Erdogan’s Target in Hagia Sophia Stunt was Ataturk’s Legacy

So much so that Erdogan, who once insulted Atatürk as a "drunk," has since then felt the need to pay respects, albeit tactically. The ongoing battle between Turkey's two longest-serving presidents, separated by more than seven decades, will impact not only on the prospects for secular democracy in Turkey but also in other majority Muslim polities.

For over four decades, first as a youth wing member of an Islamist party in the 1970s, then as the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998, then as prime minister between 2003 and 2014, and finally as president since then, Erdogan has pursued his dream of dismantling Atatürk's secular republican legacy.

On the one hand, Erdogan has overseen an ambitious social engineering project, using all instruments of the state, namely the 140,000-strong Directorate of Religious Affairs, compulsory religious education in schools, and sectarian indoctrination in state-run media, to mould what he has described as a "pious generation."

On the other hand, he has worked meticulously to erase Atatürk's legacy, whether it is secular reforms or institutions. Erdogan has gone so far as to tear down dozens of public structures around the country, from stadiums to airports, that monumentalized Atatürk's name.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1928. Photo: Wikipedia commons/Presidency of the Republic of Turkey

By 2015, Erdogan's increasing consolidation of power emboldened one of his lawmakers to declare the end of a "90-year commercial break with the 600-year [Ottoman] empire." This was a reference to Turkey's republican era as an interval in the Ottoman caliphate that Erdogan would presumably restore.

To the president's disappointment, however, under his rule, the young have grown less religious and more anti...

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