Turkish Reform Under Mustafa “Ataturk” Kemal

Published: 2021-08-08 01:50:07
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A Review on the Six Arrows of Kemalism In the aftermath of World War I, the once great Ottoman Empire was left in shambles. After having lost almost all of the empire’s territory to European mandates in 1918, what little they had left became occupied by Allied troops. In order to return the Turkish people to their former glory, the Turkish War for Independence was fought, resulting in the creation of a new government in Ankara. By 1923, this government declared the end of the Ottoman Empire and proclaimed the name of the Turkish Republic.
At the forefront of this new nation’s birth was Mustafa Kemal, a man who would come to be known as Ataturk, or “Father Turk” for his contributions to the establishment and reforms of this young state. But what exactly did this Ataturk do for the Republic of Turkey? In order to understand how much an influence Kemalist ideology had on the early days of the Turkish Republic, one must define the six basic principles behind it, known as the Six Arrows, learn how they were implemented in the early republic, and analyze the motives behind Kemal’s specific reforms.
After doing thusly, one will discover that, had it not been for the influence of Kemalism, Turkey would never have existed in its modern form. The first of the Six Arrows is Republicanism. Republicanism can be defined as a form of government in which the people rule indirectly. Unlike the former Ottoman Empire, in which the primary ruler was the sultan who inherited his position through his genealogy, the Turkish Republic was conceived as a nation through which representatives from among the people would make decisions (86-88). In order to see this idea of Republicanism come to fruition, the long standing sultanate had to be dissolved.

Though Kemal intended for this to be a reality since the early days of the War for Independence, he kept this agenda a secret from the populace in order to keep morale and war support high. Had he announced the idea of Republicanism earlier, he might not have been backed by the more traditionalist sectors of the nation. Even after securing victory in the war in 1922, Kemal met with some difficulty in ending the sultanate. Firstly, since its historical foundation under Osman I, the Ottoman Empire had always been ruled by a sultan. This time-honored tradition made the bolishment even more difficult due to the fact that for the past four centuries, the Ottoman sultan occupied the position of caliph of Sunni Islam. So long as the same figure was assigned to both roles, Kemal would have difficulty ending either one. Therefore, in an assembly discussing the nature of the caliphate and sultanate, Kemal claimed that, aside from the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, the position had become politicized and drifted from its original purpose of solely guiding the Muslim populace on a spiritual level, bereft of any temporal authority.
His address to the assembly resulted in the separation of these two powers and the end of the sultanate. While the last sultan, Mehmed VI, was expelled from the nation shortly afterward, his cousin, Abdulmecid Efendi, took the position of Sunni Caliph – something which Mustafa Kemal would deal with in the years to come (Hanioglu 135-40). In September of 1923, Kemal declared the founding of what would eventually become the Republican People’s Party, made up of representatives from all walks of life including farmers, scholars, merchants, and common workers which would be able to represent the people adequately (143).
That October would see Kemal’s declaration of the nation of Turkey as a republic through a unanimous decision from the National Assembly, who would then elect him as the first President of the Republic of Turkey (Volkan 236-237). The next Kemalism’s Six Arrows is Populism. In his review on Turkish History, Sina Aksin describes populism as “an ideology which safeguards the people, promoting policies for the welfare of all. While populism as a principle designed to bring about what it deems best for the populace as a whole, it is also concerned with enacting change for the better of the minority and individual, bringing all groups within the Turkish nation to a common standing, so long as such change has a positive effect on the mainstream society (Aksin 231). One of the most radical ways that Kemal brought this principle to life was through the emancipation of women’s rights. Being a heavily traditional Muslim society, the Ottoman Empire allowed women very few freedoms.
Mustafa Kemal, on the other hand, borrowing from the Swiss legal system, developed new laws which gave Turkish women more rights. Previously, it had been acceptable for a man to marry several women and divorce his wife at his own discretion, where as a woman was unable to ever leave her husband on her own accord. Under the new laws, men were only allowed to have a single wife through a civil marriage, which could only be dissolved through a civil divorce process.
Furthermore, until the new civil codes came into existence, traditional Muslim sharia law only allowed a woman to inherit up to half the value of a man’s inheritance, regardless of her familial position. Women were finally given the ability to enter a number of different lines of work, the most important of which were teaching positions (Mango 437-38). Perhaps an even greater societal change in the Turkish nation came with the end of the millet system. Though this was never an officially declared reform, it came naturally with the institution of national Populism.
Under the Ottoman sultanate, members of minority groups existed in small autonomous settlements within the empire called millets, usually classified according to their professed religion. However, since Kemalist ideology effectively sought equality among all citizen groups, this naturally extended to those of different religious creeds. Under the new laws, which applied to everyone, the legal exceptions made for Christians and Jews in the millet system became obsolete, and eventually they ceased to exist altogether (Volkan 319).
Though not originally in the constitution, the principle Arrow of Secularism came to be one of the most influential ideas of the Turkish Republic (Reisman 7). The modern idea of Secularism is a complete separation of Church and State, in which neither institution is involved in influencing the other. Kemalist Secularism, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with placing the State above the Church. Kemal sought not only to keep the influence of Islam and the ulema out of Turkey’s new governing body, but to give the ruling faction the power and authority to regulate and suppress Islamic ideologies.
This is not to say that Kemal was anti-religion. Kemalism simply attempted to confine religious fervor to the private sector. The earliest and most drastic implementation of this principle was seen in the dissolution of the Sunni Caliphate. While separating the political authority of the sultan and the spiritual rule of the Caliphate caused Kemal to be heralded as a champion of Islam, such cheers of heroism would be silenced once he revealed his plan to dissolve the Caliphate as well. He would justify this by again explaining that, after the reign of the Four
Rightly Guided Ones, the true Caliphate had ended, becoming a tool of the nation (Hanioglu 151). Though Kemal professed to impose this reform for the sake of Islam, it is far more likely that his motivations were anticlerical. Considering the heavy influence that the ulema had on the former Ottoman Empire, Kemal’s choice to dismantle the Caliphate came from a desire to secure power in the secular government without question from a higher religious authority (Davison 138). In addition to this, Kemal closed down the madrasas in 1924, replacing them with secular schools, and in 1925 banned all Sufi mystic lodges.
While some claim that these efforts were attempts at making religion seem obsolete, it is far more likely that Kemal did this to keep loyalties in order. Since the idea of Turkish Nationalism was still fairly new, Kemal needed to suppress religious zeal so that the populace would be committed to the state first, and their faith second (Hanioglu 155). Added alongside Secularism, the next of the Six Arrows is Revolutionism, the motives for which can best be summed up in a quote from Kemal himself: “The aim of the revolutions which we... re now accomplishing is to bring the people of the Turkish Republic into a state of society entirely modern… in spirit and from. This is the central pillar of our Revolution” (qtd. in Davison 87). Despite its etymological implications, Revolutionism in the Kemalist sense is intended to be completely peaceful. Some translate the term inkilapcilik, used in the Turkish constitution, as Reformism, in order to distance the concept from the violence associated with the historical idea of revolution. Revolutionism as a Kemalist ideology simply means the modernization, and, in the case of Turkey, the westernization of the country (Parla 92-93).
One of the most significant reforms in this area was the state enforced usage of surnames. While this may not seem very progressive to western cultures, the Ottoman Empire existed for centuries without the usage of family names. With the introduction of this practice, the government was able to organize documents far more efficiently. Whereas before, governments had to include names of one’s father and mother as well as significant personal information to identify someone, the usage of a family surname made people far more distinguishable on paper. This reform was enforced further by the ban on usage of traditional titles such as Pasha r Efendi, which gave a description of one’s status. Instead, men were force to use Bay and women had to use Bayan, which were respective Turkish equivalents for Mister and Miss (Mango 498-99). Though seemingly less significant to western audiences, the Hat Law of 1925 brought about a change towards Revolutionism in a way that was not only profound, but visually noticeable. Under this new law, government officials were required to wear western style hats, while traditional headgear, such as the fez or turban, was banned. In the Ottoman Empire, one of the distinguishing features of class could be seen in the headgear that one donned.
The turban was a hat which only the ulema, or religious scholars could wear. The fez, on the other hand, was worn by civil servants of the empire, eventually becoming a feature that westerners began to associate solely with the Oriental idea of the Ottoman Empire. Kemal used the Hat Law of 1925 to ban these two types of hats, not only because they inspired segregation between difference national classes, but because he felt a strong need to break all ties with the previous empire, intending Turkey to become a modern western nation in spirit (Aksin 202-04).
Perhaps as important to Kemalist ideology as the idea of Secularism, if not more so, is the Arrow of Nationalism. Unlike the western concept of Nationalism, which is concerned with the geo-political superiority of one’s state, Kemalism sought to promote Turkish Nationalism through the country’s own merit as an individual nation. While the European Nationalist regimes of Napoleon or Hitler attempted to further their state’s through imperialistic conquest, Kemal saw no need to expand Turkey’s borders, instead focusing on bolstering pride in being a member of what he saw to be a noble race (Aksin 230).
Kemal hoped to establish an identity for the Turkish people, who, until this point, had never had a true homeland of their own. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire into French and British mandates cut off most of the empire’s Arab citizens, the remaining population was almost entirely Turkish, with the exception of a small Kurdish percentage (Hanioglu 133). In order to set up this new identity, Kemal set about commissioning a number of scholastic reforms of Turkish society. He began this by heading the idea known as the Turkish History Thesis. After founding the Society for the Examination of Turkish History n 1931, Kemal recruited renowned archeologists and historians such as Eugene Pittard, and formed a theory proclaiming the Turks as the original civilized race. They claimed that since Trojans and Greeks were racially similar and Trojans came from Anatolia, the Trojans were descendants of the original Turks. Likewise, when ancient Turkish society, which these historians believed came from Central Asia, began to migrate, they founded the Sumerian and Hittite Empires and began to help in the development of other primitive civilizations, such as the Chinese and Indians (164-170).
Yet as extensive as Kemal’s attempts at forming the Turkish History Thesis were, they did not accomplish the practical advantages that his language reform did. This began in 1928 with the state enforced switch from the Arab-Persian script to a Latin based alphabet, which Kemal believed more suitable to the Turkish language. He furthered this idea by commissioning scholars to discover what they deemed “pure Turkish vocabulary,” derived from words and phrases used in Turkish speech but not in other languages.
Soon after, these scholars developed the Sun-Language Theory, which, based off of similarities between Turkish and other world languages, claimed that Turkish was the first spoken language (Mango 494-95). Though this theory lacked legitimate evidence, it justified borrowing words for the new state approved form of Turkish, as through this view all words developed from an original Turkish language. Soon after the language the development of the new standard Turkish, translations of many of the nation’s important documents, such as the constitution and Kemal’s Great Speech were translated.
It would take a number of years for the new form to be used fluently by the people, however these efforts were sped by state issued pocket Ottoman-Turkish dictionaries (Hanioglu 171-79). Finally, Kemalist ideology is also defined by the Arrow of Statism, or Etatism. This is the idea of modernizing in terms of economic and technological advances. A major part of Kemalist Statism is the government’s active role in guiding the economy. That is not to say that Statism is completely anti-capitalist. On the contrary, Kemalism supports the idea of personal property and free enterprise when it benefits the people.
However, for the most part, the ideal Kemalist government is one that is heavily involved in the regulation of such commerce (Parla 125). The first attempt at government managed economy was the nationalization of foreign commerce. This was done for a number of reasons. First, Kemal wanted to establish ties with foreign, mostly European nations in an attempt towards westernization and expansionism. Since Kemal based most of his models for his new nation off of preexisting European ones, he felt that relations with such nation would prove to be a useful tool.
Ironically, Kemal’s other reason for nationalized foreign investment was to prevent such expansionism in the other direction. With World War I still only a short time behind them, most of the world had eyes on Turkey. Foreign powers could easily turn investment in the public sector of the Turkish people into a bridge for imperialism. Thus, to prevent such threats from coming to fruition, the Turkish government sponsored services including electricity, water distribution, docks, and gas instillations, starting in the early 1920s.
This not only helped Turkey provide for the necessities of its people, but gave them a strong economic foothold in the years of the Great Depression. Among these new government funded resources, there was a large emphasis on the construction of railroads. Beginning in 1923, new railway lines pning over 3,350 kilometers were constructed. This focus on railway expansion was due to the limited resources owned by the state. Trains ran on steam engines, fueled by coal, which was an abundant natural resource in Turkey.
While many other nations focused on expanding motorways during this period, this would have caused a need to import petrol from foreign nations, making Turkey economically dependent on countries able to provide such fuel (Aksin 223-24). Mustafa Kemal continued to implement his idealistic reforms until his death in 1938. Despite never being able to establish Turkey as a nation that completely embodied his ideology, he left behind a legacy by which he is revered to this day. Street corners and government establishments are still adorned with his image, in honor of his great achievements.
It is safe to say that had it not been for his efforts at reform, Turkey would never have risen to it’s current place in the modern world. It is possible that it may never have even existed without him. In conclusion, one may realize that many of Ataturk’s reforms seem to fall under more than one of his Six Arrows. The establishment of a single party, made up of representatives from all classes fulfills the Republican requirements of the new government, while assuring that the Populist “voice of the people” will be heard.
Ataturk’s language reforms were not only Revolutionary, completely reorganizing the old Ottoman linguistic structure, but helped establish a Nationalist identity through the Sun Language Theory. One can only understand what Kemal did for Turkey by understanding that the Six Arrows of Kemalism were guidelines by which Ataturk devised new laws for the new Turkish Republic – guidelines which compliment and fulfill each other – guidelines devoted to the progress of the Republic of Turkey.

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