ATATÜRK – The Turkish Transmission from Theocratic Monarchy to Secular Republic

Ataturk 125 yilAtaturk 125 yilAtaturk 125 yil

Prof Dr Seçil Karal Akgün’s Seminer

PHOTOS from Prof Dr Seçil Karal Akgün’s Seminer:
Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Ataturk 125 yil

Prof Dr Seçil Karal Akgün’s Seminer NOTES:

Ankara, the capital of Turkey is one of the oldest settlements of central Anatolia. It is situated on a plateau and surounded by hills where stands a big VIIth century fortress erected to guard the town against enemy attacks. More noticable than the fortress for a newcomer to town is Anıtkabir, where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the founder of Modern Turkey is burried. Anıtkabir is not looked upon as a tomb, but it serves to remind the Turks and foreigners visiting Ankara of the Turks’ patriotic defence against imperialism when the Turkish homeland was occupied by big powers of Europe at the end of the First World War. Every day of the year this impressive monument is visited by individuals and groups from all over Turkey as well as from distant lands. Schoolchildren are brought to Anıtkabir to be reminded of the strugle and sacrifices of their grandparents to provide the modern, advanced life they are enjoying. The older visit this monument to express gratitude for the honorable independence the secular Turkish republic provided. Women flood it with the awareness that it was Atatürk who encouraged them to an equal participation in a previously man-domineered society. Foreign administerers and statemen of all levels, military and civilian delegations, representatives of different religions, ambassadors, tourists visit Anıtkabir to pay tribute for the eternal peace Atatürk aimed to install in this once turbulent region which since ancient times, has been a home to various civilizations and witnessed their dissapearance under beligerent attacks. Atatürk, each day of every year is commemorated at Anıtkabir by millions with different emotions.

Who was Kemal Atatürk and what did he do to be worthy of this international esteem? This famous Turk, with awe, envy or contempt has been the subject of volumes of books, numerous articles, discussions, films and plays. He can very briefly be defined as the person who established a nation-state and erected a secular republic over a predominately islamic society administered by empirical theocracy. His tools and instruments for this dramatic transmission were knowledge, positivism and education. Atatürk, until he founded the Turkish Republic, appears to be a compulsive fighter, however, a closer look at his life reveals that he was a compulsive reader and an excellent conosseur of history. The broad vision he gained through education made him the “outstanding one” among those he shared the battlegrounds with. The depth of his knowledge particularly in modern history allowed him to judge the existing and aim for the future. This knowledge joined with his common sense, military skill and heroic fame and guided him to becoming the organizer and national leader of the Turkish Independence War.

Occupations of various parts of what was left of the Ottoman Empire following the defeat the state suffered at the end of the First World War was met with Turkish rejection. Various defence of rights societies were formed under local leaders to express this rejection politically and to administer militariy the irregular resistance groups. Mustafa Kemal Pasa, appointed by the Sultan to proceed to Anadolu and take control of Turkish retaliation to the allied forces at the Black Sea, used this opportunity to centralize all local guerilla forces and start an organized military action for national independence. After the victorious termination of this national struggle, the Turkish nation gifted him with the name Atatürk, meaning “father of the Turks”.

When Mustafa Kemal resigned from his Ottoman military ranks to assume nationalists’ leadership, he developed a goal and a program which he wanted to share with the Turkish nation. His goal was the universal recognition of Turkish independence and sovereignity. Forming a national front was the first step of his program to reach this goal. Accordingly, he began to organize the resistance as soon as he set foot in Anatolian Black Sea port of Samsun. His arrival there on 19th of May 1919 followed the Greek landing in İzmir. Thousands of Turks were massacared during the landing. So his proposal to hold a general congress in Sivas to design the military and political steps of the liberation movement was welcome by most military officials and civilians. Aiming for an independent Turkish state liberated from all pressures and bigotry of theocratic administration briefly summarises his entire program. What he, as he launched the national struggle had to achieve was to incite masses towards this goal and gain the support of the nation.

The American and French revolutions, two striking accomplishments of the 18th century, introduced declarations of independence and human rights, and thus had transformed the medevial administrations in the western world into nation states, based on equalatarian principles. True, this transformation had centuries of preparatory stages through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightment and finally, the Industrial Revolution. It was also true that changing the fate of the Turkish nation which, under Ottoman administration, did not live through these changes was not at all an easy task. The Ottoman Empire, once the mightiest state in the world, had recently suffered domestic problems and foreign interventions, lost her prestige and damaged her independence. The hetorogeneous Empire spread over three continents had gradually disintegrated as the state economy and authority declined. The isolationist policy of the Empire entailing an oblivious attitude to all developments of the west appeared to be the main factor causing the decline. This policy stemmed from and was continued by the gradual influence of the ulema-the learned class- which thus became privileged. The ulema disclaimed all western developments pronouncing them as infidel and with religious sanctions prevented their enterance to the Empire. For example with such sanctions, the printing press was restricted in the Empire for 250 years. The sanctions also included separative measures to the non-muslims. This uniterian Ottoman soceity and eventually resulted in disintegration. Consequently, preserving integrity of the Empire became the primary objective of the administerers.

Although Ottoman rulers started to notice that aloofness from the west was resulting in alienation from western advancements, they struggled in vain for over two hundred years to close the continuously growing gap by westernizing. There were many factors contributing to the futility of all renovative attempts imported from the west. A major one among these was the individualistic application of reforms: Reform attempts condemned by the ulema dissapeared with sultans who initiated them. This was because the sultans were unable to discard the ulema while they neglected developing a supportive cadro to reforms they failed to introduce publicly. Another contributing factor was the co-existence of each renovation with the previous application; the old was the accustomed, which soon won over the new. Prevailing conservatism among the Islamic majority of the Empire facilitated the social acceptance of the ulema’s preventive approaches as the Muslims in general simply chose conformity.

Kemal Atatürk, noting the obstacles erected in front of Ottoman reformers in the name of religion, became acutely aware of the adherence of Islamic majority to the traditional. This awareness guided him to launch the Turkish Revolution by legalizing each of the reforms introduced. In other words, the radical movement which embraced changes from the alphabet to atires; from weights, measures, calender, to women’s emancipation, included suppressing the traditional while installing the new. He was also aware that their social acceptance depended on supportive cadros and serious changes in peoples’ mentality. So to popularize the renovations he frequently delivered addresses to acknowledge the people. Overcoming ignorance, ending gender discrimination by practicing social equality and installing solidarity a nation-state required were the major concentration points of the reforms. Considering the reforms were designed to elevate the intellectual level of the society as well, secularism was made the cornerstone of the Turkish Revolution.

The legal application of secularism in Turkey materialized in three steps: The first was the removal of non-secular elements from the state institution by the three acts accepted on March 3, 1924. These included secularizing state administration by abolishing the Caliphate and secularizing jurisprudence by discontinuing the Ministry of Pious Affairs and Endowments. Secularisation of education by ‘Unification of Education’ code which legally placed all educational institutions under a national education system and provided compulsary primary education for girls and boys was the third act. The second step was the constitutional change in 1928, removing the article underlining that Islam was the religion of the Turkish Republic. The third and last stage was the installment of the article confirming the secular character of the republic in the Turkish Constitution in 1937.

The actual announcement of secularism, however, was by Atatürk’s appeal to the Turkish nation at the end of June, 1919 when he set out to organize the independence war. He, than, asked the people to react to foreign invasion while he reminded that national sovereignty depended on the will and wish of the people. This indeed was a remarkably foreign concept to a society obedient to sultan’s authority and the divinity it conveyed. This appeal, although not expressed openly, meant the rejection of the sultan, the caliph, and the religious sanctions. This appeal also became the cause for the separation within the nationalist cadro leading the movement. Those who sought liberation from foreign occupations but could not accept to part with the theocratic monarchy did not refrain from forming the Second Group once the Grand National Assembly was opened in Ankara at the begining of the independence war. So, Mustafa Kemal and his cadro did not only have the imperialists and the sultan supported fundementalist ulema to struggle with, but they also had to put up with the conservatives. This group became more demonstrative in the Parliament at the end of the war, when the time ripened to abolish the Ottoman sultanate. Amongst the opponents were those who complied with the obviously approaching declaration of the republic while remaining adherant to the caliphate. Therefore the abolition of the caliphate in March 1924 became a major step opening the road to reforms.

When the Sultanate was abolished and the Ottoman Empire was dissolved by the decission of the Grand National Assembly on 1st of November 1922, ostensibly, the ex-Sultan Vahdettin was permited to preserve his position as the Caliph. However, it was clear that the decision was indeed an absolute separation of temporal and spiritual power and undoubtedly, the time to discontinue the role of the later in Turkish politics was not far away. With this realization Vahdettin was also able to notice the beligerence his opposition to the independence movement created among the people. He even feared for his life, and two weeks after the historical decission of the Parliament, he fled from the country in a British gunboat which had been part of the occupation forces. This unquestionable betrayal served to prevent all possible rejections to the annulment of the Sultanate. Vahdettin’s flee also provided the Parliament the opportunity to appoint the new Caliph although this was a position of heredity. The appointment constituted a step towards the abolition of the Caliphate. The coexistance of this institution of international character and the Turkish Parliament based on national sovereignity was indeed contraversial. Divine sovereignty with God as the only legitimate source of temporal power could not be talked about once the people became the source of sovereignty. Hence, the diversity in the Parliament as well as traditional pressures of the conservative resistance over the sovereign had to be overecome.

The world wide recognition of Turkish independence through the Laussanne Peace Treaty was followed by the declaration of the Turkish Republic on October 29, 1923. Chosen the first president, the time had come for Mustafa Kemal to aim for the second part of his goal which was to modenize Turkey to enable the new republic equal participation among the advanced western states. Atatürk for long had beleived that the western civilization was the single universal civilization and new Turkey not only had to catch up with it, but become a part of it. When the war was won, he had pronounced that the victory gained was not an end but only the opening of a path for Turks’ march towards progress and civilization. Declaration of the Republic turned on the green light for this march.

The Caliphate was abolished with only one opposing vote in the Parliament only four months after the republic was declared. At this point, it is worth mentioning that the Caliph, following the decision including the banishment of the Ottoman dynasty, anticipated support, moreso, a welcome from Islamic countries. However, he was completly overlooked as nine separate Arab emirs pronounced themselves as caliph within the week following his departure from Turkey. On the other hand, Atatürk made excellent use of the mentioned four months in explaining publicly the contradictions of a religious authority. The Turkish republic had inherited from the Ottoman Empire Islamic middle eastern civilization and a predominately Muslim populace. Accordingly, the transformation to follow included not only institutional changes but also the replacement of Islamic understanding of identity, authority and obedience by secular concepts of western origin. Atatürk was aware of the challange involved in storing western civilization in a society which had been persuaded to an overall struggle to overthrow domination of western countries. Much effort and determination was required for adopting and of course sustaining western ways in culture, society and life style. Therefore secular education, which was the only instrument to publicly explain the necessity of the approaching renovations and provide their sustainance, was given the greatest emphasis in this transformation.

The implementation of the chain of reforms composing the Turkish Revolution took a little over a decade. Turkey, with the newly gained independence and radical changes entailing rapid advancements in all walks of life was closely observed as a role model by other Muslim communities which were colonies of big European states. Nevertheless, colonial powers, namely England, concerned about the flourishing seeds of liberty among millions of Muslims in her colonies, attempted to block the sober renovations in Turkey by inviting the conservatives’ attention to restoration of the Caliphate. For Atatürk, this was not an unexpected attempt. As a matter of fact, with this expectation, during the Turkish national struggle, he carefully explained that had the Turks’ struggle been for the Turks alone, it would have cost less bloodshed. He underlined that Turks were fighting for all exploited nations. Consequently he resorted to strong state control as he legalized each step of the Turkish Revolution.

Economic expansion was an inevitable requirement for the advancements targeted by the seriously handicapped new republic, erected over the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk aimed to accomplish the economic growth in Turkey by utilizing a protectionist trend albeit the fact that this did not exactly comply with the foreign colloborations the crawling bourgeois desired. However, the state controlled economic application Kemalists deemed suitable for Turkey was not the component of the strict socialist system the Soviet administration installed after the Russian Revolution. Atatürk, holding a national economic congress in İzmir to explain and prove this, stated that Turkish liberation could not be considered fully accomplished without economic independence. Turkey’s decissiveness to pursue an independent policy in accord with her national interests was accepted with the Lausanne Treaty as the bounding economic entanglements of the late era were cancelled. Yet, Turkey lacked private sector and commercial enterprize as well as an ample cadro with economic know how. The republican government assumed the major role in creating the infrastructure and providing the modern means to stimulate economic expansion. Investing in industrialization without omiting agrarian developments was part of this difficult task. Etatism, thus, was made the fundemental of economic policy of the new state in the following years.

The appropriate ground for the mentioned economic changes as well as social reforms was provided by the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code in 1926. The new Civil Code provided further disentanglement of the society from Islamic Sheria applications as it legally terminated feudal traces left from the Ottoman Empire. The new legal measures discarding women’s discrimination and introducing equality, guided the nation towards the solidarity the new state needed. The process was soon completed by equiping women with complete electoral rights. For Turkey, women’s emancipation was one of the most important bringings of the Turkish Revolution. This was the step which provided the transmission of the unilateral and Islamic identity of the Turkish society into a secular, egalitarian structure.

We must indicate that it is not possible to claim that the reforms introduced by Ataturk were accepted by the people wholeheartedly. The Turkish revolution encompassed transition from absolute monarchy to democracy while establishing national identity and ideals among the people. Immediate acceptance of this dramatic change by a society which was for centuries subjected to cosmopolitan institutions and which pursued its attachments to traditions was indeed very difficult. This difficulty was reflected upon the applications of the renovations introduced. There were rejections to reforms from the conservatives and from those who lost some advantages as previous system was abandoned. Although political legitimation of the Turkish state universally and the strong state precautions of the existing single party system facilitated eliminating these rejections, time was required for the society to understand and absorbe the reforms. The secular education system equipping new generations with positive mentality based on rationalism initiated the march towards democracy and in the time elapsed since the days of Ataturk, served to install the understanding for the total recognition of the Turkish Revolution. Presently, as we commemorate Ataturk on the 125th anniversary of his birth, we can confidently say that the foundations he laid were solid. Although the Turkish society from time to time still suffers some retrospects, in general, the accomplishment in establishing the modern understanding Ataturk aimed for has reached to an irreversable depth. In our day the world as well as Turks comply with the magnitude of his achievements which have served as inspiration to many developing nations in their struggle towards liberation and independence.

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