Nouvelles d'Armenie    
“Furor against the West : Nationalism as the Dangerous Underbelly of the Modern Turkish Republic” by Fatma Müge Göçek

“Furor against the West : Nationalism as the Dangerous Underbelly of the Modern Turkish Republic”

Fatma Müge Göçek University of Michigan

Nationalism, ‘the great political passion of our time (Elshtain 1998 : 25),’ has indeed recently emerged as a most pervasive and dangerous movement in contemporary Turkey through the intersection of a number of incidents. The recent October 2006 decision of the lower house of the French parliament to adopt a law that criminalized the denial that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide caused a furor leading to the pelting of the French consulate in Istanbul with rotten eggs, a boycott of French goods, and a motion in the Turkish parliament that what the French state once did in Algeria was genocide instead. The announcement on the very same day of the Nobel Committee of the bestowal upon the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk the Nobel prize for literature caused a similar uproar as the Turkish media was divided over how to hail this decision ; many Turkish editorials accused the Committee for giving the award to the author not on the merit of his literary works, but rather for the political statement he made to a Swiss newspaper about the massacres of 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians in Turkish history for which he had been subsequently tried and acquitted in a local court for ‘insulting Turkishness.’ Another target of such national ire had been the ruling Justice and Development Party (referred to by the acronym AK Party) that was accused for ‘selling out the Turkish national interests’ when upon negotiating the disagreement over the status of Cyprus in order to further the chances of Turkey to join the European Union : this had also become problematic as Turkey needed to let Greek Cypriot-flagged vessels into its ports as stipulated by the EU but seemed staunchly set to refuse to do so. What makes this particular historical juncture especially significant is the possibility of it being a turning point in the course of the history of the Turkish state and society through membership in the European Union. Yet its actualization now appears to have become more problematic for both the Europeans and especially the Turks. Europe already has problems integrating its own 15 million Muslims and newly admitted Eastern European countries ; having and additional 70 million more Muslims from the less economically developed Turkey is a challenging prospect at best. In addition, membership would make Turkey immediately rise to second place in size within the EU after Germany if not the first in the next decade given population projections and that would immediately make Turkey a major player. After having first applied for membership to the EU in 1963 and waited for admission for many decades, Turkey is now on the verge of ceasing negotiations. The level of frustration has reached such a degree that according to recent polls only 14 % of Turks actually think Turkey will ever be admitted to the EU ; the support for EU membership in the past two years has fallen from 85% to 63% (Gordon and Taşpınar 2006 : 62). In addition, according to a July 2005 opinion poll, 66% of the Turks still believe that ‘Western countries want to disintegrate Turkey like they disintegrated the Ottoman Empire in the past’ and 54% think that ‘the reforms required by the EU are similar to those required by the Treaty of Sevres which dismembered [the] Ottoman Empire in 1919 (Gordon and Taşpınar 2006 : 65).’ Given this mindset, it would not be surprising if the public approval of Turkey’s pursuit of EU membership further decreases and the time to achieve membership increases. In this article, I focus on the three recent incidents that triggered a nationalistic furor in Turkey and on the negative Turkish public attitudes toward Europe and the West and argue that they are sociologically significant for three reasons : first, they encompass almost the entirety of the population including those segments of society that initially had a pro-European, pro-Western stand ; as such, they signify society-wide naturalized nationalism. Second, they contain a very strong emotive component that renders rational discussion almost impossible ; the lack of such discussion hinders the development of a democratic public sphere. And third, they all center on the same problematic, of Turkey failing to confront its own history as all three incidents point to unresolved issues primarily the Turkish state but also Turkish society have had with the minority groups of Armenians, Greeks and Kurds, issues that appear to be constantly tucked under the amnesic blanket of Turkish nationalism. I thus attempt to analyze here the reasons as to how and why this amnesic blanket of Turkish nationalism has transformed into the dangerous underbelly of the Turkish Republic around these issues embedded in the past by inciting strong emotional feelings against the West among all segments of society to such a degree so as to jeopardize the possible EU membership of Turkey. I argue that this dangerous transformation is the consequence of a historical process that involves the three stages of the conceptualization, practice and reproduction of Turkish nationalism : namely, the initial establishment of popular sovereignty by the Turkish state in the name of an imagined nation, its practice through the formation of a ‘collective myth’ based on minority exclusion, and its reproduction through the legitimation of collective emotion by the use of nationalist history writing in mass education.

Conceptualizing Turkish Nationalism : Establishment of State Sovereignty in the Name of the Nation While Fiedrich Meincke (1970) was one of the first historians to assert in his 1907 work Cosmopolitanism and the Nation State a fundamental difference between political and cultural nations, it was Hans Kohn who in his 1944 book The Idea of Nationalism developed the dichotomous framework that in the West nationalism was primarily political, and in the socially and politically more backward areas of Central and Eastern Europe and Asia nationalism struggled to redraw the political boundaries in conformity with ethnographic demands and was thus primarily cultural. Put another way, state preceded the nation in the West whereas the nation preceded the state in the East. More recent studies take issue with this rather Orientalist divide and argue instead that all nationalisms combine both elements within them : it is often the juxtaposition of the French revolutionary ideals of popular sovereignty and early German romantic notions of on organic growth and classification of society which combine to produce nationalism (Deets 2006 : 421). Turkish nationalism is no exception in that the roots of Turkish nationalism that extend into the Ottoman Empire are, as in all other such empirical cases, straddled on both the French and the German traditions. The first instances of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire the preceded and set the stage for Turkish nationalism were certainly based on the French conceptions of popular sovereignty (Oran 1993). It was indeed the struggle to establish popular sovereignty that in the Ottoman Empire had compelled the Young Turks to challenge the autocracy of the Ottoman sultan to instead introduce constitutional rule. In so doing, they challenged that the domains of the empire were the property of the sultan but instead the patrie (vatan) of the Ottoman subjects that the Young Turks wanted to transform into citizens (Oran 1993 : 50). Yet Turkism had always been an ideology alongside Ottomanism among the Young Turks, an ideology that initially did not have much popular appeal (Oran 1993 : 54-5 ; Hanioğlu 2001). When the Young Turks were able to establish constitutional rule in 1908 and ceased power themselves through a coup in 1913, they failed to put this constitutional rule into practice and establish popular sovereignty that would guarantee equal rights to all the subjects of the empire. I would argue that they failed to do so since the constitution did not have the symbolic legitimacy of the sultan it had so forcefully replaced ; as a consequence, the German romantic conceptions of the sacredness of the state and patrie as it appealed to the dominant social group in the empire, the Turks, started to gain more purchase. The Balkan wars and the ensuing World War I also served as concomitant factors that increased this tendency. As the constitution lacked the symbolic legitimacy of the sultan, social order could only be enforced through violence and reliance on the military. In whose name, however, was this popular sovereignty for which the Young Turks had seized power established ? I think that first the German romantic conceptions of sacrificing oneself for the patrie became synonymous under the particularly hazardous circumstances with the preservation of the Ottoman state. Then, as the empire kept shrinking, as various Ottoman communities discussed and debated disparate visions of the future (Göçek 2002), the legal framework of the constitution as the basis of popular sovereignty gave way within the circle of the Young Turks to the search for a final homeland for the Turks in Anatolia (Canefe 2002 ; Öktem 2004). It is at this point that a fundamental twist seems to have occurred in the emergence of Turkish nationalism in that rather than the German conception of an organic growth where an ethnic group, namely that of the Turks producing their state, the Young Turks who controlled the Ottoman state instead socially engineered to produce their own ethnie in Anatolia through two measures, the ethnic cleansing, in collaboration with the Kurds, of the indigenous Anatolian peoples of mainly the Armenians (Akçam 1994) as well as the Greeks, Assyrians, Arabs and others (Dündar 2001), and the resettlement of the Balkan Turks who had been forcefully massacred and removed during this period (Dündar 2001). As the state had thus created its own nation, the state and nation became one and the same, and the state assumed popular sovereignty. Likewise after the transition to the Republic, even though there was indeed a legal constitutional framework that bestowed popular sovereignty to the people after the French model, since the nation had been ‘organically’ created by the state, the sovereignty continued to rest with the state and was in turn guaranteed by the military. I would thus argue that it was the establishment of this state sovereignty in the name of the nation that makes it so difficult for the emergent civil society to generate a more democratic ideology independent of the ethnic Turkish nationalism advocated by the state and makes this nationalism so pervasive. The definition of Turkish nationalism of the state as ethnic as opposed to civic requires further explanation. Even though there have been some scholars who defend nationalism by attempting to differentiate civic and ethnic nationalism and patriotism and nationalism (Ignatieff 1993, Viroli 1995), and even though civic nationalism and patriotism can presumably create an affective bond to laws and constitutions that can be subject to rational judgment and negotiated by human reason (Habermas 1995), this has nevertheless been still more of an ideal than realistically sustainable. Kymlicka notes (2001 : 26) that in practice ‘virtually all liberal democracies have ... attempted to diffuse a single societal culture throughout all of its territory.’ According to the Turkish constitution that guarantees the civic rights to all its citizens including those of the minorities, Turkish nationalism would indeed theoretically qualify after the French model as civic nationalism. Yet, as a recent article also notes (Smith 2005 : 470), its practice reveals the hegemony of the dominant ethnic majority over the minorities in that ‘Turkey’s model of civic nationalism almost inevitably entails the leveling of diversity and the folklorizing of minorities. In the garb of civic inclusion the institutions of the state become vehicles for the majority...Ethno-religious state policies were at the heart of national identity, state building and the division of public resources although the day to day tasks of state also served to diminish diversity. The dream of a modern civic state turned coercive.’ According to the formulation of Stephen Deets (2006 : 430), Turkey falls under the category of ‘constitutional nationalism’ whereby the state is democratic in form but is built on the notion of the state as the embodiment of a single nation. As such, by equating citizenship and identity, the Turkish state ‘mixes national and civic ideas leaving the distinction between a Rousseau influenced community and a German influenced organic nation ambiguous.’ As a consequence of this ambiguity, the minorities are therefore unacknowledged, subsumed and often hegemonized and the dominance of the Sunni Muslim majority is naturalized. It is therefore no accident that even though the Turkish state officially recognizes non-Muslim minorities whose rights are protected by the Lausanne treaty, their numbers has dramatically declined both prior to and also during the Republican period. Statistics indicate that even though the 1906 Ottoman census stated that nearly a fifth of the subjects living within the boundaries of present-day Turkey were non-Muslim minorities, with 10% Greek, 7% Armenian and 1% Jewish populations, the first official census of the Turkish Republic conducted two decades later in 1927 revealed that non-Muslims comprised only 3% of the total population. The non-Muslim minorities have today dwindled to 60,000 Armenian Orthodox, 25,000 Jews and 3,000 Greek Orthodox and 10,000 Syrian Orthodox accounting for less than 1% of Turkey’s total population of 70 million (Smith 2005 : 448-9). This ethnic nationalism of the Turkish state founded through the equation of the state with the nation was then ideologically practiced through the construction of a collective myth that was predicated on the exclusion of minorities.

Practicing Turkish Nationalism : Creation of a Collective Myth through Minority Exclusion Scholars note that history and its recollection become especially crucial to nationalist projects because it is through the remembrance of the past that a collectivity is able to acquire a national identity that unites them through shared meaning. As Anthony Smith aptly notes (1996 : 383) ‘if there is no memory, there is no identity ; no identity, no nation.’ Yet the construction of a national identity through the recollection of the past was especially daunting in the case of the Turkish Republic that was built on a disintegrating empire with frequent episodes of violence and trauma, the most significant one being the ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 (Göl 2005). There was therefore a conscious decision made to concentrate on the future, on progress, on ‘catching up with contemporary civilization’ that was signified by the West. This indeed became, after the attainment of sovereignty, the second aim of Atatürk nationalism (Oran 1993 : 179 : 272). The focus was to turn away from the past and to focus on the future, on what to achieve and aspire for, to modernize, civilize and Westernize. Such a focus not only enabled to de-emphasize past incidents of violence and trauma, but also delegitimated a possible return to the previous Ottoman form of government as well. Yet nationalism is predicated on building a narrative of the nation and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk single-handedly provided such a narrative with his famous Speech (Nutuk) where he provided an autobiographical account of the creation of the Turkish nation that commenced with his alighting in Samsun on 19 May 1919 to start the War of Independence. In a delivery during 15-20 October 1927 that went on for six days and 36 and a half hours at the second convention of the Republican People’s Party, Mustafa Kemal narrated how the Turkish Independence Struggle had led to the creation of the Turkish nation (Parla 1991 : 19-20). This narration identified and legitimated him as the founder of the Turkish nation and underscored the unique singularity of the Turkish experience as a self-contained case. The text was officially adopted by the state as the official Turkish national and it then became sacralized by the state as any subsequent critical analyses that would ‘insult the memory of Atatürk’ were legally criminalized. I would argue that it was especially the inability to critically engage this text or consider and discuss alternate formulations that increased the tendencies not only to imagine the past, in the sense suggested by Benedict Anderson (1983), but also to mythologize it : what was to have been a ‘collective memory’ of the past eventually transformed, especially after the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, instead into a ‘collective myth’ as what continued to be presented to Turkish society as their history was a simplified version of past events, loosely based but always legitimated by Atatürk’s Speech, told from the selective viewpoint of the Turkish nation and their struggle for nationhood. What actually comprises this collective myth of the Turkish Republic ? It is one of a creation from the ashes of the disintegrated Ottoman Empire, against the aggression of Western imperialist forces of England, France and Russia who deliberately instigated the non-Muslim minorities of particularly the Ottoman Greek and Armenian subjects to rebellion. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk emerged as the hero in 1919 to fight the National War of Independence against all odds and erected a Turkish Republic in 1923 on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The nationally celebrated and commemorated historical events are 19 May 1919 when Mustafa Kemal started the War of Independence, the final battle of victory on 30 August 1922 against the occupying Greek forces, and the proclamation of the Republic on 29 October 1923. In all these national commemorations, the past battles and the national victory are re-enacted and the Turkish national identity and cohesiveness thus reaffirmed ; the role of the Turkish military in these events and their subsequent role in guaranteeing and guarding the Republic are also duly noted and stressed. What marks this collective remembrance of the past, however, is the hollowness of time in that all significant events are frozen in time during the mythologized, sacralized ‘golden age’ of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk during 1919-1938. It is as if nothing of significance has taken in the intervening seven decades or since (Brockett 1998) ; it is as if Turkish state and society are forever living and deriving meaning for their existence from that time and in the context of the world events as they happened back then. It is therefore no accident that the current negotiations with the EU immediately bring to mind the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the role of the Western powers in them for the Turkish national memory is still indexed to that time frame in the past. Yet, Tsetvan Todorov notes (2001 : 21) that ‘when commemoration freezes into permanent forms that cannot be changed without cries of sacrilege, we can be certain that it serves the particular interests of their defenders and not their moral edification.’ Indeed, the narratives that emerge during such commemorations should always be viewed in the context of relations of power and logics of dominance. Keeping such collective myths intact helps keep in power the Turkish state elites that put the collective myths into practice. It is very difficult to get the Turkish public to see how this power hegemony is actually reproduced through the collective myth, however, because Turkish society itself has been totally immersed in it and socialized by it through such commemorative rituals throughout Republican history. There are two caveats with this formulation of the Turkish collective myth that ultimately destabilize it, however : one concerns the conception of time and the other the articulation of those who have been silenced by the narrative of the collective myth. Based on Walter Benjamin’s formulation that the nation lives in homogenous, empty time, one that has been purposefully flattened out to extend from time immemorial into infinity, Benedict Anderson (1983) proposes that nationalism needs to fill this emptiness with meaning and therefore has to ‘imagine a community :’ the national story-telling of the past attempts to fulfill exactly this function. Homi Bhabha further develops this argument as he notes that the ensuing narrative of the nation is split in ‘double time (1990 : 291-322)’ whereby society has to be continually educated about the past because they are ‘always in the making, in a process of historical progress, not yet fully developed to fulfill the nation’s destiny’ on the one hand, and ‘their unity, permanent identification with the nation has to be constantly signified, repeated and performed’ on the other. There is thus this constant state of incompleteness that envelops the collective myth, one that is only overcome through its constant repetition. Partha Chatterjee has recently argued (2005) that this incompleteness renders the conception of time in nationalism heterogeneous. When applied to the Turkish case, I would argue that even though the incompleteness of the task of reaching ‘perfect’ nationhood gives the Turkish state and its elites the necessary power and legitimacy over society to sustain and reproduce their rule and enables them to repeat the same commemorations successfully time and again, it is also the case that dialectically, the same incompleteness, hollowness of meaning that warrants such repetition also produces ambivalence and uncertainty within Turkish society, a constant condition of feeling of unfulfilled and dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs. It is this dissatisfaction, this feeling that something is not right, that what Atatürk aspired for his nation is never within reach — and sometimes even getting totally out of reach — that escalates the levels of frustration the Turkish public feels. Some of the frustration that recently surfaced could therefore be a consequence of this condition of the conception of time embedded in the collective myth. As Ernest Renan (1996) very astutely observed a long time ago, not only does the nation need a sense of longevity that is sustained by a collective myth, but also amnesia regarding the violence of its birth and existence up to the present ; nationalism is predicated, after all, upon the twin principles of ‘remembering and forgetting.’ Who are then forgotten, silenced, excluded from the collective myth of the Turkish Republic ? It is no accident that these exactly correspond to the three social groups that created the recent nationalist furor, namely the Armenians, Kurds, and the Greeks who comprise the past and present minorities in Turkey. Indeed, the violence against the minorities at the inception of the Republic and since then as well as state violence in general are eliminated from the collective myth of the Turkish Republic : the massacres of the various minorities in Anatolia as well as the numerous uprisings of the Kurds against the Turkish state that continue up to the present, the series of military coups that have intervened with the development of Turkish democracy in 1960, 1971, 1980 and the soft-coup in 1997, the state-backed pogroms against minorities on 6-7 September 1955, as well as the Thrace incident of 1934, forced military service and the wealth tax of 1942 and the subsequent formal informal discrimination against both the non-Muslim and Muslim minorities that continues up to this today are all conveniently overlooked (Okutan 2004, Aktar 2003, Yıldız 2001, Bali 1999, Beşikçi 1977). As the above references among the growing number of others also indicate, there have been recent studies by scholars who have started to challenge this national collective myth however. It is not surprising that the success of their challenge is predicated upon their bringing into this imagined narrative empirical facts based on historical research conducted especially on the experiences of minorities. There is now ample evidence that in allowing immigration into the country, the Turkish state selected Muslims of the dominant Hanefite sect who spoke Turkish and rejected others like Armenians of Anatolian descent (Kirişçi 2000) ; the same state turned Turkification into an active state policy thereby developing stringent sanctions against non-Muslim minorities in the 1930’s (Okutan 2004, Çağaptay 2003,) and in the 1940’s forced a wealth transfer to Muslims by levying special taxes against wealthy non-Muslim minorities (Aktar 2003). Still, political actors constantly involved in the upkeep of the national collective myth continue to step up and start to negotiate their representational strategies whenever any references to these events come to the fore. When these references take the form of the studies cited above, the same actors safeguard the collective myth by attempting to dismiss them as ‘subversive, divisive.’ They try to marginalize such violent events like the 1915 ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Armenian in terms of the latter’s siding with Western imperialist forces and thereby legitimating the action as a necessary one taken for the survival of the Turkish nation. They attempt to dismiss the label of ethnic Turkish nationalism by pointing to people of Kurdish origin at high bureaucratic positions without noting that such minority ‘success stories’ occur only when one is fully assimilated into the system after shedding their minority identity. It should be especially noted at this juncture that such ethnic exclusion is most avidly practiced by the Turkish military that has not ever had a single ethnically or religiously diverse high-ranking officer among its ranks since the inception of the Turkish Republic. I would argue that such denial of violence in the nation’s past and present and such staunch defense of the collective myth corrode the moral fabric of Turkish society : as the state and society never publicly become cognizant of and ethically accountable for their violence, violence becomes more naturalized into the social system and practiced against all groups further hindering the Turkish democratization process. The staunch defense of the Turkish collective myth is also executed in a strongly emotive manner. In analyzing the dynamics of such reactions, Anne-Marie Fortier has formulated the concept of ‘pride politics (2005 : 566)’ to refer to those instances where dissent to a particular stand is not confronted, challenged and defeated rationally on its own terms, but is rather undermined, subverted and eventually not addressed by removing it to the emotional sphere. She notes in particular that ‘(b)y [thus] turning dissent into a shameful act, the very possibility of thinking of dissent not only as a democratic act, but as an act of national attachment, is undermined. The issue at stake in dismissing dissent as an unpatriotic act is the preservation of the stories of a national identity ; dissent, here, should not be tied to ideas that shake the national story. In addition, the scorn against the unpatriotic dissident is also about the maintenance of a guilt-free national story.’ Hence the immediate removal of the discourse from the rational to the emotional sphere enables the political actors to prevent any criticism of the collective myth. In the Turkish case, not only are the scholars who attempt to start a public discussion of such issues that so undermine the Turkish moral fabric not able to engage in any rational discourse, but their swift removal to the emotional sphere by the political actors who safeguard the collective myth leads to their vilification and branding as ‘traitors stabbing the nation in the back.’ Yet the constant practice in Turkey of such ‘pride politics,’ i.e. the leveling of angry accusations of treason against those who empirically study the minorities silenced in the Turkish collective myth, rather than democratic politics by attempting to rationally address the criticisms and problems that are being raised continually diminishes the chances of Turkish society to become more democratic. As there is no such rational discourse, no rational knowledge is produced ; without such knowledge, Turkish state and society remain embedded in collective myths and steadily falls behind the empirical research conducted throughout the rest of the world. The fissures in the collective myth continue to increase unaddressed while neither the capacity of the state elites nor the society embedded in them to deal with the fissures improves over time. As they become more incapable, their level of tolerance of criticism decreases and their level of agitation and emotional subversion increases.

Reproducing Turkish Nationalism : Legitimation of Collective Emotion through the Employment of Nationalist History Writing in Mass Education During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as nationalism emerged as a political ideology in the West and as the significance of the use of history in constructing nations was duly noted by states and their actors, their political involvement in nationalist history-writing increased. In history writing that comprises the elements of a time frame, selection of events, and historical sequencing, nationalist history writing would, in the name of first and foremost serving the nation, deliberately, systematically, intentionally highlight certain facts and suppress others. A historical sequence that was constructed in this manner did not induce analysis and discussion in that ‘it did not argue but merely presented events as facts (Bolle 1987 : 261-262).’ As such, nationalist history writing contained ‘in addition to an impressive site, an attitude of sacredness, a high degree of symbolization, a dimension of morality, of an instructive lesson, a frequent demand for action from the audience, a conscious selectivity of events and disregard for others, a simple narrative where the good and bad are evident (Ben Yehuda 1995 : 282-3).’ Nationalist history writing thus presented a highly selective sequence of events, with the intent ‘to create attitudes, stir emotions, and help construct particular social realities (Ibid., 283).’ As such, not only was a certain version of the past legitimated as immutable truth, but the challenging of that version was also shortcircuited through the introduction of an emotive component. Nationalist history writing was an entity of great affect because it involved a people who were moved by a story about their origin, identity and traditions that they tell themselves and others. It was particularly the German romantic model of nationalism that made symbols the essence of its politics ; the veiling and subduing of the past through myth and symbols occurred at the expense of truth and justice (Mosse 1975 : 8). The dissemination of nationalism and with it nationalist writing was influenced solely by considerations of success and failure ; it was the results which counted. Moreover, such pragmatism was proven by the fact that this propaganda excluded discussion with its enemies and their point of view. The appeal was directed not at ‘[people’s] reason but their emotions, their subconscious drives (Mosse 1975 : 12).’ Nationalist history writing thus involved feelings of love and hate ; it contained ‘a wish to suppress internal divisions within the nation and to define people outside the group as untrustworthy as allies and implacably evil as enemies... [it is also] a love of compatriots... [but also] a spirit of distrust of potential treason of any opposition within the group and a hatred of strangers (Stinchcombe 1975 : 600-1).’ History writing in Germany and the United States in the late nineteenth century illustrated the practice of nationalist history writing. The new German state of the noneteenth century was authoritarian, with a constitutional monarchy and state control in many areas of life, significant military and economic developments all bolstered by nationalism as the driving force. The nationalist history writing that subsequently developed in Germany also presented a significant alternative to the Enlightenment view of history, which espoused universal progress rather than progress in its own particular indigenous way, drawing upon its own cultural traditions. The history written for the nation ‘was located between truth and myth, fact and interpretation, disinterestedness and partisanship, research and writing (Mehl 1998 : 158).’ History writing during the American Revolution likewise demonstrated how a national history was created and a sense of nationhood developed by historians who were simply defined as those writers who published historical works ; none among them were professional or academic scholars and only a few among them wrote more than one book. Even though ‘these works were later dismissed as inferior and biased, all the more for the stridency in their bias, they nevertheless revealed how history could be subjugated to the service of nationalism’ in that they all attempted to create a national past, define a national character, and arouse a sense of pride in American society ; what furthermore united them all was their ‘frequent vagueness and imprecision of formulation, almost incantatory repetitiousness, and patriotic sentimentality (Shaffer 1975 : 3-4).’ In the West, it took the violence of the two world wars and the occurrence of the Holocaust that revealed the consciousness of the evil humans could bring upon themselves to generate critical social analysis and with it the final confrontation of nationalist history writing. It was revealed that the positivist notions of scientific objectivity embedded in the nationalist claims of factual immutable fixed historical truth based on a fetishism of state documents as well as the emotive component that rendered discussion impossible had polarized nations and pitted them against one another. In the process, the constructed nature of the nationalist narrative and the ideological underpinnings and power relations embedded within them were also made transparent. As a consequence, the change in history writing in the West came about as first events and actors were replaced by an emphasis on social and economic conditions, with primacy on politics. With increased democratization, broader segments of the population and the conditions under which they lived were also taken into account. What eventually developed was a transcultural history writing that analyzes the specific forms of thinking and writing about history in the various cultures and the relationships between them (Fuchs and Stuchtey 2002). The ensuing democratic practice of history writing encouraged skepticism about dominant views, but at the same time trusted in the reality of the past and its knowability ; such a practice was presented as the best chance of making sense of the world (Appleby et al. 1994 : 11). This long discussion of the transformation in the nature of history writing in the West is necessary to serve as a historical backdrop to why the Turkish state and with it Turkish society are so unable to confront their past. Unlike the West, such a transformation in history writing has not yet occurred in Turkey ; even though there are an increasing number of scholars who challenge the nationalist history writing of the Turkish state, they still are form a minority. In addition, what makes the Turkish case of nationalist history writing especially troubling, I would argue, is that it has been reproduced through mass education and through various organizations such as the Turkish Historical Society founded and backed by the state that still promotes, to this day, the nationalist version of Turkish history. It is the institutionalization of this nationalist history writing and with it the emotive component that renders rational discussion and confrontation of the past especially difficult. Hence the fact that political actors in Turkey can so readily and easily dismiss critical scholarship and do so emotionally is also due to the mode of reproduction of Turkish nationalism by the state through mass education and state organizations. Such hollowing of scientific historical research has not only removed Turkey from the international community of scholars, but also enabled the Turkish state to sustain its scientifically unsound assertions concerning, for instance, the denial of the 1915 ethnic cleansing of the Armenians by the Ottoman state. It has done so specifically by replacing history education within Turkey with morally unambiguous tales of Turkish heroism and bravery, where the just and righteous Turk would fight and persevere against the unjust and immoral enemies to always emerge triumphant against all odds. It is especially the seminal work of Büşra Ersanlı Behar (1992) that traces the evolution of the official nationalist history writing in Turkey. Based on her personal experience of how her history education did not at all encourage democratic principles (Behar 1992 : 11), Behar traced the formation of the Turkish official history thesis during the first Turkish Historical Congress in 1932 when the purposes of history were defined as ‘the formation of a strong national consciousness based on pre-Ottoman eras and the foundation of this consciousness on ‘natural laws’ such as evinced by pre-historic archeological excavations in Anatolia (Ibid.:1992 : 12).’ Even though the Republican elites of the time, she argues, wanted modernization in both the writing and teaching of Turkish history, their revolutionary approach which overlooked the complicated and subtle analysis involved in historical research and their deep attachment to political pragmatism which disregarded the scientific principles guiding historical research led to the formation instead of the official thesis that was based more on myth than historical truth. It was the Minister of Education Mahmut Esat Bozkurt who opened the Congress and determined the mission of the gathering as ‘the revelation of the existence and identity of the Turkish nation and its contribution to world civilization (Ibid. : 120).’ The main social actors of the ensuing debate over the employment of history to define the Turkish national identity separated into two camps (Ibid. : 126-57) ; in one camp were the nationalist historians comprising of the very young scholar Afet İnan, a protégé of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself who could not deviate from the political mission in spite of her history education, the young archeologist Hasan Cemil Çambel who was also an officer and likewise a protégé of Mustafa Kemal, Samih Rıfat who did not have any formal training and was not even a high school graduate, but was a political appointee as the deputy to the Turkish parliament from Çanakkale, and Şemseddin Günaltay, also a politician, who had studied natural sciences in Lausanne to later develop an interest in writing Turkish history from an ethnic perspective. In the other camp were Fuad Köprülü, Sadri Maksudi Arsal, Zeki Velidi Togan, and Ahmet Refik Altınay, all formally trained eminent historians who favored approaching the past scientifically. Yet in this confrontation of the nationalist and scientific historians, the latter group lost thereby sealing the fate of history writing in Turkey. Not only were the professional historians’ criticisms of the nationalist writing dismissed during the debate, but many of them were forced to subsequently leave their university posts in Turkey to either retire or go abroad. The ensuing national identity was defined in relation to the Turkish race and language related to race (Ibid. : 159) ; historical evidence was subsequently not systematically researched but selectively mined to provide support for this definition. While Turks emerged as the original superior race the minorities were ‘either inferior because they had been hybridified so as to lose their racial characteristic or were actually Turkish but because of their religious and language differences have forgotten that they were so (Maksudyan 2005 : 159). Their employment of ‘scientific methods’ was limited to making a reference to the ‘natural laws’ in the fields of archeology, physical anthropology and philology upon which the main parameters of Turkish national identity were to be formulated. These laws were so far removed from the actual practice of science so as to render the Turkish practice in the case of anthropology, for instance (Maksudyan 2005 : 11) ‘fictive’ — as opposed to scientific. Archeological excavations of pre-historic sites in Anatolia became all the rage to prove that all pre-historic peoples in general and the Hittites in particular were actually Turkish in origin (Ibid. : 192). As such, Turks could lay claims to Anatolia at the expense of all other cultures and civilizations like the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians that had existed there as well. With such deep pre-historic roots, Turks could also claim to be the founders of all world civilizations. Hence, Behar concludes, through the nature of its intervention in history, the Turkish state and its political leadership determined not only the subject matter and direction of history, but also the academic conditions under which it was to be practiced. The ensuing approach toward history in Turkey did not recognize the scientific disciplines or their methodology, did not focus on developing a particular Turkish historical tradition, but instead ‘subjugated history to serve as the tool of political rule and its short-term aims (Ibid. : 194-5).’ Historians thus became the vanguards of the state serving the latter’s interests ; the textbooks these nationalist historians wrote of course reflected the latter’s priorities as well. Behar who published her book in 1992 argues that this approach is still dominant in Turkey to this day. Indeed, the Turkish history textbooks that ought to cover, in providing the history of the ‘Anatolian homeland of the Turks’ the histories of the Armenian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Kurdish cultures and civilizations, do not do so. In relation to Ottoman history, the Turkish facets are highlighted at the expense of Greek, Armenian and Syriac contributions which are silenced and obscured (Eissenstat 2003). Among the subsequent developments in Turkish nationalist history writing, the only significant deviation from this formula was the infusion by the military after the 12 September 1980 military coup the Turkish Islamic synthesis (Eissenstat 2003 : 103-5) according to which Turkish nationalism in the history textbooks were to be based on the two traditions of its Central Asian roots and its Islamic religion. This has become the basis for understanding Turkish national identity in Turkey today. A 1995-96 survey conducted in 35 high-schools in15 cities in Turkey on historical consciousness established the consequences of the history education described above. Not only did the Turkish students criticized the style and purpose of history teaching, by they criticized it on the following grounds (Tekeli 1998 : 1934-4) : ‘Turkish history that was taught was isolated from contemporary world values ; it was oriented to the past where glorification was the primary intent ; the state was sacralized whereas the individual’s freedom of space was ignored ; the immutable forms of nationalism contained were constantly open to ethnic interpretations ; ethnic and religious elements dominated in the establishment of social unity ; the country appeared torn away and isolated from the rest of the world ; history was employed to create dangerous other’s thereby preventing the development of peaceful solutions (Tekeli 1998 : 193-4).’ Still, in spite of their criticisms, when their interest in history was measured, it was revealed that they were not interested in social issues and were indeed very self-centered in their own history and issues of national identity (Tekeli 1998 : 216) -just as the nationalist historians had endeavored to create. Such students would not be able to develop historical consciousness and thereby evaluate the location of Turkey and its history within the world at large. I would argue that it is the reproduction of this nationalist history writing in Turkey that also help explain the recent inability of the Turkish nation to have a rational discussion about their past. It was the domination of state politics over history writing that subverted and perverted all the subsequent practices in Turkey relating to history : the qualifications of the people engaged in historical debates in the public sphere were compromised so that anyone without any formal training who had an opinion on matters could delve into history and emerge as an ‘expert’ to publicly challenge, unashamedly and without a single outcry, those who had years of formal training in the field and get away with it. Because the Turkish state had, through the tightly-controlled history textbooks exposed so many generations of Turks to such popularized, mythologized and emotionally laden narrations of the Turkish past, it was impossible for them to pedagogically acquire and thereby evaluate the debates over history they were exposed to in the public sphere : when France passed laws about the Armenian genocide or when Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize of literature, what was of significance to the Turks educated in such a manner was what they had been indexed to : they processed the knowledge in terms of the Turkish national interest, and reacted emotionally. Turkish Historical Society (Türk Tarih Kurumu) is the most significant organization that reproduces nationalist history writing in Turkey today. Originally established in 1930 as an arm of the ethnic-nationalist Turkish hearth (ocak) movement (Behar 1992 : 96-8 ; Üstel 1997), the Society was then transformed into the institutionalized voice of quasi-official Turkish history. The first project of the Society was to write a national history textbook that would ‘correct the minimized role of the Turkish nation in world history (Maksudyan 2005 : 59).’ The members of the Turkish Historical Society often include retired diplomats who have become amateur historians as well as those scholars who have had formal training in history, but who predominantly ‘define their profession as the publication and transliteration of archival documents without any critical analysis (Özbaran 1998 : 62).’ This frequent lack of professional training in Turkish nationalist history writing and research and, with it, the inevitable lack of a theoretical perspective, methodological consistency, systematic analysis in especially the study of the violent episodes of the Turkish past such as the Armenian ethnic cleansing of 1915 renders it impossible for members of the international scholarly community to engage the authors of these amateurish works in any serious scholarly discussion. Yet the political actors in Turkey immediately and emotionally dismiss this lack of scientific engagement as yet another instance of ‘Western prejudice’ because the state-sponsored education of history outlined above has failed to provide them with the necessary scientific tools with which to evaluate the context.


In this article, I attempted to explain the nationalistic furor in Turkey against the West that escalated with three recent events through the particular conceptualization, practice and reproduction of Turkish nationalism. As the Turkish state mapped itself onto the nation, conceptualized a collective myth at the expense of the minorities, and hindered scientific historical analysis through nationalist history writing that was then reproduced through mass education and nationalist organizations, and as it moved all such discussion to the sphere of emotions, it became over the course of Republican history to undertake a rational discussion of the past in Turkey today.

The Turkish state has until now built the nation around the majority ethnic group, namely the Turks, at the expense of all others. The other groups have not and can never become full citizens of the nation. The European Union has been forcing the Turkish state to either recognize the rights of all its citizens equally or to recognize the collective rights of its minorities. Given that the Turkish state has for so long recognized the de jure promotion of individual rights, it might be best to ask for the recognition by the Turkish state of the existing discrimination against minorities in Turkey and the de facto promotion of individual rights regardless of ethnic origins. Only then would the burgeoning civil society escape the heavy hand of the state.

Yet there is some work that the EU has to undertake as well. Recent research conducted with the young generations in Europe (van der Veer 2003) has revealed that even though they are more open to multicultural identity than extreme nationalism and have more extensive social networks than earlier generations, they nevertheless find it too difficult to get in touch with people from different ethnic groups. Such spatial divides across Europe need to be overcome. In addition, minority rights in the context of the EU have to be better articulated as there was and is still in Europe debate over how the rights of minorities are to be granted and secured. Even though after World War II under the guidance of the United States, minority rights were subsumed under a doctrine of individual human rights (Ibid. : 427), how the rights of minorities are guaranteed are still dependent on the constitutions of the individual countries which vary : there is no set consensus of the European Union on the matter.

1° There is disagreement about the roots of nationalism which can be defined as ‘bounded solidarity and allegiance to a state (Marx 2002 : 104)’, with some scholars tracing it to the beginning of humanity with its potential located in our genes (Thayer 2000) and others to the modern capitalist system (Fearon and Laitin 2000) even though what all agree upon is that questions of personal and collective identity and belonging, being recognized by others as such, and developing such an identity through defining boundaries of inclusion and exclusion that demarcate the inside/outside, self/other, us/them are crucial in defining nationalist sentiment and rhetoric. 2° When Kant and Herder discussed nationalism, Kant equated questions of meaning with that of knowing thereby containing ontology and moral judgment within the realm of reason ; as a consequence, unlike Herder, there was no space left in Kant’s thinking for affective character and a priori forms of intuition (Fox 2006 : 723, 726). When faced with the issue of the ‘problem’ of Jews in Germany, Kant concluded they ought to convert to Christianity and called for their ‘euthanasia’ while Herder argued they deserved a political space within which to develop (Fox 2006 : 728).’ This interpretation likewise demonstrates that the epistemological origins of the civic and cultural divide may not be as clear-cut as they were once assumed to be. 3° As the history of Western state building is conceptualized as a non-national, civil, republican and liberal, the non-West is viewed, in contrast, as non-democratic and irrational. 4° This dichotomous conceptualization has recently been challenged. Scholars like Anthony Smith (1991 : 13) now argue that states and nations contain both ethnic and civic elements in varying degrees and forms. Craig Calhoun (1997 : 89) maintains that all of Western and Eastern Europe have been formed by the international discourse of nationalism that includes both ethnic claims and civil projects of popular participation. This discourse spread due to the military and economic success of the civic nation-state model. Other scholars point out that the conceptualization is atemporal in that it does not take into account the transformation states and nations have underwent. After all, even though the Western states may appear very civic today, they did have very ethnic and contentious pasts : for instance, historically ‘the absolutist French state was built on the crutch of religious exclusions... [so that] ... [b]y the time of the French Revolution, expulsion had produced relative religious homogeneity allowing for a liberal rhetoric of more inclusive nationalism. Seventeenth century England also followed a pattern of religious exclusion enacted in the aftermath of civil war and amid efforts to configure central state authority (Marx 2002 : 116).’ Also, even today the dominance of civic nationalism in Western Europe and North America and ethnic nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe is empirically challenged through 1995-6 survey data from 15 countries (Shulman 2002). 5° Oran argues (1993 : 119-78) that the first function of Atatürk nationalism was sovereignty and sovereignty as such is indeed often presented as the most fundamental premise of official ideology since the inception of the Turkish Republic. 6° While German unity was attained in 1871, what was created afterward during the Second Reich until 1890 by Bismarck was a system of government stressing the power of the state (Mosse 1975 : 17). The new Germany was unified only to the extent that was absolutely necessary ; as a consequence the minorities were left alone. The German state attempted to annex the nationalist dynamic and tame it into respectability. The process was initilly taken as a model by the Young Turks for including the priority assigned to the state and the possible coexistence of an emperor and the state. 7° Even though some thinkers like Jean Jacques Rousseau (1968), Johann Herder (1976), Hans Kohn (1994) and Liah Greenfeld (1992) agree that elements comprising prior group solidarity such as ethnicity, shared ancestry and culture are significant in constructing nationalism ; their models appear to be descriptive and static. I think that the modernist constructivist models of Anthony Smith (1991), Benedict Anderso(1983) and Ernest Gellner (1994) that view nationalism as recent political constructions where such elements are actively imagined and constructed have more explanatory power. 8° Ignatieff defines (1993 : 6) a civic nation as ‘a community of equal, right-bearing citizens united in patriotic attachment to a shared set of political practices and values.’ 9° The rights of the other non-Muslim minorities of Armenian Catholics, Chaldeans, Nestorians, Bulgarians, Georgians, and 10,000 Baha’is are not recognized by the Turkish state (Smith 2005 : 445). Smith also notes (2005 : 446-7) that there are in Turkey large Muslim minorities of 10-15 million Alevis, 12-14 million Kurds, tens of thousands of crypto-Yezidi and some 300,000 Arabs in addition to sizeable numbers of assimilated Muslim immigrants of Circassians, Albanians, Pomaks, Laz, Slavs, Georgians, Azeris, Tatars, Ossetians and others from the Balkans, the Crimea and the North Caucuses. 10° Elie Kedourie notes this aptly as he states that ‘nationalists make use of the past (1960 : 70)’ and do so strategically depending on what past cleavage they want to mend to encourage unity and heal internal conflict. 11° Duncan Bell proposes the employment of the ‘social agency’ approach to memory (2003 : 65) to differentiate collective memory as ‘experientially formatted inter-subjective phenomenon’ from collective myth which is ‘the shared understanding, conceptualization, or representation of past events by succeeding generations who have not themselves personally experienced them.’ 12° The only other later significant event not as fervently celebrated date is that of the mourning, on 10 November 1938, of the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It is not as fervently celebrated because it is a day of mourning : yet to emphasize that Atatürk is immortal, it is always proclaimed on that day ‘he is still and will always be alive in our hearts.’ 13° It is in this context that one needs to further apply the concept of that discursive space Duncan Bell terms (2003 : 63) ‘mythscapes’ where ‘the temporally and spatially extended discursive realm in which the myths of the nation are forged, transmitted, negotiated and reconstructed constantly’ to the Turkish case. The Turkish collective myth is likewise produced and reproduced throughout society and also the world in an attempt to sustain ‘Turkish’ identity and with it, the status quo through such commemorations. 14° Exclusion occurs when the state elites decide ‘who to include, reward and encourage loyalty form as the core constituency. To identify and consolidate the core, [they] manipulate established antagonisms against some other groups thereby excluded (Marx 2002 : 113).’ This exclusion is often not class based, Marx notes, because the state elites need the income generated by these groups. 15° I define minorities as those social groups who do not share equally in the power distribution of a society. Even though some present day Kurds do not consider themselves a minority group and are not officially defined as such by the Turkish state, they would comprise a minority in the sociological definition of the term because they do not share equally in the distribution of resources in Turkish society. 16° One needs to recognize that the problem is also inherent to history writing : while it proceeds from empirically validated facts or events, it necessarily requires the intervention of imagination to place them into a coherent story, whereby fictional element enters into the historical narrative. Indeed, prior to the French Revolution, history writing was ‘conventionally regarded as a literary art. More specifically, it was regarded as a branch of rhetoric and its ‘fictive’ nature generally recognized ... many kinds of truth, even history, could be presented to the reader only by fictional techniques of representation (White 1978 : 123). Likewise, Michel de Certau states that (1988 : xxvii) ‘Historiography (that is, ‘history’ and ‘writing’) bears within its own name the paradox - almost an oxymoron - of a relation established between two antimonic terms, between the real and discourse.’ 17° Germany exemplifies the relationship between the rise of nationalism and historical scholarship in nineteenth century Europe. In Germany, romantic nationalism which emerged under the influence of European romanticism was particularly strong. History in particular served to define the identity of a nation and emphasize its uniqueness (Mehl 1998 : 154). 18° As such, some scholars have argued that (Fox 2006 : 717) ‘nations are like religions [in that] forms of life premised for the most part on customs, stories, experiences, whose binding power over human behavior lies not in matters of publicly reasoned law and right but in affective and subjective conviction.’ 19° The ethical space of history writing (Jackson 2001) based on Derrida comprises of three ethically constitutive moments for the historian, namely the interrelationships of evidence, integrity and responsibility. 20° An ancient Turkish history in Central Asian lands and in Anatolia in even more ancient times was created and the study of immediate Ottoman history was silenced to also delegitimate a possible return to the Ottoman polity and the Ottoman identity. 21° What occurred in Turkish history-writing can also be termed a severe form of methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Schiller 2003) which refers to the process whereby the global regime of nation-states gets naturalized by the social sciences so that in their analyses many scholars end up identifying with their own countries and lose their critical distance ; everything outside the borders is often cut off and all research turns inward. Turkish nationalist history writing presents a severe form of this case in that not only does the Turkish state influence the writing of history, but actually determines the conditions as well as the context. 22° The debates over the contents of history textbooks in Israel reveal striking similarities to the Turkish case : there too was a conspicuous absence of the history of the land that is defined as the homeland as the cultures and civilizations that lived there previously are all disregarded ; the textbooks did not feature a single map that noted these cultures and civilizations (Raz-Krakotzkin 2003 : 155-172). 23° In challenging the critical historiographic scholarship in Israel, political actors engaged a rhetoric that is eerily similar to the Turkish case ; they noted that (Walzer 2003 : 5-6) : ‘the country has been betrayed by its own intellectual elites, seduced by Western liberalism. The intellectual and emotional mobilization the monumental history was meant to inspire, and did inspire, is still necessary ; we cannot accept the risks of a critical history.’ 24° The Japanese had an Office of Historiography which then became the Historiography Institute, very similar to the Turkish Historical Society (Mehl 1998 : 113). 25° The question of minority rights emerged in the West with the sovereign state and the Protestant Reformation as new religious differences combine with the principle of cuis religio, euis religio (the religion of the ruler is the religion of the ruled) whereby religious minority communities are created, and after the century long religious wars, the Treaties of Westphalia and other treaties establish the protection of religious minorities as national minorities (Deets 2006 : 422).

mardi 31 octobre 2006,
Stéphane ©

Envoyer l'article à un ami
Destinataire  :
(entrez l'email du destinataire)

De la part de 
(entrez votre nom)

(entrez votre email)

     Imprimer l'article