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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Religion, Politics and the Politics of Religion in Turkey (I)


This article is primarily concerned in a power struggle within Turkey for over the last 80 years, leaving aside a much longer one of 200 years. Working on religion, politics and politics of religion anywhere involves varies parties as the state, the society, and the individual of the political body of that given country. In order to try to understand the state-religion relationship in Turkey, I suggest that Presidency of Religious Affairs / Diyanet

İşleri Başkanlığı should be scrutinized as an initial step. Within the Turkish society, there have been existing an increasing friction between two groups that may roughly be defined as laicists1 and Islamists2 during the whole republican era ongoing since 1923, but has become more visible especially in the 1990’s. In this article, I will be debating on the basic and crucial questions, as I perceive it, ‘what is a capacitated democracy and how to achieve it?’ in the context of law and politics in Turkey. Actually, in order to evolve my argument, I will initially be focusing on the development of the relations among the state, the groups in society, and religion in the Republic of Turkey. Then, I will be discussing the need and possibility of a mutually acceptable ground for a peaceful coexistence in this country. Obviously my preference to work on the last 80 years instead of the 200 year span of the phenomenon stems out of my acceptance of the republican times to be a more visible stage of the above mentioned contestation.

The argument I put forward in this essay runs as follows:

a) Initial consideration for laicist policies and legislation of the republican decision making elite were to alter not only the supra-structure of Turkey towards a modern/Western body as their predecessors in the late Ottoman times, but also to transform the whole Turkish society into a modern one. Traditional belief appeared there as a threat for this seemingly ambitious project of modernity. Therefore, the  
Republic of Turkey’s founding elite implemented policies to remove religion from the public realm and reduce it to a matter of faith and practice of the individual, so that the principle of freedom of religion was to protect "individualised religion" only. In fact, many of the strongest supporters of laicism consider themselves religious, and would be offended to be perceived as atheists and/or agnostics etc.
b) Such policies found quite a many devoted followers in society; however yet another part of the society preferred to remain faithful to their traditional beliefs. Also, political Islam, a modern ideology rooted in nineteenth century, has been more and more visible in the political arena in Turkey especially in the last decades. Thus, in more than eighty years, divisions became even deeper in Turkey's political and social   body. However this has was not a ‘revival’3
as many scholars in the field claim as, it has always been a part of the Turkish social body, but has grown in the last decades in parallel with the worldwide resurgence of religion. It is obvious that the internal policies of the 80’s in Turkey also triggered the escalating conservatism.

A Story of the State and Religion in Turkey: " Diyanet"
Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı (Presidency of Religious Affairs- hereinafter Diyanet) is a secular administrative unit in the Republic of Turkey established in 1924 to execute services regarding Islamic faith and practices. It was designed to enlighten society on the topic of religion as well as carry out the management of places of prayer. In order to explore politics of religion in Turkey, Diyanet is, as I see it, a fruitful case study to make. Thus one of the concerns of this article is to focus on the tensions between its services and the processes of securing secularism in Turkey. This complexity led me to reflect on the representation of the construction (and deconstruction) of Turkish 'modernity' and of 'state and religion'. In order to develop my argument, initially I focus on the legal and bureaucratic structure of the Presidency of Religious Affairs. Here I should clear up an issue first: Translations used for Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı vary in literature, including terms as Department of the Affairs of Piety, Directorate-General of Religious Affairs, General Directorate of Religious Affairs, Religious Affairs Department, Directorate of Religious Affairs, and Religious Affairs Directorate. For the English term I prefer to use "The Presidency of Religious Affairs", since the Administration uses this term officially. 
Within the context of the worldwide resurgence of religion, Turkey constitutes a sociologically illuminating and theoretically challenging case. To vest sovereignty fully and unconditionally in the nation of the new born state of Turkey founded in 1923, indicated a new political choice of a modernization project that was based on secularism and the nation-state. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, the state elite, through a series of legal regulations, tried to secure secularism. One of the most important legal tools in this context was the Act dated 3
rdMarch 1340 (1924) no. 429 on the Abolishment of The Ministries of Seriyye (Religious Affairs) and Evkaf (Pious Foundations). The new legislation preferred to place the management of religious affairs in the hands of an administrative bureau, not to a ministry in the cabinet. This was a key part of the overall policy of the founding political decision-making elite of Turkey who wanted to establish a strictly secular state and to transform society into a modern one. They did not want to have a unit within the cabinet dealing with religious affairs. Instead, by assigning religious affairs to an administrative unit, the ruling elite both took religion under their control and at the same time managed to break the potentially sacred significance of the Diyanet.
The first article of Act no. 429 states that, ‘In the Republic of Turkey, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the Cabinet which is formed by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey are responsible for the legislation and execution of provisions concerning the affairs of people; and the Presidency of Religious Affairs will be formed as a part of the Republic for the implementation of all provisions concerning faith and prayer of the religion of Islam, and the administration of religious organizations’. This is a reflection of Kemalist laicité which may be indicated to be similar to the French one with a  
Bureau des Cultes 4within their Ministry of the Interior. With this regulation, religious affairs concerning faith and prayer were made the concern of the Diyanet, and all other areas of interest were considered to be under the legislative power of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, thus sharia as a legal system was abolished.
As per this enactment, in the hierarchal order of the Turkish administrative system, the Diyanet was put under the auspices of the Prime Ministry. The President of Religious Affairs was appointed by the President upon the proposal of the Prime Minister. In this Act, the organizational structure of the Presidency and positions under it were not specified except by the provision that ‘the place where muftis would refer to is the Presidency of Religious Affairs.’ Legal regulations concerning the administrative structure of the
Diyanet organization in this period can be found in the ‘Budget of the Presidency of Religious Affairs’, which was a part of the annual Budget Act.
The administrative structure of the central and provincial organizations of the  
Diyanet was first stated in the 1927 Budget Act. In the ‘Permanent Positions Table’ attached to the Act dated 30th June 1929 no. 1452 on the unification and equation of the salaries of civil servants, which was published in the Official Gazette and went into effect on 30th June 1929, the permanent positions of the Diyanet got stated for the first time, and as per the Article 2 of the said law, this table was considered the organizational law for the Diyanet until a new law was made in 1935. With this regulation, the claims made during the previous meetings of the Assembly, namely, that there was a lack of legal basis, were rendered invalid. Since the management and personnel (hademe) of all mosques and prayer rooms were transferred to the Presidency-General for Foundations by June 1931 with the 1931 fiscal year budget law of the Presidency-General for Foundations, adopted on 8th June 1931 and published in the Official Gazette on 13thJune 1931, the personnel of the Presidency of Religious Institutions and Presidency of Supplies which had been under the central organization of the Presidency of Religious Affairs were transferred with their posts to the Presidency-General for Foundations. Thus the powers of the Presidency of Religious Affairs were considerably reduced. Furthermore, article 7 of the Act stated that mosques and prayer rooms would be classified according to ‘real needs’, and duties that could be combined would be specified in order to determine new positions, so that the personnel were also reduced. Despite all these changes, the legal regulation was passed in the Assembly without any objection. The annulment of article 5 of the Act no. 429, which was inconsistent with the said law, was clearly stated by the Grand National Assembly decision on 4 January 1932.
Act No. 2800 on The Organization and Duties of Religious Affairs that was passed on 14 th June 1935, and published in the Official Gazette on 22nd June 1935, is the first organizational enactment of the Presidency of Religious Affairs. But, more importantly, Act no. 5634 came into effect on the 29th April 1950 after the passing of a draft bill (dated 7th March 1950) on 23rd March 1950, towards the end of the Republican People’s Party government. Thus the Günaltay5   Cabinet changed considerably the organization of religious
affairs. This law is a reflection of a religiously different climate of the late 1940s that affected the 7th Republican People’s Party Assembly in 1947. This change in climate can be observed also in speeches made by various deputies during the debates on this law, in which they stated that they were pleased by the positive changes in religious organization and in the status of relevant individuals.

6The difference in attitudes observed in these proceedings compared to previous related laws is especially interesting. Previous debates were generally just votings on the proposed regulations; whereas now serious debates were held. Also, the statement that took place in the preamble of the Act no. 5634 as, ‘the necessity and need reflected by continuous requests by members in party congresses’ was yet another indication of the same change in climate that was decidedly more sensitive to religious issues. By this legislation, the name ‘Reislik’ was changed to the name ‘Başkanlık’ which reflected a change in the use of the Turkish language (Reis is the Ottoman equivalent of ‘president’, whereas ‘başkan’ is modern Turkish) and several new units were created within the organization. Moreover, the management of mosques and prayer rooms and mosque personnel which had been transferred to the Presidency General for Foundations by the 1931 Budget Act was given back to the Diyanet in 1950.
The organizational and personnel structure of the Diyanet, introduced in 1950 by Act no. 5634, was preserved until 1965. The draft bill related to the organization proposed to the Grand Assembly of Turkey after the adoption of the 1961 Constitution was accepted and enacted after lengthy debates on 22 June 1965. The Act no. 633 on the Organization and Duties of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which was published in the Official Gazette on 2 July 1965 and came into effect on 15 August 1965, was in my view a sign of a different mentality compared to that of the founding elite. In this regulation the duties of the Presidency of Religious Affairs were stated as ‘to carry out affairs related to the beliefs, prayers and moral foundations of Islam, to enlighten society about religion and to manage places of prayer.’ To create an administrative body to offer services to meet the general, daily needs of practicing Islam may be justifiable as ‘public service’ where about 95% of the population

belongs to Islam; however to assign to this organization a function such as ‘to carry out affairs related to moral foundations’ whose content is legally ambiguous, indicates that the state preferred to use the organization as an ideological tool in a manner different from the original intent of the founding elite. Such a wording in an issue as political as the regulation of religion in a secular state reveals that the state's choice of propagating and protecting a particular religion is completely incompatible with the notion of a secular state. However one may assume that the legislators of the 1960 Constitution aimed to correct the Kemalist mistake of not adequately recognising the role of Islam in the formation of the Turkish individuals’ identity.
After the 1965 enactment, most legal regulations regarding religious affairs took the form of governmental decrees. Since both in the Constitutions of 1961 and 1982 it is stated that the organization shall be regulated by laws, this practice is obviously against the law. However in 1975, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey enacted a new law that altered the existing system regarding religious affairs to a large extent. New legislation titled Act no. 1893 was sent to the President for ratification on 6 May 1975, but President Korutürk, who was then in office, sent the legislation back to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to be reviewed again, in accordance with Article 93 of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic. During the revision of law No. 1893 in the Assembly, some fundamental changes were made on articles other than the ones that had led the President to return the law. In accordance with constitutional procedures in regards to legislative activities that did not require the President’s approval for a second round, the Assembly enacted the regulations as an Act dated 26th April 1976 No. 1982, and sent it to the Presidency on 30th April 1976 to be published. However this enactment was considered by the Presidency to be a new law because of the changes beyond the scope of the stated reasons for the rejection of Act No. 1893, and it was therefore sent back to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 7th May 1976 to be reviewed again. Upon rejection of this demand, the President filed a case against Act No. 1882 by claiming that the procedure was not constitutional, and the Constitutional Court decided that the enactment was "incompatible with the Constitution in form" on 30th April 1979. This Constitutional Court decision was published in the Official Gazette on 11th May 1980, with the requirement that it should be revised one year later. However, neither on this date nor later, was any legal regulation enacted except that, as explained above, the legal domain was regulated by cabinet decrees and other administrative regulations.7

Since there is still no change regarding legislation, a question to be asked is whether the provisions of Act No. 633 are in effect once again. This problem is solved by two decisions of the Council of State. A Third Chamber of the Council of State decision provides that a previous Act does not come into effect automatically, because the duty and authority of enacting and amending laws belong exclusively to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the decisions of the Constitutional Court are not retroactive.

8The General Board of the Council of State ratified this decision by decision E.1971/22, K.1971/36 and dated 24th May 1971.9Thus, it cannot be claimed that after the annulment of Act No. 1982 came into effect, Act No. 633 would come into effect. In short, Diyanet can be defined as a legal oddity, which continues to exist as a very powerful administrative unit despite its lack of a technically legal basis.
The absence of a clergy in Islam -unlike Christianity with its church system- is one of the most important facts legitimizing the state’s intervention in religion categorizing it as a public service. Considering that public services can be defined as an activity managed by public legal entities or by private entities supervised by the state for the purpose of meeting a shared and general need which has acquired a certain importance for the people, the state’s involvement in religious affairs is generally accepted in this context as something that does not conflict with secularist principles. An assessment of the duties of the
Diyanet in this context reveals that duties such as ‘the management of places of prayer’ and ‘providing correct publications of the Koran’ are indeed public services fulfilling a collective need. However, the state makes use of the Diyanet as an administrative tool to propagate official ideology regarding Islam while fulfilling duties like "enlightening society about religion" and "religious education". An interesting point here is the differing policies of administrations over time from being strictly positivistic to somewhat religious.
The principle of equality, construed and applied as ‘equality in blessings and burden’ by the Turkish Constitutional Court, requires that all persons eligible for a public service should be able to benefit from such service in a free and equitable manner. The first problem that arises when the subject of public service is religion is that the state is focused on a single religion rather than on services including all religions in the territory. However as concerns
our present subject matter, this problem is relatively easy to deal with, because Islam is the religion of the majority of the people and services related to other religions are provided by the respective communities according to the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty. However, a problem emerges in services to be offered to different Muslim groups having different beliefs.
It has been observed that the religious belief promoted by the State is closer to the Sunnite tradition and that the

Diyanet and its officers or spokespersons have sometimes tended to display hostility towards Alevi and Shiite citizens. A draft law prepared in 1963 for defining the organization and duties of the Diyanet proposed the establishment of a "Presidency of Religious Sects." This proposal, however, was criticized on the grounds that it could "pave the way for official separation" and was never implemented.


Diyanet claims that Alevis and Sunnites are not subject to discrimination because, except for certain local customs and beliefs, there are no differences between these two sects regarding basic religious issues hence this indicates a denial of a separate ‘Alevi’ religious identity. The fact that Sunnites constitute the majority apparently appears to be justifiable to Turkish republican laic elite, as the state disregards other sects. The Diyanet pretending to be unaware of the religious belief of the Alevi population, and its building of mosques in Alevi villages, is a pressure exerted by the state to implant the Sunnite belief in this section of society.10
The existing legal structure provides a dual nature to the Diyanet. On one hand, religious life is being controlled by the secular state. This is assumed in so far as the Presidency is directed by managers loyal to the secular state. However, the extensive network of the Diyanet all over the country, which no other administrative body enjoys, is a great opportunity for all governments to perform power, regardless of their political positions. thus the Diyanet as an administrative organism may indirectly obtain power over the government. However paradoxically, in this context, the state employs in Turkey the Diyanet against religion and its influence on the socio-political level.


İştar B. Gözaydın

1 I use the term laicists for ones that prefer the state’s control of religion as opposed to secularism which implies the separation of state and religion. As Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh point out, "The longstanding French policy of laicité exemplifies … desire to restrict, if not eliminate, clerical and religious influence, over the state. The French Parliament’s ban in 2004 of conspicuous religious clothing and insignia in public schools – aimed at the wearing of Muslim headscarves- illustrates this suspicion of religion and is an attempt to avert the growth and influence of an incipient Muslim fundamentalism in that nation. The modern Islamic society of Turkey is similarly an example of a state founded on strongly secular principles where restrictions on individual religious liberty have been introduced to prevent pressure being exerted by the predominant religious group" (Ahdar & Leigh, 2005: 73). For a comprehensive argumentation on the terms laic and secular, and their derivatives, see Davison, 2003. I totally agree with Davison in his arguments, thus I prefer to use the term ‘laicist’ for republican state practice in Turkey. Furthermore, laiklik (laicité) is the concept that is preferred by the Republican decision-making elite of turkey in all legislations and other legal regulations.
2 Islamists are typically defined as those who advocate the shari’a (Islamic law derived from the Qur’an) as basis for a system of government. In order to be consistent, an Islamist has to prefer the shari’a. However, in Turkey, the term also encompasses a group that prefer more religious references in daily life like according dressing codes, rituals etc., but not necessarily a shariatic order. A survey dated May-June 2006 indicates that in Turkey a majority in Turkey define themselves as Islamist (48.4%), as opposed to laicist (20.3%). (www.tesev.org.tr/etkinlik/Presentasyon-2006.pdf)
3 For some such usage see, Esposito (1985); Davison (1998); Howe (2000: 7, 8, 15, 305); Kramer (2000:55-84); Karpat (2001: 527); Nachmani (2003: 90). I assert that ‘revival’ may limitedly be used for the revitalizations of the religious orders (see Mardin, 1989: 149) in the 19th century that was part of emergence of political Islam which in fact was completely a modern ideology. (see Türköne, 1991)
4For an interesting argument on this "central office of organized religions" see. Bowen (2007) 22-28.
5founder of the "six pillars (republicanism, nationalism, laicism, popularism, statism, reformism)" of the republican Turkey. In 1914 Günaltay became a professor of Turkish history and Islamic nations at Darülfünun/ Faculty of Letters, and then got appointed as the dean of the Divinity School. He got into politics in 1915 as a member of the Parliament. He took posts in the Anatolian Movement. He was in the Parliament again from 1923 to 1954 as a member. He got appointed as the prime minister on January 16, 1949. His cabinet was in power until May 22, 1950, when the Democrat Party got a vast majority of the votes in the elections. He published very many books on Islam and politics, appearing to be bringing together a republican approach with religious sensitivities.
6 For speeches by the Seyhan deputy Sinan Tekelioğlu and the Erzurum deputy Vehbi Kocagüney see TBMM Zabıt Ceridesi (GNA proceedings) VII, 25 (1950), 838.
Şemsettin Günaltay (1883-1961), Turkish prime minister from 1949 to 1950 was a graduate of Lausanne University, Faculty of Natural Sciences. In 1900’s he started working on the Turkish history, under the influence of Ziya Gökalp, a prominent sociologist, that he met in those years. Gökalp was the theoretical

7 Actually, this currently remains to be one of the wonders of the Turkish socio-political system, especially from a legal anthropological point. On a purely legalistic ground, it is not easy at all to perceive how any 
administrative unit remains technically without proper regulations for over 35 years, let alone one concerning a very sensitive issue like religion that all interested parties seem to be totally obsessed with. I believe that a thorough survey on the legal mentality of the decision-making elite in Turkey would be very interesting and useful in trying to understand the politics in this country.

8 State Council Third Department, E. 1970/444, K. 1971/10, T. 9 January 1971. Danıştay Dergisi (State Council Journal), 4 (1972) 69-70.
9 For this decision see Danıştay Dergisi (State Council Journal), 4 (1972) 71-75.



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