise, I fear all bets will be off and then it's an ugly fight or submission, neither of which are good for our respective populations or the world at large. Freedom and respect for the democratic process is where all hope resides!
Happy Birthday Mr. Ataturk, and to the many good people of the Republic of Turkey.