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HomeThematic issues35In Pursuit of Post-Kemalism

In Pursuit of Post-Kemalism

The Ins and Outs of a Mass Accusation
Emmanuel Szurek
Translation(s):
À la poursuite du post-kémalisme [fr]

Full text

“Nous sommes des passeurs”.
François Georgeon

  • 1 On the distinction between “academic controversy and partisan polemic”, see Noiriel 2004: 8.
  • 2 See İlker Aytürk’s 2018 lecture at EHESS: “Post-Post-Kemalism? Why Is Studying the Turkish Far Righ (...)

1This dossier is dedicated to a controversy as vigorous as it is vertiginous, sometimes even incandescent – some would call it a polemic1 – in which dozens of Turkish academics, journalists, and intellectuals have found themselves involved over the last decade or so: that of “post-Kemalism.” There’s no doubt that this matter has been the talk of the town. One colleague, a political scientist, referred to it as “one of the most prominent academic debates in Turkish studies” (Haksever 2023: 3); another, a historian, deemed it nothing less than “the most important discussion of current paradigms in the field of Turkish studies” (Yenen 2023: 76). Indeed, in Turkey, one publication follows another on the subject, attesting to the fact that the debate on post-Kemalism has found resonance in both academia and society. However, apart from a few podcasts and online meetings,2 as well as one or two publications, the discussion has remained confined to the Turkish-speaking editorial space.

  • 3 In this article, with a few exceptions, the terms post-Kemalist and post-post-Kemalist are not encl (...)
  • 4 Ahmet İnsel thus discussed in La Vie des Idées “the Kulturkampf conducted by the authorities, which (...)

2One of the objectives of this issue is, therefore, to make certain aspects of the post-Kemalism debate accessible to an international readership. For a social science journal like ours, there are three rationales behind this editorial decision. Firstly, from a historiographical perspective: the participants in the post-Kemalism debate aim to reassess and periodize, through a comprehensive critique, the way in which the history of twentieth-century Turkey has been written since the 1980s. Secondly, in terms of political history: a central ambition of post-post-Kemalist thinking3 is to question, and even denounce, what might be termed the “intellectual origins of the AKP regime.” And finally, in the intellectual sociology of contemporary Turkey: the radical nature of the discussion on post-Kemalism can be seen as revealing the tumultuous political upheavals shaking the Turkish intellectual and academic world, or even as a repercussion of the Kulturkampf that the ruling party has been waging in the country since the early 2010s.4

  • 5 See, for example, the interview he gave to the editors of our issue 33 (Aytürk 2021a).
  • 6 The stammering ‘post-post’”, writes Jeffrey Nealon. It’s noteworthy that the American philosopher (...)
  • 7 Some of them have come together in an edited volume: Aytürk et Esen 2022a.

3The discourse on post-Kemalism was initiated by a concise article that serves as the inaugural piece of the dossier: a fourteen-page exposition published in 2015 in the Istanbul journal Birikim under a Beckettian title, “Post-Post-Kemalizm: Yeni Bir Paradigmayı Beklerken” (translated in this dossier as “Post-post-Kemalism: In search of a new paradigm”). The author, İlker Aytürk, a political scientist and historian, had already gained prominence with significant works on linguistic reformism under the single-party regime, the inception of political Islam, and, more broadly, the political and intellectual history of the Turkish right during the Cold War era.5 More than the concept of post-post-Kemalism – a prefixal nuance somewhat unconventional in the realm of the social sciences6 – it was indeed post-Kemalism, understood as an “academic paradigm” (Aytürk 2015: 35), that underwent (re)conceptualization. This process, subtly present in the background, involved a reappraisal of the totemic notion of “Kemalism.” Consequently, the following texts do not present a positive definition of post-post-Kemalism. Instead, the term, devoid of inherent semantic content, functions as a unifying locus for a group of researchers – mainly political scientists and sociologists7 – who find common ground in their exploration of “post-Kemalist literature” and their shared “critique of critique” (Bora 2017b).

  • 8 On the notion of Kemalizm as a historiographical latency continuing the cult of personality to whic (...)
  • 9 “We are currently living in a time without linguistic creativity; we only speak of ‘post’: post-mod (...)
  • 10 Yakın tarihimizin bütün demokratikleşme problemleri”, “günümüzün büyük problemleri”, “günümüzün bü (...)
  • 11 Ibid. My thanks go to Marc Aymes, Hamit Bozarslan, Zana Çıtak, Nathalie Clayer, Élise Massicard, Hé (...)

4“Kemalism, post-Kemalism, post-post-Kemalism: a debate saturated with hypostases. An observer of today’s social sciences might discern a lack of imagination in such scaffolding, which goes far beyond the case of Turkey.8 Others, including the author of these lines, may suspect there a meta-discursive survival of the cult that Mustafa Kemal was already the object of during his lifetime: eighty years after his death, the “Gazi” still lends his lakab (nickname, name) to the controversies shaking the country, and more broadly to the conceptual vocabulary of the human and social sciences in and on Turkey.9 The discussion is all the more sensitive as the so-called post-post-Kemalist critique of the aforementioned post-Kemalism is as much civic and political as scientific: in essence, it is a what-went-wrong, or a how-we-got-there question. We: that is, the citizens of Turkey, it being understood that it is first and foremost to his own political community, more than to his international colleagues, that İlker Aytürk addresses himself when he evokes “our democratization problems.”10 There: that is, to the hegemony of a political formation stemming from the Islamist right, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, and which from the 2010s showed an increasingly authoritarian face, soon forging an informal, then formal, alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). For Aytürk, the AKP and its main representative, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, re-elected for a five-year term as President of the Republic in 2023, have for several years embodied far-right power.11

Preamble. Post-Kemalism as seen from France

  • 12 https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histoire_de_la_Turquie, consulted on December 22, 2023.

5This issue was conceived in Paris. It might be forgiven that certain provincial, i.e., Franco-centric, rudimentary considerations are used to introduce the subject. In French, the term post-kémalisme has been utilized in social science discourse and mainstream media since at least the 1980s. Not surprisingly, it functions as a periodization tool: following the literal meaning of the prefix “post,” it routinely places a sequence in Turkish history that is precisely that of after-Kemalism. More often than not, the term refers to the era that commenced with the reintroduction of a multi-party system in Turkey (between 1945 and 1950), with the chrononym “Kemalism” canonically associated with the reign of the Republican People’s Party (from 1923 to 1946). Examples include a doctoral thesis entitled La femme turque à travers le kémalisme et le post-kémalisme (1919-1970) (Caporal 1982), a review in Le Monde diplomatique by Timour Muhidine (Muhidine 2012), or simply in the “Histoire de la Turquie” entry in the participatory encyclopedia Wikipedia, serving as both a constative and prescriptive socio-semantic marker (Lacour 2008).12

6For the past twenty years, however, the term has tended to delineate another period: one initiated by the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). In this context, “post-Kemalism” commenced in 2002, with “Kemalism” (regardless of the attached meaning) implicitly linked to the extended twentieth century. For instance, in December 2004, the newspaper affiliated with the French Communist Party, L’Humanité, featured the headline: “Ankara à l’heure du post-kémalisme.” “The subtitle reflected the optimism the new ruling party inspired in segments of the French left: “The country has been transformed, moving further and further away from the dark years of dictatorship under the paradoxical impetus of the current Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan.”13

  • 14 The instability is also ortho-typographic: in 2020, a hyphen separated the suffix “post” from the m (...)

7In a less exalted tone but following the same periodization principle, geographer Yoann Morvan, in an article on the Jews of Istanbul published in the science popularization journal Regard sur l’Est, portrayed the “urban as well as national political authorities completing the transition to post-Kemalism” (Morvan 2011). As for the Ottoman Empire historian Olivier Bouquet, he may have been familiar with the ongoing debate in Turkey or, at least, its terminology when he used the same defining formula twice in the columns of Le Monde: “Erdoganism is a post(-)Kemalism.” The first instance focused on foreign policy, specifically Turkish interference in the civil war in Libya (Bouquet 2020); the second addressed the ongoing rewriting of republican history and the reference to Mustafa Kemal in President Erdoğan’s discourse (Bouquet 2023).14

  • 15 The same applies to the English-language edition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Kemalism, acce (...)

8In summary, the concept of post-Kemalism lacks firm grounding in the French context. Is it more stable in Turkish? In Turkey, the term is not freshly coined either (Aytürk 2015: 35). However, a notable observation from Vikipedi’s “Post-Kemalizm” entry, if we are again allowed this empirical grasp, preserves no memory of any use of the term that precedes 2015, the date of publication of İlker Aytürk’s aforementioned article.15

  • 16 When I use the term (post-)post-Kemalism without further clarification, it implies a reference to İ (...)

9In the upcoming sections, we will delve into Aytürk’s perspective,16 where post-Kemalism can be characterized by three essential facets. Firstly, it serves as a tool for delineating the intellectual and political history of contemporary Turkey, pinpointing the years 1980-2015, or even 1980-2020. Secondly, it functions as an analytical category – an overarching “paradigm”, “ideal type”, “approach,” or “current of thought” – intended to encompass a broad spectrum of discourse across academic, media, and activist domains. Lastly, it operates as an explanatory resource, contributing to our understanding of the significant historical shift marked by the ascent of “Islamists” to power in 2002. These three characteristics will guide as our thread of Ariadne through the following discussions.

Re-periodize (first characteristic)

10In terms of historical sequencing, İlker Aytürk breaks with the periodization practices previously associated with the term “post-Kemalism.” He places the emergence of the phenomenon not in 1946, at the end of the single-party regime, or in 2002 when the AKP came to power, but after the 1980 coup d’état. In other words, this was a period marked not by the decline of the symbolic and ideological reference system known as Kemalist but rather by an over-investment in the figure of Mustafa Kemal (manifested, for example, through conquering statuomania) and by a semantic reinvigoration of the term “Kemalism” in the public arena. We know that the military putschists of September 12 retrospectively seized on the single-party period (1923-1946) to mythologize it, aiming to offer a society deeply divided and traumatized by the extreme political violence of 1975-1980 (Gourisse 2014) an original golden age upon which they hoped to refund national concord.

  • 17 For a transnational “socio-semantic” analysis of the emergence of the notion and its circulations i (...)
  • 18 This claim is open to debate: see Ahmet Kuyaş’s contribution in this dossier.
  • 19 But there was also, in the 1950s-1970s, a “right-wing Kemalism” whose genealogy has been traced bac (...)
  • 20 The concept of Atatürkçülük was popularized (if not coined) by Mehmet Saffet (Arın) Engin (Engin 19 (...)

11The use of the term Kemalizm in Turkey dates back to the 1930s.17 From that time onward, the term became closely associated with the cult of the “Great Leader” (Büyük Önder) Mustafa Kemal.18 However, starting in the 1960s, as it was adopted by Marxist and anti-imperialist movements, the term acquired a socialist connotation.19 Consequently, the military who assumed power after the events of September 12, 1980, were more inclined to use another term that had been circulating in the market of symbolic goods since the 1950s, with a distinct right-wing orientation: “Ataturquism.” Infused with anti-communism and a pronounced ethnic Turkism, the concept of Atatürkçülük aligned more closely with the “synthetist” ideology (sentezci, in reference to the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis”) of the coup-instigating officers.20 This notion quickly solidified as a doctrine or the “Ataturquist system of thought” (Atatürkçü Düşünce Sistemi), subsequently propagated through schools, universities, and the media — though it never entirely supplanted the polysemous and enduring Kemalizm.

12From this first point of attention, let’s retain one main idea: post-Kemalism, as it is (re)conceptualized here, was not born in a context of collective backlash but, on the contrary, of the propagation of ideas attributed to Mustafa Kemal, even if they were significantly recomposed or even reinvented.

A scientific-political hypostasis (second characteristic)

  • 21 The term arises specifically in connection with Erik-Jan Zürcher (“öncü post-Kemalist tarihçilerden (...)
  • 22 Here, I reproduce the (unmotivated) sequence in which they are referenced by İlker Aytürk (Aytürk 2 (...)

13Hence a second characteristic of the post-post-Kemalist thesis: post-Kemalism is understood as a phenomenon that is inseparably scientific and political. Scientific: from the early 1980s, a number of “pioneers”21 in history, sociology or political science – Aytürk specifically cites seven researchers: Mete Tunçay, Erik-Jan Zürcher, Şerif Mardin, Nilüfer Göle, Büşra Ersanlı-Behar, Taha Parla and Levent Köker22 – would indeed have published a first corpus of works on the trajectory of twentieth century Turkey, tracing in different thematic and disciplinary fields the contours of a single “current of thought” (düşünce akımı) (Aytürk 2015: 36). A first characteristic of their narrative would be a hyper-focus on the single-party period, and more broadly on the “long young-Turkish period”, as the historian Erik-Jan Zürcher later defined it (Zürcher 1992). This historiographical tropism can be explained by the fact that “post-Kemalists” would have identified in this period, and in this period alone, the matrix of the impossible democratization (“Türkiye’nin demokratikleşeme problemi”, Aytürk and Esen 2022b: 8) from which the country suffers today (but a mobile “today”, as texts are published over more than thirty years):

Their first consensus is a common diagnosis [ortak teşhistir]. According to the post-Kemalists, Turkey cannot be democratized because it was badly founded [yanlış kurulmuştur]. From military-civilian tensions to the oppression of Kurds and minority groups, from the exclusion of Islam from the public sphere to bureaucratic tutelage [bürokratik vesayet], unionism and Kemalism always emerge from under every rock. The source of all our current problems lies in the misguided policies [yanlış politikaları] of the 1908-1950 period (Aytürk 2019: 6).

14This hypertrophy would have disadvantaged the exploration and analysis of other periods, encompassing both Ottoman and Republican eras. Notably, the most glaring illustration of this asymmetry lies in the gap – undeniable in itself, yet requiring bibliometric quantification – between the extensive literature available on the early 20th century and the relatively modest collection today on “Cold-War Turkey.” İlker Aytürk criticizes the social sciences for overlooking the significance of the 1950s-1980s, a period marked by the ascent of the right and political Islam, in shaping contemporary Turkey. This accusation extends beyond the realms of scientific discourse and historiography, venturing into the political domain.

  • 23 In a similar vein, he labels post-post-Kemalism as “anti-anti-Kemalism”: “Post-post-Kemalism is a t (...)

15Political: the inclination of post-Kemalist academics towards the single-party period can be traced back to the September 12, 1980 coup d’état. Faced with the enforced “monolithic national narrative” (Aytürk 2015: 37), and the glorification of the “Atatürk revolutions” propagated by the junta’s propagandists, coupled with their general opposition to a severely repressive regime, these pioneers, although uncoordinated, set out to compose a counter-discourse. Essentially, their aim was to spotlight various “turpitudes” of the single-party era, spanning from the authoritarianism and brutality of the Republican People’s Party government to the mass violence against Kurds in the 1920s and 1930s. They also delved into the treatment of religious segments of Turkish society by an intolerant, even repressive secularism (illustrated, for instance, by the encouragement of unveiling women) and, in the meantime, the persistence of an exclusive Turco-Sunni nationalism, which extended beyond the universalist professions of faith claimed by the supposedly secular and republican regime. Additionally, they addressed the enduring persecution of Alevi, Kurdish, and non-Muslim minorities. In essence, the post-Kemalist “approach,” irrespective of its subject of study, was unified by a shared political inspiration: to expose the dark side of “Kemalism,” aiming to counter the idealized imagery promoted by the junta’s propaganda. Consequently, political scientist and publisher Tanıl Bora also characterizes this current as “anti-Kemalism” (Bora 2017b, Bora 2022: 279-284).23

16Such a politicization of the humanities and social sciences, spearheaded by academics with a liberal or Marxist orientation, was originally deemed “understandable,” perhaps even “inevitable,” as acknowledged by Aytürk. He concedes the historiographical contribution of this initial post-Kemalism emerging in the 1980s. However, Aytürk contends that the problem, and soon the mistake, lies in the fact that by the late 1980s, “post-Kemalists” had become influential figures among specialists in Turkey, spanning various social sciences. To an extent, they substituted the hagiography crafted under General Gürsel with a leyenda negra of Mustafa Kemal’s republic – a kind of inverted mirror that was entirely incriminating and almost caricatural. Given its politically motivated nature, such an attitude became more detrimental as it was gregariously duplicated and even amplified by cohorts of colleagues increasingly eager to expose the perceived wrongdoings of “Kemalism.” This trend persisted until the AKP came to power in 2002, solidifying post-Kemalism as the new doxa: “in place of one orthodoxy, we have installed another orthodoxy” (Aytürk, Esen 2022b: 12). Consequently, Kemalism and post-Kemalism are depicted as being back-to-back.

Science gone astray

17The post-post-Kemalist gesture, as described by historian Ömer Turan in a 2019 article in the journal Birikim (translated here in the current dossier), represents nothing less than “an attempt to evaluate and critique the main thrust of the general state of the social sciences on Turkey” (Turan 2019: 68). This evaluation extends not only within Turkey but also beyond its borders, with two colleagues, Erik-Jan Zürcher from the University of Leiden and Nilüfer Göle from the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, included in the list of pioneers. The following passage illustrates the severity of the indictment, particularly concerning the period when, according to the accusation, the post-Kemalism of the 1980s-1990s should have given way to alternative research approaches:

However, once the goal had been achieved and the spell (büyü) of the single-party period had been broken, i.e., from the late 1990s onwards, it was to be hoped that more serene studies (soğukkanlı), far from the iconoclastic effervescence (heyecan), would leave their mark on this academic field [that of research on twentieth century Turkey]. (Aytürk, Esen 2022b: 12)

18Post-Kemalist literature, then, is relegated to the side of emotionalism rather than cold scientific reason. Elsewhere, resources for interpreting post-Kemalism are sought in Aristotelian philosophy or Freudian psychoanalysis:

The quest for catharsis and confrontation with the past has penetrated our historiography along with all fields of the social sciences and humanities as the dominant paradigm of the last forty years (Aytürk 2020: 117).

  • 24 One could even read “literature of purgation”. The original phrase is “bir sorgulama ve sorgulayara (...)

19Rather than being driven by a quest for historical truth and complexity, the post-Kemalist approach is marked by an axiology centered on notions of good and evil. The body of work under scrutiny is thus labeled as “purification literature,”24 a term that invites further examination.

  • 25 “With targets [têtes de Turcs] like Gilles Manceron, O[livier] Le Cour-Grandmaison, P[ascal] Blanch (...)
  • 26 On postcolonial studies as “an academic carnival,” see Bayard 2010.

20To a French historian, the term “purification literature” might evoke the “littérature de débat plutôt grand public” (Bonin 2007: 354) that gained attention in the early 2000s in response to the “colonial repentance” debate, addressing “various accusations against colonial-era France” (Lefeuvre 2006; Bonin 2007; Frémeaux 2007). It’s important to note that we’re not aiming for direct comparisons. Our intention is not to apply a politico-historiographical polemic from two decades ago among French historians of the colonial empire to present-day Turkey.25 Rather, this analogy prompts two critical questions that can help us better understand the concepts of post-Kemalism and post-post-Kemalism, and what is at stake in these terms:
1) What (if anything) does post-Kemalist historiography truly share with so-called (if any
26) postcolonial studies?
2) What commonalities exist between the current challenges to post-Kemalist historiography in Turkey and the tensions that postcolonial studies have sparked in France (and elsewhere in the world) over the past twenty years?

Post-Kemalist studies and postcolonial studies

  • 27 This was twenty years before a translation from English, by a well-established publisher, and under (...)

21The first of the two questions is frequently posed by “post-post-Kemalists,” who readily connect the post-Kemalist movement with global epistemological dynamics, particularly within the realm of postcolonial studies (Aytürk 2015, Koyuncu-Lorasdağı 2022, Taşkın 2022). Importantly, they thus refrain from attributing the post-Kemalist phenomenon solely to local socio-political determinants. This perspective opens stimulating avenues for exploration. For example, contemplate the early translation of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), which, albeit from French, not English, was undertaken in 1982 by an Islamist-oriented publishing house. The title, “Orientalism: Discovering Colonialism,” slightly deviated from the original.27 Above all, an analysis of the current reuses of this postcolonial repertoire by intellectual and media organizations affiliated with the AKP is crucial. The later often leverage it to denounce Europe and “the West,” as well as Turkish political opponents and intellectuals, both within Turkey and in exile.

22Consider, for instance, the “First International Congress on Media and Islamophobia,” convened in Ankara in May 2021 by SETA (Siyaset, Ekonomi ve Toplum Araştırmaları Vakfı), a think-tank with close ties to the ruling power. The event boasted high-profile attendees, including the Ministers of Culture and Religious Affairs, as well as the President of the Republic himself. The proceedings, spanning over 1,300 pages and comprising 57 contributions, prefaced by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, showcased a consistent vocabulary, enriched with nuanced prefixes such as neo-oryantalizm, self-oryantalizm, içeriden oryantalizm, self-İslamofobi, and the more expected post-oryantalist, post-modern, and post-kolonyal (Aydın, Çağlar, Üslü 2023). Clearly, such a volume would merit an in-depth genealogical investigation to understand the intertextuality (who quotes whom and how) as much as a social and intellectual cartography. It is indeed conceivable that if there are post-Kemalist ideologues anywhere, this kurultay would be their gathering point. But the question then arises: are these contemporary thinkers the same as our colleagues from the 1990s and 2000s?

  • 28 Echoing Gérard Noiriel’s Penser avec, penser contre. Itinéraire d’un historien (Noiriel 2003).
  • 29 The latter was defined as “a set of reifications and dominations internal to Turkish republican soc (...)

23In order to “think along with”28 the post-post-Kemalists, it is indeed pertinent to scrutinize the role that, volens nolens, a certain number of colleagues with an interest in the postcolonial repertoire have played since the 1980s in this form of conceptual appropriation. However, instead of focusing solely on the influential “ancestors” associated with the post-Kemalist discourse, and with the risk of overly personalizing the discussion, let us consider our own involvement. Back in 2011, during my doctoral studies at the EHESS, I contributed a chapter on “Kemalist Orientalism” to a collective publication in French, exploring the theme of “Orientalisms from the South” (Szurek 2011 & 2014).29 Imagine my surprise when Princeton historian Şükrü Hanioğlu, in his capacity as a columnist-editorialist (köşe yazarı), cited my work the following year in one of his weekly columns for the Sabah newspaper, an outlet affiliated with the AKP (Hanioğlu 2012). While this may serve as an immodest yet concrete example of the circulation highlighted by the “post-post-Kemalists” across academia, mainstream media, and eventually, political spheres, it also raises the possibility of myself being perceived as some sort of a dinosaur – one of the last post-Kemalists. This suspicion gains credence, particularly since, from a purely scholarly perspective, I find no substantial grounds to dispute the interpretation presented in the chapter. This leads us to consider our responsibility as young and not-so-young Post-Kemalist scholars. To what extent should scholars be held accountable for how their work is interpreted and leveraged by other academics or political entrepreneurs?

Post-Kemalist studies or post-nationalist studies?

  • 30 In this respect, issue 71-72 of Birikim magazine, devoted in 1995 to the theme of “Ethnic identity (...)

24One of the multifaceted areas of study embraced by “post-post-Kemalists” under the overarching category of post-Kemalism centers on the persecution and discrimination faced by non-Muslim minorities during the Republic (Aytürk 2015: 38; Esen 2022: 374). This is a historiographical field that emerged in the 1990s, only to assert itself in the 2000s, and one that once again merits a thorough recapitulation, both in terms of the genealogy of discourse and the sociology of intellectuals.30 From the anti-Semitic pogrom in Thrace (1934) to the anti-non-Muslim pogrom in Istanbul (1955), via the Dersim massacre (1937-1938) and the Varlık Vergisi (1942-1943) – mentioning only the most documented events, the serial highlighting of these “dark pages of the Republic” (an expression reminiscent of contemporaneous discussions in France about Vichy and later the Algerian War) prompted, in the 2000s, a more systematic critique of Turkish nation-building.

  • 31 Some twenty contributors include Marc Baer, Hamit Bozarslan, Rifat Bali, Fuat Dündar, Fatma Müge Gö (...)

25Representative of the systematization of such historiographical scrutiny is a collective volume published in 2006 under the eloquent title: Turkey Beyond Nationalism: Towards Post-Nationalist Identities.31 Here, post-Kemalism seems to resonate with post-nationalism. Marked by the enthusiasm of the AKP’s early reign, the editor of the volume, Hans-Lukas Kieser, believes he can detect “the signs of a silent liberal revolution” at the time of its writing (Kieser 2006: XII), contrasting it with the interwar period often associated with a nationalist dark age:

Like most of the authors of this book, I believe there is now a better opportunity than ever to come to terms with Turkish national history. It’s time to bid a final farewell to Turkish nationalism, which has its roots in the interwar period - even if some of its proclaimed aims have not been achieved: equality, democracy and a modern secular state obeying the rule of law. A final farewell concerns the underlying national identity, Türklük or “Turkishness”, based (for the Young Turks) on Turkish Muslim identity (Kieser 2006: X).

26Reflecting on this passage today is painful: it underscores the stark disparity between the optimism – some might label it as naivety – sparked by the emergence of the new ruling party and the harsh reality it has since embodied. Nevertheless, it serves as a poignant reminder of the prevailing sentiment in Turkish studies at the time: as a student in the early 2000s, the author of these lines would struggle to recall a single fellow student or even professor – save for a handful of “old-fashioned Atatürkists” – who wasn’t drawn to the liberal, pro-European, and minorities-oriented strides epitomized by the concepts of “moderate Islam” or “post-Islamism” (Çıtak 2020: 168; Çıtak 2022: 319). In the words of Alp Yenen and Erik-Jan Zürcher, “The hype was real, since the promises were backed up by deeds” (Yenen, Zürcher 2023: 25). This raises yet another naïve question: does the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of “post-Kemalists” erred in their political assessments and expectations of the AKP – a conclusion that would certainly warrant nuanced examination in itself – suffice to lessen their scholarly legacy today?

27In his initial opus, İlker Aytürk drew a comparison between post-Kemalism and another form of post-nationalism: post-Zionism (Aytürk 2015: 39-41). The term “post-Zionism” refers to the systematic critique leveled against the foundational principles of the State of Israel by a cohort of “new Israeli historians” during the 1980s-1990s. This critique encompassed topics such as the forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948 and the atrocities contributing to their expulsion, as well as the discrimination faced by Jews leaving or fleeing Arab countries and resettling in Israel, particularly at the hands of the country’s Ashkenazi elites. The simultaneity of both critiques is apparent, and the portrayal of post-Zionism delineated in 2000 by one of its leading proponents bears a striking resemblance to the current depiction of post-Kemalism articulated by the “post-post-Kemalists”:

Israeli society has ceased to be truly Zionist: it is now a post-Zionist society. There is no longer a consensus in the collective memory of history. Each group – whether national, ethnic, religious, sexual – possesses its own memory, and all these memories challenge the mainstream of traditional historiography. The Palestinian minority now seeks recognition for its version of the events of 1948, Sephardim demand a reevaluation of their treatment by the state in the 1950s, and feminist groups highlight the patriarchal attitudes of leaders within the ostensibly socialist Zionist community since the early days of Jewish settlement in modern Palestine (Ilan Pappé, quoted in Vacarme 2001).

  • 32 Post-Zionism thus embraces a secularist agenda, contrasting with religious “neo-Zionism” (Greilsamm (...)

28Of course, the comparison has its limits, as Israel is not precisely Turkey.32 Nevertheless, the way it unfolds raises questions. What exactly would a “post-post-Zionist” historiography entail if not a form of regression? Wouldn’t Israeli society, now more than ever, benefit from engaging with post-Zionist literature and further expanding its corpus? Similarly, wouldn’t Turkish society benefit from engaging with post-Turkist or post-Unionist literature?

Post-Kemalist and post-genocidal studies

  • 33 The Özür diliyorum (“I ask for forgiveness”) petition was initiated by Ahmet İnsel, Baskın Oran, Ce (...)
  • 34 The concept of “post-genocidal habitus of Republican Turkey” was primarily developed by the histori (...)

29As I mentioned earlier, in Turkey, the 1990s and particularly the 2000s witnessed a systematic reexamination of violence perpetrated against non-Muslim “minorities,” Kurds, and other non-Sunni Muslim groups. However, these years also marked the emergence of knowledge about the Armenian genocide within the country, facilitated by translations (notably by the Belge publishing house) and Turkish-language works (starting with Akçam 1991), despite official denial persisting. Public discussions of repentance also surfaced, notably through a petition launched in December 2007.33 Consequently, the aforementioned post-nationalist trend gradually evolved in the 2010s into a new historiography that could be termed “post-genocidal.” This historiography, now represented by an abundance of historical, sociological, and anthropological literature, delves into both the genocidal events themselves (1914-1922) and their enduring impact on the Turkish national fabric. It even goes so far as to characterize “1915” as nothing less than “the birth certificate of republican Turkey,” in the words of Hamit Bozarslan (Bozarslan et al. 2016: 147). Broadly speaking, it seeks to elucidate how the mass violence of the early 20th century is inscribed within the social, symbolic, economic, landscape, and environmental structures of contemporary Anatolia.34

30Yet, this post-genocidal shift in Turkish studies has willingly drawn inspiration from postcolonial studies, borrowing analogies, reasoning, and comparisons. In a recent article (which one might hope were anticipatory rather than counterfactual history), Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, for example, went so far as to describe how Turkish universities could, in an indeterminate “post-denialist” future, lead the way for the rest of society. After a century of official denial of the crime and the “silencing” of Armenians, she envisions Turkish campuses embarking on a policy of making their own Armenian past visible (through, for instance, statues, syllabuses, and university toponymy). Drawing inspiration from acknowledgment procedures used by American universities in relation to Native American “first occupants” and African-American slaves, the historian from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology drives us to raise the crucial question of how critics of post-Kemalism view not only the Armenian genocide but also its long-term legacy (Ekmekçioğlu 2021).

31When it comes to genocide, it evidently receives little attention from the “post-post-Kemalists.” However, it is fair to say that they are not entirely oblivious to it: İlker Aytürk, when queried on the matter (Turan 2019: 73), offered his perspective (Aytürk 2020: 114). Nonetheless, the above-mentioned post-genocidal scholarship, particularly as it scrutinizes Turkey’s republican century rather than the final years of the Ottoman Empire, remains conspicuously absent in their assessment of post-Kemalism.

32There might be a concern here that, given the contentious nature of the debate, political suspicions become intertwined with this discussion. On one side, “post-Kemalists” might perceive post-post-Kemalism, and its proclaiming the obsolescence of studies on the period 1908-1946 as a most convenient attempt to erase the foundational past of the Turkish nation-state, particularly its darkest aspects such as genocidal unionism. Conversely, “post-post-Kemalists” may presumably end up viewing the persistence of what they label as the post-Kemalist predicament as an untimely expression of scholarly victimism, if not a manifestation of learned xenophobia towards Turks and their Republic. See for instance the following elegy (which addresses post-Kemalism in general):

On the other hand, we are getting less and less scientific as this trend becomes ossified and permanent, and as it increasingly determines the research agenda. We see the emergence and increasing prevalence of an academic tradition/narrative where the history of Turkey and Turks is reduced to atrocities committed by them towards their own nation and to others, and where such topics are regarded as the only ones that are worthy of academic curiosity and research. Turkey and Turks certainly have plenty of evil and sin in their modern history, but now after 40 years is it not time for scholars in social sciences and humanities to ask themselves why they have constantly been examining the same themes? When we fail to ask this question and continue to persistently vilify […] Turks, does this not entail the risk of excluding them from the normal human species, as it were, and portraying them rather as Middle-earth Orcs?

  • 35 J. W. Bohnstedt, The Infidel Scourge of God: The Turkish Menace as Seen by German Pamphleeters of t (...)

33Orklar Türk mü? (“Are Orcs Turks?”) The question is a longstanding one (Nourallah 1991: 130). It has sparked discussions on numerous online forums ever since the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) was adapted to the screen over twenty years ago. It raises the intriguing inquiry of whether the menacing black-skinned, scimitar-armed creatures from the orientalist, and racist, imagination of British writer J. R. R. Tolkien represent a contemporary manifestation of the (Turkish) “scourge of God” depicted since the European Renaissance.35 In other words, does being post-Kemalist imply a bit of turkophobic tendencies?

34However, it is through a genuine consideration of the political arguments articulated by the “post-post-Kemalists” themselves that we can effectively challenge any expansion of the overarching concept of post-Kemalism to include what was termed here post-genocidal studies. If indeed there exists a continuum stretching from the Unionists of 1915, through the “Kemalists” of the 1930s and the “Atatürkists” of the 1980s, to the Islamists of the 2010s onwards, it is characterized by their shared alignment, when in power, with the same state-sanctioned pattern and rationale of denialism (Turan and Öztan, 2018). Thus, despite initial gestures and declarations that may have suggested otherwise, during its initial decade in power, the AKP eventually fell into conformity (Bayraktar, 2015). Put simply, if there is one arena where the post-Kemalist “school” (okul) has struggled – and failed – to persuade organic intellectuals, AKP spokespeople, and still many contemporary academics in Turkey, it is undoubtedly within the realm of research concerning the Republic’s genocidal legacy and, therefore, history.

The darbeci heteronomy of post-Kemalist studies

35This brings us back to the general accusation leveled against post-Kemalism. Emotionality, the quest for redemption, purifying (“cathartic”) passion, the political determination of scientific production, and the politicization of scientific discourse in return have all been aspects of the post-post-Kemalist indictment. Ultimately, post-Kemalism is accused of conferring scholarly and political coherence, if not outright moral conformism, upon “forty years of academic literature” (Aytürk 2020: 114) and “thousands of academic and popular works” (Aytürk 2015: 43) from the 1980s to the dawn of the 2020s, resulting in widespread scholastic petrification.

36One remains stunned by the blow struck, both by the generality of the criticism and the breadth of the target - to the point of needing to reformulate it several times. So, to rephrase: four decades of human and social sciences, an uncountable mass of books and articles, form a single narrative - initially understandable but ultimately complacent - stemming from the same original trauma, the coup d’état of September 12, 1980. Again, in other words: how many of the historians, sociologists, and political scientists, to whom we, as later generations, believed ourselves indebted, actually need to be revisited? Not merely through the lens of the transformation of a field in area studies – Turkish studies – since the 20th century, nor solely from the perspective of continually evolving disciplinary knowledge, but rather from the standpoint of political traumatology?

  • 36 He himself has devoted research to this subject: Aytürk 2011.

37This darbeci (“putschist”) genealogy of post-Kemalism could perhaps be qualified. For that matter, İlker Aytürk himself does not deny the existence of an anti-Kemalist critique well before 1980, or rather of a multiplicity of currents critical of Kemalism that he even traces back to the 1930s.36 But, for him, what was happening before 1980 was not post-Kemalism, because what constitutes post-Kemalist criticism in its own right is its coalitional dimension: it was only in the “stifling”, traumatic context of the post-coup period that currents that had hitherto been opposed to each other, as much if not more so than to “Kemalism” itself, could have envisaged coming together, eventually forming a “common front” (Aytürk 2019: 5). On the other hand, said “coalition” would not have seen the light of day until the 1990s, so the 1980s would have been the affair of a few “pioneers”. But why these pioneers, rather than earlier ones? Why the 1980s and not the 1970s?

  • 37 In 1978, Mete Tunçay made waves with an article in Toplum ve Bilim titled “Atatürk’e nasıl bakmak?” (...)
  • 38 As for Berk Esen, he traces the “incubation period” of post-Kemalism back to the 1970s, or even the (...)
  • 39 Likewise, a clear continuity exists between the work of the Kurdish sociologist on the official his (...)
  • 40 How far back can we trace the origins of post-Kemalism? Is it possible that post-Kemalism predates (...)

38Aytürk himself observes, in a text where he revisits a work published in 1981 as a post-Kemalist archetype – Mete Tunçay’s Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nde Tek-Parti Yönetiminin Kurulması (1923-1931) – that the latter had begun writing it at least eight years earlier (Aytürk 2022: 194).37 Eight years earlier: that is, around the time of publication of two other pillars of presumed post-Kemalism, namely Şerif Mardin’s two articles on the “center/periphery” dialectic and on the dynamics of “Super-Westernization” in the late Ottoman Empire (Mardin 1973 and 1974).38 To suggest that post-Kemalism began with September 12, 1980, might also overlook figures like İsmail Beşikçi, whose “scientific method” (Bilim Yöntemi, 1976-1979) presented an anti-colonial critique from Diyarbakır, if not a “pre-subalternist” critique of “Kemalism”, introducing a radical break with the epistemology of the Kurdish cause inherited from the 1960s, which had focused on questions of underdevelopment and cultural rights (Bozarslan 2011).39 Additionally, Nilüfer Göle, who in this dossier traces the intellectual genealogy of her own critique of Kemalism back to her student days on the campus of the Middle East Technical University (Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi) in the 1970s, also links the crystallization of her political thinking to the traumas caused by two other coups d’état, those of 1960 and 1971. So it did not all begin in 1980. This raises the question of what authorizes the researcher to decide for the actors (in this case, researchers themselves) what constitutes the event, or even the political trauma triggering their intellectual trajectory and production.40

  • 41 This phenomenon could be termed the “curse of putchism” (darbeciliğin laneti), echoing the “curse o (...)

39The criticism, it will be understood, is not merely a chronological quibble: it questions the causal framework that the “post-post-Kemalists” have chosen to adopt in explaining the phenomenon of post-Kemalism. Indeed, the post-Kemalists are being portrayed as what could be termed, in a nod to Alp Yenen, the “cursed sons of September 12th.”41 There is no discussion that the coup of 1980 brutalized vast segments of Turkish academia, resulting in a drastic and lasting reshaping of Turkey’s intellectual landscape. However, such a belief in the political heteronomy of scholarly production itself (and such an infantilization, if we may call it that, of the scientific vocation) may explain why, in none of the contributions he has authored on the subject since 2015, does Aytürk offer an in-depth, comprehensive, diachronic analysis, supported by citations, which takes seriously the numerous works to which he broadly applies the adjective “post-Kemalist”.

40This critique, it should be noted, is not exactly new; it has already been articulated by Ömer Turan (Turan 2019: 68) and is reiterated in this dossier by Nilüfer Göle (Göle 2022): it essentially revolves around the lack of providing concrete sources to demonstrate the validity of the accusation, i.e., the coherence (discursive, intellectual, ideological, epistemological) of the targeted population, beyond its sociological diversity (class affiliation, family or migratory background, generation, party affiliation, relationship to religious practice, secondary and university training). What is missing, in other words, is a sociography of the post-Kemalists, a genealogy of their discourse (both before and after the coup d’état), and, last but not least, a political sociology indeed: what exactly enables the transition from one state to another — before: an aggregate of scholars sharing common hostilities against “Kemalism”; after: a “political coalition”? Is it sufficient to have published in the same periodics (did they all?), or to have participated in serious or mock gatherings like the Abant platform or other Gülenist arenas (did they all?), to be considered a part of it? Aytürk insisted several times that his framing of Post-Kemalism is based on an ideal-type. But the question remains: of what range of bone-and-flesh people, of what mundane reality is the Post-Kemalist “ideal-type” the ideality of?

  • 42 A similar remark in Haksever 2023. The trial of “totalism and reductionism, which constitute a weak (...)

41It is true that the publication, in the summer of 2022, of a collective volume of almost 500 pages bringing together ten authors and as many unpublished contributions under the title Post-Post-Kemalism: New Research in Studies on Turkey, will go some way to filling this gap. But only in part. The book, which takes up Aytürk’s opus princeps and radicalizes its theses in a brief introduction (Aytürk, Esen 2022a), offers a panorama of the indictment of post-Kemalism in different thematic fields (foreign policy, Islamic studies, secularism, military/civil society relations, etc.), and under various disciplines or areas of research (political science, history, sociology, women’s studies), from the 1980s (or even 1970s) to the present day. Several chapters in the book offer in-depth analyses of their respective subjects and prompt further discussion with their authors on the impact of postcolonial studies, postsecularism, postmodernism, and identity politics in Turkey and in transnational Turkish studies. Nevertheless, it is ultimately up to the reader, through the juxtaposition of all these “posts” and the various chapters, to reweave what exactly makes the intellectual unity (notwithstanding their political utility for today’s supporters of AKP) of the post-Kemalist phenomenon, among so many amalgamated authors, texts, currents, disciplines if not epistemologies42.

  • 43 In a footnote to his first work, Aytürk presents a nuanced judgment, which diverges from the revolu (...)

42Last but not least, this epistemological cocktail is reminiscent of the ongoing battle waged by several Western intellectuals, notably in France, against the “academo-militants” accused of promoting “wokism,” “islamo-leftism,” or the “decolonial” cause in a variety of subfields (Haenich 2023). It may then appear both coherent and paradoxical that, precisely in response to criticism of excessive amalgamation, İlker Aytürk seeks reinforcement from Edward Said: “If I am exaggerating,” he writes, “I may be exaggerating just as much as Said exaggerated the influence of the Orientalists” (Aytürk 2020: 115). This stance is consistent, as Said epitomizes the kind of epistemology that explains the scientific by the political – and vice versa (Said 1978; Irwin 2006). However, it is paradoxical, as Said, more than anyone else, embodies the same postcolonial epistemology that has fueled the so-called post-Kemalist literature, the obsolescence of which we must now acknowledge.43

The aggrieved Republic (third characteristic)

43The post-post-Kemalist criticism of the post-Kemalists does not solely revolve around these scholarly considerations; their wrongdoing is also - and perhaps primarily so - political. At this point, the author of these lines, himself a historian of the inter-war period and by no means a specialist in the period under discussion (1980-2020), feels inadequately prepared to do anything other than paraphrase the accusation. So, once again, let us paraphrase.

44Unsatisfied with merely repeating the same topics over and over again, the accused academics are further criticized for aligning themselves, starting from the 1990s, with a range of less scholarly and more political figures: public intellectuals, editorialists, commentators, organizations, all driven by varying degrees of political motives – whether liberal or leftist, advocates for women’s rights, supporters of Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, or proponents of the Kurdish or Islamist cause. Post-Kemalism, once solely a school of thought, is alleged to have evolved into a political “coalition” united by a singular purpose: the consistent condemnation of military authoritarianism and, by extension, that of its self-proclaimed official ideology, “Kemalism/Atatürkism”.

45By rubbing shoulders with various actors from civil society or institutionalized politics in the public sphere, post-Kemalist academics are believed to have significantly undermined the Republic and its moral foundation, ultimately benefiting the “political Islamists” (siyasal İslamcılar). There are at least two reasons for this: firstly, their persistent focus on the single-party period allegedly rendered them historiographically blind to the gradual emergence of political Islam, noticeable as early as the mid-20th century; secondly, their public stances made them objective, if not voluntary, political allies of the AKP’s ascent to power, aiding the party in gaining broader legitimacy, even inspiring, through their learned prose – as we have seen in the case of postcolonial studies – the concoction and legitimization of a new intellectual hegemony. Ultimately, they facilitated the party’s consolidation of control over the state and even contributed to the regime change. In summary, what began as an exaggerated criticism of an authoritarianism to be relativized – that of the interwar period – under the traumatic shock of a very real authoritarianism – that of the 1980s – is argued to have given rise to, or contributed to the emergence of, a new form of very real authoritarianism – that of the 2010s onwards.

  • 44 If we are to follow this logic to its conclusion, the commonplace practice of systematically attrib (...)
  • 45 Thus İlker Aytürk, like Ahmet Kuyaş for that matter, often significantly encloses the word Kemalism(...)

46New interim conclusion worthy of consideration for the historian of the interwar period: according to İlker Aytürk – but, on this point, Ahmet Kuyaş is even more explicit in the present dossier – if Kemalizm, as a term, is attested in Turkey as early as the 1930s, the thing, on the other hand, scarcely existed, neither as an ideological system nor even as the basis for an institutionalized cult of personality, before the September 12 coup and the establishment of military rule. This point brings us back to the Franco-centric questions posed at the beginning of this introduction: all things considered, and contrary to what I wrote there, it must be understood that, for the “post-post-Kemalists,” post-Kemalism does not succeed Kemalism. Rather, the “Kemalism” (or the Atatürkism) of the putschists as well as that of post-Kemalist historians, political scientists, and sociologists would only be the obverse and reverse of the same founding hubris.44 A double chimera,45 it is fantasized first by the putschist establishment in its mythological form, then by the post-Kemalist intelligentsia under a demonological motif. Thus, in the final analysis, military orthodoxy and academic criticism are being thrown back to back. Has the gravity of the accusation been fully comprehended?

Epilogue. But when did pre-post-post-Kemalism begin?

47It is impossible to cover all the arguments put forward since 2015 under the post-post-Kemalist banner, let alone all the criticisms it has attracted in return. There is, however, one aspect of post-post-Kemalist thinking that I would like to address before concluding this introduction because it has less to do with the choice of subject or period studied than with the methodology employed to achieve it. Thus, a characteristic frequently attributed by “post-post-Kemalists” to “post-Kemalist literature” is the implementation of “top-down” (topdowncu) approaches to so-called Kemalist reformism.

  • 46 It is, on our part, an oversimplification. It is necessary to be “attentive to the variety of conte (...)
  • 47 We once again encounter the familiar arguments of the AKP. However, their Islamist interpretation o (...)

48We can only concur with them. For a long time, the reforms in Interwar Turkey were seen as an undertaking in “social engineering” – which they undeniably were – and that only: a brutal order imposed by the Ankara establishment on a passive, even amorphous, society. As Tanıl Bora and Zana Çıtak, among others, point out, this reading was initially historiographical but subsequently extended into various ideological interpretations by conservative factions.46 These groups were quick to depict the “Kemalist cadres” as a “super-Westernized elite,” “alienated,” even “self-colonized” – essentially “uprooted” (köksüz) from the authentic people of rural Anatolian towns like Çorum or Yozgat. Conversely, many of them would position political Islam as the legitimate representative of these communities (Bora 2022: 303 sq; Çıtak 2022: passim).47 This cautionary approach, which discourages overly simplistic views of power dynamics and state-society relations, signals a much-needed revitalization of the social history of single-party Turkey (Adak, Lamprou 2023: 7-9).

49However, it should be mentioned that the emphasis on bottom-up approaches in Republican Turkish studies has already been at work at least over the past fifteen years. Whether drawing from Joel Migdal (Yılmaz 2013, Türköz 2018) or Bernard Lacroix (see various contributions in Aymes, Massicard, Gourisse 2013 & 2015), whether aiming to adopt an approach “from below”, in order to “grasp the political in everyday life and restore people’s room for maneuver and their historical role as social actors” (Akın 2007: 436); to conceptualize the state itself as the enforcer of a “flexible authoritarianism” (Metinsoy 2011); or to interrogate the “negotiated” nature of secularist reforms (Clayer 2013 & 2015), historians, political scientists, and sociologists of Turkey have long been challenging the rigid dichotomies proposed by modernization theories between an ostensibly strong state and a purportedly weak society, or striving to move beyond the Mardinian model of center and periphery (Gourisse 2013 & 2015). At the archival level, this has notably involved a heightened focus on provincial sources at the Republican Archives in Yenimahalle, to better understand local transactional or conflictual dynamics (Lamprou 2015 & 2017), or at the very least to observe an orthopraxis in the making – that of the language festivals (dil bayramı) –, rather than a predetermined normative framework (Szurek 2013).

50This leads us, with an evident touch of irony, to ponder whether we should label the aforementioned body of works, predating the current controversy, as “pre-post-post-Kemalist.” Yet beyond this seemingly playful term lies a genuine inquiry. Undoubtedly, the entire discourse on post-Kemalism significantly enriches our understanding of the political evolution within the social sciences in Turkey, and fosters self-awareness among Turkey scholars worldwide regarding the AKP regime. From our perspective, this may be where the greatest benefit of this discussion lies, warranting a sense of gratitude towards those who initiated and propelled it. Nevertheless, does the intellectual history of shifts, turns, and paradigms in Turkish studies not call for a more nuanced approach? One that carefully considers both continuities and the diverse array of influences at play?

An atypical dossier

51As already stated, one of the aims of this dossier is to contribute, albeit critically, to the internationalization of thinking on “post-Kemalism.” To approach such a debate from the comfort of European academic institutions, untouched by repression but not immune to infringements of academic freedom, is to question the very possibility of the latter freeing itself from the strong political constraints and polarizations weighing on scholarly work in AKP Turkey. Alp Yenen and Erik-Jan Zürcher express this concern: “Although the changes Turkey has undergone in recent decades could perhaps inspire the need for new syntheses and interpretations of republican history, the risk remains that Turkish historiography will once again be written retrospectively on the basis of contemporary political conflicts” (Yenen, Zürcher 2023: 25).

52Can a debate as polemical as that on post-Kemalism even be exported? And should it be? Clearly, yes, if we consider that even within the EJTS editorial team, as well as in the seminar rooms of the EHESS, the discussion on the subject gave rise to contradictory points of view, from which emotion and tension were not absent, reflecting the interest, irritation, biographical involvement, and sometimes unease that these subjects have more generally aroused in the transnational world of Turkish studies. I am convinced that, whether we are speaking in defense of post-Kemalism or against it, the discussion at hand is infinitely more deeply and intimately bound up with one’s own social, political, and intellectual intimacy and trajectory than any of us would care to admit (in this respect, we must pay tribute to Nilüfer Göle’s introspective effort in this dossier). In Turkey as in Europe, despite the objective gap between our respective experiences, this is a tension from which none of us can feel exempted, and from which our texts, including this introduction, can only be felt.

53It’s worth remembering, however, that the Turkish protagonists of the debate, starting with the so-called post-Kemalists – some of whom had already been directly impacted by the repressive measures of 1980 – were at one time or another the first to suffer, if not direct police and judicial crackdowns, then at least daily institutional and media political violence under the AKP, within a broader context of university purges. Historian Ömer Turan put it bluntly in his 2019 article (here, I refer to the English translation as it appears in the present dossier):

the country has turned into such a mess that current issues are the urgent priority. To put it briefly, the current government has moved from competitive authoritarianism to totalitarian practices, with the July 15 coup attempt affecting many arenas, and the Syrian conundrum had been affecting so many things. In this context, the social sciences are trying to strike a balance between keeping track of what has happened and theorizing the recent events.

54Some might consider the use of the adjective “totalitarian” abusive, yet its mere usage speaks volumes. Equally telling is İlker Aytürk’s declaration of suspicion regarding the existence of lists of enemy personalities here and there. Many critical intellectuals living and working in Turkey feel threatened. Let me acknowledge it in the final analysis: I could be criticized for mirroring here against the “post-post-Kemalists” the same pattern that I criticized them for applying to the “post-Kemalists,” namely reducing a complex and rich scholarly expression to its supposed political determinations, or even simply pathologizing scholarship in light of a coup d’état (in this case, a failed coup).

55In any case, our aim has been to offer everyone an opportunity to form their own opinions, based on the texts provided. This has resulted in another distinctive aspect: the current dossier has not undergone peer review. Upon receiving an English translation of the text that initiated the discussion from its author (Aytürk 2015), the EJTS embraced the idea of creating a dossier that was contradictory, though inevitably incomplete. Alongside the aforementioned contribution, we have included two articles from Birikim in 2019 and 2020, which we had translated. These include a piece by Ömer Turan, selected because it articulates several of our own objections, and a second text by İlker Aytürk formulated in response to the former as well as to various criticisms received in written or oral form. Given that these three translations were already engaged in dialogue with each other, there was no need to subject them to a (new) peer review process.

  • 48 To whom does Gezi belong? For İlker Aytürk, the social movement rather embodies the beginning of a (...)
  • 49 On the 1990s-2000s, and what they could represent in the history of Turkish studies, one can also h (...)

56As for the other two texts, they were solicited by Emmanuel Szurek and Özgür Türesay, respectively, to enrich the discussion and were crafted based on the previous three. Subjecting them to a “double-blind” peer review procedure would not have made any more sense. These two new contributions take different, even opposing, thematic directions as well as modes of expression. Directly challenged as a first-generation “post-Kemalist,” sociologist Nilüfer Gole expresses herself in the first person, almost assuming the role of a witness to reconstruct the climate of political as well as intellectual liberalism in which she believes an unprecedented dialogue between multiple factions of Turkish society flourished from the 1990s onwards, culminating in the events of Gezi (2013).48 In particular, this text allows us to relive with its author the hope of an era that others seem to have shared.49

57Finally, Ahmet Kuyaş, as a man of the arts, echoes many of the criticisms leveled at the so-called post-Kemalist body of scholarship. He particularly laments that the “Turkish Revolution” in its broader sense (i.e., since 1908), with what he deems its fundamentally democratic and developmentalist inspiration, has not led to any comprehensive historiographical endeavor that could be called “impartial.” He also ponders why, in his view, the writing of history in Turkey has never ceased to serve as a platform for political contention: “one might say that if the history of the Revolution has not yet been written, it is because the dust of the revolutionary upheaval has not settled yet.” Undoubtedly, this proposition invites agreement, albeit contingent upon the recognition that the term “revolution” itself remains subject to a plurality of historiographic interpretations.

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Notes

1 On the distinction between “academic controversy and partisan polemic”, see Noiriel 2004: 8.

2 See İlker Aytürk’s 2018 lecture at EHESS: “Post-Post-Kemalism? Why Is Studying the Turkish Far Right More Relevant Now Than Ever?” (https://soundcloud.com/iismm/post-post-kemalism-why-is-studying-the-turkish-far-right-more-relevant-now-than-ever-i-ayturk). Also, check out two episodes of the podcast “Lausanne Project”: “Contesting Post-Kemalism” (with İlker Aytürk, 2022) (https://thelausanneproject.com/2022/04/29/podcast-14-ayturk/) and “Contesting Post-Post-Kemalism” (with Howard Eissenstat, 2022). A third episode, “History in Fragments” (with Alp Yenen and Erik-Jan Zürcher, 2023), is also not without echoes of the ongoing discussion (https://thelausanneproject.com/2024/01/12/podcast-episode-46-fragments/). The platform Medyascope and the Eliamep Foundation also organized a round-table discussion in 2022 with İlker Aytürk, Nicholas Danforth, Berk Esen, Cangül Örnek, and Alp Yenen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3JmnuNcYhI).

3 In this article, with a few exceptions, the terms post-Kemalist and post-post-Kemalist are not enclosed in quotation marks when used in abstract contexts (although this does not imply endorsement); however, they are consistently enclosed in quotation marks when applied to individuals (who cannot be presumed to endorse or reject them).

4 Ahmet İnsel thus discussed in La Vie des Idées “the Kulturkampf conducted by the authorities, which takes the form of an attempt at Islamo-nationalist cultural cleansing” (İnsel 2017).

5 See, for example, the interview he gave to the editors of our issue 33 (Aytürk 2021a).

6 The stammering ‘post-post’”, writes Jeffrey Nealon. It’s noteworthy that the American philosopher does not perceive post-postmodernism (a notion apparently originating from the 1990s) as an “outright overcome” of post-modernism. Instead, he sees it as “an intensification and mutation within post-modernism” (Nealon 2012: IX). In contrast, post-post-Kemalism is envisioned as a “paradigmatic” departure from post-Kemalism.

7 Some of them have come together in an edited volume: Aytürk et Esen 2022a.

8 On the notion of Kemalizm as a historiographical latency continuing the cult of personality to which Mustafa Kemal was subjected in the 1930s, see Clayer Giomi Szurek 2019: 4-5.

9 “We are currently living in a time without linguistic creativity; we only speak of ‘post’: post-modernism, post-industrial, post-democratic. I believe it’s an era incapable of understanding new phenomena and, not knowing how to interpret them, resorts to the prefix ‘post.’ As historian Emilio Gentile remarks about ‘post-fascism’ (Gentile 2023), we find ourselves in an era defined by the term ‘post-something.’”

10 Yakın tarihimizin bütün demokratikleşme problemleri”, “günümüzün büyük problemleri”, “günümüzün bütün yakıcı problemleri”, “problemlerimizin kaynağı”, Aytürk 2015: passim.

11 Ibid. My thanks go to Marc Aymes, Hamit Bozarslan, Zana Çıtak, Nathalie Clayer, Élise Massicard, Hélène Morlier, Jean-François Pérouse, Özgür Türesay, Claire Visier, and particularly to İlker Aytürk himself, whose reading spared me a few embarrassing mistakes.

12 https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histoire_de_la_Turquie, consulted on December 22, 2023.

13 https://www.humanite.fr/monde/-/ankara-a-lheure-du-post-kemalisme, consulted on December 22, 2023.

14 The instability is also ortho-typographic: in 2020, a hyphen separated the suffix “post” from the meaning “Kemalism”; in 2023, not.

15 The same applies to the English-language edition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Kemalism, accessed December 22, 2023.

16 When I use the term (post-)post-Kemalism without further clarification, it implies a reference to İlker Aytürk’s research on the subject. This encompasses not only his initial work (Aytürk 2015) but also subsequent publications (Aytürk 2019, Aytürk 2020), as well as the introductory chapter co-authored with Berk Esen in the edited volume of 2022 (Aytürk and Esen 2022a).

17 For a transnational “socio-semantic” analysis of the emergence of the notion and its circulations in the interwar period, between Europe, Russia and the post-Ottoman space, see Clayer, Giomi, Szurek 2019.

18 This claim is open to debate: see Ahmet Kuyaş’s contribution in this dossier.

19 But there was also, in the 1950s-1970s, a “right-wing Kemalism” whose genealogy has been traced back to the interwar period, and which claimed the term (Bora and Taşkın 2002; Bora 2017a: 166-169).

20 The concept of Atatürkçülük was popularized (if not coined) by Mehmet Saffet (Arın) Engin (Engin 1953). Trained in philosophy and sociology in the USA, Engin was a contributor to historical and linguistic official “thesis” in the 1930s, and authored a monumental work on “Kemalism” (Engin 1938). After the war, he shifted towards vehement anti-communism and reintegrated Islam into his conception of the nation, thus laying the groundwork for the Turkish-Islamic synthesis (Göbel 2022: 349). Nonetheless, a clear line of continuity exists between his “Kemalist” and “Atatürkist” phases, characterized by his adherence to ethnic nationalism and even a supremacist glorification of the Turkish race.

21 The term arises specifically in connection with Erik-Jan Zürcher (“öncü post-Kemalist tarihçilerden Erik Jan Zürcher”), as he famously proposed, in an article published in 1992, a “new periodization” aimed at encompassing “unionists and Kemalists” in a continuum (1908-1945). This departure broke with the grand narrative established in 1927 by Mustafa Kemal, which placed the political history of the Republic’s beginnings in 1919 (Zürcher 1992). However, it is worth noting that already in his doctoral thesis, Zürcher underscored the continuity of political personnel between the two regimes (Zürcher 1984: 159-160).

22 Here, I reproduce the (unmotivated) sequence in which they are referenced by İlker Aytürk (Aytürk 2015: 35).

23 In a similar vein, he labels post-post-Kemalism as “anti-anti-Kemalism”: “Post-post-Kemalism is a terminology related to the social sciences; I think it can be called ‘anti-anti-Kemalism’ in the political context” (Bora 2017).

24 One could even read “literature of purgation”. The original phrase is “bir sorgulama ve sorgulayarak arınma literatürü,” which translates to “a literature of questioning and purification through questioning” (Aytürk 2020: 118).

25 “With targets [têtes de Turcs] like Gilles Manceron, O[livier] Le Cour-Grandmaison, P[ascal] Blanchard and his deputies, who are sometimes quick to over-simplify their analyses, or even to tell untruths” (Bonin 2007).

26 On postcolonial studies as “an academic carnival,” see Bayard 2010.

27 This was twenty years before a translation from English, by a well-established publisher, and under a title more in keeping with the original (“Orientalism. Western conceptions of the Orient”). Szurek 2011: 323.

28 Echoing Gérard Noiriel’s Penser avec, penser contre. Itinéraire d’un historien (Noiriel 2003).

29 The latter was defined as “a set of reifications and dominations internal to Turkish republican society, in which a plurality of class, race and gender relations are formally indexed to the binomial Orient/Occident” (Szurek 2011: 304).

30 In this respect, issue 71-72 of Birikim magazine, devoted in 1995 to the theme of “Ethnic identity and minorities”, seems to reflect a growing awareness among Turkey’s liberal intelligentsia. In addition to Armenian voices - notably that of Hrant Dink -, Syriac and Jewish, it includes several usual suspects of post-post-Kemalist incrimination (Taner Akçam, Murat Belge, Tanıl Bora, Ali Bulaç and Ömer Laçiner).

31 Some twenty contributors include Marc Baer, Hamit Bozarslan, Rifat Bali, Fuat Dündar, Fatma Müge Göçek, Corinna Guttstadt, Şükrü Hanioğlu, Raymond Kévorkian and Élise Massicard.

32 Post-Zionism thus embraces a secularist agenda, contrasting with religious “neo-Zionism” (Greilsammer 1998: 493-519), while post-Kemalism is readily associated with postsecularism (Çıtak 2022: 318, 344).

33 The Özür diliyorum (“I ask for forgiveness”) petition was initiated by Ahmet İnsel, Baskın Oran, Cengiz Aktar and Ali Bayramoğlu. See İnsel, Massicard and Türesay 2020: §42.

34 The concept of “post-genocidal habitus of Republican Turkey” was primarily developed by the historian Talin Suciyan (Suciyan 2016). Within the scope of this article, it is not possible to further delineate the contours of the post-genocidal historiography within Turkish and Kurdish studies. However, with Zeynep Ertuğrul, we offer an overview of it in an article currently being submitted to the EJTS.

35 J. W. Bohnstedt, The Infidel Scourge of God: The Turkish Menace as Seen by German Pamphleeters of the Reformation Era (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1968).

36 He himself has devoted research to this subject: Aytürk 2011.

37 In 1978, Mete Tunçay made waves with an article in Toplum ve Bilim titled “Atatürk’e nasıl bakmak?” (“How should Atatürk be considered?”), which criticized the idolization of Mustafa Kemal in the 1970s. Tunçay drew comparisons between the later and Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, between the single-party regime and Italian fascism (Tunçay 1978). This stance elicited strong criticism from Niyazi Berkes in the newspaper Cumhuriyet.

38 As for Berk Esen, he traces the “incubation period” of post-Kemalism back to the 1970s, or even the late 1960s, citing economists Sencer Divitçioğlu and İdris Küçükömer, and sociologist Şerif Mardin (Esen 2022: 362-364).

39 Likewise, a clear continuity exists between the work of the Kurdish sociologist on the official history thesis of the 1930s or the sun-language theory (Beşikçi 1977) and that of “certified post-Kemalists” like the Turkish political scientist Büşra Ersanlı (Ersanlı 1992) or the French historian Étienne Copeaux (Copeaux 1997).

40 How far back can we trace the origins of post-Kemalism? Is it possible that post-Kemalism predates Kemalism itself? Consider, for instance, the liberal and decentralizing opposition to the Union and Progress Committee (Bozarslan 1989). Was Prince Sabahaddin the first post-Kemalist?

41 This phenomenon could be termed the “curse of putchism” (darbeciliğin laneti), echoing the “curse of unionism” (İttihatçılığın laneti), a term coined by Alp Yenen (Yenen 2023: 91).

42 A similar remark in Haksever 2023. The trial of “totalism and reductionism, which constitute a weakness of post-Kemalist criticism as a whole” (“Post-Kemalist eleştirinin toplamında bir zaaf olan toptancılık ve indirgemecilik”, Bora 2022: 311) is thus met with perplexity. Is it necessary to replicate the same shortcomings to overcome the presumed monolithism of post-Kemalism?

43 In a footnote to his first work, Aytürk presents a nuanced judgment, which diverges from the revolutionary tone of his texts: “I subscribe to most of the criticisms that post-Kemalists have made of the young Republic” (Aytürk 2015: 43). By “revolutionary tone,” I mean, among other things, the labeling as “post-Kemalist” not only of a wide range of intellectual or political abstractions (such as trends of thought and specific formulations) but also of flesh-and-blood individuals. Such ad hominem assignation indeed exclude the possibility that one researcher could be, from one paper to another, or even within the same paper, both “post-Kemalist” and “post-post-Kemalist”, or just neither of them, and yet many other things at a time.

44 If we are to follow this logic to its conclusion, the commonplace practice of systematically attributing the adjective “Kemalist” to entities associated with Interwar Turkey (such as the “Kemalist Party,” the “Kemalist bourgeoisie,” the “Kemalist ideology,” the “Kemalist Turkey,” etc.) would typically illustrate the post-Kemalist habitus.

45 Thus İlker Aytürk, like Ahmet Kuyaş for that matter, often significantly encloses the word Kemalism in quotation marks, which should be interpreted as indicators, in his eyes, of inauthenticity. However, he also occasionally treats Kemalism of the 1930s as a real entity, without quotation marks, even considering it as a subject in History: “In fact, I think that Kemalism, certainly one of the links in the chain of authoritarianism in modern Turkish history, had the potential to break this chain, and set in motion liberating and democratizing forces.” The original phrase in Turkish is even more explicit: “Hatta, modern Türk tarihinde otoriterlik zincirindeki halkalardan biri olan Kemalizm’in, bu zinciri kırma potansiyelini içinde barındırmış olduğu, özgürleştirici ve demokratikleştirici kuvvetleri açığa çıkardığı kanaatindeyim” (“My opinion is even that Kemalism, which is one of the links in the chain of authoritarianism in modern Turkish history, happened to bear within itself the potential to break this chain, [and] that it brought forth emancipatory and democratizing forces [in the country].” (Aytürk 2020: 103, our translation). This statement is made in a paragraph where the author rejects the notion that he himself might be identified as a “Kemalist” or a “nationalist-sovereignist” (ulusalcı).

46 It is, on our part, an oversimplification. It is necessary to be “attentive to the variety of contexts in which terminology is employed, as the abundance of qualifiers used to describe this subject [Turkish conservatism] constitutes one of the challenges of political sociology: nationalist-conservative, nationalist-Islamist, Islamo-conservative, Islamo-fascist.” Bursa-Millet, Garapon, Sarmis 2021: §8.

47 We once again encounter the familiar arguments of the AKP. However, their Islamist interpretation of scholarly critiques on emancipation and secular modernity resonates with a broader conservative discourse seen in many societies. For instance, consider the French nationalist and anti-Semitic Maurice Barrès, and his influential novel Les Déracinés (“The Uprooted”, 1897). The book portrays lycée students from Catholic Lorraine influenced by Paul Bouteiller, a Kantian idealist philosophy professor (i.e., with German leanings). After moving to secular, republican Paris, they experience moral, sexual and political corruption.

48 To whom does Gezi belong? For İlker Aytürk, the social movement rather embodies the beginning of a decline: “Since Gezi, we have witnessed the weakening of the post-Kemalist hegemony in the University, thanks to the separation of post-Kemalist components, the dispersion of the coalition, and the fact that partners of thirty years have begun to openly fight.” (Aytürk 2019: 7).

49 On the 1990s-2000s, and what they could represent in the history of Turkish studies, one can also hear Howard Eissenstat in an episode of the “Lausanne Project” podcast titled “Contesting Post-Post-Kemalism”: https://thelausanneproject.com/2022/11/25/podcast-episode-23-eissenstat/

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References

Electronic reference

Emmanuel Szurek, In Pursuit of Post-KemalismEuropean Journal of Turkish Studies [Online], 35 | 2022, Online since 19 February 2024, connection on 15 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejts/8271; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejts.8271

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Emmanuel Szurek

EHESS, Paris emmanuel.szurek@ehess.fr

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