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The Major Turkish - American Relationships Conference at the Stevens Institute of Technology -
May 13 - 14, 2004


Turkey is now in the midst of its third revolution

Presentation by Stephen KINZER

Photographs by Marta CURRY

For Turkish>>>

What is happening in Turkey today is more important than what is happening
almost anywhere else in the world. 2004 is the most important year in the Turkish history since 1923. Turkey is now in the midst of its third revolution.

The Ataturk revolution created modern Turkey, but none of the great reforms that Ataturk imposed would have been possible had there been a democratic system or referendums in Turkey. We all know this -- the reforms had to be imposed from the top.

The second revolution in Turkey was the one directed by Turgut Ozal. That revolution was, I think, more popular.  The people of Turkey wanted to open doors and windows that had been closed for too long, and that is what Ozal helped them do.  But there was also resistance to the Ozal revolution.  Some Turks didn't want to compete economically with the rest of the world.  Part of the political class was also a bit fearful.  Ozal broke a lot of taboos, such as when he said in a speech that there are Kurds in Turkey and then added, "In fact, my mother is one of them."  Most people in the audience had never heard such a thing in Turkey.

Ataturk turned slaves into individuals

Ataturk turned slaves into individuals.  Ozal opened the economy.  Now we
are in the midst of a third revolution. How did it come about, and what does it consists of?

We all know that young people in Turkey for generations have been indoctrinated with Kemalist ideals.  These are the ideals of westernization, secularism, and what Atatuk called "universal values" -- what we today call human rights and individual freedom.

Something very profound happened in 1990s.  A new generation grew up in Turkey that was the product of revolutions in transportation, education, travel, and Internet. This generation posed a sudden and very profound challenge to the ruling ideology in Turkey. Essentially what the young generation said to the older generation was: "You have been trying to indoctrinate us since we were babies into this Kemalist idea. Every morning when we were in school, we had to pay homage to Kemalist principles.  Every  general, every prime minister, and every president tried to hammer these ideals into us. And you know what happened?  Your indoctrination was successful.  We now embrace those principles.  We believed in the Ataturk's project. So why are you not allowing us to fulfill it?  Why are we still putting journalists in jail? Why do we persecute publishers?  Why are there still taboos in Turkish society, things that we are not supposed to discuss? Why have we not been able to complete our progress toward democracy?  And how can the military, which is the institution most fervently committed to Ataturk's ideology, now be the one that is preventing us from realizing it in its full dimension?"

This challenge was a very profound.  I think it caused a great deal of self-examination in the military leadership, and also in the leadership of other important institutions in Turkey.

At the same time, some other processes were evolving in Turkey. First, many Turks became increasingly disgusted with the old political leadership. I am not going to give the names of the people against whom this outrage has been directed, but you all know them and you have heard their names too many times. Those are the people that held Turkey back during the years when so many countries from Spain to Thailand surged forward toward democracy and prosperity. That group of politicians faded away just as the young generation was rising up with its fundamental challenge.  At the same time, civil conflict and economic troubles began to recede.  These factors combined to make Turkey more open to democratic change than it has ever been.

Also during the 1990s, a new realism came over Islamic political order. All of you know that being an Islamist in Turkey is nothing like being an Islamist in place like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but the Islamic political movement has nonetheless been quite frightening to many secular Turks.  Over the last few years, partly as the result of court cases that were launched against Islamic political leaders in the 1990s, a new realization, a new consciousness reshaped the Islamic political leadership. These leaders became much more realistic.  They came to understand that to protect their freedom and that of every other Turk, Ataturk's democratic revolution need to be fully realized.

Stephen KINZER, National Correspondent of the New York Times, with Alaaddin Yuksel, Governor of Antalya, during the conference at the Stevens Insitute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey on May 14, 2004.

A new political class emerged in Turkey...

The final piece that has brought us to this momentous moment has to do with the European Union. As we all know, the leaders of EU countries will be meeting in December of this year to decide whether to give Turkey a date to
begin the negotiations to join the EU.  Every country that has been given such a date and has wanted to join has ultimately joined.

For all these reasons, a new political class emerged in Turkey after the 2002 national election and consolidated itself in the recent municipal election.  It is very different from the political class that has ruled Turkey all ever since the Menderes era.

The revolution that is now shaking Turkey is centered around the country's efforts to meet what the EU calls the "Copenhagen Criteria."  That is the new phrase that we have all learned. Very simply, it is the list of conditions that Turkey must fulfill if it wants begin negotiating to join the EU.  If that phrase had existed 85 years ago, I can guarantee you that Ataturk would have used it. He wouldn't have said that Turkey needs to move toward "universal values."  He would have said, "Turkey needs to move forward toward the Copenhagen Criteria," because that list of conditions is exactly what Ataturk had in mind in when he had his great vision what Turkey could do and what Turkey could mean in the world.

Even if Turkey never becomes a member of the EU, the process of moving towards membership, the process of fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria, would be very positive anyway because it embodies what the majority of Turks want. The fact that EU membership could lie at the end of this road, however, is a wonderful prospect.  EU membership is probably the closest you can get in our world to a permanent guarantee of stability and prosperity.

I believe that the government now ruling Turkey reflects the great desire of the vast majority of Turks to proceed towards this goal. If it proceeds in this direction, and if it resists the temptation that exists within the ruling elite to move toward more traditional Islamic principles, Turkey will be on its way to a new era.  Turks will be living in a more secure, more prosperous, more open and more democratic society than they have ever had.

Many countries in the world face problems that they are trying to overcome, but in most of those countries, success or failure is only going to affect their own future.

If Turkey can succeed in its reform process...

If Turkey can succeed in its reform process, however, it can have huge
influence on the world.  Right now, a hateful message is surging through the Islamic world.  It is that message from the cave that we heard so clearly from Afghanistan a few years ago.  Even those who detest that message are forced to respond to it. Why? Because there is no strong counter-concept.  What is the opposition to this idea? What is the opposite?

Turkey is poised to provide that counter-example.  This is one reason why the decision that the EU is going to make in December is profoundly important not just for Turkey, not just for EU, but for the whole world.

The EU is fundamentally a stabilization project. And of course, the part of the world that is in the most desperate need of stabilization now is Turkey's neighborhood. If EU leaders are wise enough to welcome Turkey into their club, that will send a surge of excitement through the more than 50 countries that are predominately Islamic. People in those countries will realize that what fundamentalists and violent radicals have been telling them all these years is not true.  They have been saying, "The West hates us, the West is never going to embrace us.  To try to become modern in the Western sense is a mistake.  What we need to do is to turn inward, away from the outside world."  If Turkey is embraced by the EU, that argument will be destroyed. Turkey will become a country that many Muslims will look at very carefully, and when they do, they will see prosperity, stability, and democracy.

Turkey can have profound impact on the Islamic world, and if it can do that, it can help change the whole world. The obstacles that have prevented Turkey from playing this role in the past are melting away. The old political leadership is gone. The economic crisis that erupted a few years ago is ending. Terrorist campaigns are over.   European leaders are very conscious of this.

When these leaders meet in December to decide on Turkey's application, they will consider two things.  First of all, they will have to recognize the positive impact that admitting Turkey would have on Turkey, on Europe, and on the whole world. Second, they will have to consider  what the effect would be of saying no to Turkey. That would mean that the EU, which was founded as a stabilization project, would become a destabilizing force in the Middle East.  This would only strengthen the position of those people who have ever been arguing, "The West will never admit us whatever we do, and there is no point in democratizing or modernizing because we will never be embraced by the outside world."

In Turkey, for the first time, longstanding obstacles to democratization are evaporating. The government now reflects the desire of the great majority of the Turkish people to  towards the fulfillment of Ataturk's dream.

Prime Minister Erdogan has been pointing out in his speeches that the year 2023 will be 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. He is using this point as an organizing principle.  What I think he means is that by 2023, Turkey will have done everything that South Korea has done, that Spain has done, that Thailand has done.  He means that by 2023, Turkey will be in the EU and a thriving, prosperous democracy.

Turkey is finally poised to complete its long march toward democracy, to realize the dream that Ataturk had so many years ago.  That is something to which all of us can look forward with great pride and excitement.

Thank you all!

May 14, 2004
Hoboken, New Jersey

_ . _

For Turkish translation>>>

Transcribed by Gokce Ilsever and Hande Ilsever for the Light Millennium.
June 2004, New York.

-- A Profile of Stephen Kinzer

--- The Major Turkish - American Relationships Conference at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, http://www.stevens.edu/main/home; between May 12 - 14, 2004 was organized incorporation with Beykent University, Istanbul; http://www.beykent.edu.tr

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THE BRIGHTEST AND HAPPINESS YEAR OF MY LIFE IN ALL MEANINGS... Everything has been emerging since the beginning of this year... B.Ü. June 26, 2004