The Honorable Barack H. Obama President of the United States The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 USA
Dear Mr. President:
I write this letter to you, Mr. President, with my highest and warmest regards, best wishes, and my hope for a better, more just world. I have fond memories of this particular day, 20 January, your day of inauguration as president. Forty-eight years ago—six months before you were born— I, along with my fellow West Point cadets, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to salute the newly sworn president, John F. Kennedy. Next to graduating from West Point, it was the highlight of my life. January 20, 1961—it had snowed heavily the night before and the day dawned windy with arctic temperatures. It was perfect, a memory crystal buried deep. How young we were, so enthusiastic about confronting a dangerous world with our young president. But while euphoria is grand, it is also dangerous, Mr. President. It didn’t take long for reality to take hold. And so time goes. I have now lived in Istanbul, Turkey for nine years. Over these years a “reality” has set in regarding our beloved country, America. And so I write to you today, Mr. President, to warn you about conditions in Turkey. “The world,” wrote Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, “is an arena of trials.” And the Bush policy of making Turkey a “moderate Islamic republic” has been, and continues to be, an arena of disasters. Mr. President, time is of the essence to correct this. And you need to know more about Turkey to do so.
Accordingly, I have enclosed two books: one a biography, Atatürk, by Andrew Mango, the other, a copy of The Great Speech by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Nutuk in Turkish). The latter epic work flowed from the pen of Atatürk, a 36-hour speech delivered over six days in October 1927. Therein, he recounts the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Turkish Republic. It is an astounding document.
“I have tried to show, in these accounts, how a great people, whose national course was considered as finished, reconquered its independence; how it created a national and modern state founded on the latest results of science. The result we have today is the fruit of teachings which arose from centuries of suffering,and the price of streams of blood which have drenched every foot of the ground of our beloved homeland. This holy treasure I lay in the hands of the youth of Turkey. Turkish youth! Your primary duty is ever to preserve and defend the national independence of the Turkish Republic.” (Atatürk, The Great Speech, 715)
By reading this book, Mr. President, you will immediately understand the enormous genius of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. You will see how the forces of religious fundamentalism didn’t magically vanish after Atatürk ended the sultanate and abolished the caliphate. Instead, they continued to subvert his revolutionary reforms from the very beginning. This is the nature of religious fundamentalism here in Turkey. It never stops. It is vital that you understand this, Mr. President. Turkey has always been a target for these dark-minded forces. And now these ignorant minds run the country. Reading the words of Mustafa Kemal will also help you marshal your own significant resources and talents, for you seem to be blessed with a capacious mind much like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s. Decisive, informed leadership is needed today by the president of the United States. These were defining characteristics of Atatürk, along with his great personal integrity. May you learn well from him, Mr. President, a man who fought a war against religious terrorists for his entire life.
Now the democratic, secular, social state of the Republic of Turkey, governed under the rule of law, is under siege, both from without and within. I know this, Mr. President, I live here, and what I know is not sanitized by political niceties and outright propaganda. The undoing of this nation, created in Atatürk’s mind as a young army officer, has been long underway. But now the day is here. The black-minded ignorance of religious fundamentalism becomes more apparent every minute. Alcohol bans, women shoved under politically symbolic headscarves at the behest of duplicitous politicians, a compliant, subverted media. Here, so-called “liberals” work in compliance with outside forces (your CIA, for example, Mr. President). And the corruption of the religious ruling party is stunning and stinks to the high heavens from theft, rampant bribery, and election fraud. Currently, a scam called Ergenekon purges the left-wing opposition rivals (all adherents of the enlightened principles of Atatürk). To further contaminate his work, a smattering of outright criminals is added to the list of detainees. All this and more has brought democratic Turkey near its knees. And Mustafa Kemal Atatürk never knelt for anyone, ever. As a child he even refused to play leapfrog.
European Union members, who never read him, wonder why so much fuss is made about Atatürk. Of similar traitorous stripe as the “entente liberals” of Atatürk’s day who conspired with the British occupiers for a mandate over Turkey, today’s “liberal” Turks (liboş) fall over themselves subverting secular Turkey and the principles of Atatürk, in the name of democracy. The ruling party works its religious agenda demeaning the integrity of women at every turn, debasing the liberation of women by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And the United States of America, our country Mr. President, directly aids and abets these subversive forces. This is shameful.
Mr. President, most Americans remain ignorant about Turkey and, amazingly, even more so about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Without knowing this man one knows nothing about this country. The enclosed books are my attempt to prevent you learning about Turkey solely by reading sterile briefing books, self-serving CIA studies, State Department policy papers, memoranda from your national security advisors, and, most particularly, reports from the western press. Most of the Turkish press, and, in particular, the current Turkish government are similarly ever-willing purveyors of self-interested propaganda. Beware, Mr. President, for you will receive regurgitations of superficial, stale, and even incorrect information, like the Bushian nonsense that Turkey is a “moderate Islamic nation.” Via the headscarf issue—the “ocular proof” of piety for western consumption—this ill-conceived initiative, without any Koranic justification, has created a gigantic, violent, societal schism in Turkey. Mr. President, is America a moderate Christian nation? I mean, should Americans wear visible crucifixes? Please reconsider this nonsensical policy, Mr. President. (Again, read The Great Speech to see how religious subversions beset Atatürk at every turn.)
“One will be able to imagine how necessary the carrying through of these measures was, in order to prove that our nation as a whole was no primitive nation, filled with superstitions and prejudices. Could a civilized nation tolerate a mass of people who let themselves be led by the nose by a herd of Şeyhs, Dedes,Seyyits, Çelebis, Babas, and Emirs, who entrusted their destiny and their lives to palm readers, magicians, dice-throwers and amulet sellers? Ought one to preserve in the Turkish State, in the Turkish Republic, elements and institutions such as those which had for centuries given the nation the appearance of being other than it really was?” (Atatürk, The Great Speech, 714)
Mr. President, even worse than misinformation, you will be regaled with assertions and protestations that the current religious-rooted government is representative and similar to the majority of Turkish people. Mr. President, it is extremely dangerous for you, and for the United States, to be deceived in this manner. Indeed this must sound strange to you, Mr. President, but it is true. There is a great muffling happening in Turkey today. So I caution you, to become truly aware of the situation in Turkey, you must first meet Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in depth. You must come to enlightenment about Turkey on your own recognizance, Mr. President, and not rely on the misinformed, the flatterers, and the deceivers, of whom there are legion.
While you may think you are different, Mr. President, be forewarned that, despite your access to the bright minds of the CIA, the State Department, and your White House staff, you will not get a true idea of the essence of Turkey, the nation. You may learn about this Turkish government, but that’s not learning about the Turkish nation. And you will certainly not learn anything from members of the present Turkish government about the nation’s soul.
The essence of the modern Turkish soul reposes in the materials I have sent, in a word, Atatürk. His accomplishments—military, political, social, educational, creative—represent a quest for justice for the collective life of his people, and in no small regard, for the world. “Peace at home, peace in the world,” he famously said. He possessed, as I suspect you do as well, Mr. President, what Reinhold Niebuhr called the “sublime madness in the soul,” saved from excessiveness by unusually astute powers of reason. So armed, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk battled against the powers of darkness and spiritual corruption in high places. So armed, he rescued his people from the debris of the Ottoman Empire. Today, his thoughts and deeds define the existential principles of the Turkish nation. But, Mr. President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is now under attack from outside Turkey and within.
Nevertheless, his principles still inspire tens of millions of proudly secular Turks who long for the truly democratic nation he established. Believe me Mr. President, the “secular elite” described by the disgracefully biased and ill-informed writings of Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times as “an immensely powerful coterie of generals and judges” is nonsense. Millions of us—yes, Mr. President, I too am a citizen of Turkey—took to the streets in the spring of 2007 against the policies of the U.S.-backed Erdoğan government. And matters have become even more dire since. Mr. President, perhaps you don’t know what’s going on with this government.
In the name of democracy, the ruling party, the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) has made a shambles of Turkey’s founding principles. In the name of democracy there is vast bribing of the AKP electorate, predominantly poor and uneducated, with coal and appliances. Higher court deliberations on suits against the ruling party are regularly attacked by the ruling party, particularly by the prime minister, and literal targets (complete with crosshairs) are made of individual judges in the religious press.
In the name of democracy and social justice and legal egalitarianism, an enormous purge of hundreds of alleged opponents of the ruling party is taking place in a “fishing expedition” called Ergenekon. A literal witch hunt, so-called suspect members of a military-coup conspiracy ring are held without benefit of writs of habeas corpus; they have been held in jail—some for over 18 months—without being charged and later prejudicially tried in jail. Writers, journalists, university presidents, labor union leaders, lawyers, retired army officers, leftists all, are caught up in this disgrace of a dragnet. (As mentioned earlier, some ordinary criminals are mixed in for pollution purposes.) Mr. President, I write to you on their behalf, the educated, western-thinking intelligentia, now imprisoned in a Turkish gulag called Silivri, the largest prison in Turkey, and in Europe. And that’s where they are tried! In the prison! So you, Mr. President, as an attorney, undoubtedly instantly understand the extremely prejudicial nature of this trumped-up case.
Mass arrests typically happen immediately after the ruling party suffers a legal or corruption setback. For example, consider its trial in early 2008 where the AKP was found guilty of being the center of anti-secular activity in Turkey. A second roundup occurred as a result of a German charitable foundation called Deniz Feneri, “lighthouse” in English. Organized by Turks in both Germany and Turkey, Deniz Feneri stole 41 million euros from pious Turks in Germany and transferred 17 million of it to Turkey, some to media companies friendly to the ruling party. The AKP manager, Zahid Akman, of the Turkish government’s televison and radio system (RTÜK), was identified by the court as the bagman. He remains in his position, dutifully protecting the nation’s morals by blurring televised images of smoking and the consumption of alcohol. The German prosecutor stated that links of the Deniz Feneri embezzlement were traced to the office of the prime ministery.
The movement of Turkey toward sharia continues. Vast areas of the nation have been made alcohol-free. Swimsuit advertisements are banned in Istanbul. The Atatürk Cultural Center, located in prime space in downtown Istanbul, has been closed. No details are given regarding its status. Consequently, the Istanbul symphony, opera, and ballet, all state sponsored, have been sent packing. They are rumored to perform occasionally, somewhere. So much for cultural enlightenment. Oddly enough, Istanbul has been selected to be the European Capital of Culture in 2010; this is known as political lip service.
Mr. President, for too long a time America has attempted to efface the Turkish soul, to reshape this country, to include it in the American hegemony. All this subversion has been to, in effect, lobotomize the Turkish brain, ridding it of the noble thoughts of Atatürk, making it a congenial dolt, bowing and scraping to America’s wishes. Internally, this has been the primary responsibility of the ruling party. And it has done its job very well, almost bringing the once proud nation of Atatürk to its knees. Once, after a waiter dropped a heavily laden tray at a state dinner, Mustafa Kemal turned to his foreign guests and said, “As you can see I have taught my people to do everything but serve.” How ironic, how angering to the followers of Atatürk is the current servile, US-installed government. Consider this, Mr. President. Banned from running for office, without any legal credentials whatsoever, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was welcomed to the White House by George W. Bush as de facto head of the Turkish government. How outrageous! No wonder Erdoğan, habitually a dour, scowling man, beamed broadly whenever he visited Bush. Do not be deceived Mr. President, this government neither serves you, nor the Turkish people. In the name of so-called democracy, it serves itself.
It has long been at its destructive work, this imperialism. You know this personally, Mr. President. Why your very roots—one foot in Hawaii, the other in Kenya, your days of youth in Indonesia—all these highly personal experiences have surely informed your persona. Surely they speak to you of the same issue that so afflicts Turkey. Imperialism. Internal subversion. Corruption.
When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rescued Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman six hundred year reign, he established a new way for the Turkish people to live their lives. It was the way of enlightenment, the western way. I hope that you can now begin to see how the west, for its own ill-reasoned self-interest, has encouraged the sabotaging of the enlightened principles of Atatürk. Most importantly, I hope that this whets your reading appetite to learn more about this incomparable man.
Mr. President, I am confident that you will adopt your policies, both within America, and without, in the spirit of those stirring words you wrote in Dreams from My Father about a different kind of politics: “That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived.”
The majority of Turkish people want the very same thing. And if the United States can get out of their way, they can have it.
James (Cem) Ryan, Ph.D.
Enclosures: Atatürk. Andrew Mango. John Murray Publishers, London, 2004. The Great Speech (Nutuk). Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk Research Center, Ankara, 2005.