On Feb. 11, Dr. Hakan Özoğlu from the University of Central Florida came to Rollins to give a brief explanation of the Turkish government and its increasing levels of instability. In 2011, Dr. Özoğlu published a book entitled From Caliphate to Secular State.
Turkey is considered to be one of the only successful democracies so far in the Middle East, but a closer look reveals that there are problems constantly brewing within the government.
Dr. Özoğlu began with a brief history lesson on the Ottoman Empire and its dissolution into modern-day Turkey. He mentioned that the Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting Islamic Empire in history that showed the intermingling of religion and state.
Turkey currently incorporates secularism within their government, which is the separation of religion from state, similar to the lack of Biblical laws in the U.S. Constitution because not everyone in the United States practices Christianity.
Since the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, Turkey made strides in becoming a democracy. However, about every 15 years or so, according to Dr. Özoğlu, a military coup is often staged, and the entire previous government is wiped out to make way for some sort of reform.
In 1928, secularism was implemented in Turkey as the nation made steps to become more westernized. For example, headscarves for women were banned, and the Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic alphabet, meaning new translations of the Quran were no longer in its originally intended language.
Dr. Özoğlu claimed that he briefly considered walking on stage, saying, “Is Turkey’s democracy and secularism in danger? Yes”, and then simply exiting.
Luckily, he opted instead to humor us with some more information. After giving a brief historical background on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, he began to discuss the current Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Dr. Özoğlu claimed that the main reason secularism and democracy are being threatened in Turkey is because the president is bolstering his power and moving towards a more authoritarian government style.
Erdoğan has been increasing the influence of Islamic law in the Turkish government. Different political parties that might oppose his party’s ideas and morals are immediately shut down and the leaders are often jailed.
When one student asked whether or not Turkey can even be called a democracy, Dr. Özoğlu replied, “Yes, because everyone can vote.”
The talk lasted a little more than an hour and covered a wide variety of topics. However, Özoğlu’s final impression is clear: Turkey’s government is approaching a shift in power that threatens the current secular, democratic status of the nation.
Dr. Özoğlu is unsure of whether another military coup is underway, but remains confident that big changes coming up for the Turkish government.