Turkey: Last week's mass military resignations signal the end of Ataturk's secular vision.

Turkey: Last week's mass military resignations signal the end of Ataturk's secular vision.

Turkey: Last week's mass military resignations signal the end of Ataturk's secular vision.

A wartime lexicon.
Aug. 1 2011 11:32 AM

The End of the Kemalist Affair

When was the last time a conservative NATO army pushed out its highest-ranking officers?

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But the sordid fact is that the "secular" military elite in Turkey had already sold out a number of the values that were real to Ataturk and necessary for Turkey's integration into the Eurosphere. The Turkish army not only allowed itself to become a participant in the dirty and illegal land grab that continues to offend all international laws and U.N. resolutions affecting the self-proclaimed colonial statelet in the north of the island of Cyprus, but in the early years of the occupation, the leader of Ataturk's party—Bulent Ecevit—was rounded up as a political detainee. This negation of free movement within EU borders has poisoned relations with Greece, driven tens of thousands of Cypriots into economic exile, and delayed the integration of two advanced economies—Turkey and Cyprus—at just the point when the Athenian economy cannot go it alone.

Having for years provided a rearguard at Incirlik Air Base for the humanitarian relief of the Iraqi Kurdish and Shiite populations, the Turks were offered the opportunity to lend a "northern front" and to finish the job of Operation Provide Comfort in 2003. The strong impression received by some of us who sat in the waiting rooms outside the discussions of this policy was that the Turkish army was declining the honor mainly because the bribe or inducement wasn't large enough. It also seemed that the same army was hoping for a chance to project its own power in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq. To be waging another dirty war on the soil of a foreign state, and to be paying for it by using money supplied by the foreign aid budget of the U.S. Congress, looked like bad faith of a very special kind.


In 1960, the Turkish army held the ring by intervening to execute two powerful political bosses—Adnan Menderes and Fatin Zorlu—who according to my best information had instigated vicious pogroms in Istanbul and Nicosia and even tried the provocation of bombing Kemal Ataturk's birthplace in Salonika. (See, if interested, my little book Hostage to History: Cyprus From the Ottomans to Kissinger.) But this long, uneven symbiosis between state and nation and army and modernity has now run its course. In its time, it flung a challenge to the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles, revived regional combat on a scale to evoke the Crusades, and saw the American and Turkish flags raised together over blood-soaked hills in Korea in the first bellicose engagements of the Cold War. That epoch is now over. One wonders only whether to be surprised at how long it lasted or how swiftly it drew to a close and takes comfort from the number of different ways in which it is possible to be a Turk or a Muslim.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.