Today, on March 22, 2018, The Jerusalem Post ran an article reporting that a Turkish singer has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for insulting Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced Er-doe-wan).
Erdogan, as many people are aware, is the same leader linked to a 2017 Turkish newspaper that called for a multi-state “Army of Islam” to invade Israel, as well as a general decline in Turkish-U.S. and Turkish-Israeli relations over the last five to seven years.
While Turkey was once arguably the most legitimate democracy in the Middle East besides Israel, this is no longer the case. Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has slowly but surely been stripping Turkish citizens of their rights, and leading Turkey down the path to authoritarianism.
Here are my top three points you need to know about Erdogan, in order to gain a better perspective on one of the most important countries, and one of the most important leaders, in the Middle East today.
1. Erdogan is an Islamist, through and through.
Turkish society is generally polarized between those who support European style secular democracy, and those who support Islamic influence in the political sphere. The roots of this divide go back to the founding of modern Turkey in 1923. After World War I, and the fall of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk sought to fashion Turkey as a liberal democracy, free from the influence of religion in general, and Islam in particular. For decades, the proponents of secularism more of less held control of Turkey. However, by the early 1990’s, the Islamic factions within Turkey gradually began to accumulate more and more power, and have now solidified their control over the country through Erdogan.
Erdogan himself was raised in Istanbul as a devout Sunni Muslim. He attended an Islamic school as a child, and was deeply influenced by a form of highly politicized, highly anti-Semitic Islam in his youth. Although Erdogan realized when he became president in 2002 that he would need to move slowly with his Islamic agenda to be successful, which led some to label him as a “moderate,” he has always had designs to dismantle Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a western style secular democracy. Thus, Erdogan himself is the pivotal figure to understand in terms of grasping the transition towards Islamization in modern Turkey. Since he came to power, Erdogan has constructed over 9,000 mosques throughout Turkey, including the grand “Erdogan Mosque” on Istanbul’s Camlica Hill” which is now the largest mosque in Turkey (accommodating 37,500 people), and one of the grandest mosques in the entire world. In lock step with his Islamic agenda, Erdogan has also introduced education bills that require “mandatory courses on Islam to be taught to all students as young as six” in Turkey’s public schools (Cagaptay 129).
2. Erdogan has purged democracy from Turkey
Prior to Erdogan’s rise, many elements in Turkish society, especially the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), helped preserve basic democratic institutions within the country, such as freedom of the press, assembly, and expression. In the initial years after Erdogan came to power (2002-2007), many metrics used to measure civil rights actually improved in Turkey. In some respects, this was because at the time, Erdogan was still trying to play nice with the European Union, as the prospect that Turkey might finally be able to join the EU was still alive.
As time progressed however, and as Erdogan’s relationship with the EU continued to sour, Erdogan began to show his true colors. Since 2007, Erdogan has brutally cracked down on nearly every anti-Islamic element within Turkish society. Erdogan has arrested and jailed an untold number of academics, “police officers, journalists, secularists,” military officers, and political opponents (Cagaptay 117). Erdogan has also taken control of the Turkish courts, the media, major businesses, and the education system. In addition, he has introduced key legislation to significantly increase his executive powers. Although a large percentage of Turkish society vehemently opposes Erdogan, for all practical intents and purposes, democracy is on its very last leg in Turkey, and in some sectors it is dead altogether. Erdogan now controls many aspects of the country’s life with an iron fist.
3. Erdogan seeks to revive the Ottoman Empire
Ultimately, it is the historic legacy of the Ottoman Empire that drives Erdogan. At the height of its power in the late 1600’s, the Ottoman Empire, with its base in Istanbul, stretched from modern Turkey, across north Africa, parts of eastern Europe, and all the way into modern Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab states. Ruled by a succession of sultans, the Ottomans viewed themselves as the de facto leaders of the Muslim world, and primary inheritors of Mohammad’s vision to spread Islam throughout the world.
After the Ottomans sided with the Germans during World War I, and subsequently lost the war, the caliphate was dismantled and the sultan stripped of his power. Although the Allied powers controlled what is now modern Turkey for a brief period after WWI (1918-1923), the Turkish War of Independence ultimately resulted in the Allies loss of power, which placed it in the hands of Ataturk and his secular revolutionaries. Now that Erdogan has successfully taken control of Turkey, and dismantled much of Ataturk’s secular vision, his next move is to try and become the new sultan of a new Islamic empire. Erdogan seeks nothing less than a revival of the ancient Ottoman Empire. This makes him one of the key personalities to follow and understand, especially as we move close and closer to the glorious return of our Messiah to this earth, which we know will be preceded by the spread of political Islam around the world.
1. Pray for the Turkish people, that even as they suffer political oppression, God would reveal the power of the Gospel to them.
2. Pray for Gospel workers and evangelists in Turkey, as well as the thousands of Muslim background believers (MBBs) living in the country, that they would be given strength, wisdom, protection, and an abundance of supernatural provision.
3. Pray for President Erdogan, that the Lord would deliver him from the bondage of Islam, and be pleased to reveal His Son to him.