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Atheism in Turkey

Sunday 25 September 2016, by siawi3

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]


An interview with Semih Core, représentant de l’Association Athéiste Turque.

September 2016.

- Could you please explain us the history of your group ?

Groups of atheists have begun to organize from social media when internet prohibitions had started and famous pianist Fazıl Say standed trial from “Turkish Penal Code(TCK) 216 ” which is “Encouraging one segment of society to hate and hostility against another segment having different social class, race, religion and sect, humiliating them, humiliating the religious values of a segment of society”. And we thought “lets sell snails in the muslim neigbourhood”.
These groups of atheists tried a few times to commence an organisation but they failed because of political or members issues.
And then, Atheism Association has officially opened in 14 April 2014 and we succeded because of the members’ apolitical additudes.

- What are your main activities ?

Actually, our premier intention fight against to “Turkish Penal Code 216” because of this code works for only muslims, and fight against to forced religion lessons in primary and high schools, and introduce true Atheism. Maybe somes think it’s an missionary but it’s not because when you want learn Christinary, you consult to churches, or, mosques of the islam but when you type atheism to google, you can only find some kind of islamists comments with hatret in Turkish websites.
We try to chance society’s perception against Atheism, against atheist person and because of this wrong perception, atheists became lonely more than ever, so, we organize meetings to be medicine for them separate and lonely lives.
We organise academic events like seminars and semposiums for increase society’s consciousness level about science, religion, philosophy, pedagogy, secularism and human rights.
We did in the name of “Evolution and Atheism Semposium in Turkey” after 2 months officially opened.
We organize 8 session “Philosophy School” in Bosphorus University and after demands of this issues, we have organized philosopy events once in a month..
Now we are planning to organise events about pedagogy, laws and science.
And we have a lots of invitations other events like “Living Library” which is like you pretend a book, people ask you questions and you answer them with your opinions for break the prejudices. And Istanbul University’s Theology Faculty invited us for illuminate students about Atheism and many more…

- Is your group based only in Istanbul or in other cities ?

Yes, our group İstanbul based but we have lots of members and supporters out of Istanbul and out of Turkey.

- Is there different generations in your group ?

Yes, we have minimum 18 years old members and maybe more less supporters till the seventies.

- Did you wrote a manifesto to present your organization ?

Yes we have in our website, and here is the link

- Are you linked to one of the international atheist/humanist organization ?

Yes, we are member of Atheist Allience, CFI, IBKA, Secular Policy Institut, Recovery From Religion and Richard Dawkins Foundation.

- What are the main lessons you have drawn for your organizational experience so far ?
As my personal experience, There was really need to this organisation. I have found so much opportunities to meet people so many times who really need to be understood like themselves.
…and as my organisational experience, I’m going to repeat but there was really need this organisation because Atheism Association remind some people who don’t know personal limits.

First, we’d like to ask you some questions about kemalism and its legacy

- Few people in Europe know that kemalism promoted a secularization from above, very radical ( adoption of the latin script, replacement of the Islamic Friday with the western week-end, right to vote for women and the adoption of a modern civil code based on the swiss model) but authoritarian and sometime very violent ( during the revolt against the banning from the fez and more generally during the 20’s). What do you think from this first kemalist period and the modernization it brought ?

It’s an illumination of the country that I say. Every revolution started with revolt, we can give an exemple borning of secularism in France. There was always some people who is against to new rules in every society, even if this rules better than old ones.. Yes, in 20’s, it was hard times, but if you examine 60’s or 70’s of Turkey, you can’t even compare with todays.. Secularism is about to lost nowadays and the society is corrupted in the hand of religious governances after 80’s. And if situations is going to forward this way, we can’t even going to talk about international human rights after 10 or 15 years.. Wrong administration, education and maybe economic policies of these governances caused to rise uneducated generations and maybe the worst thing today, they legalize being uneducated. We don’t give institutional comments in political topics but in my opinion, because of all wrong governance policies, now we are steering by group of ignorant people…

- Kemal is known to have said : « This is Islam, an absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, a rotting corpse which poisons our lives. » We don’t know if it’s really true but anyway hadn’t he to be radical in this secularization process because he wanted to get rid off the sultanate and the muslim clergy who played a prominent role in it ? So couldn’t we say that secularization has always been also used as a pretext by the military to justify their rule and putsches in the 20 th century ?
(C.F also : the very frequent use by Erdogan of the so-called martyrdom of the « pious » by Turkey’s erstwhile secular elites )

Some people says “Ataturk was the believer” and others says “no”. In my opinion, I don’t know and I don’t care. I guess he was deist but because of his politician identity he was acting like a believer and sometimes non-theist. I’m interested in just what he did. He bring secularism, he bring westernisation, revolution of education and woman rights.. I have never been describe myself as a Kemalist, not defended everything what he did, but if there is a country in the name of Turkey which is constitutional secular, all turkish man and woman owe it to Ataturk and I say these as an unnationalist and antimilitarist. 20’s was hard times, maybe he was wrong or maybe he did what he had to done. He fought against reactionary islamists and today I can describe myself as an atheist and homosexual because of him, I can’t imagine how it’s supposed to be if there is no Ataturk.

- In april, the fact that Turkey is the only muslim country to proclaim to be secular in its constitution has been attacked by the AKP. Do you think they’ll try again to suppress this kemalist legacy ?

As I say before, we don’t comment with the name of association on the topics of political parties but in my opinion, present government is the best than ever about use religion and nationalism issues as a tool for keep some part of society under control. Because this issues have always been red lines in Turkish society. Nowadays, this part of society’s acting like under hypnose and can’t see what is AKP is doing even they are not acting in secret.

Then about Erdogan and its system

- It’s often said here that the AKP express the interests of the « green bourgeoisie » that is economically emerging and taking its revenge against the old secular elite. What is your point of view on this analysis ? Otherwise how could you describe the social basis of the AKP ?

I can justify you, your point of view maybe partly true. In Turkey, most of muslim people are uneducated, and in the past, being an uneducated was a little disgrace in the society, at least, people was showing respect to intellectual and secular part of society, after 80’s this situation is chanced, thus, all of us still remember Madımak Massacre. In that point, AKP government’s biggest action is legalize being uneducated. Forced people to get out where they hiding, forced them to leave them humble lives and that society begun to proud with their nescience, and forced to other people them culture. Nowadays, you can see them at work, city centers, seasides, public transports, all part of life. But the problem is, they don’t respect any kind of people, even themselves. Forces everybody to live with Islamic and twisted Turkish culture but they don’t know what is true or what is wrong. I guess, they decide to things with them instincts, not with logic.

- Is often difficult to understand why the AKP is « at war » against its former ally the Gulen « brotherhood » and what role those « brotherhoods » effectively play in actual Turkey. Could you explain us ( as far as it is possible of course !) ?

The secular part of Turkish society have always warned believers about this Gulen Brotherhood as a dangerous but nobody listened. Yet, they insulted who claim dangerous that brotherhood. I guess they were co-operate what are they doing but now, they hate each other or they reflect us like this. Actually, everybody is waiting, it’s just matter of time what’s going on to understand. There is so many theory that the people are talking with each other, I don’t know which one is true, some of them so absurd, some of them so logical, we going to claim what’s going on with rest of the world.. 

- Is the islamization but also the« Ottomanization » or « ottamania", promoted by Erdogan really gaining ground in the country ? One author, Volkan Erit (« The Age of Anxious Conservatives: Turkey, That Moves Away From Religion" ) seems to say the contrary, what do you think about that ? What are already the consequences for women and LGBT people ?

In my opinion, Volkan Erit was wrong, I don’t know that he is living which Republic of Turkey. Is there any Turkey which is still prospects promising for the brilliant future that we still couldn’t claim? I don’t think so.
There is a newborn political party which is opened a few days ago. They called themselves “The Ottoman Party” and the slogan is “nothing is going to be like old days”. What are they intending when saying “old days”? I’m pretty sure “Republic days”. Some member of parliament said “ The advertising break which is ongoing 90 years is going to be over” a few times. (There is 93 years passed after the declaration of Republic of Turkey) And the first days of AKP’s, Erdogan said “If democracy is a train, we know when we going to detrain from this train” Would you still be optimist after these kind of speeches? Obviously, we are not.
I think the secular part of Turkish society’s main problem is organising themselves. They have so much opinion, every person have different opinion and in this idea kaos, they don’t know what to do. Yes, lots of idea is good but everybody dictating own ideas, think about others are totally wrong. If they can see common points instead of differences, maybe they can be organised and do something.

And finally

- How do you see the future of your activities in the very difficult period your country is actually living ? Do you fear more repression ?

Our future activites are going to be more aggressive more than ever. We have international contacts more than ever and it’s give us power to fight against dark brains. Yes we feel a little respression but it’s not give us fear. We are feeling more responsible to tell them people true.