No, it is not only the republic that Turkey marks the 89th anniversary of today.
It is not only the five strong centuries of the empire before that, which provides a unique military and administrative experience in being able to hold one of the most strategic geographic positions on earth for so long.
It is not only the parliamentary tradition going back 136 years, yes, before the republic. It is not only the multi-party democracy, belated, interrupted but able to survive. Not only an industrial economy started much before any other countries with a predominantly Muslim population, not only a market economy adopted where most of the Muslim countries up until the Arab Spring were controlled by the state or by dynasties.
The most distinctive characteristics of Turkey compared to other Muslim countries, in addition to being a multi-party democracy and a working economy, is its secular nature and its treatment of women; at least before the law.
It was thanks to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and his fellows who managed to lead a liberation war against the invaders after World War I in order to shift an ancient regime that was falling apart into a modern one.
Yes, there are serious problems in the economy, but despite a lack of energy sources the Turkish economy has a total wealth the sum of 22 other members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization; bigger than many European Union countries and slightly better than a few of them.
Yes, there are problems in the legislative and judicial system, but it creates its own checks-and-balances system whenever executive power wants to dominate the other two.
Yes, there are questions raised about whether it will keep up with its commitments to the West (being the only Muslim member of NATO) or shift to the East; Turkey has made its choice to continue to be a part of the West.
Regardless of the daily debates over the future of the country, like the one today over how and where to celebrate Republic Day, Turkish people have tasted and liked the secular way of life, finding ways to combine it with the Islamic faith, and Turkish women would not like to be in a position to choose between their political, social and professional rights and their faith.
That is why the people, not all of their rulers, but people in many Muslim countries turn their eyes to Turkey to observe that to be a Muslim and to live a Western-oriented life is possible; this is what Turkey has to keep and protect.
*(Published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Oct. 30, 2012)