The ideological hegemony of Turkish nationalism

MOSCOW, 14 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

Turkish nationalism has been formed in two main directions from the point of view of its historical practice, political prerequisites and cyclical situation. These are the state nationalism that originated in the Balkans, also called the Salonikan school, and social nationalism formed around the idea of Turkism in Central Asia.

The Salonican School is oriented on modern sociology and focuses on the process of disintegration-restoration that took place in the state. It was also fuelled by the ideas of nationalist sociology and the understanding of the nationalist idea of France.

In this direction, it was not the objective elements of the idea of nationalism, such as dynasty or ethnicity, that came to the fore, but subjective elements, such as community of feelings and the will to live together. It was also influenced by world currents. Language was chosen as a tool for establishing a community of feelings between representatives of the society living in the state.

However, the place of language in nationalist sociology was focused “not on the past, but on the present”. Thus, the “New Language” movement in Salonika began with the Turkification of the national language. Then the concept of Turkism was sown on the fertile soil of a generation brought up in a state with Turkish customs and manners, identifying themselves as Turks.

The Turkism movement of the 1950s

The Turkism movement with headquarters in Central Asia and Istanbul gained rapid development mainly in the 1950s and developed under the auspices of the Turkish Association. The Istanbul School continued its activities within the movement to a greater extent with an emphasis on the “dynasty” and “panists”. The concept of nationalism was formed on the basis of history and origin. It was precisely during these years that the currently influential Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as the Idealist Movement, was born.

The ideas of the nationalism of republican Turkey have survived to this day thanks to the nourishment from these two schools. After the 1930s, the definition of Turkey’s national identity and its scale appeared. While the idea appeared to consider the territory of Anatolia as the historical homeland, the origin of Turkism and its legacy began to be sought in the origins of Central Asia. Cultural changes associated with a new and civilised type of Turks were attempted by the state and by means of the state. Since then, all governments have incorporated this into their programs.

Pressure on their own people in order to consolidate the regime

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1900s, millions of Armenians, millions of Greeks, millions of Kurds, hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Arabs lived in the newly formed Turkish Republic, in Anatolia, and all of them spoke their native language. Other ethnic groups, large and small, also spoke their own languages. These languages continued to co-exist in large Anatolian regions.

The new leadership of the country, adhering to a racist, nationalistic approach in which the superiority of the Turks prevailed, began to cause a lot of grief to all other ethnic elements who were not Turks, that is, whose native language was not Turkish. At the very beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Anatolian Armenians, hundreds of thousands of Anatolian Greeks and tens of thousands of Assyrians were subjected to systematic extermination and genocide. Those who remained became victims of terrible pressure within the framework of assimilation as citizens of the new Turkish state, in which the Turks were given the upper hand.

Anatolian Armenians, Greeks and Jews, whose rights were guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne, albeit partially, were able to resist this pressure in terms of assimilation. However, the Kurds, the largest non-Turkish ethnic group, and the Alevites, the largest non-Sunni religious group, faced systematic racism and cultural extermination based on the principle of Turkish superiority.

“Turkishness” is considered a racial and ethnic concept

The new Republic wanted to be a Turkish republic, and it became one. An approach has emerged based on the motto of identity: “How happy is the one who says that I am a Turk!”, that is, defending the conviction of striving not for the Turkish republic, but for a republic in which people consider themselves Turks. Starting from the 1900s, systematic ethnocultural homogenisation began to be carried out in Anatolia. Those who were not Turks were forced to become them.

Through the Turkish historical doctrine, emphasis was placed on the Turkish race, and Turkishness was adopted as a racial and ethnic concept. The Turks’ claims that they are “a nation that migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia” and that their “ancestral homeland is Central Asia” clearly reveal this. Thus, while people who were not Turks were forced to recognise themselves as Turks and to turkise, Turkishness was built on the basis of Turks from other countries and the original ancestral homeland – Central Asia. This racist Turkic superiority didn’t meet any objections, including the emerging data of such sciences as anthropology, archaeology, history and, finally, genetics, and was applied in the Republic of Turkey.

This discriminating, racist state has always denied the existence of Kurds. When it had to admit the existence of Kurds, it belittled the importance of their language, culture and folklore. It looked at them through the glasses of a colonial superior nation, classifying them as primitive and in need of education. It ridiculed their accents and exploited their inability to speak Turkish. In schools, it subjected their children to linguistic assimilation through educational programs centred on Turkic superiority. The last 100 years of the Turkish state are strategically based entirely on the master plan of assimilation of the Kurds.  

This shameful fascist practice was initiated by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – the Party of Ataturk, which is an integral element of the state. The CHP, which has now become an opposition party, still cannot get rid of this burden. This question to Erdogan is also another reason for interest. In state educational institutions and especially through projects such as village institutes, under the guise of education, Kurds and Alevis were torn away from their culture.  

The main argument of this practice is the assertion that the Kurdish language has no written language, that it is primitive, and its grammar and vocabulary are scarce. These proposals, from the point of view of the supporters of Turkic superiority, support the linguistic assimilation of the Kurds and are used as a tool for the extermination of the Kurds. Assimilation of other ethnic groups that have not lost their language and identity to date is carried out in a similar way. Kurds, Arabs, Lazi, Islamised Greeks and other nationalities are losing their belonging and identity. The policy and practice of Turkic superiority, which has remained unchanged ideologically over the past 100 years, is responsible for this.

From a pedagogical point of view, the Kurdish language is a self-sufficient language, at least to the same extent as Turkish one, and deserves no less respect than Turkish. Kurds – to the same extent as Turks! –  are residents of Anatolia. They are an ancient people of Anatolia. Thousands of years before the Turkish language was first spoken in Anatolia, the Kurds lived in this territory, where they live today. The denial of the existence of Kurds by the modern state and its regime does not change this truth.  

Erdogan’s political islam and his understanding of Turkishness

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an influential figure of the last 20 years of Turkey’s modern history, is politically and ideologically known as an Islamist. He is the successor of the tradition of the Milli Görüş (National Vision) movement, which has an Islamist-political basis. Despite the fact that he has repeatedly stated that “we have taken off the Milli Görüş shirt”, it is obvious that he performs his main actions through this prism. It is noteworthy that he supports the political ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and quite calmly demonstrates their political sign on squares during rallies.

Erdogan has built his foreign policy around Islamism, it can be said, depending on belonging to one or another madhhab. He observed the successes of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. He sided with Hamas on the Palestinian issue. However, he was a Muslim in other Palestinian movements. Or, for example, the “Assad regime” in Syria was not anti-Islamic. And the “pro-American” Sisi, who came to power as a result of the coup in Egypt, was also not an atheist, but a Muslim.

No Muslim country has supported Turkey in the “Peace Spring” operation or other operations against Syria. Qatar and Somalia have reluctantly provided little support. Erdogan’s attempts to gain power in the Middle East under the guise of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood did not arouse interest.  

Erdogan’s Philosophical Contradictions

In other words, a contradictory situation has arisen. On the one hand, he will become an Islamist, but he will also rush to the Middle East through the expansion of Muslim countries and create an Islamic army aimed at the caliphate (such as SADAT). He will criticise the era of Ataturk for the fact that the former Turkey turned away from Arab Muslim countries, and at the same time will declare that it would be good for Islamic states to unite and create an alliance, he will pursue a pan-Islamist policy of political Islamism, and at the same time will position himself as a leader among Islamic countries… And he will interpret all these internal contradictory views in domestic politics as “the growing power of Turkey” …

In parallel with all this, he will strive to reach out to the Turkic world, for example, the Turkic Council. The five-member Turkic Council, including Uzbekistan, in which Hungary is an observer member, is just one example. Numerous state institutions with headquarters in Ankara or Istanbul are trying to lay the foundations of a powerful Turkic world.

Department of Religious Affairs, Yunus Emre Institute and cultural centres named after Yunus Emre and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) are just some of these institutions striving to carry out their activities regardless of any crises. Erdogan, returning from Azerbaijan, did not stop praising the Turkic Council, and did not forget to add the slogan “One nation – five states”.   

Summarising, it can be noted that under Erdogan political Islam, seasoned with the sauce of the caliphate, was added to the efforts of all Ankara governments to look cute, carrying out work on consolidating the regime and imposing Turkishness and nationalism on the people in order to enlist their votes in the elections. Turkish foreign policy has become defined by these two “distorted” philosophies. What these two currents are that shape Turkey’s foreign policy is the topic of a separate publication.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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