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Secularism Under Attack In Turkey, Asking The Hard Question

Istanbul's Galata bridge
Istanbul's Galata bridge
Ozgur Mumcu


ISTANBUL — Parliament leader Ismail Kahraman said Turkey's new constitution should be based on religion, not ideals of secularism. Needless to say, this created a fuss. And yet, it is no secret what Mr. Kahraman thinks. The Unity Foundation, of which the parliament head is a founder, had a committee that proposed a draft of a new Turkish constitution.

It begins like this:

"We accept this constitution with the wish that the Great Allah protects our state forever ..."

The issue was written about in the media — this column included — during last year's election to pick a new head of parliament. It did not, however, attract much attention during what was eventually a chaotic process. The opposition was incredibly blind to this warning, and ended up gifting the chair to Kahraman by failing to agree on a joint candidate.

Such a stance can hardly be a surprise now, coming from a man who has spent all his life as an Islamist, had roots in far-right associations and did little to hide his intentions about the constitution.

It is well known that Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan wants a new constitution that would change the government system from parliamentary to presidential. Kahraman was obviously selected as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate for the parliament chair in order to make this change easier. The lack of foresight displayed in that election is unforgivable.

Still, let us write it in this column for the fourth time, lest people forget again: Ismail Kahraman does not only think secularism should be abandoned in the constitution, he also believes that it's not necessary to get 330 votes from parliamentary deputies to change the constitution, because one does not need to heed the rules of the current constitution when writing a new one.

Allies of convenience

The draft document he helped prepare with the committee includes the following statement: "The constitutional commission must be able to re-determine the procedure for the approval of the articles." What does this mean? It means that the parliament head believes the AKP majority in the parliament is sufficient for changing the constitution.

Debates will begin to rage across Turkey about the risk that "there is no secularism left in the country." But let us not care too much about abstract statements, and ask the even bigger question: What is the goal of adding references to religion in the new constitution? Just exactly what legal actions or administrative regulations will be prevented? What is the ultimate motivation for removing secularism and separation of religion and state? This is the debate we must be having.

Some of the nationalists who support Erdogan's AKP because they fight against the Gülen movement and the Kurdish PKK may consider a little Islamization is good while the borders in the Middle East are being redrawn. But they should think twice, and remember what has happened to those who had bet in the past on the convenience of becoming allies with the AKP.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Russian Orthodox Church Has A Kremlin Spy Network — And Now It's Spreading Abroad

The Russian Orthodox Church has long supported Russia’s ongoing war effort in Ukraine. Now, clergy members in other countries are suspected of collaborating with and recruiting for Russian security forces.

Photo of Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Wiktoria Bielaszyn

WARSAW — Several countries have accused members of the Russian Orthodox clergy of collaborating with Russian security services, pushing Kremlin policy inside the church and even recruiting spies from within.

On Sept. 21, Bulgaria deported Russian Archimandrite Vassian, guardian of the Orthodox parish in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. In a press release, the Bulgarian national security agency says that clergy were deported because they posed a threat to national security. "The measures were taken due to their actions against the security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria," Bulgarian authorities wrote in a statement, according to Radio Svoboda.

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These reports were also confirmed by Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, who told Russian state news agency TASS that the priests must leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. “After being declared persona non grata, Wassian and the other two clerics were taken home under police supervision to pack up their belongings. Then they will be taken to the border with Serbia" she said.

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