Tag Archives: Turkey

Turkey and Kemalism

Mustafa Kemal Time Magazine Cover March 24 1923

Time Magazine Cover, March 24, 1923, Featuring Mustafa Kemal

The recent failed coup in Turkey was not the first time the military has attempted to intervene in the state. In fact, there is a long history of tensions between the Turkish military and government rooted in the history of Turkish democracy.

It is crucial to note that Turkey’s formation immediately followed the end of the First World War, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and a series of nationalist movements within Turkey and other parts of the world. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, often considered the father of modern Turkey, was an Ottoman military leader who fought in the First World War, then led a war for independence against the Allied occupation of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and later a war against Turkey’s Greek population. His founding ideology, known as Kemalism, can be seen as a response to the postwar period.

Mustafa Kemal wanted to create a modern nation-state modeled in part after western European nations and remove as many remnants of the old Empire as possible. In order to achieve this development, Kemal pushed for rapid industrialization, democratization, and secularization, all through the lens of Turkish nationalism and self-determination. From 1923 to 1938, Kemal was Turkey’s president for life, essentially a dictator who suppressed opposition parties, Islamists, Kurdish groups, and others. Nevertheless, urban Turkish nationalists saw improved women’s rights, economic growth, and a strengthened sense of nationhood. After Kemal’s death in 1938, another general named Ismet Inonu ruled Turkey until 1950. Inonu ruled with increasingly relaxed authority, culminating in Turkey’s first open parliamentary election in 1950 with successful opposition parties.

During this period, Kemal and Inonu patronized an urban, secular elite with close ties to the military, who benefited the most from Turkish democracy. This elite had authority over the shape of Turkish nationalism for much of the country’s history, and attempted to govern who fit into Turkish nationhood.

Kemal pushed for an ethnic homogenization of Turkey, starting with the forced deportation of about one million Greeks from the country in 1923, and later with the regular alienation of Turkey’s Kurdish population. Some Kurdish nationalists engaged Turkey in armed combat, though Turkey’s response has targeted entire Kurdish communities and continues to violate Kurdish rights.

The country began to move slowly away from Kemalism after World War Two, to the indignation of the military. After 1950, the Turkish military intervened multiple times in response to economic downturns, civil unrest, or the presence of Islamist parties. The first military coup was in 1960, the second in 1971, and the third in 1980, with revisions to the Turkish Constitution. In 1997, the military intervened again to ban Islamic political parties and interest groups, and to this day the military continues to persecute Kurdish civilians and rebels, attempting to sustain a Turkish national identity that is increasingly in question.

While the most recent coup differs in some ways, it stems from a longstanding military tradition of maintaining the status quo as it sees fit, at the cost of civilian governance.At the heart of the conflict is who should be included in Turkish nationhood, and it seems that despite tensions between Turks and Kurds, secularists and Islamists, those in favor of the current ruling conservative Islamist party and those opposed to it, the military’s imposed influence is widely considered a threat to Turkey’s identity. Kemalist ideology has not necessarily declined, but the militaristic side of Turkish nationalism is, at the very least, falling rapidly out of favor.

-jk

Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Sharp, Alan. The Versailles Settlement. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Storey, William Kelleher. The First World War. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Navigating the Language of Genocide

ubiquity

Recently, some activists called for the U.S. to formally charge the self-proclaimed Islamic State with acts of genocide. I can use the word informally on a blog post, but Secretary of State Kerry’s hesitation to use the word formally proves the power of language. If he makes a formal accusation of genocide, the word brings certain political ramifications, and expectations that may not be fulfilled.

U.S. officials have avoided using the word in the past, in order to avoid necessitating political and military action. During the Clinton Administration, U.S. officials were explicitly told to refrain from using the word genocide to describe the situation in Rwanda, which is now recognized as very obviously a genocide. Reluctance alone to use the word allowed the U.S. to justify not intervening.

This is where language falls short: refusing to call something murder does not change the fact that it is murder. Regardless of whether or not Secretary Kerry calls the destruction of Yazidi, Shi’i, Sunni, and Christian life genocide, that destruction counts as genocide.

However, there is a deeper, more complex narrative. To begin with, most of the groups pushing for a formal accusation are Christian organizations, and focusing on the Christian victims alone risks ignoring the multitude of other victims of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Kerry would also need to contend with the fact that the U.S. has supported other genocidal regimes in the region complicit in aiding the Islamic State. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is religiously and politically invested in the destruction of Shi’i Muslims and Sufi shrines. Turkey, another U.S. ally, is involved in crimes against its Kurdish population, another group the Islamic State has targeted.

There is also Palestine. While the contexts and implementation for the Israel and the Islamic’s State’s actions against innocent civilian populations differ in a few crucial ways, they are overwhelmingly similar. Palestinians, in many cases children, are held captive without just cause; the Israeli military regularly encroaches upon Palestinian land, removes the indigenous population by force, and occupies it by destroying local property and replacing it with Israeli property. If the U.S. accuses the Islamic State of genocide, which it should, the U.S. would be remiss if it did not make the same accusation against the Netanyahu Administration, which it should.

The issue of language is complex; the word genocide holds so much meaning, but we often ignore the meaning of its absence, and in its absence genocides continue to occur. History has proven this, and it proves it now. There is no way to measure suffering, and I do not intend to give that impression. All victims of genocide deserve justice, Jews, Palestinians, homosexuals, Kurds, Bosnians alike. Ranking the suffering of others is the heart of the problem: it allows those who can stop the slaughter to pick and choose who deserves to be salvaged, and if he is a responsible leader, Secretary Kerry will acknowledge all acts of genocide in the region rather than a select few.

-jk

After Gallipoli

ANZAC Soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula

ANZAC Soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula

Today marks an important moment in the First World War: the final evacuation of British and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corpse) troops from the Gallipoli Peninsula, ending a disastrous months-long Allied campaign to gain control of a narrow a sea route to Russia, the Dardanelles, and to push troops through Anatolia (Turkey) to the Ottoman capitol Constantinople and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

Allied Strategy for the Gallipoli Campaign. Keagan, John, The First World War.

Allied Strategy for the Gallipoli Campaign. Keegan, John, The First World War.

First Lord of the Admirality Winston Churchill schemed the invasion. Allied ships would sail through the Dardanelles accompanied by minesweepers and land thousands of troops onto the Gallipoli Peninsula, where they would secure the area and push on to Constantinople. The initial landing was on April 25, 1915, involving many soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

The Allies were unprepared for the harsh environment on Gallipoli and the ferocity of Ottoman Turkish soldiers, led by the now famous commander Mustafa Kemal, who directed his troops in successfully defending the Peninsula. The Allied troops became entrenched on Gallipoli for a grueling eight months. Kemal proved his military prowess; Churchill’s plan, on the other hand, proved to be a quagmire. On this day one hundred years ago, the Gallipoli Campaign came to a close. The Ottomans had defeated the British Empire for the time being.

That victory was arguably the last great moment in Ottoman history, and the first in a long time. Earlier in 1915, Ottoman troops committed acts of genocide against Armenian civilians. The Ottoman Empire had been in decline for decades amid encroaching Russian and European empires, and would later suffer British and French diplomats carving it into colonial mandates after the end of World War One. Winston Churchill was involved in that process; he even said that he created the country of Jordan “with the stroke of a pen one Sunday afternoon.” When the War finally ended in 1918, the British and French saw the defeated Ottoman Empire as property to divide among them: Britain took Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, while France seized Lebanon and Syria, divided artificially. Those artificial borders continue to create problems today in these countries, pitting groups together or dividing cultures along superficial lines.

The Ottoman Empire had practiced its own form of imperialism, and ruled over its Arab territories from its imperial center in Anatolia, just as the British Empire ruled India and South Africa from England. Just as the British and French are guilty of reprehensible war crimes to maintain imperial power, the Ottomans were guilty of the same, such as the Armenian Genocide. Despite the emphasis on self-determination that dominated discussions at the Treaty of Versailles, Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, and other groups were simply shifted from Ottoman rule to British and French rule with as much regard as plunder shifted between pirates.

The Allies also wanted to divide Anatolia, but the Young Turks, led by Mustafa Kemal, fought a war for Independence from 1919 to 1922, and formed a stable, secular, but complex democracy. The Greek minority in Anatolia fought its own smaller rebellion, leading to the eventual forced migration of thousands of Greeks from Anatolia and Turks from Greece in 1923. Kemal had nevertheless defended his homeland from the British, and would not allow the Allies to make property of it.

New nations were formed from the defeated Ottoman Empire, but Turkey may have been the only one to form itself on at least some of its citizens’ own terms. The rest were carved artificially by Churchill and his ilk, Similarly, many Irish soldiers returned to a British-controlled Ireland torn by rebellion in the 1916 Easter Uprising. April 25 is commemorated as Anzac Day in New Zealand and Australia. The Battle of Gallipoli brought British loyal subjects to the edge of the Ottoman imperial center; it was a devastating failure for the otherwise almost obnoxiously successful British, who continued to claim colony after colony across the globe. For the crumbling Ottoman Empire, it was one final act of defiance against the empires surrounding it. Two of the most complex figures of the twentieth century emerged from the battle with profoundly different scars: Mustafa Kemal won, and Winston Churchill lost. Both men went on to be war heroes and war criminal simultaneously, and their role in history will likely always be contentious. At least, both played crucial roles in the destruction and recreation of nations.

By January 9, 1916, about 265,000 Allied soldiers and 300,000 Ottoman soldiers died on Gallipoli. Many of the them were probably unconcerned with the survival or strengthening of empires. They were concerned, most likely, with fighting for something they were told, and genuinely believed, was bigger than them: nationhood. Many Irish joined the war thinking the British would reward them with independence. Australians and New Zealanders had an emerging sense of national identity separate from but loyal to the British. The Turks fought on their homeland against invading Europeans. Thousands died trying to make a nation of their world. Indeed, nations formed, but maybe those who fought created their own kind of temporarily autonomous nationhood of spaceless unity. Amid the destruction of empires, it may be tricky to honor that unity on both sides of Gallipoli equally, but we should strive to anyway. Nationhood is what we make of it, and despite what Churchill seems to have believed, sovereignty means more than a pen stroke.

-jk

John Keegan. The First world War. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.

Europe’s Refugee Crisis of 1492

Expulsion of Spanish Jews Universal History Archive

The Alhambra Decree. Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

1492 marks an important moment in world history, not just because it’s the year Columbus landed in the Caribbean, along with smallpox, mercantilism, and other European diseases. It is also an important year in Spanish, Ottoman, and Jewish history. As European powers were slowly consolidating into modern nation-states, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain passed a decree, the Alhambra Decree of 1492, that required all Jews to be expelled from Spain, or else convert to Christianity. This pattern of expulsion began with the centuries-long Reconquista, ending with the 1491 fall of the Emirate of Granada. The Spanish monarchs wanted not just a larger nation-state, but a religiously pure one. Thus, they expelled any Jew who refused to convert. Many crossed the border into Portugal; a few years later, the Portuguese crown declared the same policy, but directed its efforts at forced conversion rather than expulsion. The Spanish Inquisition played a crucial role in these events, as well.

Thousands of Jewish and Muslim refugees were left without a home as a result. The next month, after hearing about the expulsion, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II, issued decrees of his own allowing any and all Jewish refugees to resettle in Ottoman territories. He sent the massive Ottoman navy to Spain, under the famous admiral Kemal Reis, to help Jews, as well as Muslims, flee religious persecution in the Iberian Peninsula, known as Al-Andalus to the Ottomans. The refugees settled throughout the Ottoman Empire, often in large urban centers such as Cairo, Jerusalem, and Damascus. Today, Sephardic Jewish communities still hold a presence in Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire was at its height in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It enjoyed economic influence over its surrounding polities, had a strong military, and was known for its extreme religious tolerance. A diverse empire to begin with, encompassing Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Kurds, and Armenians, the Sultanate practiced tolerance for all religious traditions inside the empire, including Sunni and Shi’i Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, long-standing Judaism, and at its edge Catholic and later Protestant Christianity. In many ways, the Ottoman Sultan was the leader of the free world at the time.

I’ve never believed history repeats itself. I don’t want history to repeat itself. It’s often hideous and unfair. But maybe the western world should take a lesson from the Ottoman Empire and open its borders to Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing many of the same places Europe’s refugees resettled in the 1490s. Maybe this is one of the few moments in history that should be repeated. European nations cannot reverse the policies of Assad and ISIS, just as the Ottoman Sultan could not reverse the equally barbarous policies of King Ferdinand (yes, ISIS and the Spanish Monarchy are equally evil). But Europe and the U.S., as much as the Ottomans, can commit to an act of compassion in the face of unmitigated brutality. After all, it’s clearly been done before.

-jk

Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE

Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Modern Turkey and a History of the Word Genocide

Photo of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex

Photo of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex

Earlier this week, an important but under-reported incident occurred in international politics. Brazil’s government passed a resolution to recognize atrocities committed against the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population in 1915 as genocide, which dozens of countries and most historians already recognize. As a response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry responded by condemning the resolution, saying that it “distorts reality.”

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. One hundred years later, the use of the term genocide is still contentious. Historical truths can be malleable. In Brazil, what happened in 1915 is genocide; in Turkey, it is only a tragic conflict. The use of one word to describe an event might seem like a pointless semantic argument to some, but language is crucial when discussing history, and it’s important enough to spark discomfort between nations.

Part of the problem is that the Armenian Genocide occurred decades before the term genocide came into use. In 1915, the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austro-Hungary against Britain, France, and Russia in World War One; the Ottoman military, after a disastrous failed invasion of southern Russia, attacked civilian Armenian Christians through forced deportations, mass imprisonment, confiscation of property, death marches, and massacres. The total death toll is still in dispute, but a common estimate is 1.5 million Armenians. Some Ottoman officials thought the Armenians were a pro-Russian threat, and such an argument was used to justify the atrocities. After the war, the Allies carved up the Ottoman Empire, but an independent Turkey emerged after revolutionary forces took control of Anatolia. The revolution was partly led by Mustafa Kemal, a talented Ottoman military leader who defended the Gallipoli Peninsula during the War. Becoming the first president of Turkey, Kemal rewrote history to make the new Turkey a heroic nation. Taking control of national education, Kemal erased the Armenian Genocide from his new country’s textbooks and public discourse, and this pattern continues in Turkey today.

Despite a wealth of archival evidence, Turkey’s national investment in keeping the term genocide out of its history is wrapped up in the complicated nature of the word itself. Raphael Lemkin coined the term to describe Nazi atrocities during World War Two. Lemkin’s activism began much earlier; a Jewish migrant from Poland, he had heard many stories about Ottoman atrocities as well as pogroms against Jews. In 1948, the United Nations recognized genocide as an international crime in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, referring to it as requiring “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Consequently, forced deportations and ethnic cleansing (the attempt to remove a group of people from a designated geographic area but not the group entirely) do not necessarily count as genocide (though they often lead to genocide, historically). Like most criminal matters, recognizing the Armenian Genocide, at least in a legal sense, requires proof that the perpetrators intended to erase the Armenian population from Anatolia through their physical and cultural destruction.

But for Armenians today, as well as countless activists and historians, genocide is not always a legal matter, but a matter of identity and truth. In Armenian collective memory, what the Ottoman military did goes beyond specific legal parameters; it was an assault against an entire culture resulting in the death of over one million people on the basis of a shared ethnic-religious identity. Its historical scars are still visible for many Armenians, but history is more than just past crimes; history is a living, evolving beast. Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide is a direct attack on Armenians today. Such a refusal wipes away the validity and dignity of those Armenians the Empire slaughtered and the generations who are around today, the descendants of the survivors. Brazil’s resolution is a positive step, but real progress will come only when the Turkish government comes to grips with its predecessor’s crimes and its own complicity in the denial of those crimes.

-jk