BY TERRANCE J. MINTNER, THE MEDIA LINE—
Analysts largely agree that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done more to shape Turkey than any other leader since Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the legendary leader who founded the Turkish republic in 1923.
Atatürk, who served as the country’s first president from 1923-1938, worked tirelessly to put Turkey on a secular, Westward-looking trajectory.
To this end, he helped abolish the Ottoman Sultanate, separated secular law from Sharia (Islamic law), and even discouraged the use of headscarves in public venues, among a host of other “modernizing” reforms.
And while Atatürk’s influence still seems to loom large over the country—his portrait is still displayed in many shops and restaurants, like an omnipresent father watching over his progeny—it is becoming increasing clear that Erdogan is chipping away his legacy.
Erdogan, 64, is positioning himself as the bearer of a new Turkish identity, one more closely aligned with Turkey’s Ottoman past and Islamic heritage. It is also an identity that appears to lend to strongman rule.
The Turkish president has been consolidating political power in steady fashion ever since he became prime minister in 2003. After serving in that capacity for 11 years, he quickly transitioned into the presidency, a role he will officially retain until 2023 and perhaps beyond. In 2016, he used a failed coup to purge his opposition in the aftermath.