Last month I uploaded a video entitled “Why Turkey Will Never Be Saudi Arabia“. Multiple viewers commented in a similar way. “OK, but what about Iran?” The idea that Turkey could go down a similar path and experience an Islamic revolution like Iran was very appealing. Many saw Ataturk, Turkey’s modernizing founder, as somehow similar to the modernizing Shah of Iran, who was deposed in 1979. This doesn’t make any sense at all. With this video I attempt to fully explain why that is.
One of the things I noticed with this video is the way that I seemed to interchange “Westernization” and “Modernization”. This isn’t right. These two things are not the same. The experience of multiple Asian countries, and to some extent Turkey, shows that there are real differences. I clearly haven’t sorted this out in my own head, which is why I confuse the two in this video. I need to give this a lot more thought. I hope it doesn’t interfere with your viewing pleasure.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Last month I did a video entitled Why Turkey Will Never Be Saudi Arabia. One of the most interesting comments I got was, OK, but how about Iran?
On the surface this makes a bit more sense that the Saudi comparison. Turkey and Iran are both countries with long histories, unlike Saudi Arabia, and they both have over a thousand years of Islamic tradition swimming under the surface. Isn’t it possible that Turkey could evolve in a similar way?
No, No it is not. There are many great reasons for this. Iran’s peculiar system is only really possible within the Shia tradition for one thing, and there’s also a literacy argument that I may make in another video. But today I’ll focus on the way that the two country’s differing histories make an Iran style Islamic Revolution in Turkey pretty much unimaginable.
To do that let’s look at two figures. First the founder of Modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and second, the Shah of Iran,Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who reigned for almost 40 years, and was deposed in Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Both of these men tried to westernize their countries and make them more secular. But that’s where the comparison ends. There is infinitely more to any leader than than whether or not he likes Western culture. It’s not all about us. That should be obvious. Ataturk liberated his country. The Shah made his country a Puppet of the United States.
For over 200 years, the Muslim Caliphs that ruled the Ottoman empire lost more and more of their land to the European Powers. In 1918, after losing World War One, the last Sultan was a puppet of the victorious Allies, sitting in French and British occupied Istanbul. The Allies were encouraging a Greek Army that was rampaging through Anatolia, the Turkish heartland. This is where Ataturk comes in. He set up a new capital in the ancient city of Ankara. He kicked the Greeks out of his country and forced the Western powers to negotiate on his terms. He dethroned the last Sultan, and he set his country free.
To be sure, Turkey has been pushed around by the US over the past 70 years. But it has been pushed around the same way that France or the United Kingdom has been pushed around. It has been a US ally, not a US possession. There were a succession of military coups, but democracy came back stronger each time. The failed coup of July 2016 showed that the generals have finally been beaten for good. Erdogan may want to distance himself from Turkey’s founder, but it’s Ataturk’s legacy that made Turkey independent. Religion has already re-asserted itself in Turkey, and the secular republic has survived. Turkey’s religious backlash has already reached its high water mark, as I explained in an earlier video. ATATURK BUILT A SYSTEM THAT COULD EVOLVE Ataturk gave Turkey the independence necessary to chart its own course democratically.
Iran’s shah could not have been more different from Ataturk. His rule was established by foreign powers, not once but twice. The Russians and the British booted his father out of power and installed him in 1941. When Iran’s parliament acted against Western interests, the US organized a coup to give him more power in 1953. The Shah’s secular regime mercilessly crushed all dissent from 1953 to 1979. Tens of Thousands were killed. The Shah ruled absolutely and built up incredible pressure and anger within Iranian society.
The inevitable explosion finally happened in 1979. The revolution eventually became religious, but it was just as much about freeing the country from US control and getting rid of a repressive ruler as it was about religion. Iranian democracy today may be flawed, and controlled by religious fanatics, but it’s much, much stronger than it was under the Shah.
Turkey has been able to chart its own course since the founding of the Republic in 1923. Iran has only had that power since 1979. Iran’s profoundly odd system only came about because of decades of anger at Western control, and because of the pressures that Western powers placed on Iran after its revolution.
Turkey is currently going through a difficult time, and it’s democracy is very, very far from perfect. But Turkish democracy exists. The pressures necessary to start an Iranian-style theocracy simply don’t exist. And that’s why Turkey will never be Iran.
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