By the time of the death of Mustafa kemal Ataturk in 1938, Turkey was securely on its way to becoming a dynamic modern state. Kamal never for a moment swerved from his aim to make Turkey becoming a Western state, a European state. The westernization of the country through radical reforms and secularization was opposed by religious section of society and the democrats. But Kemal’s rule was one of uncriticized, and suppressed every one who opposed him. Until 1945, there was only one political party in Turkey, the Republican Party.
His successor, Ismet Inonu, wanted to build a consensus and therefore permitted members of opposition, who were more sympathetic to Islam, to enter politics. A real relaxation of militant secularism, however, came only after the introduction of multiparty politics in 1945, when the ruling CHP (Republican Party) recognized that the competition for vote against the Demokrat Party required the manipulation of Islam.
Consequently the CHP began to undo some of its earlier reforms. In 1948 pilgrims were permitted to visit Mecca. The following year, a faculty of Theology was opened in Ankara. Then religious education was restored to the classroom, and sacred tombs that had been closed down in 1925 were reopened.
Despite the concessions, the Republicans lost the election in 1950. The Democrats continued the policy of liberation and gained great popularity, especially by restoring the Arabic Azan and lifting the ban on religious radio broadcast. With political liberalization, the Islamic sentiment that had gone underground reemerged and became vocal. More people attended mosques, and new ones were built through out the land. There was a growing demand for religious literature. These developments exposed the fundamental weakness of the Kemalist’s reforms, their failure to reach deeply into society. Thus, even though the social institutions associated with the dervish orders were destroyed, their influence remained strong and began to reassert itself by 1950.
Nonetheless, there was no question of going back to an Islamist under the shariah or permitting the sufi orders to stand in the way of change. When some Sufis attempted to regain their influence, their leaders were prosecuted with the full force of the law, by the supposedly pro-Islamist DP (Demokrat Party).
The military coup of 1960 opened a new chapter in the political life of modern Turkey. The military regime introduced new institutions, including a liberal constitution that guaranteed social justice, the right to strike, and freedom of expression. As a result, a Worker’s Party (TIP) was formed and challenged the policies of the ruling classes. The establishment responded by mobilizing “Islam as the antidote to communism”.
The Justice Party, successor of the Demokrat Party, managed to capture power but lost ground simultaneously to the right and left. The Republican Party picked up most of the lower class urban votes. In the eastern region it lost ground to Milli Nizami Partisi (National Order Party), led by Necmettin Erbakan, who enjoyed the support of the Naqshabandis. An Islamist was soon entrenched through out the bureaucracy, posing a threat to secular education. The MNP banned by the military regime but regrouped as the National Salvation Party. The NSP again banned in 1980.
When political activity was partially restored in 1983, the Motherland Party led by Turgut Ozal, a former member of NSP, assumed the mantel of political Islam. But Muslim opinion in Turkey, radicalized by the Iranian revolution, wanted a more militant party to support. The Welfare Party, NSP reincarnation, attempted to meet these radical expectations. It emphasized the struggle against feudalism, imperialism, and fascism.
Generally speaking, Turkey in the 1990s is a country that feels comfortable with Islamic political and cultural discourse. It has become the part of the Islamic world and participates in most of its activities, often playing a leading role. It sees itself as a bridge between the west and the Islamic world and takes its Islamic identity seriously. This trend is likely to continue.