Turkey's Secularism


Modern Turkey did not exist until the start of the 20th century. Instead of the country known as Turkey, there existed an empire that transversed three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa, and straddled the Mediterranean Sea (the Ottoman Empire). The empire was multinational having Greeks, Albanian, Magyars, Arabs, Turks and other groups. It was organized along the Sharia law, with the Sultan as both the secular and the religious head of all the Muslims in the empire. At the zenith of its prestige, the empire covered lands from Greece and Bulgaria, much of the eastern Mediterranean and the North Africa. After the breakup of the Empire, many of the nationalities formed independent states. In Turkey, led by Kemal Ataturk, a Republic was founded whose core values included nationalism, revolution, and secularism.

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Nationalism and Revolution in Turkey

Nationalism refers to the sense of belonging to a sense of patriotism or pride in one's people have also defined it as a theory of political legitimacy, that requires that ethnic boundaries should cut across national ones. Revolution, on the other hand, refers to rapid changes in a country's socio-political organization. Azarian has asserted that nationalism in Turkey came as a result of particular historical challenges. The revolution also can be seen through the prism of the chillax that Ottoman Empire was going through.

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One can trace the Turkish sense of belonging across several centuries. At the start, after the outset, Pan-Islamism was the unifying issue on the empire. Because of the millet classification of the nationalities who lived in the empire, the empires people were divided into religions rather than ethnicities in spite of the differences that could exist between different ethnicities with the same religion such as the Magyars and Greeks . Thus, during this time, Turkish people were simply part of the larger Muslim majority that included Arabs and Kurds and thus little to no nationalistic feelings existed. When the empire became a constitutional monarchy, the government started promoting a kind of identity that emphasized on the equal citizenship of all the people who lived in the empire. This new form of nationalism was known as Pan-Ottomanism. It subsisted up to the rule of the Young Turks Revolution that restored the constitution of 1876 brought back the constitutional monarchy by overthrown the Sultans autocratic power.

With the advent of the First World War and the massive losses of land that followed, the once vast empire started crumbling. There was a widespread revolt by the people who had formally comprised of the empire . The new kind of nationalism did not seek to hold on to the former empire. The leaders wanted to form a new national home for the Turkish people inside Anatolia in the face of Allied, Greek, and Armenian military pressure. The nation for forced was to be outside of foreign influences and formed a basis of the kinship of the Turkish people rather than the basis of religion as had been the case during the empire.

The invasion of the Greeks towards the then capital of the Turkey, Istanbul, was the decisive factor that stocked the nationalist fervor in Anatolia and brought about the second major revolution in the country: the Kemalist Revolution Unlike the Young Turks revolution, the Kemalist Revolution of 1920 was a grassroots rebellion that brought about the abdication of the Sultan. Protest in Constantinople spread to other parts of Anatolia as the Turkish people feared Greek massacres. Guerillas were formed to oppose the Greek, and the Allies who were still in occupation of several strategic pleas in Turkey, including the Straits Dardanelle and Bosporus.

By 1922, the Allies had departed, and the Ataturk's forces had driven Greeks and Armenians from Turkey. The nationalist-led by Kemal then were in control of all Turkey. 1923 marked the end of the internationalist Sultanate and the consolidation of the nationalist gains. In this year, the Grand National Assembly abolished the Sultanate, and effectively the Caliphate thus cutting the internationalist Ottoman Empire from the new nationalist republic. In the following years, this was better strengthened by the adoption of the Latin alphabet replacing the Arabic one, and the use of Turkish as opposed to Arabic in language. The nationalism also had profound effects. Some historians assert that so desperate was Kemal and others to create a national himself of Turks only that they massacred other nationalities that lived in Anatolia. Chief among these is the Armenians and in a smaller number, Greeks. This massive change in the national organization by Ataturk between 1918 and 1927 constituted the Kemalist Revolution in Turkey.

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The organization of the Ottoman Empire meant that in effect that it was a theocracy. The Sultan was not just the administrative head of the Empire; he was also the religious head as of Muslims in the empire as it was a Caliphate. The country also used the Muslim religious law as the template for its legal system. This meant that the Ulema had a lot of influence. Kemal and the intelligentsia in the floundering empire found this to be one of the reasons the country had remained backward while the Europeans prospered. Thus, secularism in Turkey did not just mean separation of the state and religious faiths; it went fury her to it being a break from the past.

Secularism, as many of the other aspect of Ataturk, wanted to transform the country to be as a result of his careful observing of the Western nations. There are fundamental differences between Western secularism and Turkish one, though. While in the West the separation of the state from religion had been as a result of an evolution of political values over a long time, in Turkey, this value had to be brought about through a direct political revolution led by Ataturk and his fellow revolutionaries.

Secularism in Turkey started with the abolition of the Caliphate and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This happened in 1924. A step further towards complete secularism was taken in 1926 through the replacement of the sharia law with a Civil Code based on Western principles of governance. Furthermore, in 1928, the government finally deleted an article in the Turkish Constitution that had stated that state religion was Islam and in 1937, the principle of Secularism was introduced in the constitution.

Unlike in the West where governments do not enforce secularism in the private sphere, in Turkey, the government took steps to implement it. For instance, the government took steps to secularize social and cultural life through the prohibition of religious teachings in public schools, and the promotion of the rights of women, for instance, wearing of veils in public.

With the death of Kemal, the country receded into mild Islamism with the coming into power of the Democrat Party. The new party reversed some of the Ataturk's secular canons. For instance, they allowed religious instructions to all students who were Muslim unless their parents explicitly requested that not to be done. The celebration of Ramadan became public. Some young army officers, alarmed by the creeping of political Islam in Turkey, intervened in May 1960 and overthrew the government. The military officers who had seized power instituted a constitution in 1961 that in section 2 proclaimed the country to be among other qualities, a secular state. Article 19 of the 1961 constitution had penal provisions for any person who used religion for religious politics including closing down of parties that had religious underpinnings.

In the present day, there are questions about the exact secularism of Turkey. For instance, there is a Presidency of Religious Affairs in the country now. Additionally, the country seems to have a modern day millet system with the Turkish identity documents bearing the religion of the individual. Furthermore, there appears to be a revival of Islamism in contemporary Turkey with the Justice and Development Party, and President Edorgan is seemingly taking an Islamist tone. One of the lasting legacies of Turkey's secularism was its recognition of Israel in 1949, the first Muslim country to do so.

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