Will Turkey ever have an Atatuerk again?

Kemal AtaturkLittle visionary of the founder of the state

According to the title, the text "Ataturk. Visionary of a modern Turkey" seems to be another uncritical biography of the "father of all Turks". Fortunately, however, it is not - which may be due to the fact that Hanioglu has been looking at his home country from Princeton in America for 25 years. Rather, the revised version for the German edition is a critical contribution to the historicization of Ataturk. The intellectual career and the political thinking of the state founder are in the foreground. So much in advance: There was little visionary among them. Instead, a lot of confused nationalist ideas and ideas that later resulted in what is called "Kemalism".

But Ataturk was not a born politician, but initially a soldier. Growing up in cosmopolitan Saloniki, he made a military career in the ailing Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal then created Turkey from the rubble. He wanted his country to become a "civilization" and to shape the Muslims who remained in the country into a Turkish nation. Following the example of Europe. Hanioglu, who, like so many critical Ataturk researchers before him, did not have comprehensive access to Ataturk's legacy, describes in detail his turn to scientism. Scientific methods should guide those in power. He considered individualism, liberalism and socialism to be poison. Democracy too. Parties other than his own People's Party were only allowed after his death.

With his positivist attitude, however, he challenged Islam in particular in the country. After all, what was then Istanbul was the seat of the caliphate of the entire Sunni world. In suppressing religious influence, Ataturk initially proceeded cautiously - by underlining the restructuring of the country with quotations from Mohammed - later then brutally. Islamic orders were banned, recalcitrant dignitaries were pegged and wearing the fes was banned. But he already had a replacement for religion ready for the people, as Hanioglu traces:

"According to Mustafa Kemal's idea, nationalism was supposed to replace religion with a radical reinterpretation of Islam from a Turkish national perspective. ... As he later ... put it, Islam was an essentially Arab belief and a vehicle for Arab striving for power: 'The Turks, too, were a great nation before they adopted the religion of the Arabs.' However, 'the Arab religion has loosened the national ties of the Turkish nation'. "

The new Turkish nationalism, driven by a complex of backwardness, subsequently bore absurd flowers. Ataturk had theses published in school books according to which all peoples who had ever settled in Asia Minor - including Sumerians, Hittites and Greeks - were descended from Turks. Yes, strictly speaking all of humanity. Those who did not want to believe that were dismissed from university service in Ataturk's time. You think you can see the author's head shaking in these passages of text. Hanioglu probably had to learn such things himself in his childhood.

Even today, nationalist Turkish politicians speak of "yüce turk milleti", the noble nation of Turks; every section of the motorway and every bridge is celebrated like a Turkish flight to the moon. A dangerous nationalistic hubris that contrasts with the country's ongoing backwardness, for example in the areas of education and science.
Unfortunately, Hanioglu only mentions the bloody consequences of the Turkish nation-building, namely the expulsion of the mainly Christian minorities. Even if Ataturk himself could not be proven to be involved in the genocide of the Armenians, he must have been aware that the murder and expulsion of a million Armenians (and later expulsion of as many Greeks) was the prerequisite for the Creation of a pure "Republic of the Turks" was. The minorities remaining in the country still have to shout at the schoolyard roll call that they are proud to be Turkish. Ataturk wanted it that way.

Hanioglu recalls that the westernization of the country had already begun before Ataturk in the last phase of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdülhamit II loved opera and the fine arts. And: Ataturk was not a democrat - even if that was not a national leader of his time. Despite these restrictions, the author gives him an appreciative certificate:

"In retrospect, it can be seen that Mustafa Kemal initiated one of the greatest social reforms of modern times. Not only as a statesman, but also as an autodidactic thinker, he invested immense work in the intellectual preparation of this major project. As an autodidact, he was a little more picky 'Omnivore', who unsystematically linked ideas from all sorts of areas. In doing so, he dealt with subjects and concepts as diverse as history and language, nation and race, religion and science. He came to conclusions which he then followed with his closest entourage discussed; this often happened at long dinners that dragged on well into the night. "

And where a lot of the aniseed raki was drunk. Ataturk died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 57. The substitute religion he constructed, Kemalism, an authoritarian, patronizing secularism, turned out to be too weak for the 21st century. Now the religious conservatives rule the country again. Meanwhile, the Turks are still waiting for real democracy. One can only wish the book a translation into Turkish.

M. Sükrü Hanioglu: "Ataturk. Visionary of a modern Turkey", Konrad Theiss Verlag, 2015, 312 pages