“How Can the State be Saved ?”: The Historical and Bureaucratic Roots of Turkish Nationalism

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:50 PM
Dartmouth Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Selcuk Aksin Somel , Sabanci Universitesi, Istanbul, Turkey
“How Can the State be Saved ?”: The Historical and Bureaucratic Roots of Turkish Nationalism
This paper intends to provide an overview of the basic conditions and factors which led to the formation of Turkish nationalism. It will argue that Turkish nationalism is an evolved form of the former Ottoman bureaucratic policy to ensure territorial integrity, prevent separatist movements and engage in civilizing mission toward the provincial populations to provide religious and ethnic homogenization.

     Secular Turkish nationalism has been an historical outcome of the Ottoman state reactions to the disintegration process of the empire. The relatively liberal and inclusive policy of Ottomanism of the mid 19th century, revolving later into Islamism of the reign of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909), finally took the shape of Turkish nationalism after the Balkan Wars (1912-13). This from top to bottom nationalism became fully established following the foundation of the Turkish republic (1923). Being engineered by bureaucrats, military officers and bureaucratic-minded intellectuals, the aim has been to mold Anatolian Muslim population groups into secular urban individuals with a Turkish identity. Official definition of Turkishness is based on the notion of constitutional citizenship, and displays a secular character. Its actual implementation, however, reveals a substratum of Islamism; though the remnants of  Greek and Armenian minorities within present-day Turkey are technically Turkish citizens, they are not considered to be Turks due to their religion. In contrast, recent Albanian and Bosnian Muslim migrants to Turkey have been readily incorporated into the Turkish society and political system, and are considered to be “Turks”, even though their native tongue is not Turkish.