When almost a century ago Kemal Ataturk founded the secular republic of Turkey, the former rulers, the Ottomans, were forcefully asked to leave the country in an act that would mark the end of their Herculean legacy.
A century later, excluding the majestic relics, TV soaps and architecture, clues of the Ottoman sultanate are few and far between in today’s Turkey. Yet, prior to the aforementioned fallout of 1923, the Ottomans had ruled for six hundred years.
It is important that I note the overt interaction that has recently taken place between Ottoman descendants and Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist-bent ruler of Turkey since 2002. Displaying their support for the president and his authoritarian rule, Ottomans have been used by the government as political tools in advocating for a move to a Presidential system, and a number of the royal descendants have been quoted as likening the move to a stronger, more centralised “ottoman-style” rule - reminiscent of their ancestral rulers.
To illustrate, a great granddaughter of one of the most well-known Ottoman sultans, Abdul Hamid the second, by the name of Nilhan Osmanoglu, last year declared support for ‘yes’ in the referendum on whether Erdogan should become president in a new presidential system.
The pivotal aspect of royal rule is precisely that it exists above the political sphere, as a separate entity in itself. Thus, as long as Ottoman descendants express political preferences, they should not be celebrated upon return. If the former royals are to be politically neutral and uninvolved with the governmental elite, there are grounds for them to be welcomed back into the country, and treated with respect. However, there is no place for royalty within a republic - particularly one that is going through a reversal in its democratization process; whether they actively support Erdogan’s ruling The Justice and Development Party (AK party) or not. There is no place for royalty in an already troubled illiberal democracy.
The political turmoil in Turkey would be catalysed by the return of royal power, undoubtedly causing further tension between opposing social groups in a highly divided Turkey. Erdogan and his base would gain a new domain of legitimacy, and one that brings it with it additional prestige and power.
After the series of corruption scandals of 2013 - in which several businessmen, family members and cabinet members of the ruling party were accused of fraud, corruption and other financially motivated charges such as money-laundering and bribery – the majority of the Turkish public has simply no appetite for elite positions of power in Turkey.
There exists already a large tension between the two major groups in Turkey, those who call themselves the “grandchildren of Ataturk”, fighting to defend secular, European values, and on the other hand, those who perpetuate traditional and conservative values, in line with the ruling AK party, who are more likely to call themselves the “grandchildren of the Ottomans”.
The tension between traditionalists and modernists, and recent reversals in democracy, mean that Royal rule is neither desirable nor necessary if modern Turkey is to progress. Add to this formula the current leader of Turkey, who embodies the authority and power of an Ottoman Sultan, and the prospect of royals in Turkey stands as dismal at best.