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Re-Imagining the Ottoman Past in Turkish Politics: Past and Present

The article analyses the use of Ottoman past as a central theme in Turkish politics since the 1960s. It discusses how the revivalist discourse treats the question of westernization and shapes the perception of young activists towards the Ottomans. As confrontational themes with the West surfaced more frequently, the search for a new “order” became more tangible. Furthermore, the negative outlook of the Republican historiography towards the Ottoman heritage was dismissed, especially among young and educated followers of the MHP and MSP-RP. This orientation gained more widespread acceptance among the mass during the AK Party years as a result of the government’s revisionist foreign policy and increasing frequency of the references to the Ottoman history in the party leadership’s discourse.

Re-Imagining the Ottoman Past in Turkish Politics Past and Present
A man dressed as Chief of the Mehteran Band, an old Ottoman military band, stands in front of the Turkish monument. AFP / Mustafa Özer
 

The article presents an analysis of the popularization of the ‘Ottoman Past’ as a central theme in Turkish politics. It starts with a brief discussion of the treatment of Ottoman history in Republican historiography, and the challenging views to it in the 1940s and 1950s. It continues with an analysis of the re-appraisal of Ottoman history in the 1960s and 1970s in intellectual circles and investigates how it was articulated in the political discourse of the two ideologically driven parties, namely the CKMP (Cumhuriyet Köylü Millet Partisi-Republican Peasant Nation Party)-MHP (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi- Nationalist Movement Party) and the MNP (Milli Nizam Partisi-National Order Party)-MSP (Milli Selamet Partisi-National Salvation Party). The study contends that the appropriation of revivalist discourse in politics that drew inspiration from the Ottoman past had a strong impact on the formation of the perception of youngsters and university students of the time on the question of “order” and westernization. The final section compares this political orientation with the post-1980 nationalist discourse and looks at the role of pro-Ottomanist discourse behind the rise of the RP. It links this discussion with the use of Ottoman history as a framework for the AK Party’s foreign policy. The article, thus, aims to make a contribution to the understanding of current debates revolving around the rise of “neo-Ottomanism” in Turkish politics.

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