Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism VI

The end of World War Two placed Turkey between the Soviet Communist world and the western democracies. It’s Middle Eastern neighbours consisted of one outright colony (thinly disguised as a League of Nations mandate), French Syria; one de facto colony of Britain, Iraq (formally independent after a mandate period); one country whose sovereignty was highly compromised by United States and British ‘interests’, that is Iran. After decades of rule by the secularist-nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP is the Turkish acronym), the idea of a Middle Eastern orientation was not a major one at any kind of obvious level, and had limited practical applicability even for those oriented towards the kind of traditionalist Islam which inevitably looks for some kind of connection with the original Muslim heartland.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in (British dominated) Egypt in 1928 and that becomes more important in Turkey over time. A Turkish version, National View, was founded by Necmettin Erbakan in 1969, and forms the core of the AKP today, led by Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. Turkish history from the 1940s to the AKP coming to power in 2002 can look like an inevitable process, and with some qualifications that is probably a reasonable one-sentence way of thinking. Qualifications include the dangers of seeing history as the inevitable unfolding of a single unified process, and the constant possibility that better decisions by secular leaders at various time could have prevented this outcome. The decisions of the small numbers of self-defined liberals in Turkey were not really any better, sad to say.

İnönü’s response to the post-war world was to adopt multi-partyism. The Democrat Party was allowed to form under Adnan Menderes, who had been a member of the short-lived Free Republican Party and then a CHP deputy, and former prime minister Celâl Bayar. The DP contested the 1946 election, which was not all fully free and fair, but came to power in a more properly conducted election in 1950. Bayâr became President and Menderes became Prime Minister. This worked more as the Turkish constitution suggested than when the CHP was the only party in the national assembly. The result was that Menderes was the decision making person.

This political opening up helped Turkey into the Council of Europe (the grouping of European democracies) in 1949 and made it eligible for Marshall Aid under İnönü. Under Menderes, Turkey joined NATO in 1952. Acceptance into NATO was helped by substantial Turkish participation in the Korean War. The participation of conscript peasant soliders from Anatolia is still remembered in folk songs.

All these ways in which Turkey was acknowledged as part of the community of European democracies took place simultaneously for Greece, so the countries were taken as a pair during this period. The peaceful transfer of power through election from İnönü and the CHP to Menderes and the DP was the first such occasion in Turkish and Ottoman history. Some have seen İnönü as ‘only’ responding to US pressure and therefore denied him credit. This has, in the past, been the default position of most Turkish liberals though I believe that the latest historical work shows that İnönü was much more of an active enthusiast for the transition to genuine elections. On this matter, and others, it looks like time for the default ‘liberal’ position to change.

In any case, the whole idea that İnönü only responded to pressure is unsatisfactory. Of course he made his decision in a context of international balances of power of the time. Others made different decisions. In Spain, for instance, Francisco Franco stuck to ultra-conservative, Fascist-influenced dictatorship, accepting US military bases and continuing previous valuable trading relations. In Portugal, the corporatist dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar joined NATO after the adoption of an absurd imitation of party pluralism, with a purely token licensed opposition. Spain and Portugal were not aid recipients, but were able to get considerable trade advantages from the differing deals they made to associate with North Atlantic democracies. İnönü could have found ways to stay in power for ever, but did not.

There were limits to İnönü’s moves towards political pluralism and it was certainly not the ideal process. To some degree, it was one part of the CHP agreeing to the demands of the other part (which left to form DP) to have its turn in power after the current, most favourable to state-led joint secularism and modernity had been in power for so long. More on the DP in the next post.

Returning to İnönü’s rule after the war, the left became victims after a period relative tolerance in the latter years of World War Two, when it looked like the western allies would win in alliance with the US, so the Turkish state showed more tolerance of leftists and less of pan-Turkish nationalists who had the most tolerance of Fascism and Nazism (there has never been a self-identified fascist or national socialist political movement in Turkey).

Not only did İnönü oppress leftist groups outside the CHP as he moved towards genuinely contested elections, he identified left-Kemalist loyalists to the regime as communists who needed to be purged. This was at least in part to gain favour in the US by presenting himself as the main enemy of a real communist threat. Left-Kemalist academics who lost their university jobs at the time included Neyazi Berkes, the most notable Kemalist intellectual of any kind, who went onto an academic career in the west. Measures against left groups outside the CHP included using a religious conservative gang to smash the printing presses of a left newspaper. The willingness of the state to tolerate, and even promote, illegal violence by far right groups supposed threats to the regime and has been a frequent occurrence ever since.

To be continued

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism V

Having covered the essentials of Atatürk’s time in power, I will discuss his death in 1938, and then his successor, İsmet İnönü, and the transition to a multi-party system. With regard to Atatürk, I will just note that his death was an opportunity to continue his veneration as the symbol and founder of the nation. He died in the Dolmebahçe Palace in Istanbul and was taken back to Ankara for a state funeral. The official moment of his death, 09:05 on the 10th of November is still commemorated by a blast on sirens throughout the country and an official national minute of silence. In the 1950s, Atatürk’s body was moved to a mausoleum know as Anıtkabir, where his coffin is held in a colonnaded building of some grandeur over a grand stone stairway, on a hill over Ankara. The complex contains a museum of the life of Atatürk and the history of the early Republic.

This is part of what can be described as a cultic attitude to Atatürk. It is a highly personalised version of the elements of civic religion every state has in order to symbolise its enduring nature and as a focus of national awareness. It is rather startling and even uncomfortable for many, but it has done what civil religion and national symbolism is supposed to do. Other ways of symbolising Turkey are necessary, but for better or worse, this is always going to be part of the symbolism of Turkey. Laws criminalising ‘insults’ of Atatürk are of course unacceptable in the extreme, otherwise my main thoughts about the ‘Atatürk cult’ is that if we see it as symbolism, it is an intriguing example of the personalisation of a nation and its state.

A well known liberal (in the classical sense) famously said at a fringe meeting of an AKP conference, during its early years in power, that in the future people will ask ‘who is this man?’. This lead to criminal action and threats to his safety, which is of course all utterly unacceptable. The whole miserable incident suggests to me something about the loss of judgement by Turkish liberals at the time.

Whatever you think of Atatürk it cannot be denied that was there at the beginning of the state and such people are remembered. If there is anything positive about the Republic of Turkey then Atatürk is part of this. I do not see any point in denying all value to nations, national symbols, and commemoration of the founders of states. Presuming one is not an anarchist, then the state provides some useful law and order function and is to be valued at least that far, as is symbolism round that state. More on these issues in the final post in this series.

Finally, getting onto İnönü, like Atatürk, he was an army general in the Independence War of 1919-1923. He was a close associate of Atatürk at that time and after, serving as Prime Minister for some years. Though Atatürk certainly had autocratic powers, he respected the forms and division of labour of a constitutional republic, so that İnönü did operate as a genuine prime minister, not just an instrument. İnönü continued with the great leader style, even adopting the title of Milli Jef (National Chief from 1938 to 1945).

The main event of İnönü’s period in power is clearly World War Two. Turkey remained officially neutral until a symbolic declaration of war on Germany (a condition of joining the United Nations). It lacked the military and transport capacity to maintain a major war effort in any case. Turkey in fact was not completely neutral, following a policy of supporting the west against Nazi Germany and supporting Nazi Germany against Stalin’s Soviet Union. İnönü sent aid to Greece during its conflict with Fascist Italy, while sending supplies to Germany on its eastern front along with military observers. Keeping Turkey out of the war is generally seen as prudent policy and one of İnönü’s major achievements.

The War was a time of emergency measures and the most unpleasant one was to apply a capital tax against the ‘Ottoman minorities’ (that is non-Muslim minorities: Jews, Greeks and Armenians) of more than a 100%. This was justified by the supposedly hidden wealth of the historically richest communities of the Ottoman Empire, which probably had some truth in it, but of course was no less a violation of basic rights motivated by a belief that, one way or the other, ethnic Turks should own the major economic resources of the country, in order for the national project to be complete.

The victory of the Allies in World war Two left Turkey caught between the Soviet bloc (including the USSR itself and Bulgaria, which both shared borders with Turkey), and the western allies. İnönü chose the west, seeking US support in a confrontation with Stalin over the Turkish straits. This led Turkey towards multi-party democracy, military and economic aid, membership of western institutions, and participation in the Korean War.

To be continued

From the comments: the Ottoman Empire and its millet system

Barry’s excellent series on Ottomanism, nationalism, and republicanism has been so good it might be hard to keep up with the dialogues it’s sparked. Here’s something from Barry in regards to a question about the Ottoman Empire’s millet system (I’ve edited it slightly, breaking up the response into more easily-digestible paragraphs):

I think I’ve tried to address this in the post. I do say that the idea of a ‘milltet system’ is a retrospective idealisation of Ottoman version of classical Muslim concept of protected minorities. In a slightly less direct way I’ve cast doubt on the idea of a pluralist Ottomanism developing on a federal basis as you mention or on a less territorial cultural pluralist basis.

As I argue in the post, Ottoman accommodation of minorities was in collapse from the early 20th century, Serbian uprisings leading to Serbian autonomy and then a war leading to Greek Independence. I presume that Ottoman modernist pluralism/federalism was simply unobtainable by then, it was just far too late for the Ottoman state to become a kind of Switzerland or even a liberalised highly pluralised unitary state.

The movement towards a national republic for the core Ottoman lands, i.e. what is now Turkey, can be traced back at least to the destruction of the Janissary order and the Serb/Greek break aways. Part of what I am arguing overall, as I hope will be clear as proceed, is that it is very very difficult for a traditional state based on a traditional hierarchy of traditional communities/estates/corporations existing over a large varied territory can exist in the modern world without some kind of top down homogenisation (think of the way China expanded over the centuries assimilating conquered peoples into Han culture) or a Russian style solution of constant political autocracy in different forms in which Slavic Orthodox Russian identity is at the centre even where Orthodox Christianity is apparently replaced by Bolshevism/Marxism-Leninism.

In short what I’m assuming and arguing is Ottoman pluralism/cosmopolitanism is an illusion, that there was never anything more than a temporary balance between components, fragmentation and separatism kept growing and separation between ‘nation states’ was inevitable. If we look at the world now, we might take India as the closest thing to a federalised liberalised Ottomanism, but India still rests on a massive predominance of Hinduism, a de facto hierarchy in which Hinduism is above other religions, regional and caste based violence, and a persistent element of Hindu chauvinism which is now explicitly in power and has never really been out of power even when the governmental ideology was apparently something else.

I’m not suggesting there is some alternative conception of what could have happened in the sub-continent which would work better than what there is now, but I can’t see that Indian neo-imperial (because based on the work of imperial regimes over the centuries) federalism works better than Turkish national-republicanism.

There is more on the millet system at NOL here, here, and here. And here is an excellent Barry essay on imperial nostalgia that’s on topic and worth reading (or re-reading).

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism IV

The previous post in this series covered the early stages of the formation of the Republic of Turkey out of the debris of the Ottoman state on the basis of ethnic nationalism combined with republicanism. Ottoman reformers were influenced by the western model. The new republicanism expressed itself in the forms of constitutionalism and representative democracy on a strictly western model, with an elected national assembly, a prime minister responsible to the assembly, and a president elected by that assembly. This post continues with an account of the early Republic which is mainly descriptive and with the aim of more analytic and evaluative comments in later posts in this series.

The nature of the fledgling state was very French influenced, in that it was a very unitary state with a very assimilationist attitude towards non-majority cultures and languages, along with a project for creating citizens of an enlightened republic. The comment of the 19th century Piedmontese-Italian politician Massimo d’Azeglio, ‘we have made Italy, now we must make Italians’ applies in a more radical way to Atatürk’s Turkey, who was someone of much more radical republican inclination than d’Azegio. Roughly speaking the work of French republicanism and reformism from 1789 to the 1920s was squeezed into Atatürk’s period of leadership, from 1919 until his death in 1938.  For this reason, the Kemalist program is sometimes referred to as Jacobin in Turkey.

Sharia law was abolished and previous adaptations from western law were turned into the complete incorporation of the Italian criminal code and the Swiss civil code as Turkish law codes. The first republican constitution made reference to Islam as the language of the state, but from the beginning it was the intention of Atatürk (who in Enlightenment style was a deist) and his associates to weaken the role of religion in public life, as in France. The laicist ambition became more explicit over time and mosque was separated from state. The Ottoman Empire, particularly in its later centuries, was regarded negatively as non-Turkish and decadent. State education reflected this along with positive attitudes towards science and the modern. Co-education of the sexes became normal.

The language itself was transformed, as the Ottoman use of the Arabic alphabet was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet for a language that was sufficiently changed in both grammar and vocabulary to become a distinct language. Persian and Arabic grammatical influences were removed along with many words from the Persian and Arabic languages. New vocabulary was based on old Turkish roots going back to central Asia. Surnames for Muslims were legally enforced for the first time. President Mustafa Kemal (Kemal is a name given by his school teacher, according to Ottoman Muslim practice of the time) became the first person to receive a surname under this law: Atatürk.

Religion was not just pushed out of the public sphere, as the state sought to reduce the general social influence of religion, prohibiting religious brotherhoods and saints’ tombs. A religious affairs ministry was set up to regulate Sunni Islam, controlling the Friday midday sermons and repressing the more radical expressions of religion. Civil marriage was made compulsory on the French model, so that religious marriages were no longer recognised.

These changes, usually known in Turkey as the Atatürk Reforms or Turkish Revolution, were accompanied by a very strong drive towards assimilation into a majority Turkish culture, as defined by the republican elite. The Kurdish language (or languages), most the Kurmanji dialect (or language) in Turkey was not made part of the education system and was actively discouraged by the state. The same applies to the Zazaki language, or dialect, of the Tunceli region which as far as I can see is more a dialect of Farsi than Kurdish (or is a language closer to Farsi than the Kurdish language, which are certainly all related).

Not surprisingly, given such radical state led changes, violent resistance and state violence to overcome resistance is a major issue at this time. In 1925 Sheik Said Nursi led a revolt of Kurds to defend religious tradition and the traditional tribal-patriarchal power structures the state was challenging. This was put down with considerable violence. A rebellion around Tunceli (which was previously known as Dersim and is still frequently referred to as such) in 1937 to 1938, was in reaction to a 1925 law requiring the dispersal of the population to ensure Turkification. The rebellion was put down with considerable counter-insurgency state violence, which killed civilians as armed rebels. In the end, the law was never enforced in Tunceli or anywhere else.

Politically, Atatürk welcomed the principle of pluralism, but was not willing to follow it in principle. At Atatürk’s own initiative a Free Republican Party was founded as an opposition to his own Republican People’s Party in 1930. The intention was that it would be a loyal opposition concentrating on economic issues, but it became radicalised beyond the intentions of its leaders as it became a gathering point for various kinds of radical opposition including religious conservatives and leftists. The party was dissolved in the same year and the Republican People’s Party was uncontested in national elections until 1946 and first conceded electoral defeat in 1950.

Lunchtime Links

  1. Are there “hidden taxes” on women in the US? | Do risk preferences account for some of the gender pay gap?
  2. The Military Origins of Urban Prosperity in Europe | Rules of warfare in pre-modern societies
  3. What is the War Powers Act of 1973, and why does it matter? | Thinking about libertarian foreign policy
  4. American and Russian soldiers are shooting at each other in Syria | Why care about Syrians?
  5. State decay and “patchwork” | Laws, Juridification, and the Administrative State
  6. Conservatives and their contempt for detail in governance | Fascism Explained
  7. No, fascism can’t happen here (in the US) | The Gradual, Eventual Triumph of Liberty