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Political Debate in Turkey (2:08) Excerpt from film "Turkey's Tigers", August 2006
A hot topic of debate in Turkey is the possibility of an increasingly Islamic state in this historically secular country.

Country: Turkey

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Guiding Questions
  1. What is the "threat" that is being discussed in this video clip? Why are some people alarmed about the poem that was recited by the prime minister?

  2. What other examples from around the world can you name that parallel the "uneasy relationship" between a military and a government that is mentioned in this clip? What other countries have experienced a history of military coups?

  3. Turkey is currently in the middle of a debate about the appropriate relationship between the state (government) and a religious institution (in this case, Islam). Compare and contrast Turkey's situation in this regard to one other society you have studied.
Background Essay
Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey and leader of the Islamic AK party, has been seen by some as making efforts to move Turkey towards an Islamic state. This has caused much controversy among the Turkish population, particularly among secularists. Several factors add to the complicated debate: first, the Turkish military has historically protected the secularism of the state, most recently ousting the Islamic-leaning government in 1997; and second, Turkey spent much of the early 21st century engaged in negotiations to join the European Union.

Turkey is located in a part of the world that was once called the Near East. For centuries it was a link between Europe and Asia. Its main city, Istanbul (previously called Constantinople), was a trading, religious, and social hub. Both Christianity and Islam have had major influences on the development of Turkey's culture.

In the early 1900s Turkey experienced a period of rapid economic and social change. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a popular leader in Turkey's military, declared the establishment of the Turkish Republic. He launched an aggressive program to modernize and secularize the country, which brought about many changes. Turkey has modernized its economy and is poised to become a member of the European Union. Simultaneously, religious and political leaders are working to preserve traditional Islamic aspects of Turkey's culture while embracing some of the West's attitudes and practices. Turkey's future stability and growth will be determined by how well it can incorporate the rich heritage of its past into its goals for future.

One of the industries that is confronted with this change is the garment industry. Some women in Turkey choose to wear traditional Islamic garb, while many others choose to wear non-traditional Western attire. What does this mean for business leaders in Turkey? What does it mean for female consumers? In the Turkey that is evolving, will there be room for both the past and the future?

The role of women, religion and political Islam are all hot topics for debate in Turkish media.

The Barlas versus Kongar show is Turkey's version of Crossfire, and today it's debating the idea that the AK Party is moving the country toward an Islamic state.

Emre Kongar (on TV)
Who is this prime minister? He's the one who said minarets are our bayonets, democracy is not a goal, it's a tool. He's the one who said secularism will go if the people want it.

Devout businessmen like Aslan think this is just scare-mongering by the secularists.

Emre Kongar (on TV)
In its entire history, Turkey has never faced a threat like the one it faces today.

Erdoğan Aslan
It's impossible for a Sharia revolution to happen in Turkey. It's never been a state like that, a Sharia state. In the Iranian state, we don't see a future, nor do we see a future in the Saudi Arabia monarchy.

But secularists can't forget the prime minister's public recitation of a poem many found alarming.

Tayyip Erdogan
Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, and believers are our soldiers. Nothing can intimidate us.

Turkish governments of the past have had reason to be intimidated. The Turkish Army has launched numerous coups and regards itself as the guardian of a secular state - so the Prime Minister and the military have an uneasy relationship.

But Erdogan has muted criticism by working with Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gül, to start negotiating Turkey's entry into the European Union. No previous Turkish government whether secular or religious in character, had come close.

In Kayseri, the religious profile of the AK Party is an asset.

Related Links
Turkey's Tigers on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: Turkey

Turkish Cultural Foundation

BBC World Service: Religions of the World: Islam

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