Enlightenment, Secularization and Democracy in Turkey during 21st Century

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2016

13 Pages

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Literature Review

Theoretical Framework of Secularism and Democracy

Background of Secularization and Democracy in Turkey

Secularization in Turkey in 21st Century
Unofficial Islamic Law
The Alevies Issue

Democratization in Turkey in 21st Century
AKP and Military Relation
Economic Reforms
Social Reforms



Enlightenment, Secularization and Democracy in Turkey during 21st Century


Turkey is described as a model of Enlightenment, secularization and democracy for the Muslim societies but it is also noticed and visible by the opposition of confusion between secularism and democracy in Turkey. It is rightly observed that the army, regarded by all as the guardian of Kemalism, does not seem to hesitate regarding taking any step in defending democratic process even there is a victory of religious parties during 21 century. Although enlightenment and secularization are still relying on non-democratic forces but military is not interfering into political affairs directly or indirectly. This study perceives enlightenment and secularization against Islamic resistance to progress in Turkey, during 21st century.

Keywords: Secularism, Democracy, Enlightenment, Kemalism, Economic reforms, Social reform, Islamization, Alevism, Headscarf,

This text was written by a non-native English speaker. Please excuse any errors or inconsistencies.


Secularism is often considered a universal experience and in general tied with modernization. The secularization started out of a definite period and a definite geography that generalized the world as universal problem. Today the term of secularization is understood in favor of enlightened and scientific way of thinking and as the social decline of religion. Secularism defines the relationship between state and religion. The world always remained indefinitely divide between West and non West and non Western features tend to popular conception of Islam. Turkey is often represented as the exemplary model of secular state for other Islamic countries.

During the reforms and enlightenment process in Turkey the secularization is called as westernization. The first president of Turkey Mustafa Kemal introduced secularism with the amendment 1928 of the constitution of 1924 which put the political and administrative requisites to make a secular, modern, and democratic state associated by Kemalism. The constitution of Turkey neither is either religion or official nor promotes any. Turkey is not called for a strict disconnection of state and religion but its position as impartial. The concerning with religion in Turkey are evaluated and analyzed through the Religious Affair’s Presidency. The works of presidency executes make clear to the public about their religion and the beliefs, worship and ethics of Islam, and manage the holy places of worshiping (www.diyanet.gov.tr/english/tintime, 2012).

The tension between secularism and democracy is still lies in political debates of Turkey. The rise of Islam in politic, economic and culture since 1990s has increased the tension of debate interconnection between politics and religion (Keyman, 2007, pp. 215-216). In 2002, after the electoral victory of AKP, the issue of secularism again came in to the politics of Turkey because of the religious and conservative background of the party. AKP always has familiarity as danger to the secular structure of Turkish Republic by the elite of Kamelists.

Turkey has the most dynamic experiment with secularism and democracy in the twenty first century. The Islamic parties like AKP got courage from the traditions of free and fair election and capitalism in the country to play by the rules. Although unwillingly but military accept the manifestation of the Justice and Development Party and voters also embraced before it found balance. This evolution produced attraction of the institutions and democratic society with political and moderate Islam in Turkey. It moved practically to the centre-right over a decade. However the victory of party has had little concerning of their ideology.

The victory of the Justice and Development Party in election 2002 and it was significant to got 34.28 percent of the votes. Then 46.58 percent of votes were received in 2007and scored49.90 percent vote in 2011. It is first time in the history of election in Turkey that a political party increased its vote percentage in succeeding election. This is signaling of reversal. In past, military intervention and constitutional ruling by courts has been shutting down and banned the Islamic parties. Now Islamic parties have reemerged, realistic and more moderate.

The present government party of Turkey Justice and Development Party (AKP) has often accused of following Islamic agenda. In presidential election 2007 the ruling party choose candidate with Islamic connection. “While some in Turkey have expressed concern that the nomination could represent a move away from Turkey secularist traditions, including particularly Turkey’s priority on equality between the sexes, other have suggested that the conservative party has effectively promoted modernization while reaching out to more traditional and religious elements in Turkish society”(Turkey must have secular leader, 2007).

There are many positive and negative aspects of Islamic movement and democratic decisions which caused the division in Turkish society during twenty first century. The objectives of the study are to examine the revitalization of religious expressions, question of accession to European Union and Turkish Politics during the 21 century. The study carries the hypothesis that: The institutional democratic and behavioral Islamization process has been going on in Turkey during twenty first century. The religious and democratic culture has been emerging of in Turkey since AKP regimes. The desire and hope for membership of the European Union. The scope of the study is limited to the democratic and religious policies, politics and the role of military during the 21 century. The study first considers the theoretical framework of secularism and democracy. Second, it deals socio-political, new economic opportunities and evolution of new actors. Thirdly, the study deals comprehensive conclusion that sum up the entire situation of this study. The descriptive tool for analyzing various perceptions and dealings of state actors and constructive approach is adopted.

Literature Review

D. Litonjua: Contending Ideology Liberal Democracy and Religious Fundamentalism, Source: International Review of Modern Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 21-47. The paper delineates the contours of these two contending ideologies. First, liberal democracy is critiqued for what it has become. Second, the crisis of liberal democracy has helped spur the phoenix-like resurgence of religious fundamentalism, which is now its main contending ideology

Haldun Gülalp Enlightenment by Fiat: Secularization and Democracy in Turkey. Sources Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No. 3 (May, 2005), pp. 351-372. This article argues that, like the modernization theory of development, the theory of secularization is not only a Eurocentric way of knowing; it is also a Eurocentric mode of exerting power globally.

Meliha Benli Altunisik THE TURKISH MODEL AND DEMOCRATIZATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST, Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1/2 (Winter/Spring 2005), pp. 45-63. The paper describes First, Turkey's experience in reform is unique and cannot be repeated elsewhere. The uniqueness of the Turkish case was largely explained by Turkey's secularism. Second, problems in Turkey's democratization were cited in explaining.

Bahadır Çelebi: The Failure of Assertive Secularization Project in Turkey, Sources Turkish Journal of Politics Vol. 2 No. 1 summers 2011. The article explains the secularization project of modern Turkey as a part of broader modernization and Westernization project has failed in some areas. This failure reflected in three different cases.

Dobroslawa Wctor Mach. On Secularization, Modernity and Islamic Revival in the Post-Soviet Context: Sources: Polish Sociological Review, No. 175 (2011), pp. 393-409. t: The paper reveals contemporary developments in post-Soviet Islam that challenge the predominant juxtaposition of Islam against secularization and modernization.

Hakan Yilmaz: Islam, Sovereignty, and Democracy: A Turkish View, Source: Middle East Journal, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Summer, 2007), pp. 477-493. In this article, some conceptual and empirical relations between Islam, sovereignty, and democracy are examined, with comparisons to Christianity.

M. Hakan Yavuz, Political Islam and the Welfare (Refah) Party in Turkey, Sources: Comparative Politics, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Oct., 1997), pp. 63-82. This essay examines the externalization of Islamic political identity in the general context of state-society relations.

M. Hakan Yavuz: Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey Review by: Michael M. Gunter Middle East Journal, Vol. 63, No. 3 (summer, 2009), pp. 511-512. The paper offers us an original analysis along theoretical and empirical lines that demands close scholarly as well as policy attention.

Gerald Marwell and N. J. Demerath: Secularization" by Any Other Name, Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Apr., 2003), pp. 314-316. It provides important and informative analysis of American report 1990 to 2000 that they have no religious preference.

William H. Swatos, Jr. and Kevin J. Christiano: Secularization Theory: The Course of a Concept, Source: Sociology of Religion, Vol. 60, No. 3 (autumn, 1999), pp. 209-228. This essay provides an introduction to the secularization debate as it presents itself at the end of the 1990s.

Rodney Stark Secularization, R.I.P. Source: Sociology of Religion, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 249-273. In this essay, the writer assembles the work of many recent historians who are unanimous that the Age of Faith is pure nostalgia that lack of religious participation was, if anything, even more widespread in medieval times than now.

Gokhan Bacik y Alper Y: The End of Turkish Monetization? Sources: Dede Fatih University. Istanbul, Turkey. The paper critiques of Turkish modernization on the basis of its historical background and performance.

M. Hakan Yavuz: Towards an Islamic Liberalism? The Nurcu Movement and Fethullah Gülen, Source: Middle East Journal, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 584-605. The article concentrates on the experience of an Islamic-based movement which has sought to combine a modern interpretation of Islam with Turkish nationalism and statism.

J. Paul Barker1: Turkish Religious Identity and the Question of European Union Membership

Institute for Cultural Diplomacy: Ankara Conference on Peace building and Conflict Resolution, April 17-19, 2012, Ankara Turkey. The article deals the future prospects for Turkey’s accession and recommendations for how some of the most salient questions of identity can be answered.

Jeffrey K. Hadden: Toward De secularizing Secularization Theory Source: Social Forces, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Mar., 1987), pp. 587-611. The paper examines the historical context which permitted the idea of secularization to go unchallenged for so long, and then develops four discrete types of evidence to account for the present challenge to the theory.

Theoretical Framework of Secularism and Democracy

Secularism is often considered a universal experience and in general tied with modernization. Auguste Comete argued that “as the result of modernization, Human society was outgrowing the theological stage of social evolution and a new age dawning in which science of sociology would replace religions the basis for moral judgment” (Stark, 1999, pp. 249-273). The secularization arose out of a definite period and a particular geography that generalized the world as universal problem. Today the term of secularization is understood in favor of enlightened and scientific way of thinking and as the social decline of religion.

The concept of secularism refers the substantial liberty of politics from religions. In the nineteenth century, the term of secularization was used to explain the transformation of church property in to the control of state. Thomas Hobbs is grounded in values that mirror who preached by the main monotheistic religion. He argued that “faith has no relation or nor dependence at all upon compulsion and commandant he also said no value has importance than maintaining of peace” (Hussain, 2014). Then this concept gradually used the synonym of disenchantment and people disenchant from religious bonds and passions. Max Weber says “modernization would cause the disenchantment of the world” (Stark, 1999, pp. 249-273).The development of secularization was connected with the political claim to separate state and church by mentally and institutionally. Bryane Wilson illustrates secularization as “a long term process occurring in human society and the process of implicit in the concept of secularization concede at once the idea of an early condition of life that was not secular or that was at least much less secular than that of our own times” (Wilson, 1982, pp. 150-151).

The process of secularization and democratization might be sharing some fundamental similarity. In democracy laws are made and abolished by human beings not by Allah which means source of sovereignty and legitimate authority are people. But there is particular difference between religion and democracy. According to Alexis de Tocqueville democracy undermines all spiritual authority and religion particular (Tocqueville, 1956, p. 319). So the role of religion is replaced by the public opinion and it is definitely counted that what the maximum people think. “From Kant and Rousseau to Durkheim, Weber and Marx, all understand that science and modern technology would replace man’s need for religious believes’ (Fox & Sandler, 2005, pp. 317-335). Marcel Guachet concludes that democracy means nothing else but “the grave of religion” (Keyman, 2007, p. 215). While the doctrinaires of all religions tried to achieve absolute harmony, the democracy represents the continuous contradictory interests.

Background of Secularization and Democracy in Turkey

After the collapse of Ottman Empire the Kamelism official ideology of Turkey grew up which was based on ultra secular views of Mustafa Kamal. The Kamelists followed the project of radical modernization. New Turkey adopted legal code from West, Latin alphabet, western calendar, Western holiday and Western dress. A new educational system was glorified with genuinely Turkish vocabulary and Persian and Arabic words wash out from the vocabulary (Zurcher, 2004, pp. 173-174). “A new set of symbols and institutions was established to replace the religious one (Haldan, 2005, pp. 362-367). Longer Azan also was not allowed (Zurcher, 2004, pp. 181-182).

Kurds and religious groups opposed the Kamelist’s secularization, westernization and homogenous Turkish nation. The new Kamelists’s government suppressed the Kurdish and Islamist rebellions of during 1923 to 1938. Turkish Politics entered into new phase in1946 when the world was divided because of the Cold War. Turkey decided to join the NATO and fostered the transition of democracy. Political groups realignment between right and left. Political Islam was part of the anticommunist right while Kurds found its place in socialist left. The military remained powerful behind the scene.

After the Cold War, Turkey’s problems emerged rapidly. “The left and right were not able to absorb the passion of Islamist and Kurds dissent. Turkey was divided into two axes: Islamic versus secular identity and Turkish versus Kurds identity. The result was war with Kurdish separatists, polarization over the role of religious values, economic turmoil and unstable collation government” (Taspinar, 2013).

In 1994 the pro Islamist Welfare Party shocked the Kamelist by wining local election and got control the major cities Istanbul and Ankara. After a year the in parliamentary election Welfare Party won large bloc. On February 28, 1997, military with the backup of civil society and secular media forced out of power because of the leadership of Welfare Party recognized the red line for the secularism. From the ashes of dissolved Virtue Party and Welfare Party, Erdogan formed a new party Justice and Development Party in 2001. To explain his political agenda he used the term of conservative democracy rather than Islamic reference (Taspinar, 2013).

Secularization in Turkey in 21st Century

On 23rd Of April in 2006, when the celebration ceremony of Grand Turkish National Assembly was established the former head of the National Assembly declared that Turkey needs redefinition that is more democratic (Yetkin, April 26, 2006). After the electoral victory of AKP secularism came in to the agenda in politics although the Party’s past and outlook and background was religious and conservative (Celebi, 2011, p. 90).

Unofficial Islamic Law

Another secularization project is the use of unofficial Islamic Law in Turkey. The founder of Turkish Republic thought that the modernization and secularization can be carries out by the imposing from above through the power of law and many provision of Islamic Laws were changed excluding Family Laws (Yilmaz, 2002, p. 96). The Turkish Law replaced with the new Swiss Code to separate the religion from the laws. Some levels and areas of Islamic Law are successful but the whole Turkish society does not adopt the rules of secular law which are contradicting the traditional Islamic law (Celebi, 2011, p. 97).

The Alevies Issue

Alevism is the sect that bears culture of Shia understanding of Islam. They define themselves Muslim while other identifies them different from Islamic culture. Their different belief and way of prayers tension the Sunni population. Ottoman religious authorities label them heretics and infidel (Vorhoff, 1998, p. 229). There were always problems between states and Alivies that portrait negative outlook of Alvies. “This negative point of views led the Alvies to support the newly emerging Turkish Republic and Kemalist secularism which was against the Ottoman Empire” (Vorhoff, 1998, pp. 230-231). Now the Alvies are feeling that they will be incorporated in to the official reorganized Sunni Islam and demanding from the state to be recognized as a independent sect that have their own place of worship and their own religious leaders (Celebi, 2011, p. 95).


Turkey was internally divided in 2006-2008 on the issue of women head scarves. “The AKP wanted to lift ban on Islamic dress or headscarves in University and end the discrimination against the graduate Islamic high schools. The AKP had popular support for these steps and women cover their heads more than fifty percent” (Sabrina, July 23, 2007). The governing party changed the dress code in universities and legalized hijab by legislation in 2011. However the civil servant dress code remained in place. The gender equality and family values were not progressive in the understanding of Erdogon. The AKP also promoted the national consensus rather than challenges to secularist establishment. But the secularists’ forces remained wary and criticized on Erdogon’s attempt to appoint religious bureaucrats and attempted to discourage the sale of alcohol. This show the secular elite’s aims which are making modern face of Turkey.

Democratization in Turkey in 21st Century

AKP and Military Relation

The tension between military and governing party was on the peak when Erdogon announced the Abdullah Gul as the foreign minister for presidency. Armed forces made their stance and position clear as the absolute the defenders of secularism. It was the thinly veiled threat of takeover might be in the offing. The landslide victory of AKP in election 2007 was publically reproved to the generals. Then AKP recognized victory by elected Abdullah Gul to the presidency. The top bras of military did not attend the inaugural ceremony. In 2008, the chief prosecutor of Turkey made try to have the AKP closed on ground that it followed the Islamic agenda to threaten the secular state. The governing party survived by constitutional coup and court voted against closer by one vote.

In 2011, AKP won the election consecutively third time and consolidated its supremacy over military. Military chief resigned after the disagreement with Erdogon over staff promotion on July 9, 2011. The chief of Navel staff and Air Force also asked for early retirement. It was the paradigm shift when one of ten duty generals and almost half of all Turkish admirals were in jail on plotting against democratic government in early 2012. Civil and military relation has revised and the memberships of civilian in Security Council also have increased. A civilian head of the council was appointed replacing military head (Ozbudun, 2000, pp. 151-154). As the result of such changes the military prerogative inherent from the previous military governments were eliminated from the constitutional and legal order to a large extent (Ergun & Serap, 2004, p. 38).

Economic Reforms

AKP won largest block of seats in the parliamentary election in November 2002. For the seeking of European Union membership and social services, Erdogon put democratic reforms top of priority. He also succeeded to win the political legitimacy in the eyes of military and judiciary. This strategy of AKP paid off. After the crisis of 2001, the economy is now on the track. “The Turkish economy started to attract unprecedented direct foreign investment by disciplined program of privatization” (Economist, Feb.07, 2009). In 2008, even though of political turbulence AKP tackle the Global financial crisis with notable success and consolidated its gain. The economy growth rate improved, unemployment rate and budget deficit recorded low.

Social Reforms

The parliament approved the series of reforms of police power of detention reducing and easing control on human rights in October 2001. Ban on broadcasting in Kurdish language was lifted and civilian presentation was increased in National Security Council. In January 2002 a new civilian code was adopted to improving freedom of assembly and association and gender inequality. The parliament passed another package of reforms to introduce penal code and anti-terrorism law in February 2002. In August 2003, “the parliament outlawed the death penalty and allowed instruction in language other than Turkish to be legal” (Altunisik, 2005). It is true that “after gaining power the AKP used it majority power in parliament to accelerate the reforms process” (Ozel, 2003, p. 2).

Since the last two decade AKP designated democracy and its seasonal politicians participated in electoral process. Turkey remained polarize with the opposition parties which were creeping with the ideology of Islamism and authoritarianism. After the second electoral victory AKP launched case against Ergenkon who was accused that he had made planned the coup in 2007. The prosecutor accused to involve of more than hundred military officials, journalists and political activists which were intended to create chaos to justify military coup. Opposition criticized that the government used the case against secular opponents.


In 21st century Turkey is not still liberal democratic country. It has become multifaceted democracy. Public opinion, election, parliament, opposition, civil society and media all has exerting more powers as it is compared with past. It is first time that control of Turkey is in civilian hands. Military tried to coup sometimes but civilian government tackled it politically. AKP has Islamic roots but it has made more reforms for European Union entry than any secular parties. The government of AKP manufactured humility about ideology and stand point in Islamic world. The AKP exposed serious democratic shortcomings by 2012 when it cracks down against its critics. After remaining in power from a decade, AKP failed to fulfill the promises of reform and new constitution to settle the issues of human rights, Kurds and media. The Turkish model shows that secularism is necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy and thus underlined the important of secularism within democracy (Altunisik, 2005, p. 55). In fact Turkey has more and more turned into an example of this modus Vivendi.


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Akram Zaheer (Author)Shafqat Jabeen (Author), 2016, Enlightenment, Secularization and Democracy in Turkey during 21st Century, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/339429


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