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Globalization and the Crisis of Authoritarian Modernization in Turkey

Conventional models developed through the conceptual lenses of modernization theory dating back to the 1960s, are no longer applicable to Turkish politics; they fall short of grasping the changes that Turkish ideologies experienced in recent decades. In the face of Turkey’s growing democratization and societal modernization, Turkish secularists have lost their status as agents of reform and gradually emerged as defenders of the status quo in the face of the rapid mobilization of Anatolian-based conservative society. However, no factor was more responsible for this transformation than the comprehensive external and internal structural changes that Turkey experienced in the post-Cold War era, leading to the emergence of a globalist conservative ideology in large parts of Anatolia. This paper examines the question of why those who are commonly associated in Western scholarly discourse with progress and modernity,have fallen behind the Muslim conservatives in pursuit of democratization and further integration of the country with the West. The paper argues that at the root of the present conflict lies the tension between two modernization routes: a bureaucratic top-down modernization that has allowed the allocation of privileges to the secularist/nationalist elites, and the grassroots socio-economic mobilization of conservative societal elements benefiting from international integration and globalization.

Globalization and the Crisis of Authoritarian Modernization in Turkey
The intellectual bastion of authoritarian-secularism, the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet has paradoxically become the most ardent opponent to the process of further Europeanization.

In April and May of 2007, millions of Turks held anti-government demonstrations in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Organized by secularist organizations and parties, these were perhaps the largest gatherings of people in the history of these towns. The international media pointed out that the demonstrators were motivated by fear that their secular way of life was under threat from political Islam, which now ruled the country through the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi: AK Party) and was poised to elect Turkey’s first Islamist president. The major slogans in the demonstrations were about foreign policy. Indeed, one might have assumed they were protesting against Turkey’s alleged turn toward an Islamic foreign policy. Yet many demonstrators quite vocally expressed opposition to both Turkey’s entry into the European Union (EU) and its relations with the United States, marching under huge banners that read “neither the EU, nor the USA, but a fully independent Turkey!” The boiling anger of the crowds was captured by skilful orators who condemned the AK Party, claiming that the party’s “marketing” of national interests on the global market was tantamount to selling the country out to imperialist powers. 

The modernization paradigm allowed Muslim cases to be special cases in which a benevolent authoritarianism may be needed to bring the country closer to modernity

In fact, what these demonstrations showed was the attitudinal transformation of ideological groups in Turkey. Opposition to Turkey’s integration to the “West,” which is commonly attributed to Muslim conservatism, was now being “claimed” or “reclaimed” by the secularists, while the pro-Western foreign policy and aspirations of integration with Western institutions were now defended by those labeled Islamists. Why have Turkish secularists embraced an anti-Western outlook while the conservatives have become supporter of the country’s further integration with the West? 

Many scholars tend to work with the assumption that because modernization requires a process of rationalization and secularization, one’s proximity to secularism or rather remoteness from religious observance brings him/her closer to modernity. Beyond Turkey, traditional Muslim societies had been judged to be out of sync with modernity and thus deemed categorically dead. Daniel Lerner most famously announced “the passing of traditional society” in Muslim countries who had had to decide between “mechanization or Mecca.”1 The modernization paradigm allowed Muslim cases to be special cases in which a benevolent authoritarianism may be needed to bring the country closer to modernity. A recent example that highlights the operation of such an Orientalist perspective is the decision in 2005 by the European Human Rights Court which justified the headscarf ban in Turkish universities. According to the Court, which is supposed to operate with a universal interpretation of human rights, Turkey was correct in banning the headscarf because of the special context of the country: “the Court considers that, when examining the question of the Islamic headscarf in the Turkish context, there must be borne in mind the impact which wearing such a symbol, which is presented or perceived as a compulsory religious duty, may have on those who choose not to wear it. ... [T]he issues at stake include the protection of the “rights and freedoms of others” and the “maintenance of public order” in a country in which the majority of the population, while professing a strong attachment to the rights of women and a secular way of life, adhere to the Islamic faith.”2 The bias in this decision is obvious. 

From this perspective, the potential violation of the rights of those who do not practice religion is given priority treatment by the Court over an actual violation of human rights of those who do. Underlying this discriminatory treatment is the interpretation of Turkish politics which locates the secularists in the modern and progressive camp in contrast to their conservative rivals who are seen as resisting change and progress. Propounding this notion, Samuel Huntington describes Turkey as a nation torn by conflict between pro-Western modernist elites and resisting traditional society.3 

Interpreting authoritarian secularism as modern, liberal and tolerant of diversity presents a distorted narrative of Turkish politics

Even among the non-Kemalist and democratic leftists, preferential treatment of Kemalism is widespread. For instance, in his article on Turkish xenophobia, Murat Belge excludes Kemalist nationalism from being genuinely xenophobic and claims that if there are some instances, they should be attributed to the resurgence of Union and Progress-style nationalism in recent years. Belge confidently states that “there are two strong xenophobic and fascist movements in Turkey: Turkish nationalism and Islamism.” He further states that “when Islamism faced repression as a result of its politization, it softened its traditional violent discourse against non-Muslims and even became supportive of EU membership. However, it can be guessed that such a revision in behavior is limited to some of the political elites and did not alter deeply-rooted perspectives and values of the [Islamist] masses.”4 Similarly, exploring negative perception of the West in conservative nationalist and Islamist thought, Tanıl Bora acknowledges occasional anti-Western references within Kemalism, but he sees the enemy image of the West in Islamism and conservative nationalism as more complete and authentic.5 Here it may be argued that Westernization is not necessarily in contradiction with being anti-West. Hence Kemalists are Westernizers but not necessarily pro-Western.6 This view is correct in the sense that Kemalism, like the earlier Ottoman modernization, did not incorporate the West as an intrinsic part of its identity but instead remained an ideology of defensive modernization. The present paper does not counter this view; rather, it attempts to re-state it. What is challenged here is the counter-argument that views the Kemalists as less nationalist and culturalist than their conservative rivals.

Any challenge to these two principles, namely the secularist character of the regime and the homogenous nature of the Turkish nation, was considered hostile and was suppressed by the Turkish political establishment

Interpreting authoritarian secularism as modern, liberal and tolerant of diversity presents a distorted narrative of Turkish politics for two reasons. First, “life-style secularism” is not coterminous with “political/constitutional secularism” in terms of a complete separation of religion and political identity, as Muslim identity has been a major ingredient in the historical building of secularist nationalism since the late Ottoman era. It is because of this nationalist background that Kemalism has been at least as anti-Western as any of its nationalist or conservative rivals. Secondly, a close examination of Turkish politics would suggest that the conservative segments of Turkish society have in fact been major contributors to their country’s modernization understood as economic and political development. If Turkish modernization is a continuous rather than static process, the agency of this process is now being claimed more credibly by Muslim conservatives than life-style secularists. This contrast is further highlighted by the process of globalization, which undermines the power of the authoritarian-secularist bureaucratic establishment and facilitates the upward social mobilization of traditional societal actors. It is therefore necessary to revise not only the interpretation of modern Turkish politics, but also the conceptualization of the Islam-modernity problematic by questioning the secularist bias in modernization studies. The goal of this paper is thus to highlight the need for such a conceptual revision; its conclusions are thus relevant beyond the Turkish case. 

The next section traces the ideological roots of Turkish secularists’ anti-Westernism in the historical struggles of the various cadres to shape the authoritarian secularist or Kemalist ideology. Then the paper examines the impact of global capitalism on Turkish politics, bringing a structural component to the theoretical and ideological discussions in the earlier parts of the paper.



Turkey’s Defensive Modernizers: The Story of Kemalism

An understanding of the historical legacy of the authoritarian-secularist ideology is important when analyzing the Turkish secularists’ attitudes toward modernization and the West. Until the end of the single-party era in the 1950s, Kemalism was the official ideology of the Turkish state. Several rival groups within the ruling Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi: CHP) attempted to shape this ideology in the 1930s and 1940s. In many regards, Kemalism has developed as an ideology that carried the influence of authoritarian secularist entrepreneurs both within and outside the party rather than Atatürk himself. Hence in this paper the term Kemalism is used to refer to the party ideology rather than Atatürk’s ideas. 

Secularism and Nationalism: The 1920s

In addition to secularism, a major component of the Kemalist ideology has been nationalism. The Turkish Republic emerged out of the debris of the Ottoman Empire and its ideology was a direct continuation of the secularist Turkish nationalism of the Union and Progress Party. Ziya Gökalp’s culture-based nationalism was particularly influential in the mindset of the early Republican elite. The experience of occupation following the Ottoman defeat in World War I further augmented this mindset. Ottoman military officers waged a long war for independence that culminated in the establishment of the Turkish Republic. This experience allowed subsequent military officers to claim that it was their right and duty to protect Turkey against its internal and external enemies. Mustafa Kemal and his comrades embarked upon a comprehensive project of defensive modernization and Westernization with the goal of carving a new, homogenous Turkish nation out of the ashes of the empire. The basis for this new nationalism was less ethnic than cultural and religious. It was a secularist project of Muslim nationalism, where Muslim identity was accepted as the basis for what was perceived as a homogenous Turkish nation. Any challenge to these two principles, namely the secularist character of the regime and the homogenous nature of the Turkish nation, was considered hostile and was suppressed by the Turkish political establishment. 

Socialism, Corporatism, and Liberalism: The 1930s -1940s

In the 1930s and 1940s, three rival CHP groups competed with each other: socialists, solidarists (statist nationalists who were often regarded as pro-fascists by their rivals), and liberals (who defended a liberal capitalist model). Each of these groups had different perspectives regarding modernization and foreign policy orientation and competed to influence the core leadership centered around Atatürk. 

The liberal group’s most prominent member was arguably Celal Bayar, who was the chair of the İş Bankası (Business Bank) from its foundation in 1924 until 1932, the minister of economics between 1932 and 1937, and later prime minister from 1938-39.7 The guidelines of Turkish economic policies were defined and accepted at the İzmir Economic Congress in 1923 under the influence of liberals such as Celal Bayar and Mahmut Esat Bozkurt. The Congress advocated a mixed economic model based on state and private ownership of industries and encouragement of foreign direct investments. The protection of the liberal group by Atatürk despite the strong statist views of other party leaders, most significantly İnönü, indicates that Atatürk did not subscribe to statism as an economic ideology but saw it as a pragmatic and temporary requirement of real economic and political conditions.8 As Koçak explains, “Atatürk had doubts as to the success of statist policies and never supported them with enthusiasm. These policies were more İnönü’s preference… Contrary to İnönü’s narrow understanding of statism, Atatürk had made it clear he was in favour of another type of economic policy, of which Celal Bayar was the ‘symbol’.”9 In 1937, İnönü left the government due to his conflict with Ataturk, who then appointed Bayar as the new Prime Minister. In the same year, Turkey signed credit agreements with Britain and Germany amounting to 58 percent of the state budget. Ahmet Ağaoğlu, a leading late Ottoman and early Republican liberal thinker and intellectual father of the Free Republican Party (Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırkası), responded to the claims that the planned economy was the best way to achieve economic development. Ağaoğlu argued that the reason why the East was underdeveloped was not because it was exploited by the West but rather because of its suppression of freedom. Ağaoğlu asserted that modernity, progress and strength flow from liberalism and individualism.10 

The socialist group consisted mostly of Soviet-trained intellectuals who embraced statist and socialist economic developmentalism. This intellectual movement was organized around the journal Kadro (literally “cadre,” referring to the educated elite whose task was to educate the masses). Kadro was published between 1932 and 1934 by Şevket Süreyya Aydemir, who had studied at the Communist University of the Eastern Proletariat (KUTV) in Moscow, and Yakup Karaosmanoğlu.11 In line with their leftist orientation, the Kadro movement believed that the new regime required a new intelligentsia, an intellectual vanguard. Aydemir competed with the solidarists within the CHP led by Recep Peker and Tekin Alp who, with their Ülkü magazine, attempted to respond to the Kadrogroup and competed with them to influence the party’s ideology. The concept of Ülkü (or its Ottoman equivalent, mefkure, meaning “the ideal”) “played a dominant part in the psychological make-up of [the late Ottoman and early Republican positivists] who saw themselves as a vanguard with a mission to save the state and the nation.”12 The corporatists and solidarists believed that “in the Kemalist regime Nation and State form a single, indivisible and inseparable whole.”13 In comparison, the Kadro group formulated “social nationalism,” which meant, in their view, the establishment of a classless society devoid of the bourgeoisie and proletariat.14

In contrast, the solidarists had clear sympathies with the fascist movements in Europe. Their ideology borrowed from Ziya Gökalp’s formulation of solidaristic corporatism and called for a homogenous society, free of any social, class, or identity differences, and unified around a paternalistic state under a single-party regime.15 By this formulation, Kemalism emerged as an ideology of state-led developmentalism, differentiating itself from both Western liberal and Soviet socialist models.16 

The Great Depression of 1929 largely discredited the liberal wing within the CHP and empowered the statists. The solidarists were the direct beneficiaries of this development: in 1931 Peker acceded to the party general secretary position, the most significant management position within the party. Peker wanted to model the CHP, and with it the Turkish administrative system, based on the German and Italian party systems which he had examined in situ. Recep Peker’s article “Volk- und Staat-Werdung” published in Germany in the Europaische Revue and translated as “Uluslaşma-Devletleşme,” (Ülkü, VIII, 41, July 1936) advocated a system in which the people, the Party and the State were integrated closely. Similarly, Tekin Alp argued that in the Kemalist regime Nation and State form a single, indivisible and inseparable whole.”17 Reminiscent of the titles of Führer and Duce, Atatürk was posthumously declared Ebedi Şef (Eternal Leader), and his successor Inonu self-consciously assumed the title of Milli Şef (National Leader). Kemalism was constructed as an ideology by recasting Ataturk’s ideas in the form of a totalitarian party ideology. 

Having solidified their position, the solidarist group moved to isolate both the liberals and the socialists from the party ranks. In 1934, Kadro was closed down due to intra-party ideological struggle and its editors were isolated from the center of power. Yakup Kadri was appointed as ambassador to Tirana. Yet his authoritarian excesses caused Peker to be expelled by Atatürk from his position as party general secretary in 1936. However, despite their political competition, the views of the solidarist and socialist wings of the CHP had much in common, particularly regarding the authoritarian management of the economy and state-society relations. The socialist and pro-fascist groups were also united in the basic conviction that the people were not suited to rule themselves and were in need of education. With the experience of the Free Republican Party (Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırkası: SCF) in 1930, it had already been proven that if left to their own will the Turkish people would easily deviate from the principles of the Kemalist revolution. The party was established with orders of Atatürk to provide the experience of multi-party democracy but was soon closed after it surprisingly gained massive popularity and came to threaten the ideological hegemony of the CHP. In this context, the CHP political and intellectual leaders grew highly suspicious of parliamentary democracy, a suspicion that continues to this day. Aydemir himself forcefully stated his opposition to popular democracy, “No to a multi-party regime! Yes to the single party… Furthermore, we prefer national guidance to national sovereignty, that is, the dominance of … a leader and an enlightened minority.”18 Similarly the CHP party congress in 1931 established the Halk Evleri (People’s Houses), adult education centers which served as propaganda institutions to spread the principles of Kemalism as a means of authoritarian modernization. 

Despite the above-discussed portrayal of Kemalism as modern and pluralistic, one should note the deep ideological contradictions in Kemalism as regards its secular dimensions and treatment of non-Muslim minorities. During the 1930s, Turkish nationalism assumed more repressive tendencies toward non-Turkish groups which were strengthened by ethno-nationalist discourses such as the New History Thesis and ethnic assimilation practices, particularly in Kurdish areas. Kemalist nationalism saw non-Turkish, Muslim minorities as potentially included within the definition of Turkishness and attempted to assimilate them through policies such as re-settlement of minorities. Its treatment of non-Muslim “minority” groups, however, was entirely different. The regime did not aim to assimilate them as they were not seen as part of Turkish culture. It rather saw them as parasitic foreign substances in the body of the homogeneous Turkish nation. Turkey’s population exchange agreement with Greece was designed to get rid of these elements. Those who stayed in the country were subjected to discriminatory practices, the most interesting example of which is the 1942 Varlık Vergisi (capital tax). In response to the heavy financial toll that World War II was exerting on the Turkish economy due to war mobilization and the disruption of foreign trade, the Turkish government passed a series of reforms, including the temporary tax, in order to alleviate economic troubles and punish alleged speculators and war profiteers.19 The tax was implemented in a discriminatory way, targeting only non-Muslim citizens in contradiction of Kemalism’s core principle of secularism. It was levied on non-Muslim minorities, and imposed with differential percentages upon various religious communities. Kemalists, even the socialist-inspired ones, justified the practice by noting that for centuries Turks had fought to protect the land and the people while the non-Muslim minorities, who were exempt from service in the army, could continue their business and accumulate wealth.20 The population of non-Muslims was 1.98 percent of the total population in 1935. It decreased to 1.56 in 1945 and 1.08 in 1955.

Following Atatürk’s death, the statist groups within the CHP consolidated their dominance, isolating their liberal rivals. In 1945, the liberals left the CHP to form their own party, the Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti: DP). The postwar liberal international system was no longer conducive to preservation of the single party system in Turkey and under international pressure Turkey decided to give up its single-party regime in 1946. The CHP narrowly “won” Turkey’s first openly contested multi-party elections, conducted on the basis of “open ballot; secret tally” as opposed to the democratic principle of “secret vote; open tally” and Recep Peker became prime minister for the first time. In the subsequent 1950 elections, however, a more genuine transition to democracy obtained.

The rapid social mobilization of Turkish society as a result of the economic development and liberalization achieved by the DP in the 1950s increasingly forced the Kemalists into a status quo-oriented, defensive and militarist position

Between Leftism and the Status-Quo: The 1950s -1980s

The DP won a clear majority in Turkey’s first democratic elections in 1950 and remained in power until being overthrown in 1960 by a military coup. The confrontation between the Kemalist establishment, represented by the CHP and the military on the one hand, and the DP on the other, reflected a clash of economic interests as much as an ideological polarization caused by the marginalization of the Kemalist modernization project. The rapid social mobilization of Turkish society as a result of the economic development and liberalization achieved by the DP in the 1950s increasingly forced the Kemalists into a status quo-oriented, defensive and militarist position. In the 1960s, the Kemalist CHP assumed itself to be leftist, even though such a description has been challenged by several Turkish social scientists. Most prominently, Idris Küçükömer locates the CHP on the right and conservative parties on the left of the political spectrum because of the former’s proximity to the bureaucratic oligarchy and its isolation from civil society.21 As Kemal Karpat discusses, the anti-democratic stance of the Kemalist left was sociologically motivated in the context of the upward social mobilization of the Anatolian conservative masses: “leftism in Turkey, especially after 1940, became… part of a complex endeavor to preserve the intelligentsia’s high status against the rising entrepreneurial middle class.”22 Economic development and improved mass education and health resulted in a population increase and rapid urbanization. The outcome was an increasing visibility of “the uneducated” Anatolian people in the public sphere, a phenomenon the CHP elite was not prepared to accept. A famous expression of this shock was attributed to Fahrettin Kerim Gökay, the unelected mayor of Istanbul under the CHP, who stated, “people flocked to the beaches, citizens could not swim!”23 The mayor complained about how the increased presence of poor members of society at the Istanbul seaside prevented privileged “citizens” from enjoying it. The Turkish left sided with the “citizens” in this new polarization, as common people were seen as responsible for keeping the CHP out of power in three consecutive elections between 1950 and 1960. 

The 1960 coup was an attempt to restore the Kemalist hegemony. It led to the execution of the democratically elected prime minister and two of his ministers

The 1960 coup was an attempt to restore the Kemalist hegemony. It led to the execution of the democratically elected prime minister and two of his ministers. The CHP and leftist intellectual circles fully supported the coup and gave their backing to a new constitution that was ironically the most democratic constitution Turkey has ever enjoyed. While the 1950 election system was originally prepared to benefit a large party, the new electoral system gave representation to even the most marginal parties in the parliament, leading to an increased ideological vibrancy in the country. In this context of ideological dynamism, the ideas of the Kadro movement re-emerged in an intellectual movement organized around an influential weekly newspaper, Yön (1961-1967). In addition to its founder and chief editor Doğan Avcıoğlu, the paper published articles by Mümtaz Soysal, İlhan Selçuk, and İlhami Soysal, who are now columnists for Cumhuriyet. However, Avcıoğlu played such a leading role that his name has become almost synonymous with the movement. 

The foundation of the Yön movement in 1961 coincided with another parallel development: the establishment of the Turkish Labor Party (Türkiye İşçi Partisi: TİP) in the same year by a group of labor unionists. These two movements, intellectual and political, became important centers of radical left opposition with some important differences. In many regards, the Yön movement was a reincarnation of the Young Turks, with the Young Turks’ militarism and revolutionary positivism re-interpreted in the context of 1960s Turkish politics.24 It was primarily interested in the question of national economic development, for which it advocated statism and strict economic planning. Despite its anti-fascist discourse, the Yön movement was a synthesis of nationalism and socialism, praising national socialist leaders such as Jamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt. Avcıoğlu stated that socialism and Kemalism were not contradictory: “we consider socialism as a natural conclusion and continuation of Atatürkism which is based on the principles of populism, etatism, revolutionism, secularism, Republicanism and nationalism. We believe that socialism is the way to improve on and move forward the revolutions of Atatürk.”25 This emphasis on socialism was blended with a discourse of anti-Westernism. The movement lauded Kemalism as a movement against imperialism and colonialism and criticized the pro-American foreign policy followed by conservative governments. In the left’s view, Kemalism responded to the question of independence with nationalism and thus achieved the first step on the way to social developmentalism. Yet they were also critical of the outcome of the Kemalist revolution because of its promotion of the bourgeoisie at the expense of an alliance with the popular masses.26 

Herein lay the contradiction in the leftist Kemalist mentality: their statism and strong dislike of the common people with conservative ideas gradually transformed them into defenders of the status quo. They interpreted the Kemalist principle of revolutionism as going against the people’s conservative values, which they saw as obstacles to development. In the absence of crucial links with the people, they turned to the military as their only way to power and praised the Turkish military as an agent of modernization. The key texts of the modernization school were translated and published in Yön.27 Yön writers asserted that the military was a force for change and stability. Elections and elected institutions such as the parliament were undesirable as they might lead to domination by “backward elements” in societies with visible feudal residues and weak working classes.28 

Each time the democratic system returned back to normal, the Turkish people decisively voted for liberal conservative parties

The Turkish leftists’ contradictory view of populism and militarism also led to conflicting views on foreign policy. Ignoring the role or at least the acquiescence of the West in many third world coups, including those in Turkey, they maintained militarism and anti-imperialism at the same time. The leftists further embraced an anti-imperialist and anti-Western discourse in the 1960s in the context of increasing tension between Turkey and the United States over the Cyprus question. The Menderes government had been criticized for conducting “foreign policy as a means to obtain dollars from Uncle Sam.”29 However, the coup that removed Menderes from power in 1960 similarly followed a pro-American line, declaring in their radio announcement their loyalty to all the agreements that Turkey had signed, including NATO and CENTO.

It was in foreign policy that the socialist nationalists began to assert their differences from the socialist internationalists. Interestingly, the Cyprus question became a test issue that demanded such a separation. While the socialist internationalists expressed sympathies with the Greek Cypriot revolt, which they saw as a third-world struggle against British imperialists, the socialist nationalists, including Yön writers, asserted that the Cyprus question was the outcome of Hellenic imperialism, and the solution to the problem could only be achieved with a federal system that guaranteed the right of its citizens without the interference of imperialist forces.30 Anti-American and anti-Western feelings reached a peak following the letter sent in 1964 by American President Johnson to Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü in which Johnson wrote that NATO would not help Turkey if the Soviets decided to exploit the situation and stage an attack. This contention further radicalized the left and helped them to assume an anti-American stance. In the 1965 elections, the socialist TİP made foreign policy its main campaign platform, utilizing not only the issue of Cyprus but also the (un)reliability of NATO as a security umbrella for Turkey. The basic foreign policy position of the radical left was marked by its strict opposition to NATO membership as well as to membership in the European Economic Community (EEC). The radical left based its opposition to Turkey’s interest in becoming part of the EEC on structural theories of economic development.31 While a culturally and religiously toned opposition would gradually be accepted by the left in the 1990s, in those early years the radical leftist discourse asserted that the EEC was part of the grand capitalist design to establish an international capitalist market. 

The bureaucratic Kemalist establishment has been challenged ever more strongly by the “bottom-up” social mobilization, a process that has been aided by economic and political reforms as well as the increasing globalization of business activities

Ultimately, the outcome of the ironic democratization brought about by the 1960 constitution was chronic political instability: an extreme parliamentary fragmentation coupled with shaky coalition governments that finally led to the 1971 and 1980 coups. These military interventions solidified the image of the military as the absolute power in Turkish politics. Yet even the coups could not alter the Turks’ habit of electing liberal conservative governments. Each time the democratic system returned back to normal, the Turkish people decisively voted for liberal conservative parties. Inasmuch as these liberal parties were in favor of close relations with Europe and the United States, the Turkish right remained cold to the anti-American and anti-imperialist discourse defended by the radical leftist secularism.32 The three military interventions that took place between 1960 and 1980 caused disruptions in the process of democratization and could not address the country’s massive economic problems. Ironically, the military junta in 1980 had to bring Turgut Özal, a liberal conservative, into the central economic policy-making position from which he successfully steered the Turkish economy and political system towards greater integration with the world. Özal managed to emerge as the strongest leader of the decade following the 1983 general elections. 



Globalization, Liberalization, and Socio-Economic Modernization 

The changing international system following the end of the Cold War, characterized by globalization as well as an increased salience of cultural identity politics, contributed to even more important changes in Turkey’s political and ideological landscape. We can examine the effects of the end of the Cold War on Kemalist identity under three headings. First, the dissolution of the Soviet Union discredited the socialist, state-led, protectionist economic growth model as a viable economic model for Turkey. Coupled with the success of Özal’s liberalization reforms in the 1980s, the discrediting of these policies led to a further marginalization of the socialist and leftist political ideology in Turkey. The bureaucratic Kemalist establishment has been challenged ever more strongly by the “bottom-up” social mobilization, a process that has been aided by economic and political reforms as well as the increasing globalization of business activities.

Second, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing events in the Balkans made it clear that Turkey had a massive geo-cultural territory in its vicinity with shared historical and ethnic ties. This challenged the myth of the homogenous Turkish nation on which the Kemalist project of nationalism had been based and led to an intensification of Kurdish ethnic nationalism. Kurdish demands for an autonomous cultural identity were met by stiff resistance by the Turkish political establishment because such demands posed a direct challenge to Turkish societal cohesion and their definition of the nation. Coupled with the image of foreign states endangering Turkey’s national cohesion and integrity by giving support to Kurdish separatism, the increasing awareness and increasing assertiveness by Kurds of their ethnic and cultural distinctness led to an increased ethnic emphasis on the part of Turkish nationalists. 

Finally, the growing sense of political and cultural isolation prompted by the EU’s refusal to accept Turkey’s accession contributed to the crisis of Kemalist ideology in a contradictory way. Turkey’s growing disillusionment with the West, particularly the disappointments in its 50-year long attempt to integrate with Europe, largely discredited the Westernization associated with Kemalism. Europe’s increasingly culturalist discourse meant that Turkey was not to be a member because of its Muslim identity, an identity that Kemalism had originally attempted to purge through its process of Westernization.

Kemalist leftist intellectuals, including writers for Cumhuriyet, responded to the EU’s cold-shouldering of Turkey, and to the American invasion of Iraq, by re-emphasizing the nationalist dimension of their ideology in a more secularized, ethnic nationalist manner. This new trend within authoritarian-secularism is commonly referred to as ulusalcılık, where ulus refers to nation in “pure Turkish.”33 In contrast, the classical milliyetçilik, from the Arabic-derived millet, refers to a group of people with a shared religious background, a concept that was an essential part of the Ottoman millet system. By secularizing the roots of nationalism, ethnic nationalists highlighted their difference from conservative nationalists who continued to place their hopes in a common bond between various ethnic groups. As Mümtaz Soysal, a prominent secular nationalist, asserts, “as pan-Islamism (ümmetcilik) is a danger, old nationalism has to be purified by disposing of the ‘religious conservatism’ that is assumed to be its integral part. ‘Ulusalcılık’ then might be useful for this purification.”34 Ethnic nationalism has differentiated itself from conservative nationalism by recognizing Kurds as a genuinely different category outside Turkishness. Conservative Turkish nationalism, however, embraces other ethnic groups within the definition of Turkishness but attempts to melt them into one single identity. 

The CHP has transformed its mission from a party of modernization to a party of resistance: resistance to globalization, the EU, and the social mobilization of conservative members of society

Ironically, both of these interpretations have been rendered obsolete due to the structural and cultural changes in the international system. Turkey is now struggling to come up with a liberal definition of national identity, which would embrace all ethnic groups but at the same time recognize their cultural authenticity. The intellectual process has been initiated by the AK Party government to normalize the Kurdish problem; Kemalists and conservative nationalists are highly suspicious of this process and see it as a betrayal. 

In the back of nationalist minds, there lingers an image of the country occupied following the Treaty of Sèvres, signed at the end of World War I. A whole-scale war of independence was required to liberate the remaining portion of the empire through the leadership of the military officers. Hence the perception that Turkey owes its independence to the military and the expectation that the military will always protect the national sovereignty. In the modern context of foreign policy, the ulusalcı nationalist movement sees Turkey’s growing integration with global economic structures as a process that will lead to colonialism and national disintegration.

In the Kemalist culture of insecurity, the strongest threat perception is that the West allegedly seeks ways to divide and dismember Turkey. As Soysal complains: “the public enterprises that were created as tools of national [economic] development have been ransacked and then offered to foreigners for free; the Republic’s economy has been put under the orders of the IMF and the World Bank; and submission to the EU has been given priority above all. All these made ulusalcılık the flag of resistance. Isn’t it because of this that the Turkish left that aimed to materialize universal values first and foremost for its own nation (ulus) has become more nationalist (ulusalcı) in recent years?”35 

In essence, faced with the crisis caused by international as well as domestic political and economic changes in the post-Cold War context, Kemalism transformed itself only to the extent that it wholeheartedly embraced the concept of ethnic nationalism, while preserving its typical radical secularism and top-down modernizing attitudes. This has led to Kemalists’ further marginalization from the conservative members of society, who have nonetheless continued to benefit from massive social and economic transformations. The Kemalists continue their radical secularist thinking and through their hold on the political establishment continue to impose it on conservative Muslims, forcing the latter to seek and embrace tools, such as the EU membership process, to escape from their grip. A parallel shift has been seen with the Kurds who, benefiting from post-Cold War structural and ideational changes, have begun to assert their ethnic identity. 

The main defender of Kemalist ideology has been the CHP, which has also been the party that represents Turkey in the Socialist International. Normally one would expect a leftist party to be a supporter of human rights and democratization. However, the CHP has transformed its mission from a party of modernization to a party of resistance: resistance to globalization, the EU, and the social mobilization of conservative members of society. It is the chief defender of the headscarf ban in universities and public employment. It is the chief advocate of a tough, militarized response to Kurdish ethnic violence. This recent shift of the CHP to a more nationalist and isolationist discourse has led to its membership in the Socialist International being put under review.

The intellectual bastion of authoritarian-secularism, the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet has paradoxically become the most ardent opponent to the process of further Europeanization. Ultra-nationalist leftist publications, like Türk Solu, voice the most radically militarist, nationalist and anti-internationalist discourse that one can find in the Turkish political spectrum. One may point out that publications like Türk Solu do not represent mainstream Kemalism; yet a close look at its editorial board and writers, comprised of include numerous university professors and a former president of the Constitutional Court would suggest a different picture. The discourse of nationalism and anti-Westernism expressed by the CHP and authoritarian-secularist intellectuals competes with the discourse commonly associated with self-admitted nationalist parties. With its opposition to democratization reforms and normalization of the Kurdish question, the CHP has become a statist, status quo party without being able to form the government. This stance has caused the CHP to become a largely marginalized party with a voter base of 15-20 percent: in the 2002 and 2007 elections, the party could obtain the majority of votes in only a handful of coastal Western Turkish cities. It is largely absent in central Anatolian cities that have experienced steady export-oriented economic growth in the last two decades. Furthermore, due to its increasing ethnic nationalist discourse, it has no presence in the Kurdish-majority towns.

In the post-Cold War era, Kemalist elites have found their claim to represent the modern side of Turkey challenged by the conservative masses who have managed to escape from their isolation and exert themselves in social, political and economic spheres both domestically and globally

Hence, in ways contradictory to the modernization school’s famous description of the secularist state as eager to modernize the country despite the resistance of conservative forces, it is now the secularist nationalists who advocate an increasingly narrow-minded form of Turkish nationalism, oppose the economic integration that would enhance Turkish modernization, and attempt to prevent the social and political mobilization of conservative members of society through such means as the headscarf ban at universities. To further drive home the irony, conservative Muslims organized around the AK Party have become the single most important pro-European political party. In the post-Cold War era, Kemalist elites have found their claim to represent the modern side of Turkey challenged by the conservative masses who have managed to escape from their isolation and exert themselves in social, political and economic spheres both domestically and globally.



Concluding Remarks 

The paper criticizes modernization theory’s alleged dichotomy between modern secularists and traditional religious forces. It also discusses the ideological roots of the Kemalist model as a top-down conception of modernization, which was combined with an anti-Western discourse. The last part stresses the changes brought about by globalization, which has resulted in a massive socio-economic mobilization of the Anatolian heartland of Turkey. Coupled with democratization and liberalization, globalization has empowered societal actors and eroded the power of the bureaucracy as the engine of development. In response to these changes, many secularists have adopted a pro-globalist and liberal approach while others have maintained their radical anti-globalist, nationalist, and secularist ideology, a stance that has found strong support inside the bureaucratic establishment.

In the midst of these changes, the boundary between authoritarian secularists and religious identity has become increasingly blurry. Historically, positivist Kemalist nationalism emerged as an ideology of Muslim nationalism in the specific milieu of Ottoman decline; it used ‘Muslimness’ to mark the boundaries of ‘Turkishness’ in the Lausanne Treaty and the population exchange with Greece. Currently, nationalists appear to be more worried about Christian missionary activities in Turkey and the reopening of some Christian religious schools than many other social groups. In contrast, the pro-Islamic conservative AK Party has formed much better relations with non-Muslim minorities living in Turkey, many of whom voted for the AK Party and expressed that they were pleased with the election results.  Muslim conservatives, especially recently, have focused on upward social mobility and have thus utilized opportunities provided by globalization, including pursuing the membership process to the EU. From this view emerges a pro-modernization and pro-globalization Islamic political agenda and social activism in Turkey. 

Turkey’s move into global economic activities accelerated in the late 1980s and early 1990s under the leadership of Turgut Özal, who re-oriented Turkey’s economy toward international competition. Kemalism suffered from these changes. By weakening national borders, globalization allowed opportunities for the Turkish conservative masses to bypass the state in integrating themselves into the external world. This led to a rise of Anatolian-based business interests which, despite being called “Islamist,” demanded even stronger integration with global economic structures. Furthermore, many young members of this new Anatolian elite have had direct access to international educational experiences. Authoritarian-secularism’s political hegemony could not prevent the rise of this new generation who had escaped from the control of the state. In other words, globalization enabled peripheral societal elements to socially and economically mobilize themselves without the assistance of the “modernizing” state and despite its preventive efforts. The reaction of Kemalist intellectuals to this development has been mixed. While many relatively young members of the movement were recruited by Turgut Özal as supporters of his liberal reforms, the old guard has remained loyal to Kemalism in its most doctrinaire format, which has become increasingly outmoded and marginal in the context of the structural changes in Turkish politics and economics described above. 

Thus many leading Kemalists have become increasingly more anti-globalist and assertive of their nationalist discourse. They accuse conservative Muslim movements, including the AK Party government, of plotting with Western power centers, namely Washington and Brussels, to undermine the secular essentials of the Kemalist regime.  However, Kemalists do not wish to come to terms with the fact that it was Washington that endorsed or at least did not object to the military coups in Turkey, including their favorite, the 1960 coup.  While presenting themselves as a force for progress and modernity, the Kemalists idealize the decade of the 1930s and long for a return to that period, a period characterized by single-party rule and a strict application of radical secularism.

In today’s Turkish political scene, one finds many pro-Islamic conservatives who defend Turkey’s adoption of the global economy and quest for full membership in the EU, and secularists who have emerged as staunch defenders of nationalism and have grown increasingly skeptical of integration into the EU. In fact, Turkish politics is fast evolving into a conflict of two ideologies: liberal internationalism, which stresses democratization and a further opening of the country, a position now defended by Muslim conservatives; and isolationist nationalism, which subscribes to a culture of insecurity and the trauma of national disintegration, a position associated with secularist Kemalists. At the root of the present conflict lies a conflict of two modernization routes: a bureaucratic top-down modernization that has allowed the allocation of privileges to the Kemalist elites, and the grassroots social and economic mobilization of Islamic societal elements who benefit from international integration and globalization. In essence, the conflict is caused by the unwillingness of some secularist bureaucrats to give up their exclusive claim over modernization in the face of rapidly mobilizing societal elements that have the advantage of international structural changes on their side.




  1. Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society. Modernizing the Middle East (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1958), p.405. 
  2. Sahin v. Turkey, European Court of Human Rights, 2005. Judgement of Grand Chamber, Application No. 44774/98. Quoted in Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman, International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, (London: Oxford University Press), pp.628-629.
  3. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
  4. Murat Belge, “Türkiye’de Zenofobi ve Milliyetçilik,” Tanıl Bora and Murat Gültekingil (eds), Milliyetçilik, Modern Türkiye’de Siyasi Düşünce, vol. 4, (Istanbul: İletişim, 2002), p.191.
  5. Tanıl Bora, “Milliyetçi-Muhafazakar ve İslamcı Düşünüşte Negatif Batı İmgesi,” Murat Belge (ed.), Modernleşme ve Batıcılık, Modern Türkiye’de Siyasi Düşünce, vol. 3, (Istanbul: İletişim, 2001), P.252.
  6. For instance, Niyazi Berkes suggests that it is an illusion to consider Kemalism as a simple pro-Western ideology and the “backwardist” (conservative) movements as necessarily opposing Westernization. He states that Kemalist Westernization is different in that it is based on three pillars: (1) national sovereignty, (2) using state power to achieve popular development; (3) using revolutionary steps towards these goals. In contrast, conservative Westernization as implemented during the “backwardist” periods of Tanzimat, Abdulhamid, and Menderes, lacks the revolutionary component. Niyazi Berkes, Türk Düşününde Batı Sorunu, (Istanbul: Bilgi Yayınevi, 1975), p.279.
  7. See William Hale, “Ideology and Economic Development in Turkey 1930-1945,” Bulletin: British Society for Middle Eastern Studies 7, no. 2 (1980), pp. 105-107.
  8. Kemal Karpat, Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East, (New York: Praeger, 1982), p.409.
  9. Cemil Koçak, “Some views on the Turkish Single-Party Regime during the İnönü period (1938-45),” in Touraj Atabaki and Erik J. Zurcher, eds., Men of Order: Authoritarian Modernization Under Atatürk and Reza Shah, (London: IB Tauris, 2004), 119.
  10. For a discussion of Ağaoğlu’s debate with the Kadro writers, see A. Holly Shissler, Between Two Empires, (London: I.B.Tauris, 2003), pp. 197-198. For a collection of classic texts relevant for this discussion, see 75 Yılda Düşünceler Tartışmalar, (Istanbul: Türkiye Ekonomi ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı, 1999).
  11. Mohammad Sadiq, “The Kadro Movement in Turkey,” International Studies, 23:4, pp. 319-338 (1986); Mustafa Türkeş, “The Ideology of the Kadro [Cadre] Movement: A Patriotic Leftist Movement in Turkey,”.Middle Eastern Studies, October 1998.
  12. Erik-Jan Zürcher, “The Core Terminology of Kemalism: Mefkûre, Millî, Muasir, Medenî,” in Les Mots De Politique De L’empire Ottoman a La Turquie Kemaliste, ed. François Georgeon (Paris: EHESS/ESA 8032 (CNRS), 2000), p.55. 
  13. Cited in William Hale, “Ideology and Economic Development in Turkey 1930-1945,” Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 7, no. 2 (1980), p.105. 
  14. See Türkeş, “The Ideology of the Kadro…”., pp. 21-24. The author notes that the term “social nationalism” appeared only in the final year of Kadro’s publication, suggesting a transformation in the views of Kadro leaders from a universalist socialist discourse to a populist and nationalist one. 
  15. Taha Parla, The Social and Political Thought of Ziya Gökalp, 1876-1924 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). Also see Taha Parla and Andrew Davison, Corporatist Ideology in Kemalist Turkey (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2004). 
  16. Esra Özyürek, Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey: Politics, History, and Culture (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006). 
  17. Tekin Alp, Le Kemalisme (Paris: Felix Alcan, 1938), p. 207. Quoted in Hale, “Ideology and Economic Development in Turkey,” p.105.
  18. Şevket Süreyya Aydemir, Atatürkçülüğün Ekonomik ve Sosyal Yönü Semineri (Istanbul: Istanbul Iktisadi ve Ticari İlimler Akademisi, 1973), p.108. Cited in E. Aydın, “Peculiarities of Turkish Revolutionary Ideology in the 1930s: The Ülkü Version of Kemalism, 1933-1936,” Middle Eastern Studies 40, no. 5 (2004), p.63. 
  19. For a detailed study of Varlik Vergisi case, see Ayhan Aktar, Varlık Vergisi ve Türkleştirme Politikaları, (Istanbul: Iletişim, 2000).
  20. Şevket Süreyya Aydemir, İkinci Adam, (İstanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 1966) pp.235-236.
  21. İdris Küçükömer, “Batılılaşma” Düzenin Yabancılaşması, (İstanbul: Ant Yayınları. 1969).
  22. Kemal H. Karpat, Studies on Turkish Politics and Society: Selected Articles and Essays (Leiden: Brill, 2004), p.341. 
  23. Tamer Korkmaz, “Halk plajlara hücum etti; vatandaş yine denize giremedi!,” Zaman, July 31, 2007.
  24. Hikmet Özdemir, Doğan Avcıoğlu: Bir Jön Türkün Ardından (Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi, 2000). 
  25. Doğan Avcıoğlu, “Sosyalizm Anlayışımız,” Yön, no. 36, 1962, 3. This syncretic ideology of socialist Kemalism is currently expressed through the writings of former Yön writers in Cumhuriyet, the primary publication of the nationalist strand of Kemalism. For instance, the chief ideologue of the group, Mümtaz Sosyal believes that “It is possible to arrive at a solid national [development] model by combining Kemalist revolutionarism with Marxist development strategies.” Mümtaz Soysal, “Sorunlu Sol,” Cumhuriyet, August 25, 2004. 
  26. Işıl Çakan, “Türk Siyasal Hayatında Bir Aydın Profili: Doğan Avcıoğlu,” Akdeniz I.I.B.F. Dergisi 4, no. 7 (2004), p.37. 
  27. Fahrettin Altun, “Kemalist Bir Modernleşme Yorumu Olarak Yön Dergisi,” Türkiye Araştırmaları Literatür Dergisi 2, no. 1 (2004), p.574. 
  28. Doğan Avcıoğlu, “Cumhuriyet’in 42. Yılında,” Yön, no. 135, 1965. Doğan Avcıoğlu, “Parlamentoculuk,” Yön, 158, 1966. 
  29. Doğan Avcıoğlu, “Füze Üsleri,” Yön, 1962, p.3. 
  30. İlhami Soysal, “Eğri Oturup Doğru Konuşalım,” Yön, no.174, 1966, 10-11. Also Doğan Avcıoğlu, “TİP’ne Dair,” Yön, no.192, 1966, p.3. 
  31. Doğan Avcıoğlu, Türkiye’nin Düzeni (Dün-Bugün-Yarın) (Ankara: Bilgi, 1969), p.533. 
  32. Ahmet T. Kuru calls the Kemalist as well as French practice of secularism “assertive secularism,” which contrasts the American practice of “passive secularism.” See Ahmet T. Kuru, State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France and Turkey, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  33. For a discussion on the meaning and political implications of the ulusalcı nationalism, see Emrullah Uslu “Ulusalcılık: The Neo-nationalist Resurgence in Turkey,” Turkish Studies 9, no.1, pp.73-97.
  34. Mümtaz Soysal, “Ulusalcılık Nedir?” Cumhuriyet, Mart 18, 2007. 
  35. Mümtaz Soysal, “Ulusalcılık Nedir?” Cumhuriyet, Mart 18, 2007. 
  36. “Turkey’s Minorities Happy with Election Results,” Today’s Zaman, July 26, 2007. 
  37. Ahmet Kuru, “Globalization and Diversification of Islamic Movements: Three Turkish Cases,” Political Science Quarterly 120, no. 2 (2005). 
  38. Ali Sirmen, “Kıblesi Washington Olan İslamcılık,” Cumhuriyet, March 02, 2004. 
  39. The 1960 coup remains the favorite coup of the leftist/Kemalist intellectuals. See Alev Coşkun, “27 Mayıs, 12 Mart, 12 Eylül, 28 Şubat Koşulları, Yapılışları ve Sonuçları Aynı Değildir.” Cumhuriyet, May 27, 2006. 

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