This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Turkish voters approved a slew of 18 constitutional amendments on Sunday by a tight margin of 51.37 percent in favor to 48.63 percent against (with 99.45 percent of ballots counted). This is the last thing the founder of that nation would have wanted.
The Republic of Turkey has favored the West and democracy since it arose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Turkey's founder, the World War I hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, made the Republic of Turkey in Europe's image. In doing so, he closed Islamic courts in favor of civic law. He changed the alphabet, replacing Arabic script with Latin letters. Despite having a predominately Sunni Muslim populace, he even pursued secularism along the lines of the French concept of laïcité, passing laws against religious based clothing (yes, including the veil) and encouraged Western dress.
The Turkish military has maintained Atatürk's vision since then. Any attempt by an elected official to establish a dictatorship has been met with a swift military coup. This happened in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.
But last year was different. The Turkish military tried to depose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; it failed. He slipped past them and rallied his supporters to fight against the military. Armed with emergency powers as a result of the coup, he has continued to move Turkey further away from Atatürk's vision and closer to what many of his detractors fear is a vision of an Islamist government. Now, with the passage of these 18 amendments on Sunday, Erdogan holds various executive, legislative and judicial powers. This undermines the "checks and balances" so vital to democracy.
Logically then, these new presidential powers may very well mean dictatorship. Further, Erdogan is discussing policy that would end any future possibility of Turkey entering the European Union (such as reviving the death penalty). Indeed, this vote may well mean a further cooling of relations with the West and the destruction of Turkish democracy at the same time. This is also unfortunate for the U.S., considering that Turkey, a NATO ally, has two neighbors in which the U.S. has significant interest: Syria, where civil war continues to rage, and Russia, where relationships are arguably at its lowest point since the Cold War.
We will have to wait and see the full ramifications of these amendments both on Turkey and indirectly on the United States. But it is hard to envision an outcome where the "yes" vote does not significantly injure Turkish democracy and potentially its relations with the West, specifically the EU, NATO and the U.S. In short, this vote was the last thing Atatürk would have wanted.
Gregory Richard Jackson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of integrated studies at Utah Valley University. He specializes in contemporary Europe and the Middle East.