Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeThematic issues35Post-Post-Kemalism: In Search of ...

Post-Post-Kemalism: In Search of a New Paradigm

İlker Aytürk
Translated by Kevin Cole

Abstract

This article traces the origins of a particular paradigm, i.e. post-Kemalism, that dominated the study of modern Turkey and late Ottoman Empire from the 1980s to the 2010s. Post-Kemalist academia agreed on: 1) that almost all of Turkey’s modern day problems can be traced back to mistaken policies of the period between 1908-1950, and 2) that Turkey could democratize only if a liberal left – Islamist – Kurdish alliance wins elections and displace the Kemalist elites. The post-Kemalist paradigm not only created a distorted version of modern Turkish history, but it also legitimized and facilitated the rise of AKP in Turkish politics. The article ends with an invitation to turn the spotlight on the Cold War period, the more likely source of democratic backsliding and far right authoritarianism.

Top of page

Full text

1Nearly all scholars in the social sciences and humanities working at the academic level in Turkey during the last thirty years have done so under the post-Kemalist paradigm, and it is within this framework that they teach classes, address the public via the press, and write books and articles. We cannot exclude those foreign scholars specialized in the field of modern Turkey either. To a great extent, the most important scientific works on modern Turkish history and society produced by historians, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and researchers of culture, music, and folklore are shaped within the post-Kemalist paradigm. In this article, I will tackle the post-Kemalist paradigm that has also left its mark on the past thirty years of studies of Turkish nationalism. My basic claim is that we have now arrived at its end.

The Career of a Term

2It is quite difficult to define post-Kemalism as an academic term, not only because the gap between its original founders and contemporary defenders has become quite vast, but also because if we are to take into account all of the internal nuances within what is present-day post- Kemalism – especially due to the liberal Left’s disintegration and splintering off into camps following Gezi – it multiplies within itself, evolving into post-Kemalisms. But, if it is necessary to provide a definition, then we can say that post-Kemalism is a set of ideas introduced by a number of Turkey’s important social scientists at the beginning of the 1980s, which was later internalized and quickly put into circulation by the intellectuals, journalists, think tanks, and publishing houses of the liberal Left. And what comprised this set of ideas? What were its common points? At this stage, I think that it will be necessary to follow Weber in positing a post-Kemalist ideal-type. Like all ideal-types, a post-Kemalist ideal-type will not result in a one-to-one correspondence between real-life post-Kemalists and their thoughts. However, I believe that it is necessary to construct such a general definition in order to be able to discuss this term.

  • 1 The workshop titled “A Post-Kemalist Turkey?”, held from October 3-4 2018 at the Van Leer Institute(...)

3Foremost, I would like to clarify the ways in which I do not use this term. The Justice and Development Party (JDP/AKP) came into power in 2002 and that following the 2007 general elections, Tayyip Erdoğan aimed to produce a regime change by producing a de facto state through increasingly violent moves. On the path towards the presidential system, the institutional actors which served as the bearers of Kemalist ideology as well as symbols of Kemalist authority were first opened to debate and subsequently knocked off their pedestals. Those intellectuals and writers who have amassed around the current government in the last few years bestow the name “New Turkey” on this de facto state in which the 1982 Constitution has been suspended and the rule of law has been brought to a standstill. Conversely, those who aim to make a comparatively neutral assessment and also wish to give a name to this de facto state as it stands before us, prefer “Post-Kemalist Turkey.” (Dağı 2008)1 I on the other hand do not use the term in this sense; that is, in order to describe the political environment into which Turkey has gradually entered following 2007. When I use the term post-Kemalism in this article, I make reference to an intellectual perspective, an academic paradigm which was born much earlier than 2007 and which, by opening the way for the regime change which occurred thereafter, made the current environment of political transition possible.

  • 2 The direction that Kemal Tahir and İdris Küçükömer took with Yön [Direction] can be considered the (...)

4Post-Kemalism is an improper diagnosis applied to Turkey’s never-ending issue of political tutelage and, what’s more, one applied in consultation with important experts who are adept in their fields. It’s necessary to not make a big fuss over this initial mistake, but rather to put it into a proper context. In fact, if I were to have started my academic career in the 1980s, I suppose I would have signed off under the very same mistake. That is because post-Kemalism was born as a result of very justified complaints and as the mentality of a righteous struggle. With the goal of legitimizing the military coups and interventions of the 1960s and 1970s, the generals legitimized their rule by adopting and elevating Atatürk and the Kemalist Revolution into incontrovertible topics by means of militant sanctification, while making Atatürk and the early republic distasteful, whittling away at what prestige these symbols still held. Particularly, the combined effect of the deepened emphasis on Atatürk in the wake of the September 12th, 1980, military coup, the “Atatürkist System of Thought” (in capital letters) invented by these generals and, as an extension of this system, the fact that love for Atatürk became synonymous with approving of the military’s dominant role within Turkish politics, all would come to give birth to a large reaction. Intellectuals and politicians in the Turkish right, depending on their individual position within the right-wing political spectrum, had never embraced the republican revolutions in toto. Within the Turkish left, cleavages regarding Atatürk and Kemalism emerged much earlier;2 however, the solidification of this cleavage and the split into various ideological molds would not take place until the 1980s.

  • 3 In fact, Mardin’s first critiques of the theory of modernization can be found in the book Religion (...)

5It was in precisely this atmosphere that academicians such as Mete Tunçay, Erik Jan Zürcher, Şerif Mardin, Nilüfer Göle, Büşra Ersanlı-Behar, Taha Parla, and Levent Köker believed that the only remedy for saving and emancipating Turkish society and politics from the crushing, su£focating state brought about by the military’s tyranny was to question and criticize our recent history in a holistic manner, deconstructing accepted assumptions. Raising questions about those topics never touched upon, discussed, or answered by the official history of the Turkish revolution, Tunçay, in his 1981 book Single Party, and Zürcher, in his Unionist Factor (1984), prompted a huge rupture in perceptions of the early republic (Tunçay 1981, Zürcher 1984). In her 1992 Power and History, Ersanlı-Behar reminded everyone of the ethno-nationalist underpinnings of the historical and language theories – themselves enshrouded in a degree of embarrassment – opening the way for questioning the thesis that “Turkish nationalism is in fact an inclusive, civil nationalism” which had been carefully constructed following World War II (Ersanlı 1992). With their writings in several books, Parla (1989, 1991 and 1992) and Köker (1990) demonstrated just how tutelary, Jacobin, top-down, and elitist Kemalism – up until that point thought of as a very successful model for national development – could be when seen from another vantage point. They levied a powerful critique against the mode of thinking which considered the early republic to have been a necessary and positive milestone on the path towards a democratic Turkey (Parla 1989; Parla 1991-1992; Köker 1990). Mardin and Göle, on the other hand, hit the Kemalist elites close to home in the very two areas in which they felt most sure of themselves: religion and women’s rights. Mardin (1989), writing a book which would later cost him his potential membership in the Turkish Academy of Sciences, elevated Said Nursi from the “zealot” stereotype, by which he had in those days come to be known, to the category of “Muslim thinker.” (Mardin 1989)3 Not content with this, he argued that this Muslim thinker had attempted to reconcile modernity and Islam, insisting that this was indeed possible, and was, in the words of the former president of the Turkish Academy of Sciences Yücel Kanpolat, “… criticized for having overdone it in polishing up Said Nursi.” (Kaplan 2010). As for Göle, her The Forbidden Modern (1991) subjected one of the greatest achievements of the early republic, in fact perhaps accepted as its crowning victory, to a completely new reading: the revolution granting men and women equal legal and political rights (Göle 1991). Göle launched a great debate, arguing that men and women’s equality did not lead to women’s liberation and that women’s liberation, in its true sense, could only take place outside of the Kemalist modernization project. What’s more, this liberation did not hinge on the acceptance of Western clothing norms; even those women who chose to wear the headscarf could be free and modern.

  • 4 This term was coined by Ahmet Kabaklı.

6In the period extending from the late 1980s through the 2000s and as a result of the growing power of the Kurdish Movement as well as the Islamic- Conservatives’ opposition to Kemalism as the republic’s founding ideology, the wave of post-Kemalist thought grew beyond merely a topic of academic debate and began to be popularized among both an ever widening public and among Turkey’s academics. Scholars on the liberal left once again took the lead in the post-Kemalist movement, producing new jargon, fundamental arguments and critiques. But this time they were not alone. From this point forward, the liberal-leftist academics were joined by the conservative, Islamist right and the Kurdish political movement, turning into a broad coalition. Inevitably, this coalition first became politicized, then banalized. Hardened positions took the place of an initial academic tenor and gravitas. Camps began to form, became categorized and defined, and then the battle lines were drawn. From the 1990s onwards, post-Kemalism took on the shape of a “trial of fundamentals” (temellerin duruşması).4 In fact, it would be incorrect to separate the “Second Republic” debate beginning in this period, the New Democracy Movement and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) – which assumed arguably the most important role in the coining, transmission, and dissemination of its jargon – from the post-Kemalist movement.

  • 5 For a strong but early, and therefore overlooked, critique of this thoughtless vouching, see Bali 2 (...)

7An intellectual alliance had already been formed among liberal-left and conservative and Islamist academics starting in the 1980s. Such an alliance could have never, for example, been formed with nationalist academicians, as the Turkish left had been fighting nationalist thought within academic platforms as well as on the streets against the far Right ülkücü idealists throughout the 1960s and 1970s. However, such animosity had never developed between the liberal left and the Islamists. Some Islamist scholars were quickly declared democrats in the debate that emerged surrounding the Constitution of Medina and were embraced as natural allies in the case for democratization. Apart from one or two – but only one or two – exceptions, few among the liberal left were interested in these Islamists’ pasts or their worlds of thought. The liberal left vouched for people whom it did not know.5 The recklessness underlying this endorsement was rooted in the fact that the liberal left scholars were of the opinion that they themselves did not have strong enough roots within society and, therefore, sought popular legitimacy through this alliance. Simultaneously they looked down somewhat condescendingly on the Islamists and felt secure in their ability to educate and direct them. For their own part, the Islamists freely volunteered themselves to this new alliance, which granted them the ability to both critique the “West” from within as well as the opportunity and jargon with which to easily challenge Kemalism – and the “West” upon which it ultimately relied – with the latest theories.

8If we take this point of view, we are forced consider the foundation of the AKP government in 2002 as a milestone in post-Kemalism’s short history, because 2002 is the year that post- Kemalism emerged from merely being an oppositional paradigm and came into power. It was from this year on, as part of the struggle launched by the AKP government against the Kemalist state institutions, that state television and state-controlled press organs opened their doors to the post-Kemalists; in fact, even the Turkish Language and Turkish Historical Institutes, which were designed as the ideological carriers of Kemalism and whose roles were reinforced under the umbrella of the Atatürk Supreme Council for Culture, Language and History (AKDTYK) following the 1980 coup, came in time to pass over into the hands of the post-Kemalists. As a result, the paradigm we today call post-Kemalism is no longer an approach that “challenges the official history” and, therefore, being pushed around and punished by the state, but is rather the predominant mode of thought and action, the new official ideology itself. This must now be conceded.

9Of course, the birth of post-Kemalism cannot be explained by these internal factors alone. We cannot understand Turkey by isolating its history of thought from international and regional developments. We must count another “post-” movement, postmodernism, as the foremost among such international and even regional trends. Postmodern thought with its skepticism towards modernity – which it saw as a bundle of grandiose narratives and projects quashing the individual – could not have assessed a nation-building project such as Kemalism in a positive light. And so, the Kemalist monolithic national narrative of 1980’s Turkey came to be replaced with a new, multi-cultural and multi-lingual local perspective which highlighted the country’s ethnic and confessional diversity. We could call this the beginning of identity politics in Turkey. Ever since their echoes arrived in Turkey, each of the other three international trends that could be considered important – namely globalism, the communications revolution and neoliberalism – have worn away at the Kemalist nation-state. Even though they each gave birth to quite different results, their combined effect was an acceleration of centrifugal forces and the strengthening of the post-Kemalist paradigm.

10Dropping from the international scale down to the regional level, its plainly obvious that regional developments led to the same outcomes. The uncertainty about what would become of Turkey’s regional role following the demise of the Soviet Union, the triggering of internal identity debates, the Kurdish people’s demand for the right of self-determination arising among the disarray left behind in the Middle East by the First and Second Gulf Wars, and the impact that all of these reverberations had on Turkey cannot be overlooked. Looking towards academia, we can observe three more important trends. Foremost, the Orientalism critique put forward in reference to readings of Edward Said and Michel Foucault changed the perception of Kemalism both among those peering in from the outside, as well as the Kemalists own view of themselves. From the perspective of the modernist doctrine up until that point, Kemalism – understood as the set of ideas that rescued Turkey from disaster and enabled the country’s development – held an academic prestige which accompanied and led its political successes. However, following the major debate launched by Said, North American and European scholars of social sciences and the humanities began to perceive Kemalism as an ideology which fed off of Orientalism, over-emulating the West and blindly accepting Western ideological molds. This perception quickly spread amongst Turkey’s academics because, for a number of reasons previously described, an intellectual environment thirsty to absorb this mode of thinking had long since been established. We must take note of how the post-Orientalist paradigm downgraded the Kemalist academic “establishment” to the lowly rank of Orientalism’s Turkish branch, completely stripping away what academic prestige it had left. We must also recognize what an enormous boost of self-confidence this was for post-Kemalist Islamist scholars, who were now more visible both in academia and the media.

11Second, it is necessary to touch on “Subaltern Studies,” translated into Turkish with the clumsy term maduniyet çalışmaları. This school, led by expert historians of India and East Asia beginning in the 1970s, pushed aside the political and intellectual historical approaches which had until that point held a dominant position in the writing of this region’s history and which were in essence histories of the elites, and, instead, this new generation of scholars prioritized the marginalized, nameless masses, poor workers, and lower castes – i.e. the subaltern – in order to understand the region’s history. Marking Turkish academia at nearly the same moment as the post-Orientalist movement, this school prompted the selection of brand-new topics, movements, and figures in the academic works by Turkey’s historians and social scientists. All of the people and movements which fell outside the scope of the Kemalist republican narrative and which were at variance with or opposed the Kemalist historiography and had thus been ignored and even demonized for “singing off tune”, became the favorite subjects of post-Kemalist academia. Non-Muslim minorities, the Kurds, conservatives, and Islamists took center stage in the leading books, articles, and doctoral theses of this period.

  • 7 For a few examples reflecting this opinion, see Norton 1994 and 1995. Standing behind this optimist (...)

12The third and final parallel trend within academia was born within the field of Middle East Studies, centered in North America. The one-man secular-authoritarian regimes of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq which emerged as models of seemingly leftist national development in the 1950s and 1960s had turned into dinosaur dictatorships by the 1980s. The common thread of thought among the significant number of scholars racking their brains over grand questions such as whether or not democracy could exist in the Middle East and to what degree Islam and democracy could be reconciled was that these dictatorships can be toppled if and only if faced with a grassroots wave of opposition and a movement demanding rights and liberties, and that only under these provisions could new democracies resembling those that were constructed in Eastern Europe be established. In this period, looking at the aforementioned autocratic regimes, we know that the only organized force which could be called an opposition was the Islamic opposition organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is this simple fact which underlies the increasing academic credit the Muslim Brotherhood was granted starting in the 1980s. For a few decades following the 1980s – in fact, up until the Arab Spring – quite a few North American and European scholars continued to view the Islamists as the forerunners of democracy who would neatly sweep away the autocratic regimes of the Middle East. In fact, it became a widespread opinion that civil societies within Middle Eastern dictatorships consisted primarily of Islamist opposition movements.7

13As a result, several factors emerge before us, some of which weaken Kemalism and the Kemalists and cause cracks to appear in their hegemonic status, while yet others strengthen Kemalism’s foes and earn them prestige, at times independently and at times overlapping one another. It was under the influence of precisely these factors that the post-Kemalist movement emerged, gained strength, and grew to become the predominant paradigm in modern Turkish studies beginning at the close of the 1990s. By that point, the outdated Kemalist intelligentsia who opposed the post-Kemalist paradigm had long since departed from the international standards of modern historiography. Likewise, the new generation of ulusalcılar were far from producing works of history and social science capable of generating an impact. They were quickly and deservedly marginalized within Turkish academia.

A Comparison: Post-Zionism

14Academic paradigms are in fact not “merely academic” paradigms. They tack on the great political, social, and economic developments which shape the world, ask questions that affirm these developments, produce an informational and conceptual repertoire which becomes the pretext for their systematization and then, with the passing of the established order, they gradually depart from the historical scene.

15The birth of nation-states has paved the way for the hegemonic status of the nationalist social sciences and nationalist histories paradigms, both in the West as well as among other nation-states imitating the success of the Western model. From this point of view, calling the nation-state model into question and the consequent loss of its status as the one and only successful model – as well as opening up to debate hegemonic narratives regarding national histories and the conditions under which nation-states were founded – can actually all be considered positive developments within the histories of nations. These developments demonstrate that the society in question can now examine itself in a self-confident manner, without resorting to closing rank and file and plucking away the “undesirable weeds,” or at least a tendency towards such a change. They also show that the authoritarian and semi- authoritarian regimes that typically emerge during the primary stage of nationalization and nation-state foundation have come to a close. In this respect, post-nationalist movements are the forerunners of democratization and individualization.

16In our immediate environment the most striking example is seen in Israel. The role that Kemalism played in Turkey’s foundation is embodied by the ideology of Zionism in Israel. Zionism was born in the late 19th century as the ideology of a group of Jewish thought and opinion leaders who maintained that the Jewish people are not a religious community but rather a nation and for this reason have the right to a nation-state. This conceptualization of a state, which Zionists wished to establish in the promised land, emerged at the close of the nineteenth century as a solution to theJudenfrage.” This nationalist movement, influenced by the traditions of German romanticism and the Enlightenment, gradually gained international legitimacy and persuaded an astounding number of Jewish people to migrate to Palestine, thereby forming a framework for the future Jewish state under British mandatory rule. Israel was ultimately founded in 1948 following a war of independence against the Palestinian Arabs and neighboring Arab states.

17Israel, under the influence of a threat perception which it has lived with from the first moment of its foundation, sanitized its official history wherever possible. Simultaneously, it began the process of constructing an Israeli society. In this narrative of history, the Jewish people had been oppressed throughout the ages, and when they emigrated to Palestine in order to found their state, their neighbors were hostile towards them. Meanwhile, the British Mandate had attempted to prevent the establishment of Israel in the 1930s. In the War of 1948, the Palestinian Arabs had abandoned their lands on their own accord and Israel did not interfere in the matter. The leadership of the Labor Party, which established Israel, claimed to have worked a miracle and within a few decades, so the narrative goes, had transformed several million migrants into Israelis, integrating them into Israeli society and the economy. According to Israel’s official historiography, the country’s first thirty to forty years were an enormous and historically unprecedented social and military success story.

  • 8 Even setting aside Hebrew-language literature, there are too many English-language articles and boo (...)

18The Zionist paradigm – as the supreme narrative of self-understanding and the State of Israel – was maintained up until the late 1970s. We see that from the 1980s onwards, the same time period as Kemalism, this paradigm began to come under scrutiny, due of course to entirely different reasons. Among the factors which gave birth to the so-called post-Zionist movement we can count the 1977 electoral defeat ending thirty years of Labour Party rule, the Likud government’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982, and the social trauma in Israel brought about by the beginning of the Intifada, the large-scale 1987 Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, unforgotten questions such as “How can Israel be both a democracy and Jewish state?”, “Did the foundation of the Israeli state improve or diminish the Jewish people’s sense of security?” and “Can the 3,000-year-old Jewish culture be forced into the mold of nationalism?” resurfaced in response to these events. Alongside a group of Israeli academics calling themselves the “New Historians,” some sociologists and journalists held Israel’s foundational myths under a torrent of merciless criticism.8 Thus came to light new facts and interpretations: in the War of 1948, Israel and Jordan had made a secret alliance to share the lands of Mandatory Palestine (that is, that Israel was not quite so alone as supposed); up to 800,000 Palestinians did not abandon their lands of their own accord during the war, but rather a considerable number were forced out by the Israeli army in an ethnic cleansing operation (and thus the birth of the refugee issue was largely the fault of Israel). The new generation of sociologists and social anthropologists focused on the plight of the millions of Jewish people who migrated to Israel after 1948 and they saw that, unlike the claims made by the great – and Zionist – sociologists of the first era such as Shmuel Eisenstadt, Israel’s policies of accepting migrants and integration had opened wounds which would not heal for several generations. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, particularly those who migrated from Middle Eastern countries, felt humiliated and excluded during the integration process.

  • 9 The twenty-two episode TV documentary Tkuma (Foundation), prepared and broadcast on the public chan (...)

19Beginning in the early 1990s, post-Zionist publications were no longer merely academic works, but they occupied a central spot on the Israeli agenda. The largest factor in the turn towards self-interrogation and towards challenging its own past which left its mark on Israel between 1990-2000 can without a doubt be assigned to the signing of the Oslo I Accord in 1993 and the atmosphere of optimism fostered by these political developments. Between 1990 and 2000, peace emerged for the first time as a very realistic possibility, despite the backdrop of Arab- Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. The number of supporters of peace in Israel grew, and quite a few Israelis began to believe that there were partners on the opposing side who could be spoken to. We can call these ten years the golden decade of Post-Zionism.9 As a glimmer of hope for the future of peace in the Middle East, the post-Zionist viewpoint developed into the favorite academic paradigm in the study of modern Jewish history and Israel.

20A golden age is always a harbinger of the decline which is to follow. And post-Zionism’s decline began with the decline of the very political conditions that had given birth to the movement. President Clinton’s invitation to Ehud Barak and Yaser Arafat to come together at Camp David for peace talks, essentially locking the two of them up and refusing to let them leave until they had made peace with one another, led to two weeks of bated breath among these two nations and indeed the whole world. Looking back today, we see that the lack of a gradualism and pragmatism, but rather the adoption of an all-or-nothing approach was so wrong. And so, the meetings concluded without a peace agreement, and for this reason the Labour Party government fell from power within a year’s time. Moreover, Israel’s political atmosphere rapidly changed from one of optimism to one of pessimism as more than 1,000 Israeli civilians lost their lives in the suicide bombings which terrorized the country during the Second Intifada. Once again, the belief that there could be partners on the other side who could be spoken to was lost, and the broad swath of people who defended the land-for-peace formula evaporated into thin air within the course of a year. It was in this manner that we entered the exasperated environment of the last fifteen years in which no one dare mention the possibility of a broad plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

  • 10 Interview with Benny Morris by Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest”, Haaretz Friday Magazine (Engl (...)

21It comes as little surprise that, as a result of these regional developments which transformed Israel’s domestic politics, Israeli academics, too, changed direction, distancing themselves from the post-Zionist line. What was surprising, however, was the speed and depth of these changes within the academic and intellectual world. Following the Second Intifada, several Israeli academics who had spearheaded the post-Zionist movement came face to face with accusations such as “Oslo traitors” and “Oslo liars.” Historical and sociological studies, which had been largely abandoned to the monopoly of the post-Zionists, came under attack by neo-conservative intellectuals such as Yoram Hazony, Assaf Sagiv, and Michael Oren, and these criticisms were supported by the new US-based right-leaning think tanks and their Israeli extensions, the Shalem and Herzl institutes. The most striking symbol of this shift, with a nearly 180 degree turn in position, is the post-Zionist historian Benny Morris. Considered to be one of the most important representatives of the post-Zionist current of “new history” for his keystone 1988 book titled The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, a level-headed and meticulous study of the ethnic cleansing carried out upon Palestinians living in what would become Israeli lands, Morris had completely changed his point of view by the year 2000. Now beginning to believe that the Palestinian people would never be content with a two-state solution and that their ultimate goal was the total destruction of Israel, Morris – himself an Israeli citizen – characterized Palestinian citizens of Israel as a ticking time bomb; he regretted that Israeli lands were not completely cleansed of Palestinians during the War of 1948 and advised that, should the same apocalyptic conditions be repeated once again, the future leadership of Israel should this time fully drive out the Palestinians.10 Following a twenty-year rule as an academic paradigm, post-Zionism was disappearing alongside the hope for peace.

As the Curtain Falls on Post-Kemalism

22This experience in Israel is, with an approximately ten-year delay, being repeated today in Turkey. The political, economic, and sociocultural conditions which produced post-Kemalism are disappearing one-by-one and day-by-day; its lifeline cut, the Post-Kemalist movement is wobbling and it is becoming more and more ridiculous to blame all our problems on Kemalism. We strongly feel a need for a new approach, for a new perspective on Turkish society and Turkish politics, whose future shape we cannot possibly know today.

23At this stage, I must reiterate my view that post-Kemalism was a false diagnosis applied to cure Turkey’s problems with democratization and political tutelage. Post-Kemalists claimed that Turkey has failed to democratize for ninety years and every time we have attempted democratization we have been cut off by military officers, civil bureaucracy, and, to use the famed phrase, by the Kemalist elites. It is true that our democracy counts its steps in janissary march: two steps forward, one step back. However, the diagnosis attributing the delay to Kemalism and the Kemalists alone is incorrect.

24It is incorrect because it is confirmed neither by recent nor ancient Turkish history. As far as I can tell, the greatest weakness of the post-Kemalist approach is the way post-Kemalists downplayed the importance of the factors that gave birth to Kemalism and, before it, Unionism (İttihatçılık), failing to investigate the origins, impetus, and manner in which the societal groups that held these ideas emerged and also failing to problematize this very important starting point. To give a typical example, let’s take a look at the answer given by one of the Turkish language’s great living poets, Roni Margulies, in an interview about his latest book Sen Kalk Da Ben Yatam (You Get Up and I’ll Lie Down) to the question, “Why do you still bother with [critiquing] the Kemalists while Tayyip is still around?”:

Look, I firmly believe the following: Tayyip is temporary, the AKP government is temporary. Kemalism, on the other hand, is a century-old state tradition. Whatever each and every one of us in this country has gone through, be it the working class, minorities, Alevis ... whatever we have gone through has been at the hands of the state. I’m certain that, one way or another, we will free ourselves from Tayyip.
... But Kemalism won’t change.11

25I don’t know if it is possible to any further remove Kemalism from its historical context. It would seem as if a group of despotic Kemalists were beamed down to a happy-go-lucky Ottoman state, stopped the process of democratization which had begun in 1908, pushed aside the individual in the name of the survival of the state and blocked the left, the Alevis, and the pious citizens from democratic participation under the pretext of a cultural revolution. As the popular saying goes, the “black Turks” were crushed under the tyranny of the “white Turks.”

  • 12 The Ottoman military class, headed by the sultan and members of the family, shared the same religio (...)

26One cannot help but ask the following questions: Was this country being governed under Athenian democracy prior to 1908? Have Turkic-speaking peoples, if we trace history as far back as archaeological discoveries allow for, not always been ruled by dynasties which earned their legitimacy by way of the sword? When we look at how the governed were separated from the rulers, how the dynasties and ruling classes jealously protected their right to rule: were the ruling classes of the Ottomans, Seljuks, Karakhanids, Ghaznavids, Uyghurs, Göktürks and Huns not incomparably more elitist than the Kemalists? Has there ever, in the entire history of the Turks, been a regime which we would not consider elitist? If not, why then is elitism perceived to be an attribute unique to Kemalism? Is it just because the Kemalist elite consciously separated themselves from the people they ruled over on the cultural level? Can we tolerate the elitism of the Ottoman ruling class, for example, for the mere reason that they shared the same religious values as their Sunni Muslim Ottoman subjects?12 I think the answers to these questions are obvious. I do not believe that our historical knowledge permits us to gather up the difficulties with democratization recorded in recent history and to then foist them squarely on the shoulders of Kemalism. The Kemalists may be perceived as a part, a link in the chain, of the problem of tutelage in a political tradition already spanning a few thousand years, but not as its only source. The issue of tutelage in our recent history did not begin with the Kemalist military- bureaucratic elite and, again, it will not come to an end with their elimination. Therefore, the issue of tutelage, as the post-Kemalists have claimed for years, cannot be erased with a “Kemal-ectomy” performed by a skillful government. In Turkey, tutelage, and to at least the same extent, elitism, is not merely a precept exemplified and yearned for by the Kemalists, but is rather part of a tradition, a political culture, which has contaminated each and every ideology, movement, party, leader, and cadre across the political spectrum from left to right.

27For a number of reasons, speaking about this so frankly was up until recently a taboo, foremost due to the fact that we were faced with the following regrettable equation: saying that the issue of political tutelage went beyond the scope of Kemalism was perceived as a defense of Kemalism; with the exception of the old-guard Kemalists obsessed with a nostalgia for days of yore and the new ultranationalist ulusalcı, almost everyone else used the term “Kemalist” as a political slur. As a result, those who did not think of themselves as Kemalists did not want to be perceived as defending Kemalism, and they shied away from being labeled as such. This was the first, and in my opinion, the more superficial reason.

  • 13 For the most part I agree with the Post-Kemalists’ criticism of the early Republican Era. However, (...)

28In order to understand the second and more important reason, I need to provide a bit more detailed information. According to the post-Kemalists, the most transformative period in recent Turkish history occurred between 1908 and 1945: Immediately following the Unionists’ arrival to power, the country was thrown into the First World War; the Ottomans subjected the Armenians to a genocide; and the “perpetual” empire was brought to its knees with this lachrymose overture. Thereafter, the “false republic”-cum-one-man dictatorship silenced its critics and consolidated its rule during a dramatic establishment process. Then the real action began in a final episode of frantic and dizzying revolutions, showered down on a nation who did not understand what was happening and who could not raise their voices. Ostracizing and even silencing all of those who did not fit the patterns in the minds of those in power, the Turkish nation – teeming with diversity – was forced into a one-size-fits-all straightjacket during this nearly forty-year long, “Period of Great Trauma” in capital letters.13

29The thing is, the post-Kemalist movement has repeated this narrative in thousands of academic and popular works over the last thirty years, making way for an optical illusion, a chronological prejudice in works on modern Turkish history, politics, and society. When we look at the academic writing of the last thirty years, we see that almost all of the high-caliber publications have examined almost only this period and found that all of our major contemporary problems are traced back to this time. A lecturer setting out to plan a reading list or a syllabus for a course on twentieth century Turkish political life has the luxury of selecting from among thousands of books, chapters, and articles written on the period between 1908 and 1945. On the contrary, when it comes to the period between 1945 and 1980, we are stuck with just a handful of publications. This is certainly not a coincidence. The founders of post-Kemalism, those academics who contributed to the post-Kemalist literature with their publications and those whose opinions on current problems are based on their following of this literature, all act according to the same set of premises: 1) there is only one section of modern Turkish history worthy of examination and interesting only because of the errors to be found within it, and that is the period between 1908 and 1945; 2) if the Republic was born in sin, if all of the poignant problems of today are the result of the failed policies of that period, then in order to find a solution to these problems, our only remedy is to return to their source, meticulously combing through this era, putting the mistakes on display and confessing, initiating a kind of cathartic process.

30As a result, we now know quite a lot about one slice of our history, and very little about the rest. Because of this shift in chronological focus, the post- Kemalist movement has continued to churn out self-affirming knowledge over the last thirty years; post-Kemalists are constantly looking for the source of modern-day problems in this same period and naturally find them there, too, because just as they can be found throughout our entire history, so too can they be found within this period. And so, if the falsity of the post-Kemalist diagnosis is being understood so late, then it is because this surplus of “chosen evidence” and a selectivity in perception have both played a big role. Unfortunately, post-Kemalist literature’s emphasis on “the early republic as original sin” has acquitted the other periods of our recent (and distant) history, leaving all of the non-Kemalist tutelary actors with a spotless record.

31Taking this as a point of departure, let me bring us to the third and final reason for why the academic rule of post-Kemalism has lasted so long. Thus far, I have claimed that a great diagnostic error has been committed. However, there was in post-Kemalism also a suggested course of treatment, in fact a recipe for salvation, devised in accordance to this diagnosis. By exercising their democratic rights, the two large groups victimized and pushed aside by the Kemalist elite, on the one side the conservative Muslims and on the other side the Kurdish people, would emerge into the center from the periphery into which they had been shoved, disassembling the Kemalist system of political tutelage one step at a time and constructing in the wake of this process a new and truly participatory, democratic Turkish Republic respectful of human rights and cultural pluralism, and which lives up to world standards.

32From where we stand today, given that the Kurdish movement’s Türkiyelileşme process is still ongoing, it is too early to make pronouncements about this part of the post- Kemalist prescription; however, the second and perhaps more important pillar of this treatment, namely the thesis that the conservative masses and their representatives will democratize Turkey, is now very difficult to defend. I suppose this was impossible to foresee during the first years of the AKP’s rule. Looking back on the past today, it is impossible to not remember the impressive potential, the possibilities of freedom, democratization, and enrichment promised to Turkey between 2002 and 2005. Those who believed that the Republic had to make peace with Islam came out in support of the AKP because they believed in the party’s support for EU reforms. The first serious suspicions with regards to which direction the AKP was going to take Turkey emerged in the immediate aftermath of the 2007 general elections as the AKP set aside its promise to prepare a liberal constitution along with the opposition, instead contenting itself with a constitutional reform in which the headscarf took center stage. These suspicions began to pile up on top of one another with the cruelty, irregularities, and lies of the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases. Putting an end to the plurality of voices within the AKP which had until that point been tolerated by the party’s selective, tight-cadre political Islamist core, it became clear following the 2010 referendum and the 2011 general elections that Tayyip Erdoğan had commandeered the party and now had the first and last word on every issue, becoming its sole decision-maker. For this reason, the anti-democratic steps taken since 2010, such as the disproportionate response to the Gezi Protests and even the fact that the validity of the constitution was brought into question following what transpired on 17-25 December 2013 came as no real surprise.

33In Israel, post-Zionism went up in flames because the Israeli left’s basic political argument – the thesis stating that the two-state solution was possible and that it was the only way of achieving a lasting peace – was shelved in 2000. Political developments had determined the fate of an academic paradigm. We are now witnessing and will continue to witness precisely the same development in Turkey. Like the post-Kemalists’ diagnoses, their proposed solutions have also ceased to be compatible with realities in Turkey. The post-Kemalist paradigm no longer produces questions which contribute to our understanding of contemporary Turkey, but instead looks in the wrong place for the sources of our problems and thus within this perspective it seems there is nothing new left to say about the establishment of a participatory democracy in Turkey.

What Will We Put in its Place?

34Lacking a clear answer to this question forced me to choose a pompous, spiny term like “post-post-Kemalism.” First, the following must be underlined: to recommend to abandon, forget, or to throw the entire post-Kemalist historiography and its works of sociology, political science, and culture into the rubbish bin would be the wrong approach. The critiques which I level against post-Kemalism do not allow for the denial of the conditions which gave birth to and strengthened this paradigm. Even after falling from academic power, post-Kemalism will remain as an important episode in modern Turkish studies. In the same way that today’s researchers of Turkey are aware of the Kemalist and modernization perspectives and the various and very impactful leftist approaches of the 1960s and 1970s, criticizing or even continuing them but by all means remaining in dialogue with these perspectives in their work, future researchers will also consider the post-Kemalist paradigm as a basis upon which to build new knowledge.

35We must also take into consideration the following possibility: there will most definitely be neo-Kemalist researchers who, thinking that the Kemalist revolution and early Republican period were misunderstood and misrepresented, will insist on reworking this period once again. And so long as they meet the academic standards, we will read their revisionist works with interest. Of course, post-Kemalists will be criticized by not only the neo-Kemalists, but also the non-Kemalists, who will question their guiding principles and findings. Such critiques have already appeared for some time, but were largely ignored, because no one knew what to make of their arguments which clashed with the dominant post-Kemalist paradigm. Nazım İrem’s and Metin Çınar’s work, which showed that Kemalists did not constitute a monolithic bloc as assumed, or Yüksel Taşkın’s book which interpreted right-wing intellectuals in a completely new way, did not therefore create an impact despite their groundbreaking novelty (İrem 2002; Çınar 2013; Taşkın 2007). Likewise, among the huge gaps in the literature on early republican Turkey and the CHP elites, we must count the lack of comparative work with other nationalist-developmentalist models of the 20th century such as Mexico, India, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel and Japan. Berk Esen’s work, which centers exactly on this comparative question, shows that the CHP – which we always imagine as a very strong party that left its mark on Turkey – actually had a very weak party organization compared with India’s Congress Party, Mexico’s PRI, Japan’s LDP and Israel’s Labor Party. Esen also explains why the CHP fell from power – after 27 years in government – in the first free and fair elections, while its counterparts elsewhere remained in power many more decades (Esen 2014).

36Post-Kemalists will be criticized, on the one hand, for their exaggerated critique of secularism, and on the other hand for having nurtured the expansion of identity politics. There is, after all, a need for serious revision of these topics. However, it seems unlikely that the neo-Kemalists will take the lead and have the theoretical gravitas in shaping the post-post-Kemalist phase to come.

37It is unlikely because I believe that, in the post-post-Kemalist phase, not only will new questions be posed, but also a new period or even multiple new periods will be examined. In the years to come, the question that will most occupy both experts on Turkey as well as researchers in the fields of the social sciences and the humanities is, in fact, already clear: how did Turkey – a country whose industrialization gained momentum after shifting away from being an agricultural society, and thus rose into the group of middle income countries, a country which left behind its tradition of military tutelage and made dramatic leaps in the democratization process between the years 1999-2005, which repaired its relations with both its close neighbors and the world and was negotiating its admission into the EU – come to swerve away from democracy in 2007 and onto the dead end road called competitive authoritarianism? Why did the AKP elite, emerging from the 2007 general elections with a major victory, pass up the incredible opportunity which lay before them in the form of preparing a more liberal constitution? Why did they choose but one of the many demands for liberty, ushering a constitutional amendment granting the freedom to wear the headscarf in the public sphere through the parliament?

38It is a rare occurrence for a political elite to be presented with the opportunity to make such major decisions which will impact and shape the country’s fate in the long-term. But when such moments do arrive, how those elites are recorded in history is determined by where they stand as well as which direction they prefer to go. To put it shortly, the groups of political elites thrown under one blanket as the Kemalist elites, have twice been met with this kind of turning point. The first was the struggle within the CHP during the transition to a multiparty democracy between 1945 and 1950. The second was how to respond to the questions of Cyprus, accession to the EU, and the political Islamists’ rise to power between 2002 and 2007. On both occasions, the military and civilian elites who had internalized and defended the order of the republican establishment were divided into two, experiencing a jarring internal debate and even in-fighting. Nevertheless, on both occasions the side which had defended Turkey’s democratization and had fought for Turkey to remain within the Western block proved victorious.

39Having rallied half of the population behind their banner and with the threat of a coup left behind, the AKP elite was faced with the same opportunity in 2007. They could have debated, prepared and come to mutual understanding with parliament on a draft which was being prepared under the supervision of Ergun Özbudun, passing into law a constitution which would have granted freedoms not only to religious, conservative Muslims, but also to Kurds, Alevis, the urban middle classes, and the LGBT+ while also strengthening the rule of law. Why then did the dominant faction in the AKP, led by Tayyip Erdoğan, choose to settle the score, take revenge and restrict liberties? And given this decision, how is it that they received the support of more than 50% of the electorate and that, even in the oppressive political atmosphere of the summer of 2015, their share did not dip below 40%? This here is the new elephant in the room for the academic world in the post-post-Kemalist era: the large swaths of voters eager to be satisfied with less democracy in exchange for an active role in foreign policy, the dream of becoming a great power and securing greater wealth, as well as the political and intellectual elites who influence and mold these voters. We must not forget that, should the AKP be forced to share its rule or even lose its mandate altogether in the near future, this does not mean that the base upon whose shoulders it rode into power will simply vanish into thin air. This political base, consolidated in the years between 2002 and 2015 and having gained an identity and what could even be called a success story worth being proud of, will seek a similar political movement and political rule, albeit perhaps one with a different tone. And given the high probability that they will find such a movement, this issue will continue to remain on our agenda.

40It is not possible to work on and understand this new major question of ours from within the post-Kemalist academic paradigm. First, and without neglecting Unionism and Kemalism, we must look at new actors, institutions, and processes in order to understand the present. We will do all of this by taking a close look at the nationalist, conservative, and even Islamist politicians to be found under the umbrella of the Turkish right, as well as their political parties, their associations and publications; the nationalist-conservatist base which had – up until the 1960s – managed to maintain its unity before splitting into the nationalists and the Islamists; as well, of course, as the world of thought and intellectuals which gave shape to the Turkish right. If it took us thirty years to research the Unionists and Kemalists, it is not difficult to imagine that studying the Turkish right will keep us busy for a long time to come. We still do not have good biographies of Menderes, Bayar, Demirel, Erbakan and Türkeş; we should have had several for each. Only introductory works have been published on the DP, AP, CKMP-MHP and the MNP-MSP. With the exception of the MTTB, there is hardly any academic work on the Aydınlar Ocağı, Mücadele Birliği and the Kubbealtı Vakfı, which could be regarded as the breeding grounds for right-wing elites. Leaving aside dozens of right-wing intellectuals, we have very little academic work on even Necip Fazıl, who composed Turkey’s right-wing mantras. As a matter of fact, what we desperately need today is a literacy campaign on the Turkish right.

  • 14 It is not possible to say that the Cold War period, which has become one of the most quickly growin (...)
  • 15 It has become the established academic custom to study the republican history by dividing it into t (...)

41Working with new actors will also cause us to make a chronological jump. Panning our focus away from the period between 1908 and 1950, we will turn towards the Cold War era into which the right-wing elites were born and in which their political socialization took place.14 The lack of studies focusing on this era is a deficiency which we need to correct posthaste, because the fact that the atmosphere of the Cold War was the most important factor shaping Turkey’s political life, institutions, and world of thought following 1945 is still waiting to be discovered. In terms of its sphere of influence, the Kemalist revolution was an urban revolution. Although reaching out to the periphery and transforming it, too, was one of its aims, the Kemalists were not successful in this goal, because the lack of physical infrastructure during the early republican period did not allow the center to reach and control the periphery. When the infrastructure improved, they had already fallen from power. In tandem with joining the Western alliance and accession to NATO, a national security state was also founded in Turkey. Constructed by right-wing governments and based on a threat perception from both inside and out, the national security state enjoyed an unparalleled capacity to penetrate the periphery, incomparably more than the early republican bureaucracy. The size and power of the Turkish bureaucracy grew by leaps and bounds during the Cold War; the military and the intelligence service changed both institutionally and in terms of governing mentality. Furthermore, right-wing governments were not alone in constructing the national security state. On the contrary, the national security state was based on a consensus between right-wing political elites and Kemalist state elites, both of whom perceived an enemy in communism, non-Muslim minority groups and the Kurds. It was because of this alliance that Turkish nationalism ceased to be an ideology of the urban intellectuals; it now reached out to the periphery by becoming increasingly conservative and religious, won hearts and minds and constituted the new status quo, the new normal. With very few exceptions, right-wing intellectuals in Turkey supported this alliance throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the tendency of the current AKP elites to reinterpret modern Turkish history as “an ongoing rebellion of Anatolian Muslims against the White Turks” is a case of convenient forgetfulness. In order to understand contemporary Turkey, forgetting is no use; we need to remember those years. That is why we must initiate Cold War studies.15 The road towards understanding the AKP phenomenon, its voters and its world of thought, involves beginning in the Cold War era and familiarizing oneself with the strain of national- conservatism which has grown in numbers over the last ten years and ultimately rising to power.

Top of page

Bibliography

Bali, Rıfat (2002). Tarz-ı Hayat’tan Lifestyle’a [From Tarz-ı Hayat to Lifestyle], Istanbul, İletişim.

Çınar, Metin (2013). Anadoluculuk ve Tek Parti CHP’de Sağ Kanat, Istanbul, İletişim.

Dağı, İhsan (2008). Turkey between Democracy and Militarism: Post-Kemalist Perspectives, Ankara, Orion.

Ersanlı, Büşra (1992). İktidar ve Tarih: Türkiye’de “Resmi Tarih” Tezinin Oluşumu (1929-1937) [Power and History: The Creation of the “Official History” Theory in Turkey (1929-1937)], Istanbul, Afa.

Esen, Berk (2014). “Nation-Building, Party-Strength, and Regime Consolidation: Kemalism in Comparative Perspective,” Turkish Studies 15, pp. 600-620.

Göle, Nilüfer (1991). Modern Mahrem [The Forbidden Modern], Istanbul, Metis.

İrem, Nazım (2002). “Turkish Conservative Modernism: Birth of a National Quest for Cultural Revival,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 34, pp. 87-112.

Kaplan, Sefa (April 12, 2010). “Said-i Nursi’yi Fazla Parlattı” [“Said-i Nursi was over polished”] Hürriyet http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/14390258.asp (Retrieved 1 February 2015).

Köker, Levent (1990). Modernleşme, Kemalizm ve Demokrasi [Modernism, Kemalism and Democracy], Istanbul, İletişim.

Lerner, Daniel (1958). The Passing of the Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East, New York, Free Press.

Mardin, Şerif (1989). Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Albany, SUNY Press.

Norton, A. R. (ed.) (1994). Civil Society in the Middle East, Vol. 1, Leiden, Brill.

Norton, A. R. (ed.) (1995). Civil Society in the Middle East, Vol. 2, Leiden, Brill.

Örnek, Cangül (2015). Türkiye’nin Soğuk Savaş Düşünce Hayatı: Antikomünizim ve Amerikan Etkisi [Turkey’s Cold War World of Thought: Anti-Communism and the American Impact], Istanbul, Can Yayınları.

Örnek, Cangül; Üngör, Çağdaş (eds.) (2013). Turkey in the Cold War: Ideology and Culture, Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan.

Parla, Taha (1989). Ziya Gökalp, Kemalizm ve Türkiye’de Korporatizm [Ziya Gökalp, Kemalism and Corporatism in Turkey], Istanbul, İletişim.

Parla, Taha (1991-1992). Türkiye’de Siyasal Kültürün Resmi Kaynakları [Official Sources of Political Culture in Turkey], 3 vols., Istanbul, İletişim.

Taşkın, Yüksel (2007). Milliyetçi Muhafazakar Entelijensiya: Anti-Komünizmden Küreselleşme Karşıtlığına [The Nationalist-Conservative Intelligentsia: From Anticommunism to Anti-Globalism], Istanbul, İletişim.

Tunçay, Mete (1981). Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nde Tek Parti Yönetiminin Kurulması (1923-1931) [The Foundation of Single Party Rule in the Turkish Republic (1923-1931)], Ankara, Yurt Yayınları.

Zürcher, Erik Jan (1984). The Unionist Factor: The Role of the Committee of Union and Progress in the Turkish National Movement, 1905-1926, Leiden, Brill.

Top of page

Notes

1 The workshop titled “A Post-Kemalist Turkey?”, held from October 3-4 2018 at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Rome, should be cited as the origin of the term’s circulation within the international academic community.

2 The direction that Kemal Tahir and İdris Küçükömer took with Yön [Direction] can be considered the point of origin of this cleavage within the left.

3 In fact, Mardin’s first critiques of the theory of modernization can be found in the book Religion and Ideology, published in 1969.

4 This term was coined by Ahmet Kabaklı.

5 For a strong but early, and therefore overlooked, critique of this thoughtless vouching, see Bali 2002.

6 It is no coincidence that Turkey was given as central example in the now classic first book of Daniel Lerner, one of the leading representatives of the doctrine of modernization which left its mark on the 1950s and 1960s. See Lerner 1958.

7 For a few examples reflecting this opinion, see Norton 1994 and 1995. Standing behind this optimistic view towards Islamism, alongside a sense of guilt over the Orientalism which had in the past been dominant within the academy, are very specific conditions relating to the audiences American scholars have to address. All day in courses and, outside of university, in the media and the streets, every academic specializing in the Middle East and Islam at an American university is confronted by masses of people who are unaccustomed with, disparage or even hate Islam and Muslims. For quite a few academics, being able to explain the “truth” and show the “true face” of the Middle East, Islam, Iran and Palestine to the erstwhile cliché “clueless of the world, average American on the street,” has become a sort of a mission.

8 Even setting aside Hebrew-language literature, there are too many English-language articles and books on Post-Zionism to count them each one by one. It is most appropriate to start by reading the works of Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Simha Flapan, Tom Segev and Baruch Kimmerling, who we can consider Post-Zionism’s foremost thinkers.

9 The twenty-two episode TV documentary Tkuma (Foundation), prepared and broadcast on the public channel for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Israel, undoubtedly represents Post-Zionism’s peak. In order to envision the political tone of Tkuma, imagine if Ali Bayramoğlu, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Ayşe Hür were to be charged with producing a documentary on modern Turkish history, which would then be aired all year long on TRT in 1998 for weeks on end in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic! Indeed, Tkuma was so iconoclastic and so able to discomfort Israel’s right that among the first actions taken by the Likud Government, founded by Benyamin Netanyahu after the Labour Party’s electoral defeat at the end of the 90s, was to pull the documentary from the state channel and ban it from being screened in schools.

10 Interview with Benny Morris by Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest”, Haaretz Friday Magazine (English Edition), 9 January 2004. I do not mean to imply that, following the example of Benny Morris, the post-Kemalists will one day turn into militant Kemalists. Although some of the post-Kemalists began to adopt in the last year or two more positive attitudes regarding secularism, for example, I do not consider a transformation in Turkey on the scale of Morris to be possible.

11 “Ceberut devlet kaybolmadı” [“The Despot State Has Not Dissapeared”], (http://t24.com.tr/k24/yazi/ceberut- devlet-kaybolmadi,235) Accessed 20 June 2015.

12 The Ottoman military class, headed by the sultan and members of the family, shared the same religious culture as its Sunni Muslim subjects. But apart from this, the military class separated itself from the rayah class economically by not paying taxes, legally through comparatively secular laws, culturally by inventing a difficult to understand written language, and politically by never opening up the possibility for participation in government. However, this basic segregation would begin to be weakened with Tanzimat in the 19th century.

13 For the most part I agree with the Post-Kemalists’ criticism of the early Republican Era. However, I break from the Post-Kemalists on the following point: I find nearly every problematic issue criticized in the period between 1908 and 1945 both before 1908 and after 1945. For this reason, it is difficult for me to understand why we have only focused on this period. I believe that, in the same way the Kemalists exaggerate the extent and impact of the Kemalist revolution in order to be able to praise this period to their heart’s’ content, the post-Kemalists similarly exaggerated it to whet their own appetites.

14 It is not possible to say that the Cold War period, which has become one of the most quickly growing sub-branches of works on world history and within the social sciences, has received much attention up until now within Turkey. For two important and recently published exceptions, see Örnek 2015; Örnek and Üngör 2013.

15 It has become the established academic custom to study the republican history by dividing it into two as the single-party and the multi-party periods. I cannot ignore the veracity of this periodization, but I also believe that it allows for certain misreadings as well. It is not a very scientific approach to consider 1950 an annus mirabilis that separates black from white and despotism from democracy. It is true that a structural change took place in 1950; to use a term a that Zeki Velidi Togan would have approved, a revolution occured in “general Turkish history” and, for the first time, a political elite, legitimized by the ballot box, and not by the power of arms, came to power. But this structural change should not lead us to forget that post-1950 Turkey inherited all the historical personalities, state bureaucracy, institutions and political culture of the pre-1950 period. We might have climbed up a few steps on the democracy ladder, but I am not sure if we joined the champions’ league. Even if only to get rid of this misinterpretation, it may be a good idea to rethink the single vs multi-party periodization and squeeze in a Cold War interlude.

Top of page

References

Electronic reference

İlker Aytürk, Post-Post-Kemalism: In Search of a New ParadigmEuropean Journal of Turkish Studies [Online], 35 | 2022, Online since 31 January 2024, connection on 15 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejts/8223; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejts.8223

Top of page

About the author

İlker Aytürk

Bilkent University, Istanbul  ayturk@bilkent.edu.tr

By this author

Top of page

Copyright

CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0

The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search