Reconfiguring the Turkish Nation in the 1930's

Topics: Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Ottoman Empire Pages: 26 (7857 words) Published: May 24, 2011
Reconfiguring the Turkish Nation in the 1930s*
This article studies Turkish nationalism during the 1930s. In this decade of Kemalism par excellence or High Kemalism, the rise of ethnicist nationalism in Turkey was accompanied by the ascent of the “Turkish History Thesis.” The article presents an analysis of Turkish nationalism in this era through Ankara’s population resettlement policies. Consequently, it examines Turkish nationalism in the 1930s through the interaction between the Kemalist state and the country’s minorities.

“The Kurds of the Eastern provinces, the Arabs of South-Eastern Anatolia, the Moslems from Russia, the territories detached under the Treaty of Lausanne, the Greek islands, Greece, the Balkans and Roumania will be scattered among pure Turkish populations, so that they may lose the characteristics of the countries and districts of their birth, and, in a generation, be Turkish in speech, dress, habits and outlook, undistinguishable from their old-established neighbors...By the present policy...Turkey hopes to build up a well-populated and homogenous state.”1 Nationalism in Turkey during 1930s is a crucial episode of recent Turkish history. Much has been said and written on this era, whose legacy seems to have imprinted itself on the later decades of Turkish history. Whereas some students of Turkish studies argue that Turkish nationalism in this decade promoted a territorial definition of the nation,2 others claim that Islam, more than anything, defined Turkishness in this era.3 In this paper, I will argue that a juxtaposition of territory, religion, and ethnicity in the 1930s produced a definition of the Turkish nation that was more nuanced that suggested by either of these *

I would like to thank Dr. Ayhan Aktar of Marmara University, Istanbul, and Dr. Hakan M. Yavuz of University of Utah, Salt Lake City for reading various drafts of this paper and offering me valuable feedback on it. **

Ph.D. Candidate, History Department. Yale University, 320 York Street, Hall of Graduate Studies, New Haven, CT, 06520, USA.
approaches. In doing this, I will focus on a largely ignored aspect of the 1930s, and study Turkish nationalism, primarily, through the practices of the Turkish state.4 Immediately, after the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and his Kemalist cadres started to mold Turkey into a nation-state. However, it was during the High Kemalist years, Kemalism par excellence, of the 1930s, that nationalism grew into Turkey’s official ideology.5 From 1931, when Turkey’s ruling Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP) began to consolidate its monopoly of power, until 1938, when Atatürk died, the idea that the Turks were a glorious nation rose to prominence.

As late as 1912, Turkey (Anatolia and Thrace) had been part of the vast multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.
Muslims (Turks, Kurds and the others) and Christians (Greeks, Armenians, and the others who made up 20 percent of its population) coexisted in Turkey. Fifteen years later, in 1927, the Christian population in the country had dropped to as little as 2.64 percent.6 The Armenian catastrophe and the departure of most Greeks from Turkey, events, which Horowitz describes as “ethnic homogenization, religious singularity and nationalization”7 had irreversibly changed Turkey. Another demographic change during this period was caused by an influx of Muslim immigrants.

Throughout the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, many Ottoman Muslims, including Turks, but also Bosnian, Greek, Serbian, Macedonian, Albanian, and Bulgarian Muslims (Pomaks)8, who faced extermination in the newly independent Balkan NOT BE QUOTED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION

states, fled to Anatolia.9 In addition, many Turks, Circassians,10 and other Muslims arrived in Anatolia from the Black Sea basin (These had been fleeing Russian expansionism in southern Russia, the...
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