Hagia Sophia, Lausanne, Turkey’s future and the CHP congress

On 24 July, a “select group of Muslims” featuring on the protocol along with President Erdoğan staged the opening by performing friday prayers at Hagia Sophia.

A “select group of Muslims” featuring on the protocol along with Erdoğan staged the opening by performing friday prayers at Hagia Sophia.

The Republic of Turkey is approaching the centenary of its founding. The signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on 24 July 1923 saw recognition of “independence”, while three months later, on 29 October 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed.

Three years remain until the centenary, that is 29 October 2023.

The AKP rule of eighteen years, now morphing into single-man government, wishes to close or greet the centenary on somewhat different terms. It would not be mistaken to say that, consumed with the endeavour to eliminate virtually all the gains of the Republic, AKP rule is taking a step-by-step course.

1500-year-old Hagia Sophia, which Mustafa Kemal proclaimed to be a museum on the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne and has had this status since 1934, a section of which is also used as a mosque and which enjoys prominence in terms of the history of structural art and its architecture, has been opened for worship. On 24 July, a “select group of Muslims” featuring on the protocol along with Erdoğan staged the opening by performing friday prayers at Hagia Sophia. There are those who hope this opening will initiate a process involving a host of calculations extending to settling scores with the Republic, a return to the Ottoman order and debate about the abolition of the khalifate and sharia, and think that Erdoğan should take rapid steps in this direction.

Above all, it appears that the AKP, which is on the wane and undergoing decay both from within and under external influences, will make even greater recourse to religion and nationalism. Mention can also be made of various developments which give considerable vindication to deep concerns that it will wish to pitch this as an existential justification.

The desire is, with the use of religion and nationalism as a cover while unemployment rises, deprivation and poverty spread, domestic and foreign debt multiplies and the country’s resources are gifted away, to deactivate the millions of pious people incapable of escaping the influence of religion and nationalism and make them into an effective weapon through attachment to this order.

Having earlier, poignantly, said, “Those who are incapable of filling Sultan Ahmed Mosque tell us to open Hagia Sophia. We won’t fall for such ruses,” Erdoğan has out of a political calculation, with the glaring fact that the mosque he had built in Çamlıca could only find a congregation if he himself joins in, turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque oblivious to all his previous pronouncements.

This decision of the AKP’s ushers forth voices that hanker after the khalifate and say, “This is the beginning.” Those who proclaim, “Its time has finally come” have started to speak out loud. We are passing through days in which figures such as Abdurrahman Dilipak vigorously defend the khalifate and announce, “Those who don’t want/defend the khalifate cannot call themselves Muslim.” Assembled delegations visit the Palace and Ministry of Religious Affairs and are pushing for the speeding up of such developments.

It begs attention that this path the AKP has set out on so as to further its existence involving the attempt to accentuate this polarization once more by playing on religion and nationalism is replete with hazards. Confidence that workers and wage earners and our downtrodden and oppressed peoples will not be instrumental to this dangerous game and an effective/comprehensive struggle to this end will be called for.

For sure, one important actor in this process is the CHP, which is embarking on its congress. The CHP, as a party that praises itself as the “party that formed the Republic” and takes every opportunity to point this out, must counter politics waged through religion and nationalism with the slogan, “equality, freedom and fraternity.” This, at the same time, is a process of questioning the Republic, whose foundation process was particularly problematic, given the great pains that have been experienced throughout the Republic’s history. Even if a country that is a tapestry of peoples and faiths was able to bring itself back into existence as the result of a popular resistance, it is no secret that this process at the same time incorporated genocidal and faith-eliminating policies.

What took place was quite a painful foundation process.

Capturing occupied territory was simultaneously a process of massacre against the venerable peoples of this soil. Massacres took place that had their inception with the Committee of Union and Progress and continued. Armenians, Greeks, Arameans, Kurds … Christians and Alevis.

Yesterday was the 97th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne. The Treaty of Lausanne was the stage of sitting round the table with the imperialists who had waged war. There is another side to it in that this treaty, important and praiseworthy for Turks, was also a process of denial and assimilation when it came to the peoples and faiths living within Turkey’s territory. It is impossible to be inclusive in the struggle undertaken against the AKP and envisage a democratic Turkey for the peoples of Turkey without stressing this.

As the CHP embarks on its congress, will it be able to engage in a modicum of soul-searching? Can action be taken without forgetting that the centenary, a democratic republic in which Kurds have won the right to equal citizenship and the peoples of Turkey, of all nations and faiths, pious and non-believing, are equal and free, at the same time involves a reckoning with the past?

(Translated by Tim DRAYTON)

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