As they used to say way back when in the long Ottoman twilight, the Turk is the sick man of Europe. Following this weekend's Caliph-for-Life referendum, the Turk is sicker than ever. But he's no longer of Europe, and instead is exiting for a destination dark and catastrophic for almost all his neighbors.
Sultan Erdoğan - who, a mere 15 years ago, was banned from holding political office - has now succeeded in dismantling almost every defining element of the Kemalist republic. What replaces it will be a crude strongman state in service of Islamic imperialism. I have read a lot of commentary this morning, starting with Douglas Murray's "Turkish Democracy Has Just Died" and moving on to Yavuz Baydar's "The End Of Turkey As We Know It" via Alex Alexiev's "Who Lost Turkey?" And several readers have been kind enough to inquire where's my own "Who Lost Turkey?" piece. Well, the truth is I published it exactly ten years ago, to the day of Erdoğan's referendum. From the April 16th 2007 edition of National Review, "De-Boning Turkey":
The modern secular Muslim state – a country that gave women the vote before Britain did and was Israel's best friend in an otherwise hostile region – certainly, that Turkey seems to be being de-boned by the hour: it now has an Islamist government whose Prime Minister has canceled trade deals with Israel, denounced the Iraqi elections, and frosted out the US Ambassador because he was Jewish; a new edition of Mein Kampf is prominently displayed at the airport bookstore. In other words, the Zionist Entity's best pal is starting to look like just another cookie-cutter death-to-the-Great-Satan stan-of-the-month.
In fairness to the new Caliph, ever since he emerged from his semi-pro footballing career to run for Mayor of Istanbul, he's played a more cunning game than the stan-of-the-month loons. As he said in one of his most famous soundbites, democracy is a bus you ride to the stop you want - and then you get off. And he was quite happy to take the scenic route, stop by stop by stop. In the two or three years after he came to power, I was assured that he was a "moderate Islamist" not merely by the all the foreign-policy think-tank "experts" but even by his political rivals in the previous Kemalist government. From a seven-year-old column of mine called (golly) "Who Lost Turkey?"
Even when Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) was elected to power eight years ago, the experts assured us there was no need to worry. I remember sitting in a plush bar late one night with a former Turkish foreign minister, who told me, between passing round the cigars and chugging back the Scotch, that, yes, the new crowd wasn't quite so convivial but they knew where their interests lay. Like many Turkish movers and shakers of his generation, my drinking companion loved the Israelis. "They're tough hombres," he said admiringly. "You have to be in this part of the world." If you had suggested to him that in six years, the Turkish prime minister would be telling the Israeli president to his face, "I know well how you kill children on beaches," he would have dismissed it as a fantasy concoction for some alternative universe.
Yet it happened. Mr. Erdogan said those words to Shimon Peres at Davos last year and then flounced off stage.
So the "moderate Islamist" turned out to be not so moderate. Hey, why would that be? Answer (as it usually is with me): demography. From that April 16th 2007 column:
Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, there have been two Turkeys: the Turks of Rumelia, or European Turkey, and the Turks of Anatolia, or Asia Minor. Kemal Atatürk was from Rumelia and so were most of his supporters, and they imposed the modern Turkish Republic on a somewhat relunctant Anatolia, where Atatürk's distinction between the state and Islam was never accepted. In its 80-year history, the population has increased from 14 million in 1923 to 70 million today, but the vast bulk of that population growth has come from Anatolia, whose population has migrated from the rural hinterland to overwhelm the once solidly Kemalist cities. Atatürk's modern secular Turkey has simply been outbred by fiercely Islamic Turkey. That's a lesson in demography from an all-Muslim sample: no pasty white blokes were involved.
I returned to the theme in my 2010 "Who Lost Turkey?" piece, and I suppose I could rewrite the same sentiment sideways yet again. But, as readers have noticed, I'm beginning to despair of having to say the same thing over and over to no effect until the day I expire. I find myself in a rare moment of disagreement with Douglas Murray and his headline writer re "Turkish Democracy Has Just Died". The fundamental problem is not Turkish democracy, but Turkish demography. Whether or not demography is always destiny, it certainly is in a democratic age. You can have a functioning democracy in a relatively homogeneous society in which parties compete over tax policy and health care. But, when a nation is divided into two groups with fundamentally opposing views of what that society is or should be, then democracy becomes tribal, and the size of the tribe determines the outcome.
Whoops, I see I'm rewriting my 2007 column all over again. So instead of words let's do it in pictures. Erdoğan used to be Prime Minister, an office that (after yesterday's referendum) he will now abolish. Then in 2014 he became president. How did that happen? Three years ago, the heir to Atatürk - or at any rate the candidate of his old party - was a fellow called Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who came a distant second to Erdoğan. Bringing up the rear was the Kurdish guy. This is the electoral map: Erdoğan carried the yellow constituencies, his Kemalist opposition the blue, and the purple is the Kurdish south-east down near Syria and Iraq.
That map is my 2007 column in one handy 2014 graphic. Eastern, Asian, Islamic Turkey has literally "overwhelmed" Western, European, secular Turkey and squeezed it to a Kemalist fringe. Here's another snapshot of what happened - a 2013 graphic of Turkish birth rates, showing fertility declining as you move from east to west:
The birth rates of the Kurdish south-east may cause Erdoğan a few headaches one day, but there won't be many Kemalists around by then.
Here's a third graphic - yesterday's referendum results. The Kurdish south-east, the old secular Rumelian west - and in between the vast green carpet of a new post-Kemalist caliphate:
Overlay the fertility rates on the electoral results: demography proved destiny. As you'll recall, Kemal Atatürk was born Mustafa Kemal. The new moniker was a title bestowed on him by the post-Ottoman parliament. Atatürk means "Father of the Turks". Alas, he wasn't father of enough of them. And the men who were had other ideas about Turkey's future. We've all met charming, urbane, witty, secular Turks. I worked with one recently, and enjoyed his company immensely. But on that ever expanding big green Islamic carpet from east to west there's no place for them.
What lessons does Turkey offer for France or Germany, Sweden or Britain? Look at, say, French natives as Rumelian Turks and French Muslims as Anatolians. In 2012, the Muslim vote for M Hollande was larger than his margin of victory over Sarkozy. On those numbers, it's asking a lot of a candidate to forego identity-group pandering. Ultimately, in Turkey as elsewhere, demography trumps democracy.
~For more on the aging of the Young Turks, see this recent SteynPost by Mark.