Turkey is no longer a secular state, not by any means

In the past, the principle of secularism was often violated in practice in Turkey. Today, it is violated even on paper by the state itself.

We are confronted by a grave situation regarding the state.

In the title, I used the phrase “not by any means,” as we had seen time and again that the principle of secularism of the Republic and the state being violated in practice.

I will not even broach the topic of how an institution such as the Presidency of Religious Affairs being a constitutional body constitutes an infringement of the principle of secularism.

However, we see now that secularism, one of the four main qualities of the Republic enshrined in the Second Article of the Constitution, is being trampled not just in practice but also in state documents.

An important matter reflected in the press last week was the court’s decision to gather the copies of theologian Ihsan Eliacik’s Koran translation as per the direction of the Presidency of Religious Affairs. No one should be surprised, based on the portion of the Decree-Law (KHK) quoted below, the Ministry can officially direct the “competent authority[s]”

Decision Number: KHK/703

Based on the authority given by Law No. 7142 dated 10/5/2018, the Council of Ministers decided on 2/7/2018 for changes to be made in some laws and decree-laws in order to conform to the amendments made in the Constitution.

ARTICLE 141 – The Law No. 633 dates 22/6/1965 Regarding the Establishment and Duties of the Presidency of Religious Affairs;

ı) To examine or have the translations of the Holy Koran examined ex officio, upon the request of the Presidency and other public institutions, private individuals, and organizations.

A DECISION to stop the printing and publishing, and TO CONFISCATE AND DESTROY the dispersed editions of Koran translations that are determined by the Presidency to be objectionable in terms of the basic characteristics of the religion of Islam as a result of the examination to be carried out according to subsection (i) of the fifth paragraph, will be made upon the application of the Presidency to the competent and responsible authorities. In cases that the publication is made on the internet, upon the application of the Presidency, the COMPETENT AND RESPONSIBLE AUTHORITY WILL DECIDE TO BLOCK ACCESS TO THIS PUBLICATION. A copy of this decision is sent to the Information Technologies and Communications Authority to be overseen accordingly. Appeals can be filed with the competent and responsible authorities to these decisions and the decisions regarding a rejection of the Presidency’s request in two weeks since the pronouncement or notification of the verdict. The decision to be made after the appeal is final. Appeals made to the seizure and destruction decision or the decision to block access does not stop the seizure of the publications subject to the decision and the blocking of access to these publications. The publications subject to seizure and destruction will be destroyed if no appeal is made to this decision in due time or if the appeal is rejected.

Let me summarize the gravity of the situation:

The Presidency of Religious Affairs may not like a Koran translation, as is its prerogative, and could choose not to use this translation in the bodies tied to it or to encourage its use. But that is not what it is being done. The Presidency has decided that the translation in question is in violation of the basic characteristics of the religion of Islam. Fine, let us say that we accept this, too. However, it instructs the competent authority, that is, the judiciary, to seize and destroy this publication. It is every person’s and institution’s right to make a request of the judiciary, but anything beyond that right is unacceptable and tramples on the principle of secularism.

Please carefully read the section that I quoted in capital letters above. The phrases “decision is made” or "decides” are impositions on the judiciary by the Presidency of Religious Affairs even before the judicial process takes place.

The Presidency “decides,” it sends the decision to the relevant authority, namely the judiciary, for it to be converted into a judicial text, and the (so-called) judiciary acts in accordance with the orders of the Presidency, as in the case of Ihsan Eliacik.

This Decree No. 703, which tramples on the principle of secularism, is staring us in the face, but unfortunately there is not a peep from the judiciary, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, or the Department of Justice.

The Constitutional Court says that it cannot carry out the constitutional review of these decree-laws; what a shame.

As long as this Decree-Law remains in force as such, the Turkish state is no longer a secular state, not only in practice, but also on paper, even at the level of the Presidency.

Now, the Shaykh al-Islam commands and the qadi carries out the order. Neither does this take place behind closed doors through advice or suggestions (actions that are also prohibited by Article 138 of the Constitution). It takes place by way of an official Decree-Law.


*Eser Karakas: An alum of the Kadikoy Saint Joseph High School, he graduated from the Bogazici University Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences (FEAS) in 1978. He completed his PhD in 1985 at the Istanbul University Faculty of Economics. Since 1996, he has lectured as a professor at the Finance Department of the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University. He served as the Dean of Bahcesehir University FEAS. He was dismissed from employment by way of Decree-Law No. 675 in 2016. He has been a visiting lecturer at Strasbourg University Sciences Po since 200

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