Tukey on the Brink of Transformation
By: Younus Negah
During the first millennium BC, Turkey was part of the region where the foundations of Western civilization were established. At the midpoint of this millennium, the renowned ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus lived in the present-day Aydin province of Turkey. During this period, he and his contemporaries took a different approach from the leaders and prophets such as Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, and Confucius in the East. Unlike them, they did not focus on the cause of existence, the nature of creation, the afterlife, and the principles of moral life, but rather they contemplated the preconditions of phenomena and the way to measure sizes and the probability of events. Thales’ theorem is still taught in schools and his method for measuring the height of objects is still applicable.
The philosophical conclusions and scientific hypotheses of Thales were not all practical and free from error. He believed that water was the primary element of matter, but later research into the essence of phenomena and the features of things led to revolutionary and important developments in human life, which first transformed the West and then the entire world. There is still debate over the correctness and limits of these developments, particularly in our region. After him, Turkey has become one of the important meeting points of the two ways of thinking; the Moses and Thalesian approaches. Turkey has changed hands multiple times and the last time it was conquered was in the middle of the 15th century, when the Ottomans established the Islamic caliphate there, which sometimes extended to the center of Western Europe.
Upon the conquest of Istanbul, Europe emerged from its medieval slumber and returned to its Greek/Thalesian traditions. This revival of traditions, combined with the resumption of research, exploration, and experience in the essence and features of materials and phenomena, enabled Europe to become unrivaled in the soft power competition and the Cold War. At the end of the 19th century, the tradition of Thalesian was revived, the Ottoman Empire underwent drastic internal changes, and in the 20th century, Turkey attempted to align with and accept Western scientific, economic, and social developments, resulting in the loss of many of its Eastern and Ottoman cultures.
At the end of the twentieth century, women were prohibited from wearing headscarves in official institutions, such as universities. Educational curriculums were composed of concepts and values that were accepted in the West, and Darwin’s theory of evolution was taught in place of the Mosaic theory of creation.
Eastern and Western Turkey’s Election Confrontation
On the final day of the election campaign, the 50-year-old yet energetic Imamoglu, who has been the mayor of Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, since April 2019, was delivering a speech in the eastern district of the city while a large crowd stood in front of him, waving the red flag of Turkey and applauding and chanting for him. Among the crowd, many girls and women were not wearing headscarves. After speaking for a few moments, Imamoglu removed his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and with a voice that showed the signs of a month of shouting and speeches, he urged his supporters to roll up their sleeves like him and go to the polls with Turkish flags.
At the conclusion of the speech, a child from the audience approached Imamoglu, who then opened the child’s red jacket and began to dance hand in hand to the beat of the election anthem that was playing. This was a stark contrast to the style of Erdogan’s election campaign, which typically featured him speaking to people in formal attire and without rolling up his sleeves or dancing, and sometimes he would stand still while accompanying the songs. Women rarely attended Erdogan’s rallies without headscarves and usually in full traditional clothing, and the presence of women and youth was much less than that of his rival’s team. In Erdogan’s team, the jackets were kept closed, the sleeves were kept down, and the faces were more serious.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s team slogan focused on freedom and democracy, whereas Erdogan’s emphasized the significance of family, dignity, and honor.
For the past two decades, Erdogan has sought to increase the Eastern values of Turkey more than the Western elements. In 2013, he lifted the ban on wearing hijab in government offices, and in 2017, he removed the theory of evolution from the school curriculum. In 2021, Erdogan withdrew Turkey from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and he has repeatedly emphasized in his speeches that the primary role of women is motherhood, raising children, and taking care of the family. These actions are intended to reduce the influence of Western culture and revive Eastern and Turkish traditions, thus gaining the support of the conservative sector of society. However, the citizens of major cities and women who advocate for equal rights for men and women, as well as the notable presence of women in politics and the economy, have kept Erdogan and his party away from part of society that supports the preservation and advancement of Turkey’s relations with the West, as well as the improvement of civil freedom and democracy. Imamoglu, who became the mayor of a district of Istanbul in 2013, was elected mayor of Istanbul in 2019.
On May 14, Imamoglu declared to his supporters that he had participated in 84 rallies across the nation during the one-month-long election campaign, and would conclude the final day of the campaign with the 85th rally. He stated that since 2013, they had been on a successful trajectory against Erdogan, and this time they would reclaim the country from him.
The stark contrast between the economic and cultural views of the two teams, as well as the equal voting power of both sides, has increased the significance of this election. Everyone is eager to see whether the new government will follow the Western and Thalesian approach, or if it will continue the path of the past twenty years and distance itself from the West. The people of Afghanistan are also highly invested in the results of the elections due to the deep historical ties and the presence of a large number of refugees in the country. Afghans living in Turkey are concerned about the potential consequences of the victory of Erdogan’s opposition team, as Kılıçdaroğlu made promises during his campaign regarding the deportation of immigrants and the prohibition of property purchases by foreigners.
Ezzatullah Sadat is the only Afghan-descended individual to have been nominated for the Turkish Parliament from a district of Istanbul by a party that is an ally of Erdogan.
The Effects of the Turkish Election on Afghanistan
The consequences of the election results on Afghans living in Turkey will be grave. If Kılıçdaroğlu is victorious, he will fulfill some of his electoral pledges to deport immigrants, including Afghans, as he has repeatedly mentioned in his speeches. He has promised to repatriate Syrian and Afghan refugees to their countries within a maximum of three years. It is not yet known what will be done with those Afghans who have established themselves by purchasing property, but since Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to reduce house prices and rents, he will forbid the sale of houses to foreigners in the first week of his tenure, thus preventing the group of Afghans who have already obtained a residence permit by buying a house from being able to extend their stay.
Given the power of the construction industry to lobby and exert a significant influence on policy, Kılıçdaroğlu could adopt a more moderate approach and, instead of completely prohibiting the sale of houses and properties to foreigners, only prohibit the sale of cheaper properties. Those who are able to invest more and purchase more expensive properties should be granted an exception.
It appears unlikely that the Turkish government will make a significant change in its policy towards Afghanistan. Despite the fact that Kılıçdaroğlu and his party prioritize strengthening Turkey’s ties with the West and resuming negotiations to join the European Union, Turkey’s regional policies and its relations and influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan will remain in place, as many of these connections and policies predate Erdogan’s era and are part of Turkey’s strategy to become a regional power.
Turkey’s relationship with Afghanistan is based on three aspects of history, religion, and culture. Historically, Afghanistan is seen as a special ally that provided Turkey with spiritual, military, and material aid between 1915 and 1923, when the Republic of Turkey was established. It is said that some Afghans sent gold and their limited financial resources to support the Turkish combatants. Additionally, Amanullah Khan’s close relationship with Atatürk, as well as the sending of Turkish military and administrative experts, doctors, and teachers to Afghanistan, is remembered fondly in the collective memory of both countries.
In recent decades, Afghan–Turkish relations have been strengthened and deepened through the establishment of schools, investment in exports of Turkish goods to Afghanistan, and the presence of a large number of Afghans in Turkey. Turkey has endeavored to ensure that changes in regimes do not disrupt the maintenance of its relationship with Afghanistan. Additionally, Afghanistan‘s proximity to Central Asia and the presence of a significant population of Turkic tribes in Afghanistan have made it an attractive country for Turkish politicians.
For years, nationalists and Pan-Turkic groups have propagated the idea of uniting the Turks in society, and this has now become an integral part of the country‘s regional policy. Erdogan, who relied on the Islamic brotherhood, was also compelled to continue Pan-Turkic policies and to attract nationalist votes, he united with the Nationalist Movement Party led by Devlet Bahçeli, who is known for his extreme nationalist tendencies. Consequently, there is little chance of any significant change in Turkey‘s policies regarding Afghanistan in the medium term. If Kılıçdaroğlu wins, the current relations with the Taliban will be maintained and contact with the anti–Taliban politicians, particularly those of Turkish origin, will be continued and strengthened.
The Lasting Effects of the Election
The upcoming election in Turkey is expected to bring about nationwide and long–lasting changes. Even if President Erdogan is re–elected, his increasing influence does not appear to be waning. It is often said in Turkey that the post–Erdogan period has already begun. If he remains in power, this process will be slower and delayed, however, if the opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu is victorious, Turkey will immediately enter a new era in which Thalesian traditions and the western half of the country‘s political, economic, and cultural identity will be revived. This shift may cause discontent among conservatives, but liberals and leftists will likely celebrate it.
Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to strengthen the foundations of science and industry and to encourage Turkish scientists and researchers who have moved abroad to return to the country. In an interview, he stated that Turkish scientists are engaged in fundamental and capital–generating work in renowned institutions such as MIT and in major economies such as the United States and Germany, while Turkey is suffering from a brain drain and is struggling to attract capital. He noted that Professor Uğur Şahin, a Turkish–German oncologist and immunologist, and his wife ÖzlemTüreci, had contributed more than $100 billion to the German economy through their role in developing the COVID–19 vaccine. He asked why these human resources are not being utilized to benefit Turkey‘s economy. If Kılıçdaroğlu is successful in the election, it is likely that Turkey‘s curriculum and education system, investment priorities, and foreign relations will be designed in accordance with the wishes of the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk. The passage of time will determine Kılıçdaroğlu and his allies‘ ability to lead the country in that direction, and the support of young people and residents of major cities will be essential for this endeavor. This internal development of Turkey will have a positive impact on the region and Afghanistan as well.