Between Beethoven and the minarets

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The Independent Online
"This is a picture of modern Turkey," proclaimed President Suleyman Demirel in Ankara at the end of last month. However, this landscape of 8000 music- lovers, assembled to hear a stirring performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony, may not have been to the liking of Ismail Kahraman. When Turkey's Islamic-minded minister of culture entered the concert hall he was greeted by a chorus of his own - boos and whistles.

Mr Kahraman has upset Western-oriented compatriots by publicly prefering the construction of mosques over concert-hall culture. What concert catcalls indicate is that Turks are dividing on simple lines - Europe versus the Middle East, English versus Arabic. As culture in Turkey becomes more elastic, the exchange between secularists and Islamists get shriller and Turkey's coalition government, which contains both, looks more fragile.

Nowhere are divisions clearer than in the field of education. Secularists say the European model promoted by Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, is under threat. They united last month to support a teacher-trainer who refused to instruct trainees wearing Islamic-style headscarves. Now they applaud the efforts of Turkey's interventionist military to reverse a dilution of the system which Ataturk established.

When the generals loudly demanded a return to secular values in February, their most contentious requirement was a crackdown on religious schools, called Imam Hatips.

The secularist line is that the Imam Hatips, which are vocational schools set up to supply clergy, have exceeded their brief. Not only do Imam Hatips produce more than 10 times the graduates required for mosque duty, but the young Turks they produce seem unenthusiastic about the secular, pro-Western principles on which the republic was founded.

A recent survey found 80 per cent of Turks schooled in Imam Hatips favour the Islamisation of Turkey's secular legal system, while only 10 per cent consider Turkey a European country.

Imam Hatip representation was thin at the Beethoven concert; less than 2 per cent of graduates confess a weakness for European classical music.

The military's demands on the subject of education have been couched by an uncontroversial call for youngsters to be prevented from leaving school at the age of 11.

However, in pressing for a three-year extension to mandatory education, the generals also want Imam Hatips only to accept Turks aged 14 and above.

This does not suit the religious schools, which prefer their recruits to be young and impressionable. Neither does it please the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, the senior partner in Turkey's ruling coalition.

Welfare looks on religious education with a benevolent eye. They want Imam Hatips to be accepted as an integral part of the education system.

The military has other plans. In show-downs with Necmettin Erbakan, the Welfare party Prime Minister, smart money tends to go on the generals, who often benefit from the support of the Islamists' coalition partner, the centre-right True Path Party.

The problem on this occasion is that True Path is not being co-operative. Although Tansu Ciller, the True Path leader, has said the military's demands will be implemented in full, she seems reluctant to let Welfare emerge as the champion of Imam Hatips, where almost half a million young Turks - all voters of tomorrow - are being schooled.

More than 150 Imam Hatips were opened while Mrs. Ciller was herself prime minister.

Military tempers are said to have been frayed by tense relations with Mrs Ciller and by the government's conspicuous failure to implement other secular measures, which the generals demanded more than a month ago. The generals are unmoved by arguments that it was they themselves, in their promotion of Islam as an antidote to Communism, who made religious instruction compulsory in high schools. They claim the support of secularist groups, which have been lobbying hard across the country.

Mr Erbakan and Mrs Ciller are trying to find a formula acceptable to all sides. But most observers suspect that the generals will only be satisfied when all their demands have been implemented. The last time a government ignored the military's advice, in 1979, the generals took over.