How school oath debates divided Turkish society

Watching political processes in Turkey, you never know where the next line of social division will appear. Today in Turkey there are hot debates about the fate of the school oath, which until recently, primary school students across the country used to read every day for half a century.

The tradition of compulsory oath reading for schoolchildren was laid by the builders of the new state, the Kemalist elites, in 1933, on the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. The project of creating a nation-state on the ruins of a multinational and multi-religious Ottoman Empire assumed the consolidation of disparate parts of society into a single social monolith. In fact, the experiment did not necessarily mean the voluntary embedding of religious, national and ideological minorities within the ideological framework established above. The idea of ​​citizenship was closely intertwined with the principles of ethnicity. Although changes were made to the text of the oath afterwards, the sacred meaning of the text was preserved:

“I am a Turk, I am honest and hardworking.
My principles are to protect the younger ones, respect the elders,
love my homeland and my nation more than myself.
My ideals are to grow and develop.
O great Ataturk!
On the way that you laid for us,
I swear to go to the goals set by you.
My life is dedicated to serving the Turkish people.
How happy is the one who says: “I am a Turk!”

In 1994, Nejmettin Erbakan, the founder of the influential Turkish Islamist Welfare Party, openly opposed the school oath: “For centuries, the sons of this land have begun to read the basmalla. You came and forbidden to mention the name of the Lord. What did you impose in return? "I am a Turk, I am honest and hardworking." If you say this, then Kurdish Muslims also have the right to say: "I am a Kurd, I am more honest, I am more industrious." Although the coalition government of Erbakan was forced into resignation by the military in 1997, with the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party taking power in 2002, efforts to dismantle the Kemalist establishment’s “patronage system” resumed with new force.

In 2013, the Trade Union of Educationists, known for its Kemalist and generally dissent views, appealed to the State Council, the highest administrative court of Turkey, to repeal the actions of the Erdogan government. Five years later, in October 2018, the council decided in favor of returning the oath to the schools. At the same time, the State Council made it clear that without changing the basic provisions of the country's Constitution, the oath itself cannot be canceled. It is interesting that the change of the first chapters of the Basic Law of the country on the political regime and the fundamentals of the republican system still remains the idea of ​​a fix for the Justice and Development Party, as well as moderate Islamist parties and forces of the country.

It was not surprising to see the sharp reaction of the ruling party to the recent decision of the State Council. Erdogan and the network of political supporters of the president among public organizations came out in unison against the decision of the State Council, which, in their opinion, runs counter to democratic values, the principles of equality among citizens and hurts the feelings of members of national minorities. Nevertheless, the State Council was able to withstand another attempt by the country's government to intervene in the affairs of the judiciary, largely thanks to the support of the country's three largest parties, the moderately Kemalist Republican People's Party, the Nationalist Movement Party and the Good Party.

In such difficult circumstances, Erdogan's party could be considered as the main advocate of democratic values ​​in the country: after all, it advocates the idea of ​​creating a more inclusive political identity. But shaitan is in the detail. In contrast to the rhetoric, the actions of the ruling party of Turkey showed that the danger to social harmony today comes from attempts to replace the definition of citizenship based on ethnic attributes, the concept of citizenship, in the center of which is confessional affiliation. The issue of inclusiveness remains as acute as ever. Purposeful de-secularization of all public spheres of Turkey, focused on creating the idea of ​​citizenship on the basis of Sunni Islam, does not solve the country's problems.

Thus, it can be seen that the experiment titled “The Republic of Turkey”, which began in the 20th century, continues in the 21st century as well. Some are trying to hold on to the old order, which has clearly become obsolete and is preventing Turkey from developing in conditions of social stability, while others are trying to push through their project of authoritarian modernization under the slogan of democratization leaving the outside observers wondering where the next line of social division will appear next time.

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