Birthday Blues
Ankara, Turkey
By Telis Demos

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Celebrations of a nation’s founding are typically occasions that emphasize national unity. But Turkey’s Republic Day on Oct. 28, the 83rd anniversary of Kemal Atatürk’s founding of the secular republic, was anything but that. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the country’s top military leader, Yasar Büyükanit, warned of Islamic groups’ “unacceptable” efforts to expand their role in Turkey’s cherished secular government. Meanwhile, the Islamist press was outraged that soldiers marching in Ankara—like the ones pictured here—were the day’s main attraction. They would have preferred to see leaders of the popular majority party, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which favors including Islamic tenets in some laws.

The one thing Turks do agree on—the fact that joining the European Union is good for the economy—might also become a victim of internal tensions. A Nov. 8 report by the EU on Turkey’s progress toward membership criticizes its Section 301 law restricting public denigration of “Turkishness,” which secularists like President Sezer have used to hound their Islamic critics. Prime Minister Erdogan says he is willing to revise the law, but military leaders led a 12,000-person march in Ankara against compromise.

The report calls on Turkey to open its ports to shipping from Cyprus, and recommends a reduced role for the military, citing its support of rebels in Cyprus and harassment of Kurds. But the military and its backers believe that would give Turkey’s Islam-friendly Parliament free rein. Surely, they argue, that’s not what the EU wants from the world’s oldest Muslim democracy.