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Secularism, Islamism, Democracy: The Future of U.S. - Turkish Relations

Recorded on July 12, 2007

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

The forthcoming July 22 elections highlight the fateful juncture the Turkish state and nation are facing.  Until the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took over in 2001, Turkey was emphatically a secular state.  According to the Turkish Constitution, religion should have absolutely no legal or political influence.  The military as well is charged with defending the secular state.  The question arises whether the intensifying clash between secularists and Islamists has placed Turkey on a path that may undermine its Constitutional foundation laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.  After Prime Minister Erdogan nominated his close associate Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to the presidency - a role reserved for the guardian of the secular order - there have been million-strong public protests with the military hinting at intervention.  In addition, the tensions between the Turkish government and the Kurds, resulting in the recent Turkish military buildup on the border of northern Iraq, are escalating.

How will Turkey emerge from this crisis?  Will the July 22 vote indicate an affirmation of secularism or a turn to Islamism?  How will this election affect the delicate relationship between Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq?  Most important, how will these internal political factors affect strategic U.S.-Turkish relations, both bilaterally and regionally?