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Evolution of Turkish Culture


Turkish Intellectuals

'Turkey's Cultural Transformation', Prof. Dr. Emre Kongar

The Turkish experience in social and cultural transformation is unique not only because of its totality and success in an Islamic society, but also because of the synthesis it sought: an amalgamation of western and pre-Islamic Turkish cultures to replace the previously dominant Islamic culture.

Since the secular Turkish Republic was built upon the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War 1, it is necessary to trace the seeds of change through the six centuries of the Empire as well as during the era of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the new state and society.

1. The Roots of Change
1. External Factors
2. Internal Factors
II. The Phases of Induced Change
1. Toward a Constitutional State: Young Ottomans and Young Turks
2. Toward A Secular State: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
III. The Crux of the Induced Social and Cultural Change: From Religious Dogmatism to Positivism
IV. Building a New Society: The Reforms of Atatürk
1. Main Principles of the Ataturk Revolution: Anti-Imperialism and Westernism; The Two Pillars of National Independence
2. The Social and Cultural Reforms: Imposition of a New Way of Life
3. “Six Arrows”: An Attempt to Create a Consistent Ideology
Reformism (Revolutionism)
4. Organizational Mechanisms for the Ideological Re-orientation of the Society
The Party
The People’s Houses
The Turkish History Society and the Turkish Language Society
The Role of the Universities
5. Sociological Appraisal
V. The Evolution of Social Thought
1. General Aspects of Social Thought
2. Interaction with the West Prior to the French Revolution
3. The Impact of the French Revolution
4. Introduction of Political Ideas Through Cultural Means
5. Main Currents of Thought Prior to the Republic
6. Schools of Social Thought in the Republican Era
7. Ataturk’s Conception of Culture
8. Developments in the Era of Democracy
9. Changes After the Military Intervention of 1960
10. Recent Developments in Cultural Life
VI. Concluding Remarks


The roots of the twentieth century change in Anatolia may be traced back to the tenth and eleventh centuries. The crusaders might even be said to have played a role in the future orientation of the Ottoman Empire, by establishing important trade patterns with the western Mediterranean.

As the Turkish Republic is one of the many successor states of the Ottoman Empire, it is necessary to take a close look at the Empire in order to understand the process of change in Ottoman Islamic society which made possible the emergence of a secular one. Clearly, the decline of the Ottomans and the reasons behind such a decline are quite important factors for our analysis. Here we shall review some of the reasons both external and internal which contributed to the changing circumstances in the Empire.

1. External Factors

The external factors which are responsible for Ottoman decay may be studied under two headings: the pattern of commercial relations between the eastern Mediterranean and western Europe which was established during the period of the Crusaders and the economic changes which occurred after the discovery of the New World.

The two factors noted above merged into one mechanism which laid the groundwork for the economic decline of the Empire: the Imtiyazat or the Capitulations. As students of Ottoman history are aware, these economic, commercial and legal privileges given to foreigners eventually undermined the Empire economically and caused its final collapse.

First of all the successors of the Crusaders, who formed small states in the eastern Mediterranean area, had already been granted some privileges such as tax exemptions and the right to form their own courts long before the area fell under Ottoman rule. Thus, when the Ottomans conquered the eastern Mediterranean, they also recognized such special relations in commercial treaties. Actually, since the Crusaders were of west European origin, even their family ties were useful to help them obtain letters of credit and the like.[] They also contributed greatly to the collapse of the Byzantine economy which they by-passed to trade directly with western Europe.[] Looking at the other side of the problem, the existence of such trading groups within the Empire, which had very special relations with western Europe and special legal privileges, cannot be the sole reason for the later decline of the Empire. On the contrary, in a sound and strong economy, these traders might even become the agents for further economic development.

At this point one should recall the results of the exploration of America. Such a discovery, symbolizing the establishment of new trade routes, marked a turning point in the economic history of the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, a major inflation was caused by the import of gold and silver into Europe from the New World. At about the same time, a shift took place in the traditional trade routes because the Portuguese had circumnavigated Africa. These events all helped the Ottoman economy to become dependent on that of western Europe.[] Inflation first affected Europe, causing the “leak” of raw materials, especially grain, from the tightly-controlled Ottoman economy, and then inflation crept towards the East, causing financial bankruptcy in the Empire. The role of the “privileged” minorities in such turmoil is not hard to imagine: economic dependency on the West and exploitation by foreigners reached its peak after the sixteenth century.

For later developments, Issawi’s world are quite illumination: “The history of the last century and a half of the Ottoman Empire was largely shaped by two forces: the national liberation movement of the non-Turkish peoples and the steady encroachment of the Great Powers.”[]

2. Internal Factors

It has always been very easy to blame external factors for the decline of the Empire. But such an analysis may mislead us, as the internal factors are also quite important. Regarding the decline of the Ottomans, one should take the inflexible state structure into account. The whole Ottoman political system was designed to eliminate rivals to central power, the Sultan-Caliph. As Mardin has stated, “with no feudalism, no hereditary princes and an institution staffed with slaves as an executive organ, the Ottoman Empire, superficially examined, seems to approximate the optimum equilibrium of an ‘Oriental Despotism’ under which there are ideally only two ‘social sets’: the ruler and his executive servants on one hand and the ruled on the other.”[]

A penetrating observer will quickly realize that a structure, designed to suppress any kind of change, was set up to “keep each man in his appropriate social position,” for the sake of “social peace and order of the state.”[]

In this context, Gibb and Bowen stated that “The keynote of Ottoman administration was conservatism, and all the institutions of government were directed to the maintenance of the status quo.”[]

Actually the picture of the Ottoman structure traced above defines an ‘ideal type.’ Thus the social, economic and political reality was different from that of the ‘ideal structure.’ The weakness of the Empire lay in an inflexible system, corrupted through social, economic and political changes brought about by technological and economic innovations from the ‘outside world.’

Among the results of such a stagnant structure which precipitated the final collapse of the Empire, were the deterioration of the state-owned land system, the disability of the feudal “intermediary classes” which could not evolve themselves into “middle classes,” the continuous adulteration of the Ottoman currency, the weakening military and the eventual loss of territories especially after the “nationalistic” movements that started in the Balkans.[]


The elites that undertook the agonizing task of saving the Empire were members of the military and the civilian bureaucracy, since the stagnation of Ottoman economic development prevented the rise of another powerful class such as the bourgeoisie or other groups.[]

The bureaucracy was not alone in its efforts to ‘modernize’ the Empire. The western powers who were exploiting the Ottoman market were also among the interested parties. Great Britain, which had signed a commercial treaty with the Empire in 1838 and had thereby gained new economic ad commercial privileges was the chief foreign power behind the Tanzimat (Reform) Edict of 1839.[]

many scholars tend to view the Tanzimat Edict or the Noble Rescript of the Rose Chamber (Gulhane Hatt-i Serif) as a turning point in the westernization efforts of the Ottoman Empire, though in actuality, it followed Ottoman defeat in the face of European superiority in economic and military matters. The document was nothing but a systematical legalization of the rights which the minorities and the central bureaucracy had already gained.

The Noble Rescript proclaimed such principles as the security of life, honor, and property of the subject, the abolition of tax-farming and all the abuses associated with it, regular and orderly recruitment into the armed forces, fair and public trial of persons accused of crimes, and equality of persons of all religions in the application of theses laws. It was this last clause which represented the most radical breach with ancient Islamic tradition, and was therefore most shocking to Muslim principles and good taste.[]

Though Lewis’ lines suggest that the Edict proclaimed a radical change regarding the minorities, the most important part of it was the recognition of the rights of the central bureaucracy which had already become a political power in the Empire.[] Thus, the Edict, which was declared as a result of modernization efforts up to that date, actually gave a new impetus to domestic developments by strengthening the leadership of the intelligentsia, namely the military and civilian bureaucracy. The first domestic outcome of the Tanzimat Edict was the intelligentsia’s articulation of a constitutional state as a panacea for the disappearing Empire.

1. Toward a Constitutional State: Young Ottomans and Young Turks

The origin and aims of the Young Ottomans were best described by Mardin. He wrote that

In the summer of 1865 a picnic took place in the so-called Forest of Belgrade, a wooded valley lying behind the hills of the Bosphorus. Attending it were six young men who had decided to take action against what they considered to be catastrophic policies pursued by the Ottoman Government. What united these young conspirators was a common knowledge of European civilization and an equal concern at the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.[]

Since those young men were reacting against the policies followed by Ali Pasa and Fuad Pasa, who were themselves the students of Resid Pasa, the architect of the Tanzimat, we can label their “Young Ottoman Society” as the direct outcome of the Tanzimat. Actually, Ali and Fuad were critical of Resid as being too mild. But then, it was their turn to be accused of being too mild by the Young Ottomans. Thus the concrete political aim of the revolutionary society was formulated “to change the absolute Ottoman rule into a constitutional state.”[] The word “Hurriyet” (freedom) became the symbol of this utopian movement for the salvation of the Empire.

The Young Ottoman movement, mainly based on the ideas of the French Revolution, was an elitist action. It failed to get the support of the masses and confined itself to “intrigues of the palace” to produce its aim: namely the proclamation of a constitution to furnish “Hurriyet” to the masses.

Since Abdulhamid II had been proclaimed Sultan as a result of traditional intrigues at the highest level, no public support was shown for Midhat Pasa, the father of the constitution, when he was dismissed, exiled and eventually killed by the very Sultan who had put the constitution into effect in 1876. Then, Sultan Abdulhamid II became a despot for the next thirty years.

Despite the fact the Abdulhamid’s promise for the proclamation of the constitution was taken before his accession and that he acted accordingly after his accession, the words “freedom” (hurriyet) and constitution at that time lacked social and economic content, thus enabling the Sultan to eliminate rivals through political maneuvers without causing any disturbance among the masses of the Empire.

The second constitutional revolution was also a limited and local military action against the Palace.[] A rebellion among a small number of army troops in Macedonia, the assassination of two of the Sultan’s hand-picked generals and most important of all a number of telegrams sent to the Palace in the name of the secret society of ‘Union and Progress’ were enough to pursuade Sultan Abdulhamid to restore the constitutions in 1908.[]

The Committee (later the Party) of Union and Progress did not have a consistent ideology. It also lacked an economic view and program. The Young Turks, who formed the Party of Union and Progress were aiming at the restoration of a western-like, so-called ‘liberal’ constitution.[] The declining Ottoman Empire came under the control of the Party of Union and Progress by World War I and, after its defeat, was divided among the Great Powers and various successor states.

Though the Union and Progress Party lacked any consistent ideology, it gave a new impetus to the efforts for the westernization of the society, especially in the realm of bureaucratic reform.[] The roots of many of the reforms realized by Ataturk can also be traced back to the time of Union and Progress. Aside from the proclamation of the constitution, the development of Turkish nationalism, the formation of political parties and the emergence of secular organizations were among the piecemeal reforms of the Union and Progress.[]

2. Toward A Secular State: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

If the Union and Progress Party helped produce the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it also was responsible for the emergence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Mustafa Kemal, who had already become a famous general through his defense of the eastern and western fronts of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, led a rebellion against the invasion of Anatolia by the Greeks, a move planned by the western powers to enforce the partition of the Empire after the Armistice of Mudros (30 October, 1918).

Since he was also a graduate of the military school (Harbiye) in which all the ideas of the French Revolution prevailed, it is easy to understand his seeing himself as the savior of the Empire. He wrote, of himself, in one of his letters, as early as 1914, that “he is ambitious, but his ambitions are very great and ... he is looking for the realization of a great idea for the satisfaction of his ambitions.”[]

Like all the Ottoman intellectuals in his generation he was also brought up on the revolutionary ideas of the Young Ottomans. He was a great believer in constitutional government and the basic human rights and freedoms. The failure of the Young Ottomans and of the Party of Union and Progress convinced him that the only way to save the Empire was a radical change in the political system along the line of the western democracies. His words, “Freedom is my character,” reflects his commitment to the modern state against the absolutism of the Sultan-Caliph.

The invasion of Anatolia by the Greeks, who were backed by the victorious Great Powers, gave Mustafa Kemal Pasa the very chance he was looking for: to organize the nation against the political establishment in order to come to power. Since the Sultan-Caliph had been in collaboration with the allied forces, it wasn’t very difficult for Mustafa Kemal to oust him after winning the war of liberation which lasted for four long years.

The formation of a modern state started concomitantly with the agonizing War of Independence. When Mustafa Kemal landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919, a date which marks the beginning of the War of National Independence, one of his first steps was to encourage the organization of the local committees for national resistance. Those committees at the Erzurum and Sivas Congresses then became the bases for the grassroots organizations of the new State.

At the moment he started to organize the War of Independence, he had already decided to proclaim the Republic eventually.[] Interestingly enough, Mustafa Kemal mentioned cultural reforms, such as the reform of the alphabet from Arabic to Latin and the abolition of the fez and veil at the very interview in 1919, in which he dictated his secret political ambitions. He kept those cultural and political aims to himself till the final victory because the cultural, economic and social structure which he utilized to fight against the enemy, as well as against the Sultan-Caliph, was the very same traditional structure which he had decided eventually to eliminate. Any leak about his cultural and political ambitions would have weakened the public support given to him as the commander in chief and the political leader of the War of Liberation.

His general strategy was to work through the representative bodies authorized by the local communities and to guide them toward two aims: to get the military and political support at he grassroots level and to create a source of political power against the Sultan-Caliph whose power stemmed from religion and tradition. Thus the merger of those local committees of national resistance under the name of “The Defense of Rights” organizations at the Erzurum and Sivas Congresses had already paved the way for the secular character of the new state prior to the establishment of the Grand National Assembly.

The opening of the Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920 marks a new era in Turkish politics. From then on, the representatives of the people became the sole source of political power. Since Mustafa Kemal was in complete control of the Assembly as the commander in chief and as a national hero, he was elected Chairman of the Assembly, the virtual head of the new state. The proclamation of the Republic signified that the first phase of the radical socio-cultural change had been successfully completed. Since any reform program geared toward the creation of a secular nation-state could not possibly be realized in any Islamic society without seizing political power, the proclamation of the Republic laid the groundwork for further changes. At this point one should bear in mind the fact that controlling the political power is a necessary condition for such reforms, but not a sufficient one. Thus the consistent philosophy behind the reforms and the execution and the programs should be closely examined.


Though the total political system was changed, the extent of the social and economic transformation was quite limited during the initial years of the Republic. The following lines will illustrate the point:

The political developments in Turkey in the decade 1920-1930 appear as monumental developments to an impressionistic observer. They are monumental indeed if the rate of development is measured according to the changes in political institutions. But if viewed from the standpoint of structural differentiation and the action of social groups, the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the period 1908 to 1930, do not appear to show a new stage of development, but the culmination of a developmental stage which began with Sultans Selim III and Mahmud II. The entire period from 1800 to 1945 was marked by the slow emergence of a “modern bureaucracy, then of an intelligentsia, and the subsequent transformation of both through the broadening of the bases of recruitment, education, and politicization.[]

In such a relatively stagnant structure, the revolutionary cadres used cultural and ideological factors to give impetus to political change toward new socioeconomic and cultural frontiers.

Since Islam dominated all areas of social, political, cultural and economic spheres of the Empire, not only as a religion, but also as a way of living. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his friends attacked religious dogmatism in order to launch a new socio-cultural reform program Such an act was quite meaningful from the political point of view too, as the ousted Sultan-Caliph and the old regime took their legitimate political authority from Islamic institutions.

Attacking Islam as an obstacle to development was also in accordance with a firm belief in western positivism.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was planning to use a popular approach as a unifying force because Ottoman society was divided into two different cultural worlds, namely the “palace” culture and the “folk” culture. Such a division also served as a barrier to communication between the rulers and the ruled. The situation is best described in Mardin’s words:

Two different cultural worlds existed side by side in the Ottoman Empire without much contact with one another. One of theses was the world of partly orally transmitted literary traditions, the world of folk-culture, of tales, epics and widely-read popular poetry. The second, the world of “polite” culture, was separated from the first by a virtual Chinese wall. In the rarefied atmosphere of this so-called divan literature, the media of communication were controlled by a relatively small group of Doctors of Islamic law (Ulema), higher employees of ‘departments’ of the central administration (Divan employees on Hacegan) and a few additional unattached ‘hommes de lettres’. In general, most of the literati held some governmental post. Thus strategic lines of communications were concentrated in the governmental machine and, for all practical purposes, ‘communications’ meant the ability of state servants to please one another with the literary productions and to keep the flow of governmental ad judicial information running.[]

Ataturk’s reforms, among other things, aimed at solving this problem of cultural duality.[] Actually the differentiation between the two cultures became more salient after the efforts for westernization had started in the Empire, since the newly established institutions, especially the educational ones, broadened the gap between the masses and the intelligentsia. Thus the alienation of the people reached greater dimensions.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s aim was to bridge the gap between the masses and the intelligentsia. His belief in the sovereignty of the people was the basic political principle he applied in his reform program. Since he was against the mere imitation of western institutions, the goals for building a new society were set as nationalism, a national economy and a positive approach to life. He had great faith in “scientific methods.”[] He thought that, as science, the westernization of Turkish society through a positive approach would ensure the universality of reforms.

Ataturk’s words “the best and the real guide in life is knowledge and science,” which were carved on the walls of the Faculty of Language. History and Geography in Ankara, reflect his positive approach against religious dogmas. This slogan sets forth the secular, nation-state ideal of the new Turkish Republic in opposition to religion-based traditional Ottoman Empire.


The Turkish Revolution consisted of two successive and intermingled parts: The War of National Liberation (or independence) and the Reforms of Ataturk. Since he started to build a new political and social structure during the War of Liberation, his later reforms which were then symbolized as “six arrows” should be studied as meaningful parts of a functional unity, namely the Turkish Revolution.

1. Main Principles of the Ataturk Revolution: Anti-Imperialism and Westernism. The Two Pillars of National Independence

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk assumed political power through a War of Liberation against the victorious powers of the First World War. Thus his anti-imperialism was the outcome of his military actions. But to view his stand against imperialism only as military phenomenon would be a great fallacy. As a member of the Ottoman intelligentsia, he believed that the final collapse of the Empire had been due to economic, political, and military exploitation by the West. Thus, his firm stand for “unconditional and total independence” was something much more than a military view. As Ataturk once stated.:

Gentlemen, when history applies itself to searching the causes of the grandeur and the decadence of a people, it invokes political, military, and social reasons. It is evident that ultimately all the reasons spring from social conditions but that which is in closest bearing to the existence, the prosperity and the decadence of a people, is its economics. This historical truth is confirmed in our existence and our national history. In fact, if one examines the history of the Turkish people, one will see that her grandeur and her decadence are merely corollaries of her economic life.[]

When such words are supported by his summation that “The new Turkish state will not be a military state, but an economic state,” the anti-imperialist nature of the Turkish Revolution can be better understood. both speeches were given prior to the proclamation of the Republic, but after the War of Liberation was completed. Thus, the economic content of “total independence” cannot possibly be overlooked in his actions.

Interestingly enough, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s anti-imperialist views were based on his concept of western civilization. In other words, he knew that the only way to become a western society was to be free from western economic and political exploitation. I think the difference between his revolutionary movement and the prior attempts to “save the Empire” lies at this very point: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk aimed at creating a western society, whereas the westernist movements prior to his time were geared to imitating western societies. Those attempts were marked by the importation of western educational institutions while Mustafa Kemal imported the whole ideology and political structure of the West, including “national sovereignty an national independence.”

2. The Social and Cultural Reforms: Imposition of a New Way of Life

Kemalism was considered an anti-religious ideology but in fact it had nothing against the Islamic religion except to deny religion as a source of political power. Although this may sound like an innocent statement today, it was then a most serious attack against the Islamic religion which had sprung from a systematic set of principles regulating political power as well.[] Kemalism was regarded as an infidel ideology by some religious leaders who had lost their status in infidel ideology by some religious leaders who had lost their status in the change of the power structure in Turkey. Another rationale behind his being called an infidel was his firm stand against the caliphate and sultanate as politico-religious posts. He thought that they should be abolished in the course of the establishment of a secular nation-state.

Since the last Sultan-Caliph had been in collaboration with the Entente Powers during the invasion of Anatolia and had taken drastic actions against the Nationalists (Kemalists) in Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal as the victorious leader of the national resistance, was in quite an advantageous position vis-a-vis the Sultan. moreover, since the Ankara republican government had negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923 with the western governments, the very existence of the Istanbul government of the Sultan had become an anachronism.

Thus, the most difficult reform, namely the elimination of the Sultanate, was realized in the name of “national sovereignty” during a lull in peace talks in Lausanne on November 1, 1922, following a ruling of the Grand National Assembly about the replacement of the Ottoman Empire by the new Turkish Sate on October 30, 1922. The proclamation of the Republic became the next necessary step in the process o political reform even though some of Mustafa Kemal’s closest friends opposed the idea.[] However, it was carried through on October 29, 1923. As Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decided to impose a western style of life on the society, the remnants of the old regime, especially the political ones which were intermingle with the religious dogmas, had to be swept away to pave the way for the new structure. The Caliphate was abolished within this context.

One should remember that the Islamic political system had been dominant for centuries: thus, eliminating the Caliphate was a more difficult task than the proclamation of the Republic. There was strong opposition to such an act even in the Grand National Assembly. Actually when the Grand National Assembly appointed Abdulmecid Efendi (son of Abdulaziz) as Caliph to replace the runaway Sultan-Caliph, Vahdettin, an opposition front was formed on the grounds that the Grand National Assembly did not have the authority to appoint a religious leader.[] Nevertheless, the Grand National Assembly first appointed him as Caliph of the Muslim community on November 18, 1922, and then on March 3, 1924 abolished the Caliphate on the grounds that the Caliph had breached the law by attempting to revitalize the Caliphate as a political post.

It is interesting to note that six consecutive reforms concerning religion, military organization and education were executed on the same day of March 3, 1924, after Mustafa Kemal had conferred with military commanders in Izmir. Those reforms were the abolition of the Caliphate, the termination of the religious educational system, the unification of education in secular schools, the closing of the Ministry of Canon Law, the abolition of the Ministry of the General Staff and the establishment of the General Directorate of Religious Affairs.

In keeping with republican theory the military and the religious cadres were now placed under civilian control. Symbolically, with the removal of the Ministry of the General Staff, any opposition to the abolition of the Ministry of Canon Law could be countered by indicating that even the General Staff which had led the War of National Independence was placed a civilian control. Actually, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had been against any military interference in politics since the time of the Young Turk Period and this issue was one of the chief points of conflict between him and the Union and Progress Party.

The reorganization of education was to become one of the main elements for the secularization of culture. This change took place at the same time but without any opposition at all. The reform of headgear, set in motion by a law passed on November 25, 1925, was designed to change the appearance of the people as well as to give a sense of cultural symbol. In some areas of daily life, integration with the modern world and the reformist movement entailed the use of the western European calendar and methods of keeping time. On December 26th, 1925, the old lunar calendar and the old method of calculating time were changed and the day of rest moved from Friday to Sunday.

One of the most important cultural reforms was the change of the alphabet from Arabic to Latin letters. This drastic change not only facilitated the increase in literacy, but also served to strengthen the image of the secular nation-state. By changing the alphabet from the Arabic script of the Holy Quran to the Latin script, Turkish language and culture were emancipated from the influences of the Arabic script and Islamic culture.

In the meantime, the legal structure was secularized. Parallel to the abolition of the Ministry of Canon Law and Pious Foundations, the new Turkish civil code, which was an adaptation of the Swiss civil code, was put into effect on October 4, 1926. The new penal code, commercial code and the law of contracts also came into force the same day as meaningful parts of the legal code. The secularization of the Constitution and reforms such as the assumption of family names, and the abolition of religious titles, followed as a logical sequence. The general method of bringing about socio-cultural change in Turkey obviously required some political force by the victorious nationalist-revolutionaries. Also the integration of those reforms into a consistent ideology with the aid of organizational mechanisms was not neglected.

3. “Six Arrows”: An Attempt to Create a Consistent Ideology

The whole decade of the 1920’s was marked by reformist legal actions which were geared toward the reorganization of the total political and socio-cultural structure of the new Republic. In the early thirties, while the world was under the pressures of the “Great Recession” of 1929, the Turkish Revolution seemed to reach a plateau with a deadly threat of stagnation. Thus, Ataturk decided to establish a “loyal opposition” to give a political dynamism to the ongoing Turkish Revolution. Though the Party was formed through the backing of Ataturk and his friends,[] the support for it by the reactionaries became uncontrollable and turned out to be a real threat to the social-cultural and political reforms which were still in their period of infancy. As a result of this unexpected and unwanted development, the party was closed three months after its foundation, and Ataturk decided to revitalize the revolutionary spirit of the Republican People’s Party through ideological and educational programs.

Since the Kemalist ideology had not been articulated as a compact school of thought in the beginning, the only group which emerged with the function of mobilizing the intelligentsia (rather than the masses) was a number of writers organized around the political monthly Kadro.[] Kadro tried to develop an ideology for the Kemalist revolution. Their main orientation was later formulated as the “center-periphery relations” regarding the world economic system by thinkers such as Maurice Dobb, Immanuel Wallerstein, Arghiri Emmanuel and others. They believed that the main contradiction lay with the developed and underdeveloped nations rather than among classes in the same society. In addition to their quasi-Marxist approach to the world economic and political system, the group around Kadro tried to create an “enthusiasm” for the Turkish Revolution by bringing psychological and socio-psychological factors to the fore.[]

In the thirties, the world was witnessing the rise of fascism and the institutionalization of communism, and the newly emerged Turkish Republic was under the ideological impact of both political systems. Though Kadro was quasi-Marxist, the higher officials of the Republican People’s Party were rightist-oriented authoritarians. Among the writers of Kadro, there were Republican People’s Party deputies and some close friends of Ataturk. Thus Kadro’s power came from informal relations with Ataturk and Inonu, the two leaders of the Revolution. But the officials of the Party were more powerful than Kadro, because they were the official representatives of the establishment that had actually been created and controlled by Ataturk and Inonu.

Kadro was at first supported and then tolerated by both Ataturk and Inonu against the party organization just to create a challenge to the bureaucracy which was intermingled with the Party. When the issue boiled down to a real ideological controversy between the ranks of the Party and the writers of Kadro, however, Ataturk and Inonu favored the organizational setup and the group around Kadro was dissolved. The formulation of the Turkish revolution in ideological terms was in a sense “forced” by the above-noted internal and external factors.

The six principles, symbolized as the “six arrows” in the party flag, were pronounced as the ideology of “Kemalizm” in the Fourth Congress of the Republican People’s Party in 1935. The six principles, although stated at different times, formed an integrated whole since each principle had its own characteristics but became meaningful in conjunction with the others. Those principles which can be considered the pillars of the new State, were nationalism, republicanism, secularism, populism, etatism and reformism or revolutionism.


Turkish nationalism had been the most retarded nationalist movement in the Ottoman Empire and had only emerged at the time of the Union and Progress Party, almost after the Empire had been dissolved. The champion of Turkish nationalism was Ziya Gokalp, a pioneer in sociology and the “ideologue” for the Union and Progress faction. In his way of expressing it, “Turkism could be strengthened by filling the patterns of western civilization with Turkish Culture.”[]

Gokalp had systematically advocated domination of Turkish culture with forms of western civilization rather than importing institutions as they had developed in the west. His sociological orientation, taking a nation as a political and cultural unity, helped him his advocacy of Turkism on “scientific” grounds. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s movement and Ziya Gokalp’s ideas had a close interaction in that Kemalism was affected by Ziya Gokalp in the formulation of nationalism as a principle, and Ziya Gokalp was affected by Kemalism which rejected any ambition beyond the borders of the new Turkey. There was a revision of the Pan-Turanism of Ziya Gokalp in the light of the Kemalist revolution. Ataturk knew only too well that the new Turkish Republic needed cultural traits for a new society because he had denied the Ottoman cultural heritage. Towards the end of his life, he placed special emphasis on Turkish language and history. He tried to reinforce Turkish nationalism by eliminating the cultural duality and emphasizing the historical roots of the Turks as a nation.

Ataturk’s nationalism was not based on race or religion. On the contrary, the main orientation was political and the “Turk” was defined as “anybody who lives within the borders of the Turkish Republic.” Thus, religious minorities such as Jews, Armenians and Greeks were given equal rights with the Muslim Turks, and more importantly, really treated equally (if not privileged) by the new Republican administration which denied the religious approach of the Ottoman bureaucracy. In this sense, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s nationalism was not segregative, but integrative.[]


Since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had to put an end to the Ottoman dynasty which had blocked his path toward a contemporary political structure. Republicanism seemed to be the only solution for that time. Actually, nationalism and republicanism supplemented each other with the backing of populism and secularism. The Empire was non-existent, the religious-political head and symbol of that Empire had lost his functions and the new society did not need a Sultan-Caliph under whom the Muslim communities would be integrated.[] Republicanism was also instrumental in laying the necessary theoretical foundations for the establishment of democracy in the future. There is no doubt that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk meant the achievement of a democratic structure for the future, as he openly stated that a republican regime means the administration of the State through a democratic system. “We established the Republic, and now as it reaches its tenth year of age, all the necessary conditions for a democracy ought to be realized one by one when the time comes.”[] The principle of republicanism gained some social content when coupled with populism, another one of the “six arrows,” as it was the functional idea for the foundation of a nation-state, hand in hand with nationalism.


Secularism was the political, legal and socio-cultural principle which was complementary to the concept of a modern sate. Like all the principles of Kemalism, it had developed as a reaction to the Ottoman system. It meant the separation of religion from legal, educational and cultural life. Almost all the important reforms were based on this principle: the unification of education, the adoption of the new civil code, the abolition of the Caliphate, and other changes.

Because of the influence of secularism on all Kemalist reforms, the “evolutionary cadres of the new republic were accused of being anti-religious. The new revolutionaries wanted to change the six hundred year old Islamic traditions that had affected the social, cultural and political spheres of the Ottoman Empire. Fierce opposition was expected and the religious leaders and the revolutionaries became rival parties in terms of status and power in the society.

As the traditional forces in the Ottoman Empire allied with religious functionaries against any kind of effort towards a modern state, secularism was also a means of eliminating traditional obstacles to modernization. Far from being anti-religious in principle, by separating religion from other facets, secularism save Islam from being crushed by the Kemalist reformation in the reorganization process of Turkish society.

Although Mustafa Kemal had used religion and religious leaders at times, he apparently held no strong belief himself. “... Ataturk and his colleagues have not instituted anti-religious measures of sentiments, as have dictatorships of Russia and Germany. While they have not displayed anti-religious attitudes, it is probably correct to say that they have no love for hidebound ecclesiastics and ecclesiasticism.”[] Ataturk could not afford to sacrifice religion in his role as a political reformer. The following observation sums up the Kemalist behavior on this subject: “... It is plain that one cannot categorically assert either that the government (of the new Republic) is favorable or that it is hostile to Islam. The truth of the matter seems to be that it is distinctly opportunistic in its attitude: that it is favorable to whatever in Islam is consistent with the republican ideals, relentlessly opposed to anything which might endanger Kemalist success, and, for the rest, more or less neutral.”[]

It should also be remembered that secularism was used as a theoretical base for the transfer of political power from the religious-traditional post of the Sultan-Caliph to the republican post of the President.


Populism was only a social approach geared to eliminate cultural dualism, but also a political principle which was to deny class differentiation. The Party program read as follows on this subject:

We consider the individuals who accept an absolute equality before law, and who recognize no privileges for any individual, family, class or community, to be of the people and for the people (populist),

It is one of our main principles to consider the people of the Turkish Republic, not as composed of different classes, but as a community divided into various professions according to the requirements of the division of labor for the individual and the social life of the Turkish people....

The aims of our Party, with this principle, are to secure social order and solidarity instead of class conflict, and to establish harmony of interest. The benefits are to be proportionate to the aptitude and to the amount of work.[]

The social policy of the new republic was rather a “solidarist” one, and aligned specifically neither with capitalism nor socialism. Populism in this sense was not only a symbol for social policy but also a guide to economic activities. In fact, Ataturk identified populism with the national economic policy.[]

All the reforms were the products of the intelligentsia or the ruling class in the young republic as there was no other social force in existence. Regarded as such, populism was also an elitist approach to the society and etatism, which was based on populism as well as nationalism, resulted in the development of capitalism.


Etatism was a means of building a national economy based on private enterprise, through the protection and support of the state, and in some instances, its direct intervention in the form of “State Economic Enterprises.”

As a Kemalist principle, etatism was instrumental in the creation of an independent economy rather than a state-controlled one. A Communist economy was never a goal of Kemalism. Etatism was a principle necessary to complete the economic part of the socio-political transformation of the Ottoman society into a modern state. It accelerated the economic processes that the West had experienced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[]

It was stated that ... “the theory of solidarism, which developed in nineteenth-century Europe as a reaction to both classical liberalism and Marxism, had a profound impact on the Kemalist principle of populism. but because the theory of solidarism was not an adequately developed social theory, it did not provide the necessary guidance for socio-economic transformation.”[] Etatism was the principle which filled this gap in the Turkish transformation.

Reformism (Revolutionism)

Reformism (revolutionism) also lent its nature to the other five principles. It had two fundamental meanings: 1) the reforms which had been achieved through the revolutionary cadres of the new republic should be preserved; 2) the spirit of reformism (revolutionism) should dominate the future of Turkish society. Mustafa Kemal was a realistic and pragmatic leader. He knew only too well that drastic changes and reforms, achieved in such a short period of time, would need a longer period for assimilation. Reformism (revolutionism) stated as the sixth principle would become the revolutionary spirit that should continue through time to aid this absorption. He also believed that the re-structuring of society could be achieved through new reforms to be added to the ones already introduced. Perhaps his very strong reliance on Turkish youth as a major force to carry on with his reforms sprang room this belief. It was an indispensable principle for Kemalism, which in itself was a reaction to the old structure, and could be erased overnight. Thus, reformism (revolutionism) can be viewed as the mainspring of the new cultural synthesis sought for the young Republic.

4. Organizational Mechanisms for the Ideological Re-orientation of the Society

What Mustafa Kemal had sought in the realm of culture for the new state could be expressed as an “induced acculturation” in social anthropological terms: all this political, social, educational and cultural reforms were geared to introducing a contemporary western culture into a traditional Islamic Turkish society. Since he was deprived of the backing of any strong emergent class (such as the bourgeoisie in the French Revolution or the party of the proletariat in the Russian Revolution), he had to build up a sound organizational structure through which he could manage the society. He also lacked any organizational support as he had already broken his ties with the Party of Union and Progress. Thus, he had to start from the grass-roots level.

The leverage points were the “Defense of Rights” organizations which had started after the invasion of Anatolia by the Greeks, urged on by the victorious powers of the First World War. The merger of those local resistance organizations under the name of “The Association for the Defense of Rights of Anatolia and Rumelia (Thrace)” was realized in the Sivas Congress on September 7, 1919, and Mustafa Kemal was elected as the permanent chairman of the steering committee.

When the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated on April 23, 1920, after the Ottoman Parliament was dissolved by the occupying powers, Mustafa Kemal, being the elected chairman of the assembly, started to control the whole governmental apparatus.

Although such a legitimate source of power and the control of the channels of communication seem sufficient for political and military domination over a society, it is evident that the acculturation process needed some additional and more subtle mechanism. Mustafa Kemal made use of three such mechanisms: the Republican Party, “the People’s Houses” (Halkevleri) and two autonomous research associations, the Turkish History Society and the Turkish Language Society. later he added a fourth one, the universities.

The Party

The formation of a Party was a necessary step for Mustafa Kemal, as he was trying to establish a modern state which could not possibly function without such a political organization. Actually, a party-like group called the “Association for the Defense of Rights of Anatolia and Rumelia” was formed in the first Grand National Assembly out of political necessity. Mustafa Kemal needed a formal organization to exert his revolutionary control over the Assembly, which was composed of various groups from Istanbul and from Anatolia. The second goal for the formation of such a “group” was to start building a new constitutional structure for the new state.[]

After the elections were held for the Second National Assembly, the Association for the Defense of Rights was changed into the Republican People’s Party on September 9, 1923. Mustafa Kemal had declared nine principles under the heading of the “Program of Populism” five months previously, in order to present a coherent program to the public prior to the elections. Among those principles were national sovereignty, the irrevocable character of the abolition of the Sultanate, the abolition of some taxes, and the restructuring of the legal system according to secular principles.

Ataturk planned to use the Republican Party for two different purposes at two different levels. First, he made use of it as an instrument for his legitimate power, based on national representation. Secondly, the party became a sort of “school for the education of the Turkish people.” Thus, the party was different from classical political parties, in the sense that it was the channel “from the top to the bottom” of the social order regarding new reforms and also a mechanism of “popular representation.” Not only was the formulation of the “Kemalist ideology” realized within the party, but also mass education concerning a new culture and a new political structure was performed through the party organization.

The People’s Houses

Since the Party was mostly of a political nature, the acculturation process required widespread dissemination of new cultural values which needed some additional mechanisms. Such necessity cannot be overemphasized in the face of the inert character of the rural masses conditioned for centuries by the religious structure of the political system.

The people’s houses were formed by the Republican People’s Party as an “institution to provide the national organization of the society in the area of culture.”[] “Strengthening the national conscience” was among the stated aims of the people’s houses.[] The people’s houses had nine branches of activity which sought to cover all the cultural life of the society: 1) Language and literature, 2) Fine Arts, 3) Libraries and Publications, 8) Rural Development (Koyculuk), 9) History and Museums.[]

As can be seen clearly from the above noted divisions, the people’s houses were designed to “mobilize people” according to the new cultural aims as well as to launch a “community development” program on a national scale. Especially, activities such as “social assistance” and “rural development” (koyculuk) at a national level allow one to assert that the people’s houses were the first attempts at “community development” which later became universal through the programs of the United Nations. It should also be noted that a nation-wide education program was started through the same organizational setup. Later on, such educational activities were followed by a new educational experience based on “learning through doing! in the villages, under the name of “village institutes.”

People’s houses and later on, village institutes, became places also wherein the folklore of the local communities were studied and developed by works of art and socio-cultural monographs. The cultural and ideological activities of the people’s houses and people’s rooms (small branches of the people’s houses) were under the watchful eye of the Republican People’s Party. Though everybody could participate in the activities, only party members could be elected to administrative posts.

In 1945, when their activities peaked, the number of people’s houses reached four hundred thirty-five: and the number of people’s rooms, two thousand seven hundred eighteen. The figures for their activities were really impressive in terms of the number of participants. The activities of 1940 were reported as more than five thousand conferences, two thousand theater performances, one thousand two hundred concerts (classical music), two thousand film showings, about two thousand “family entertainments,” some two thousand villages, more than forty-thousand cases of social assistance, one hundred and fifty exhibitions of fine arts, four hundred other exhibitions, various public education courses attended by 40,000 persons and more than two million readers of four hundred thousand books in public libraries.

The Turkish History Society and the Turkish Language Society

It was early understood by the party leaders that the ideology of Kemalism should be supported through scientific research on Turkish nationalism. The roots of Turkish culture were to be brought to the fore from the darkness of the past where they had been overshadowed since the seventh century by the magnificent Islamic culture. Thus studies on Turkish history and on Turkish language were given special emphasis by the revolutionary cadres of the new Republic, and personally by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself. Efforts in both historical and philological research were especially geared to freeing the new society from an Ottoman cultural heritage which had imposed Arabic and even Persian cultures on the people of Anatolia.

Historical research went for back even to the time of the Hittites in Asia Minor and the Turkic peoples of Central Asia.

It was also contended that a new culture requires a new language. After the reform of the alphabet in 1928, the studies were started to “purify” the Turkish language from Arabic and Persian. Actually it was an effort to abandon the cosmopolitan language of the Ottomans, which had been spoken and written mostly by a “palace culture”, and to substitute the everyday language of the “people” of the Turkish Republic. Coupled with the legal alphabet reform, the reform of the Turkish Language became not only a cultural, but also a political, symbol of the struggle of Turkish nationalism against Ottoman-style culture.

Ataturk was a keen enough revolutionary to realize the shortcomings of imposing new ideas by force. He thus formed two independent and autonomous organizations to study Turkish history and Turkish Language on April 10, 1931 and July 12, 1932 respectively. The cultural mobilization went forward methodically with the inauguration of the first “people’s house” on February 19, 1932 and the university reform, on November 18, 1933. While the new ideology was formulated within the Party and by the Societies of Turkish History and Turkish Language, the People’s Houses were used as the channels through which this ideology was transferred to the masses.

The ultimate aim was to create an original and independent culture for the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal and his followers sought to amalgamate the Western, Islamic and Turkish civilizations by imposing Western models upon traditional Islamic culture to create the new Turkish civilization.

The Role of the Universities

The higher educational institutions have always been on the progressive side in Turkey since 1863, the date when the first university in the modern sense opened. As soon as it started to train students along modern secular lines, the reactionary religious people successfully intervened and forced the closing of the first Dar-ul-Funun (the house of sciences). Thereafter, the professors were exiled. It was reopened during the oppressive reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II in order to be used as a source of support for the throne.

With the proclamation of the Republic, Istanbul University which had already been reformed in 1919, was given new facilities and in 1924 legally reorganized along the lines of a modern institution. On that date, the famous pedagogue, Ismayil Hakki Baltacioglu was appointed President.

Nevertheless, the expected dynamic support from revolutionary cadres of the new Republic was not immediately available in the University community, thus making it dysfunctional for the revolution in the early years of the Republic. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, being a great believer in a secular, positive approach to the arts and sciences, supported Istanbul University and established a new one in Ankara.

Istanbul University, housed in a new structure, reopened on November 18, 1933. The 1930’s were the years of the rise of National-Socialists in Germany. Thus many university professors, seeking asylum from Hitler’s regime, came upon Ataturk’s invitation and helped contribute to the development of scientific knowledge in the areas of law, finance, sociology, and medicine. In 1936 the Faculty of Language, History and Geography was opened in Ankara. Thereafter the scientific contribution to the cultural revival of the young Republic was also carried out there. The universities, in their role as autonomous organizations of research and teaching, developed the social sciences and humanities in Turkey placing Turkish cultural identity on a sound basis. Such an achievement was brought abut through the autonomous structure of the universities which is still protected carefully by the academic community against pressures to place them under political control. Such a change would certainly hinder scientific objectivity. While here we have singled out two institutions, such as the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul and the State Conservatory in Ankara, contributed their share to the development of Turkish art and culture.

5. Sociological Appraisal

Having seen that the revolution and the subsequent reforms were realized through the systematic efforts of a group of the ruling elite of the Ottoman Empire, we realize that Ataturk was not the leader of a rising socio-economic class but rather the leader of a statist-elitist group formed by the civilian and military bureaucracy of the Empire who had worked out an alliance with some of the landowners during the War of Independence.

As the new elite was a product of the Ottoman system, class development in the Republic was hindered. Because of this historical and sociological fact, the Turkish Revolution produced a political change at its outset.[] Deprived of the support of a rising class in society, Ataturk was hindered in his goals and had to introduce socio-economic and cultural changes through his political power.

The reforms were designed to create a western-type society in the absence of a powerful capitalist class to support it, and thus, in a sense, the reforms were designed to create such a class. An alliance between the ruling elite and the weak intermediary classes of landowners and entrepreneurial groups was instigated by the revolutionary cadres. This strategy resulted in the cooperation between the bureaucracy of the Republic and the local notables such as landowners, tradesmen and other sections of the hereditary intermediary classes of the Ottomans.[]

Legal, educational, and cultural reforms, in addition to political ones, were used as a means of accelerating socio-economic and cultural progress along the lines the western world had followed a century before. Thus, in sociological terms, Ataturk’s reforms were not the natural result of socio-economic and cultural changes, but ideological positions imposed to induce such changes. In other words, the Turkish Revolution is an example of infrastructural changes through superstructural means. By using the power of the State, Ataturk created a new socio-economic and cultural order. however, this movement was so alien to the existing socio-economic structure of the Ottomans that it did not even have philosophers, thinkers and writers.[] Ziya Gokalp, the only theoretician of the Party of Union and Progress, was limited in his influence, as his approach to the revolution was too general to have a deep impact on the Republic.

There is no doubt that Ataturk’s revolution was an anti-imperialist one, but it had fought with the very weapons developed by the West. Westernization became the response to the imperialism of the West. As the reforms had to achieve rapid westernization, the principles of republicanism, nationalism, populism, secularism, etatism, and reformism (revolutionism) were chosen as the accelerators in order to attain the socio-economic characteristics of western countries in one tenth of the time actually taken by Europe.


There are two critical points in Turkish history: the first as the acceptance of the Islamic religion during the Ninth Century; the second was the Ataturk Revolution in the Twentieth Century.

During the eleven intervening centuries, the Islamic religion dominated social thought in public and private life. Thus, the evolution in Turkish history prior to the French Revolution could be viewed as developing out of the political strife amongst Muslim leaders, tribes and states or their interaction with similar entities in the “infidel” world. Starting from the date of the French Revolution, “liberal schools of thought mitigated the absolutist heritage of the Ottomans and also attempted to reform the distorted and corrupted beliefs of Islam which were considered the “moral” base of the Ottoman State.

1. General Aspects of Social Thought

The differences of thought which became evident in the form of sects had started long before the Turks became Muslims. Then came the impact of the Greek philosophers. Medieval Islamic philosophers interpreted Islamic thought in accordance with the terminology and norms of Plato and Aristotle. at this stage Islamic and western political thought were on the same philosophical footing. This foundation in western thought eventually led to the flowering of western philosophy and science at the expense of theology during the renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the Ottoman Empire, by contrast, dogmatic thinkers ensured that theology would dominate philosophy and science until well into the Nineteenth Century.

2. Interaction with the West Prior to the French Revolution

In the previous analysis one should not overlook the interaction between Islamic dogmatism and the power of the state. When the Ottoman State was at the peak of its power, in the areas of material development and technological innovations, the seeds of dogmatism were implanted into the society through a powerful central bureaucracy which could control social life and ideology. In fact, the more the state lost its economic power, the more it exerted control on ideology. Eventually the salvation of the state was sought in the realm of political thought. Thus the impact of the French Revolution became a real factor of change after the Eighteenth Century.

Nevertheless, there had always been a western impact in the Empire before the French Revolution. Actually a synthesis between the East and the West might have taken place after Mehmet the Conqueror seized Istanbul in 1453 and put an end to the Byzantine Empire. His historic mission was to revive Islamic civilization and to reunite the Roman Empire. He achieved the first goal but fell short of realizing the second.[]

The fall of Istanbul to the Ottomans gave to the Islamic world another opportunity to establish a sound interaction with the West. The Ottomans obviously missed the chance as the Austrian Imperial Ambassador Busbecq wrote in 1560:

No nation in the world has shown greater readiness than the Turks to avail themselves of the useful inventions of the foreigners as is proved by their employment of cannons and mortars, and many other things invented by Christians. They cannot, however, be induced as yet to use printing, or to establish public clocks, because they think that the Scriptures, that is their sacred books-would no longer be scriptures if they were printed, and that, if public clocks were introduced, the authority of their muezzins and their ancient rites would be thereby impaired.[]

Such selective interaction with the West thus resulted in a catastrophic dogmatism which not only halted the domestic development of sciences but also shut out the positive elements of the West. In the eighteenth century, the Sheikh ul-Islam Ebu Ishak Ismail Efendi (highest religious official) ruled that the books on philosophy, history and astronomy, found in the library of Grand Vizier, Damat Ali Pasa, should not be presented to the public libraries.[]

Professor Lewis aptly summarizes the problem of technological and ideological interactions before the French Revolution in this way:

It may at first sight seem strange that Islamic civilization, which in its earlier stages was so receptive to influences from Hellenism and Iran, even from India and China, nevertheless decisively rejected the West. But an explanation is not hard to find. When Islam was still expanding and receptive, the Christian West had little or nothing to offer, but rather flattered Islamic pride with a spectacle of a culture that it was Christian, it was discredited in advance. The Muslim doctrine of successive revelations, culminating in the final mission of Muhammad, enabled the Muslim to reject Christianity as an earlier and imperfect form of something which he alone possessed in its entirety and to discount Christian thought and Christian civilization.[]

These words revealing the lack of interaction between the two civilizations explain clearly how the Ottomans could reinforce their isolation from Western thought through a despotic oriented state and the ideological support of Islamic institutions.

3. The Impact of the French Revolution

The influence of the French Revolution upon the destiny of the Ottomans, an impact which is still relevant in the Turkish Republic, cannot be overemphasized. The results of such an impact may be considered under five headings.

First of all, by introducing new notions such as liberty, equality and nationality, the French Revolution induced a cultural change which influenced poets and writers. Such a cultural change laid the foundations of the Kemalist Revolution in the 1920’s through the development of young Ottoman thought in the mid-nineteenth century and the social changes of the Young Turks prior to and during World War I.

Second, by providing a philosophical rationale for dissenters in the Ottoman system, the French Revolution gave birth to liberal and constitutional movements against Ottoman absolutism in the political sphere. This political impact was restricted at first to intellectual circles but when supported and strengthened by cultural change, became powerful enough to emerge as a political alternative to the absolute rule of the Sultan-Caliph.

A third important result of the impact of the French Revolution was its generation of widespread nationalist movements among the various millets, especially among the Orthodox communities in the Balkans which had become prosperous through their privileged economic position in Ottoman society. The following observations by Stanford Shaw illustrate the point quite clearly:

Greek ethnic feeling, long preserved in the Orthodox millet, also had profound expression through the successes of the wealthy Phanariote Greeks of Istanbul who had attained significant political and financial power in the empire. The Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) also had made possible a renewal of Ottoman trade relations with Austria and the rest of the Habsburg Empire, with Greece becoming a prosperous middleman for much of the trade of the Mediterranean with Central Europe. The Ottoman treaties with Russia in 17774 and 1794 not only opened the Straits to the commercial ships of Russia and Austria but also specified that the sultan’s Greek subjects would be allowed to sail their own ships under the protection of the Russian flag.[]

Shaw further indicates how Greek merchants gained much of the coasting trade of Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Thus a small Greek middle class with considerable economic power emerged. This class in turn absorbed the European ideas of Nationalism and the revolution as a means of achieving Greek independence. Needless to say such national movements coupled with economic privileges hastened the final collapse of the Ottoman state.

The fourth consequence of the French Revolution led to increased efforts of the Great Powers (Russia, Austria, Britain and France) to control Ottoman politics as well as the Ottoman economy. Interference in Ottoman politics by the traditional Great Powers eventually led the Ottomans into World War I under German influence. European powers sought leverage over the Orthodox minorities as well as other Balkan and Arab communities. Russia, for example, at first supported its “brother,” Orthodox religious communities in the Balkans but was thwarted by Bismarck after the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-78 in a move to establish hegemony over Bulgaria. She next gave succor to the nascent Armenian national movement on Ottoman territory, but notably not within the Russian Caucasus.[]

The fifth result of the French Revolution was the reformist attempts of the Ottoman Palace. Among them were the abolition of the Yeniceris (Janissaries), the opening of new schools, the change of dress to European styles and many legal and political reforms which followed the program of the Tanzimat, an official era of reform.

Actually the Tanzimat Era was the result of efforts at westernization, rather than a starting point for a movement of westernization, but it was taken by many writers as the point of departure through which the influence of western culture irrevocably affected Ottoman society.

The reformist efforts, imitating western institutions, enlarged the gap between the intelligentsia and the masses since such attempts, regardless of their failure, had undermined the already shaken traditional socio-economic structure in which the people were accustomed to function.[]

4. Introduction of Political Ideas Through Cultural Means

The history of political struggles for freedom ad constitutional government in the Ottoman Empire in the Nineteenth Century is the history of newspapers, journals and literature, in the sense that they were either directly attached to political organizations, or written and published by the people who were fighting for political ideals.

The western ideals of freedom, justice, equality, constitutional government and the like, were presented to the Ottoman public concomitantly with the simplification of the Turkish language and even restructuring of Turkish grammar through a novelty in communications, namely, newspapers.

In this process of modernization not only in the presentation of “new schools of thought” but also the introduction of new ways of communication, Ibrahim Sinasi Efendi played a pioneering role.[] Though Ibrahim Sinasi is little known to western European or American students of cultural history, he played a pivotal role among the literati of the Ottoman Empire. Previously they had developed their literary skills for a small circle of the elite. Sinasi showed them how their talents might be directed to educating a larger Ottoman audience in western European ways and, at the same time, gain contact with western European intellectual trends. Because Sinasi involved himself in both liberal politics and literature, his protégés became very influential in journalism and in the movement for a constitution and representative government. His chief disciple Namik Kemal, kept these issues alive in his numerous contributions to the very active Turkish émigré press.[]

Sinasi, with his political and literary work, paved the way for the Young Ottomans. After the foundation of the secret society of Young Ottomans against the absolutism of the Ottoman Palace, the fight through newspapers and journals, now backed by novels and plays, gained a new momentum. Although all three schools of romanticism, realism and naturalism found followers in Ottoman literature, the dominating theme in most of them was the discrepancies between the “western style of life” and “traditional Islam.”[]

While Namik Kemal was introducing new concepts like “fatherland” and “freedom” in his works, Ahmet Mithat and Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem were criticizing the “over-westernization” of the upper class Ottomans.[] Both political attitudes were among the “hot” issues discussed in the daily newspapers as well as in journals revealing the ambivalent attitude of the Young Ottomans toward westernization. They borrowed the main concepts of “national identity” from the West, but they feared western culture as a threat to that very identity which they wanted to create around the concept of “Ottomanism.”

As one can imagine, such an inconsistent ideology caused great controversies among the Young Ottomans themselves. They cherished ultra-westernists like Abdullah Cevdet on the one hand and yet supported the Islamic reformer, Ali Suavi, on the other.

Actually, from the very start of “westernization” the two schools of thought, Islamic revivalism and adoption of western culture had grown hand in hand an would eventually give rise, it was hoped, to a “national culture” composed of elements of both based on the foundation of Turkish Revolution led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).

5. Main Currents of Thought Prior to the Republic

Although Ziya Gokalp is treated as the champion of Turkish Nationalism, a close look at his ideas reveals that his real position was more conciliatory than that of a fanatic nationalist. As late as 1913, as the ideologue of the powerful Union and Progress Party, he wrote:

In our country there are three currents of thought. When we study their history, we see that in the beginning our thinkers realized the need for modernization. The current of thought in that direction, which originated during the reign of Selim III (1789-1807), was followed later by another - the movement towards Islamization. The third, the movement of Turkism, has come forth only recently.”

Gokalp continued to identify his “currents of thought” through the journals in which they were advocated. Interestingly enough, he did not mention any specific journals or newspapers dealing with “modernization,” by which he actually meant “westernization” because he believed that most journals had advocated modernization. But with regard to “Islamization,” he considered Sirat-i Mustakim and later Sibil ur-Resat as the leading journals. The school of Turkism was represented by Turk Yurdu (the Turkish Hearth) to which Gokalp contributed regularly. Gokalp also explained Gabriel Tarde(s ideas on the development of nationalism and then developed his ideas on Turkish nationalism in the Ottoman Empire. After scanning Ottoman history for factors of unity, he concluded: “In short, the Turkish nation today belongs to the Ural-Altaic group of peoples, to the Islamic ummet, and to Western internationality.”[]

Although Gokalp then became the fervent advocate of Turkish nationalism, it was not very easy for anybody to be a “nationalist” in his times. The dominant political solution, represented by the Party of Union and Progress which was in power, was Ittihad-i anasir (union of the different communities in the Empire) despite Gokalp’s nationalist inclinations. (Actually it was this political stand of the Party which had forced Gokalp to be conciliatory regarding his “three currents of thought.”) The famous poet Yahya Kemal (Beyatli) wrote that the real nationalist were labeled as corrupt and wicked if they were Turkists, as reactionary fanatics if they were Muslims, and as traitors, if they were socialists.[] Thus, Gokalp, seeking a sound base for his ideas supported his argument of “nationalism” on sociological grounds by presenting new concepts such as “collective conscience,” and using a positivist approach to social problems, mostly based on the sociology of Emil Durkheim.[]

Gokalp was the ideologue for the existing political power in his time. He was affected by the political power more than he was able to influence it. Thus, he revised his views and prescriptions for the salvation of the state Pan-turkism, to Turkish nationalism. There is no question that he most influential political event he witnessed was the victory of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Had he lived longer (he died in 1924), he would have become the ideologue of the Turkish Revolution.

His statist-elitist views based on centralized political power, were not shared by Prince Sabahattin, another political thinker who also used a sociological approach to present his views about the “salvation” of the Empire. Sabahattin was the follower of the “Science Sociale” approach of Le Play. He used Edmond Demolins’ classification of societies in terms of the “communitaire” and “particulariste” against Gokalp’s Durkheimian evolutionary theory.

Sabahattin was an ardent advocate of decentralized administration and private entrepreneurship as the principles through which the Empire could be saved.[] As the “dissenter” in the Party of Union and Progress, he had to spend most of his life in Europe. Although his approaches were noteworthy in the chaotic years of decline, his proposals were not realistic and suitable for the Ottoman social and political structure, and no school reflecting his ideas remained after his death.

It would be surprising if no indication of Marxist views could be traced in those years of political turmoil. Actually, Marxist views were represented by Sosyalist Hilmi (Hilmi the Socialist) in the 1910’s, first by the Journal Istirak, ant then in the Ottoman Socialist Party (Osmanli Sosyalist Firkasi) which was founded in the same year.[] At the same time, a friend of Trotsky, Alexander Israel Helphand, so-called Parvus Efendi, was analyzing the Ottoman economic situation in Marxist terms in his brochure and in articles which appeared in the Turkish journal Turk Yurdu.[]

Hilmi was under the influence of French socialism as represented by Jean Jaures.[] Thus, his movement can also be classified as a part of the “influence of western culture,” despite the fact that he was looking for bonds between Islam and socialism.[] He was also trying to get the support for the Christian minorities.

6. Schools of Social Thought in the Republican Era

Turkey is one of the countries in which the interaction and interdependence between political movements and social thought can best be observed. The successful War of National Independence under the political and military leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, influenced almost all the currents of social thought as well as all the political factions. The change of the political system from religious-traditional to the modern-secular appeared to achieve the complete victory of the “modernists,” including the Turkish Nationalists and Westernists, against the Islamists and the Marxists. Since the War of Liberation was also fought physically against the troops of the Sultan-Caliph under the guise of “rebellions” against the Ankara Government, the Islamists did not stand a chance of revival in the early years of the Republic. The same happened to the Marxists, after Mustafa Suphi the leader of the Turkish Communist Party drowned in the Black Sea with his wife and 14 men, on his way back to Baku after an unsuccessful attempt to join the Ankara Government in 1921. Nevertheless, neither the Islamist, nor the Marxist movements came to an end. both continued their activities either legally or illegally without any real political influence in the early years of Republic.

The national unionist character of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s charismatic leadership actually forced all the political groups either to reconcile themselves with the existing power or to become ineffective politically. Considering the long tradition of literature, through which political ideas were presented, it is easy to understand why the literary journals and newspapers in Turkey became the means for the expression of political views. Thus it is fair to state that the leftist trends as symbolized by the journal Aydinlik and the rightist inclinations as represented by Dergah in the 1920’s are still relevant to the history of Turkish social thought.[]

In the 1930’s, parallel to the attempts to revive the political and socio-economic life of the country following the abortive “Free Party” experience, Ulku, the official journal of the People’s Houses was issued as the spokesman for the Kemalist ideology. This ideology was to be more clearly articulated in the following years. Of course it was not just a coincidence that the quasi-Marxist Kadro had already started publication about a year earlier: the successful Turkish Revolution needed to be “doctrinized” both against Marxism and Islamism.

The years of the 1930’s were marked ideologically by the struggle between Kadro and the Republican People’s Party. It was a hopeless fight for Kadro, despite its advocating more universal principles to interpret Ataturk’s success. Political struggles were carried out through political parties, not through journals of “thought.” Thus, the Republican People’s Party emerged triumphant and the “six arrows” were formulated as Kemalist ideology. This ideology is still facing the challenge of such universal doctrines as Islamism, Marxism and Turkism.[]

7. Ataturk’s Conception of Culture

Gokalp’s eclecticism is evident in his differentiation between civilization and culture. According to Gokalp, who was trying to prove that Turkish culture is compatible with western civilization. “Civilization is created by men’s conscious actions and is a rational product”, whereas “the elements of a culture rise and grow spontaneously.” Thus, he proposes that the patterns of western civilization should be filled by Turkish cultural elements.

The erroneous character of such analysis stems from the very fact that both culture and civilization are made of the same elements. The only difference between them is in their scope. Interestingly enough, it was Ataturk, trying to impose contemporary culture on a rural and stagnant society who pointed out the discrepancies in Gokalp’s ideas. Gokalp, elaborating the differences between culture and civilization continued: “When a conflict occurs between a nation strong in culture but weak in civilization and one which is culturally disrupted but superior in civilization, the former always wins.”[]

Seven years later, Ataturk while busy with the formation of the “loyal opposition,” namely the Free Party, dictated his views on culture and civilization, replying almost word for word to Gokalp’s contentions: “There are people who give different definitions for civilization. I think it is difficult and unnecessary to differentiate civilization from culture. In order to explain my view, let me define what culture is: it is the accumulation of achievements of a human society in the areas of: A - State affairs, B - the sphere of thought, namely science, sociology and fine arts, C - economic affairs, namely, agriculture, crafts, trade and commerce, and highway, sea and air transportation.” After those words, Ataturk also refuted Gokalp’s contention about the superior nature of culture over civilization in the struggles between nations by giving examples from Turkish history. Ataturk then concluded his remarks on culture with the following words: “In summary, civilization is nothing but culture.”[]

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was by no means a social anthropologist, but a political leader who was trying to modernize a traditional society and was very aware of the barrier of chauvinist nationalism against a humanitarian culture on which his nationalism had been structured. His belief in freedom and human dignity produced the political definition of “nationalism”, namely, the political attachment to the Turkish Republic free of any racial or religious prerequisite.

8. Developments in the Era of Democracy

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died untimely in 1938 without being able to see the establishment of a multi-party regime in Turkey. but with the firm belief in humanitarian and democratic ideals of contemporary civilization, the Turkish Republican revolutionaries achieved the foundation of a democracy under the leadership of Ismet Inonu, a close friend of Ataturk, ho had become President after his death. Inonu was proclaimed the “National Leader” and the “Eternal Leader of the Republican People’s Party” after Ataturk’s death, but today he still retains the honor of being the only authoritarian leader in the world who voluntarily established democracy at the expense of his own power.[] In his decision to establish democracy in Turkish society, Inonu was affected by two prevailing currents, one domestic and the other international. The domestic current was articulated in his firm stand to create a modern society including a “modern political system,” in this case, meaning “the establishment of democracy.” Internationally, Inonu was under the pressure of western democracies which had triumphed in World War II over the dictatorships. Thus being or trying to be a member of the Western World, Inonu wished to come to terms with the United Nations ideals as set forth in San Francisco.

Following the decision to implement democracy, the legal barriers for the formation of socialist parties were abolished and the whole legal system was liberalized accordingly. Thus, socialist intellectuals started to issue a journal again. The leftist Gorusler (Views) was issued jointly by liberals and by socialists. At the same time two socialist parties were formed in 1946. but after a short while both parties were closed down. The new experience in democracy would be achieved without socialist and Marxist viewpoints. There was a gentleman's agreement between the powerful Republican Party and the newly formed Democrat Party against both Marxist and religious parties, though, after a short while, the Democrat Party became very tolerant of religious political activities. In 1950, the Democrat Party came to power as a result of free elections. Regarding the movements of social and political thought, it meant that the revival of the religious activities would be tolerated while strict measures against the left would continue.

Since the Republican attitude toward religious movements was based on secular ideas, the movements was based on secular ideas, the main controversy in the area of politics turned out to be a struggle between the secular modernists, and traditionals who were backing religious viewpoints. As the Democrat Party was advocating more liberal economic practices, their traditionalism in social and cultural affairs, coupled with the liberalism in the economy resulted in a peculiar synthesis of “traditional-liberals.” Against them, the Republicans with their “etatist” inclinations in economics and a revolutionary “elitist” attitude toward social and cultural affairs, allied themselves with the civilian and military bureaucrats, and formed the “statist-elitist” approach.[] As a result of these development, all the religious and even anti-Kemalist elements found protection in the Democrat Party which had come to power in 1950, whereas the Republicans in the opposition became more tolerant, even supportive of leftist ideas.

Parallel to the revival of Islamic and even reactionary political activities, the Islamists flourished in the areas of thought and literature too. Nevertheless, the Marxists were not inactive. In an atmosphere of restrained political activity, most of their efforts were directed to literary production. Thus the decade of the 1950’s was barren in terms of socio-political thought, but quite colorful with regard to political-literary activities.

The military made a decisive move in 1960 to restore democracy which had been distorted by the Democrat Party after the parliamentary opposition, including the activities of the Republican People’s Party, had been suppressed through changes in the legal system. The military, conditioned by the Kemalist principles of constitutionalism and secularism, was forced to move in as both principles were breached severely by the practices of the Democrat Party.[] This coup marked the beginning of a new era for the “social welfare state” with all its implications in the area of basic rights and freedoms.

9. Changes After the Military Intervention of 1960

The most important aspect of the military intervention of 1960 was the establishment of “parliamentary democracy” in the real sense of the term. Such a political development had a deep effect on the evolution of social thought since it permitted the healthy reflection of social ideas in the political arena. Thus, from 1960 on, the history of social thought in Turkey has become the history of political parties.

The first development took place in the area of socialist thought. Some of the prominent Marxists and other leftists joined the Turkish Labor Party, which had been formed after the May 1960 intervention. They were backed by weekly and monthly journals in which they followed the traditional lines of “politics through periodicals.” The Turkish Labor Party played the role of political leadership for the Marxists and quasi-Marxists, until the end of the 1960’s when it fell apart as a result of differences of opinion about the strategy and tactics of a “socialist party,” in the light of concrete socio-economic conditions in Turkey. The main issue was the controversy on the “stage of development” of Turkish society. some thought that the society was ready for a socialist transformation, while others thought that it was at the stage of “national democratic revolution” as the feudal structure was still dominant and national independence had not yet been achieved. This struggle marked the end of the Turkish Labor Party which received three percent of the vote in the 1965 elections. Another development which was responsible for the weakening of the Party was political: The “national remainder system” in the election law which enabled the Turkish Labor Party to receive more than ten seats in the Parliament was abolished to prevent the influence of the leftists in the Parliament. Thus, in the 1969 elections, though the ration of the votes remained more or less the same (2.7 percent) the labor seats feel from 14 to 2. Frustrated with the inefficient mechanism to express themselves in the Parliament, different factions in the Party then formed independent political groups with their own journals and newspapers until 1971 when the “12th of March Memorandum” of the military put an end to almost all leftist activities temporarily. In the meantime the Turkish Labor Party was closed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it had been involved in some separationist activities regarding ethnic groups in Turkey.

Nevertheless, the social parties resumed their activities after parliamentary democracy was fully restored following the 1973 elections. In addition, newly-formed extra-Parliamentary leftist and “gauchist” groups appeared, some of which supported and were involved in terrorism. Although the legal socialist parties tried to stay out of terrorist activities, the “12th of September Intervention” by the military put an end to all leftist politics and other kinds of cultural activities associated with Socialist and Marxist thought.

Another development regarding the leftist schools of social thought after the 1960 intervention was the publication of the weekly journal, Yon. Yon, (later Devrim) was advocating a reformist program for the “nationalization” of the economy along the lines of Kemalism, which was to be led by a military-civilian bureaucratic alliance. Historically, it was the continuation of the Kadro, and the group around Yon-Devrim which was influenced internationally by the quasi-Marxist “center-periphery” model of world capitalist which stressed “national independence” as a first political move for economic development. With the “12th of March Memorandum” of 1971, this group came to an end, purged by the military establishment. Actually the Yon-Devrim group was looking for a synthesis between Kemalism and socialism with a “statist-elitist” approach.

The developments in right-wing social thought after the 1960 Intervention took a little bit more time than left-wing developments for two reasons: First of all, by the elimination of the Democrat Party, a political gap occurred in the right wing political structure which had encompassed and supported the conservative and reactionary schools of social thought. Secondly, since the military was very sensitive about religious reactionary groups, such inclinations were suppressed for a while both politically and socially in an atmosphere of military rule. but as soon as the Justice Party emerged as the heir to the former Democrat Party, the old coalition of religious traditionalists together with the economic liberals re-established itself and continued until the religious faction formed its own organization in 1970 under the name of the National Order Party. This became the National Salvation Party after the National Order Party was closed one year later by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it had violated the 1961 Constitution by misusing religious beliefs for political purposes.

Actually, the end of the sixties witnessed the clarification of Turkish politics along the lines of the social and philosophical beliefs of the different groups. In addition to the developments summarized above, the racist groups formed their own political organization for the extreme nationalists who had survived in Turkish cultural life under the name of “Turkists” since the time of Gokalp. This Party then became the source and supporter of the right wing terrorism which eventually caused the ideological and moral degradation of Turkish Nationalism

In the meantime, another interesting development took place in Ataturk’s Republican People’s Party. Affected by the growing support for the Turkish Labor Party in 1965, Ismet Inonu, still leader of the Republican Party and the closes friend of Ataturk, declared that his Party stood “at the left of center,” meaning it took a mild social democratic attitude. This was a revolutionary change for the relatively conservative structure of the Party. It turned out to be a revolution in the real sense of the word when the general secretary of the Party, Ecevit, won the elections in the Party General Assembly as the leader of the “leftist group” against the will of the president and Ismet Inonu, one-time “eternal leader” of the Party.

From then on, the differences of opinion between the social democrats and the Marxists became more articulated because the Republican People’s Party had become the representative of social democracy, a view which had been represented by extra-parliamentary groups up to that time. During this process of articulation (if not polarization) of the various currents of social thought, Kemalism was accepted as a banner of many organizations but really used as a source of inspiration only by the Yon-Devrim group and by the Republican People’s Party. Needless to say both groups had a revised notion of Kemalism and Kemalist principles according to their original political inclinations.

The military intervened in 1971 in the name of Kemalism while the Justice Party was in power at a time when terrorist activities were in their infancy (until then almost no political killings). The military suppressed all kinds of leftist activities both Marxist an non-Marxist. It was the end of the Yon-Devrim line of thought as an elitist-leftist movement. Although the intervention also affected the religious groups, since they had a sound base (about a million voters consisting of about 10 percent of the total), they were able to survive. Actually all the effects of military intervention were swept away thoroughly after the free elections of 1973.

The political development which took place after the elections in the process of forming the government, had an important impact on Turkish social thought: the Kemalist Republicans allied with their eternal enemy, the religious National Salvation Party. This was a very important development which not only legitimized the religious groups politically but also had a deep impact on Turkish cultural synthesis between the “modernists” and “traditionalists”, or in other terms, between the Kemalists and the Islamists.

Though such a coalition was quite meaningful and noteworthy regarding cultural values, it did not work out politically. The coalition of the “leftist” modernists with the “rightist” Islamists fell apart. After a period of transition, the so-called “nationalist front” (milliyetci cephe) was formed among the racists, the Islamists and the liberal rightists, under the leadership of the Justice Party. The opportunity for right-wing terrorists to infiltrate into the government apparatus came about through this “front.”

After political developments resulting from the failures of so-called “nationalist front” and the Republican government which had followed it, escalating terrorism accounted for as many as thirty deaths per day. The military moved in once again in the name of Kemalism and put an end to every kind of political activity with the resulting implications for social and cultural life.

10. Recent Developments in Cultural Life

It is not very far-fetched to view Turkish cultural development as a dichotomy which will eventually reach a new synthesis: the development of traditional Islamic culture on one hand, and the development of a modern one, which can be called “ western” or “contemporary” culture on the other. both lines of development are open to and influenced by external factors which give them not only a rationale for their existence but also a sense of belonging to the “contemporary! world. Thus, not only French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, but also Libyan, and Iranian revolutions had their own (and in some cases quite limited) effects on Turkish society. All the political and ideological trends such as Marxism, Trotskyism, Maoism, the Islamic Revival, Eurocommunism, social democracy, and an Islamic Republic, which are often different in nature and antithetical in relation to one another, serve as the international precedents for various groups in Turkey.

Again, both lines of social thought although seeking international ties and relations, have a deep sense of Turkish folk culture and thus try to root themselves in their land and its people providing them with the colorful aspects of historical and local characteristics.

A shrewd observer will not have any difficulty in finding a lot of similarities between these two different and even rival cultural trends in Turkey which have paved the way for many interesting developments. Since they are both the products of the same society, such a similarity is quite expected in terms of their dialectical approach to local and international cultures. These are, of course, influenced deeply by the Kemalist principle of “nationalism” based on a great sense of the “integrity of human kind.”

Affected by the same political atmosphere, both lines of social thought could not protect themselves completely from being “over-politicized” after the 1960 military intervention. For example, in the sphere of theater, the audience witnessed some plays in which the “artistic side” of the drama was sacrificed for the sake of the “ideological message.” Although this trend was not persistent and faded away gradually, it negatively affected the aesthetic level of cultural product, whereas the very same “politization process” also helped the development of different lines of new socio-cultural schools based on a new synthesis of traits taken from both currents within the culture. The best examples of such new development can be observed in the area of literature.

A new politico-cultural trend can be traced in Turkish literature in the activities of a group of writers and poets who can be labeled as the Eyyubi’s. They are looking for new approaches in the synthesis between the folklore of the Anatolian soil and western civilization, with a special emphasis on ancient Greece not only as a source for western culture but also as a background for Anatolian civilizations. This author has labeled them Eyyubi after Sabahattin Eyuboglu, not only because he was one of the leaders of the approach but also because the word Eyyubi, which denotes his name, is at the same time reminiscent of Islamic cults in which the same type of solidarist relations among the followers dominated.[] Among the group are prominent writers like Halikarnas Balikcisi (Cevat Sakir), Azra Erhat and Vedat Gunyol.

A similarly new and interesting line of politico-cultural trend can be named as Tahiri, after the famous writer Kemal Tahir. The Tahiri’s had a scent of an anti-Kemalist approach as Kemalism had done away with the glorious Ottoman culture according to them and they were in love with Ottoman civilization. They were not less important nor less effective than the Eyyubi producing high quality poems and novels, even if they did not reflect the historical facts correctly, a reservation especially true for Kemal Tahir’s so-called “historical” novels.

Interestingly enough both new schools the Tahiri’s and the Eyyubi’s, with all the internationality and nationality in their approaches are nevertheless the products of Kemalism, in the sense that the fertile ground of present Turkish society which has given rise to them was molded through the revolution realized by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

We should also add that the present diversification of the literary trends as well as of socio-political thought can by no means be reduced to the above two. These are mentioned to give some illustration of the new development.


Turkey is the first and the only secular country in the world of Islam. Not only geographically but also culturally, she is a bridge between Asia and Europe - to be more exact, a cultural bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations. She is a Middle-Eastern country and also a Balkan state. Being a Mediterranean country, at the same time, she has a unique place in the world. There is no question that, being placed so beautifully among various geographical and historical cultures, Turkey stands a good chance of producing a new cultural synthesis for the coming age of the “Third Wave.”[]

Not only the external stimuli of a new age but also the domestic developments herald such a genesis. Regarding domestic developments, there are at least three different areas which have recently become quite meaningful at the micro level. First of all, the universities, in addition to their role in the creation of a new national identity in terms of scientific activities in the areas of history, language, sociology and the like, have started to put a special emphasis on fine arts and related subject. Among the newly-formed departments are theater, drama, music, graphic arts, painting, sculpture, cinema and many others which contribute to the development of Turkish culture toward new frontiers. There is no doubt that the production of the universities especially in the areas of the social sciences and humanities which has been realized in an atmosphere of almost total academic freedom since 1960 has paved the way for such fruitful progress in art and culture through the accumulation of knowledge about Turkish society as well as about the human cultural heritage.

Secondly, the local governments and the individual municipalities have started to pay special attention to cultural activities in order to develop and present the cultural heritage of their own geographical areas.[] Although such activities are mostly geared toward touristic goals, there is no doubt that they contribute to the cultural development. For example, the film festival of Antalya Municipality has become one of the most important cultural events in the country and has even contributed to the rise of a new school of “young directors” in the Turkish cinema. Many of the “city festivals” are multi-purpose and multi-functional and include international activities and performances as well as national ones in the areas of music, theater and ballet. The Istanbul festival is a good example of the “mixed” festivals, mixed in terms of various activities and of different nationalities. Thus not only the central government, but also the local governments, support activities along the lines of the preservation and presentation of both the cultural heritage and contemporary culture.

A third development which took place quite recently is the rise of interest in voluntary associations and of large-scale capital and financial holding companies entered the “cultural market” either through their “cultural foundations” or directly through “cultural departments” formed within their organizations. Such a development has resulted directly in the rising prices of paintings for private collections and in he increasing number of “musicals” which are financed and backed by these “big capitalists.” Just to give an example, I should mention that the number of private art galleries in the city of Ankara has risen to about twenty, each having a new painting exhibition every fifteen days.

In addition to such developments, many of the large companies have established awards for arts, literature and the social sciences. For example, the largest private bank in Turkey has been giving awards for three years in the areas of “literature,” “arts” and “social sciences and humanities.” Each annual award is equal to five times the salary of a university professor. The same practice a newspaper started five years ago with awards in various areas including, arts, sciences, social sciences, sports and communication. The monetary prize is about four times of the salary of a university professor, who is among the best paid of government bureaucrats in Turkey.

Awards, especially those in literary fields, have a long history in Turkey. With symbolic monetary values, such as one-fourth of the salary of a professor, many awards were established in the names of writers by their families. The state has also given awards from time to time and it seems that a more stable system has been established recently in the areas of arts and literature. The Turkish Language Association, which was founded by Ataturk, has an award system with a long history in almost all the areas of literature and also the social sciences. The rising interest of large scale organizations in arts and literature covers the social sciences and humanities almost in all cases. Such an attitude stems from a deep sense of appreciation for those kinds of activities and reflects a modern and positivist approach to society. Another development regarding the rise of capitalism in Turkey is being observed in the area of publication. Artistic and literary journals which were previously owned by either a group of writers who shared the same political view, or by people who held the same thoughts regarding arts and literature, are now being faced by the rivalry of colorful magazines of art and literature financed by large holding companies.

Though it is quite early to judge the effects of these recent micro-domestic developments in Turkish culture, we may conclude this analysis of the transformation of the socio-cultural structure of modern Turkey at macro level, by pointing out that up to the last quarter of the twentieth century, arts and literature played the role as outlets for political dispositions, whereas they have now started to be reflections of socio-economic development.

Urbanization and democratization processes seem to be the two main social forces which will shape the future of Turkish society. Both processes will serve as the agents of change toward more just income distribution and more stable social relations. Thus the new cultural synthesis is expected to rise on this new socio-economic foundation. This synthesis will have both “western” and “Islamic” cultural traits. But the main characteristic will be “Mediterranean” with all the geographical and historical implications of the word.

This article is published in “The Transformation of Turkish Culture, The Ataturk Legacy”, Emre Kongar, Gunsel Renda and C. Max Kortepeter, ed., The Kingston Press. Inc. Princeton, New Jersey, 1986, pp. 19-68.


Source website of Prof. Emre Kongar.


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