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Questioning the Foundations of Ataturkism


Omar Alansari-Kreger
At the end of the First World War there was a great deal of confusion. For the first time in
Turkish history foreign troops were occupying segments of Anatolia. The Ottomans had suffered
a crushing defeat at the hands of the victorious Allied powers and all territorial possessions were
lost with the exception of Anatolia and the European segment of Istanbul. The power of the
Ottoman sultan was rather weak at this period of time. The geo-political architects of empire
hoped that the sultan could be transformed into a vassal without actually having any real power
beyond what the victorious Allies permitted.
Mustafa Kemal was a decorated war hero most notable for his victory at Gallipoli. He
was a face of trust and resilience which outweighed the sultan at the time. Shortly before and
during the War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal declared his allegiance to the Ottoman state in
addition to the sultan; yet, that was merely a smokescreen of cunning deception. Mustafa Kemal
wanted to rule the new face of Turkey with the desire to reshape the nation in his own vision.
The great liberator of the Turks became the secular sultan of Turkey. The Turkish people werent
left with much of a choice. When your own homeland is occupied under the boots of foreign
invaders it becomes natural to rally behind the strongest and most competent leader.
At the time no one really knew what Ataturks true motivations were other than wanting
to liberate the Turks from foreign rule. More often than not that is the surest way to gain the
blind support of an occupied population. As much of a necessity Ataturk was for the Turkish
people during the War of Independence, his reforms were marginally beneficial and indeed
questionable. Was it really necessary to secularize Turkey in ways where the entire nation would
find complete alienation from its Islamic heritage? Ataturk instituted reforms that banned the fez,
the wearing of religious attire outside mosques, and the forced conversion of the Islamic call to
prayer in Turkish from Arabic. Arent these all extreme forms of Western modernization?
Literacy rates steadily increased all over Anatolia because there was an aggressive
campaign that supported the alphabetic conversion of the Turkish language from Arabic to Latin
script. Even after the proclamation of Ataturks Republic, well over half the population remained
illiterate and much of the countryside continued to concentrate its economic potential on
agrarianism. What if Ataturk was a dedicated Ottoman with an unshakable belief in Islam?
Anyone that remotely understands their religion will realize that all of Ataturks reforms are
captured under the light of Islam; the impetus of which enabled the Golden Age of the Ottomans.
Reinventing a Golden Age through secular modernization will cause a paradigm shift which will
catch an unsuspecting population with stark surrealism.
Ataturk didnt allow free and fair elections after the proclamation of the republic in fear
of a Neo-Ottoman resurgence; isnt that a violation of republican principles in light of its
democratic spirit? There is no law suggesting that modernity is incompatible with Islam; on the
contrary, the fusion of Islam and civilization brought humanity to greater and more elevated

heights previously thought to be totally unimaginable. If Ataturk preserved the backbone of


Islam Turkey would have remained as an Islamic superpower in some concentrated form; much
greater than it already is. Rather, the reinvention of a nation through a paradigm that is otherwise
alienable to a nation will cause an identity crisis in which Turkey continues to wrestle with.
A nation that turns its back on its heritage, tradition, and inalienable values will be nothing but
the lackey of a greater geo-political power. Turkey is beginning to realize this reality which is
one of the reasons why the nation is going through another paradigm shift; this time around,
Turkey is revisiting its roots and optimizing each one in ways where the Turks are refining their
history.