The 89th observance of Turkey's founding as a republic was marked this week by two startling events: one very concrete, the other symbolic.
On the streets of Ankara, thousands of marchers who gathered to celebrate Republic Day were hit with water cannon by police trying to break up the rally. The event had been cancelled for unspecified "security" reasons by the Islamist government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Meanwhile, at the traditional Republic Day reception for government officials, military brass – long the staunch defenders of the secularist vision of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – stood for the first time alongside women wearing Islamic head scarves.
In the New York Times, Tim Arango notes the deep significance of the two events:
At a time when Turkey’s prosperity and its melding of democratic and Islamic values are being put forward as a model for an Arab world in turmoil, the country is facing its own internal power struggles — between Islamists and secularists, civilian leaders and military commanders. The outcome could not only determine the future of Turkey but, as it takes on a greater role in the affairs of the Middle East, also shape the region.
As the military continues to lose standing in Turkish politics, many secularists are increasingly worried by the growth of religion in public life and at what they see as the government's willingness to abandon the principles at the root of Turkish politics since 1923.
Source: New York Times