Mustafa Kemal’s impact on the modern Turkish state is irrefutable, so much so that he was given the name Ataturk by the national assembly, meaning “father of the Turks”, banning anyone else from using this name. Turkey, one of the few culturally Islamic nations without a Sharia legal system , is often referred to as one of the most modernized states with a Muslim majority . Ataturk is often attributed with the modernization of Turkey, through, amongst other things, social, political and economic reform.
Kemalism, the founding ideology of the republic of Turkey, was a series of extensive programs of reform aimed at modernizing Turkey through six pillars, referred to as the six arrows of Kemalism, namely nationalism, republicanism, secularism, populism, statism and reformism. Some of the main areas of influence Ataturk had which still influence modern Turkey were the secularization of culture and law, the nationalist Turkish identity, and the liberation of women.
The cultural reforms of Ataturk were arguably the most impacting series of reforms, changing Turkey from a Muslim Ottoman state, often referred to as the sick man of Europe , to a secular state. Ataturk made his disdain for religion within politics evident on multiple occasions, referring to it as superstition, stating, “at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea”, believing that democracy and science cannot coexist with a religious state.
Women who work in the public sector in Turkey do not wear hijab , and compared to the majority of other Islamic nations, traditional Islamic clothing is quite rare in Turkey. This is due to a section of Ataturk’s reforms aimed towards secularism, including the closing of turbe , dervish convents in September 1925, and the banning of the fez (ironically, a form of headgear introduced by Sultan Mahmut II to replace the traditional turban to seem more European ) in November of the same year.
All of this, along with the adoption of the European calendar, Italian and Swiss law, and irreligious schooling replacing traditional Ottoman Mektep , resulted in resistance from the population, who viewed these reforms as the Christianization of Turkey. Of those involved in resisting the reforms, seven thousand and five hundred were arrested, while six hundred and sixty were killed. Of all of the cultural secularization that had taken place, arguably none had as much impact on the lives of the Turkish – and the odernization of Turkey – as the secularization of family law, banning polygamy and religious marriage. The effects of these reforms still exist today, in the form of businessmen dressed in western clothing, debates about the legality of headscarves, and the Turkish Latin alphabet, along with new education reform, which resulted in an increase of almost ten percent in Adult literacy in just ten years. A defining feature of the modern Turkish state is its national identity.
For Ataturk to successfully advocate an independent national identity, he would have to sever links with other Middle Eastern cultures, through language, cultural reform and politics. Ottoman Turkish, which is considered vastly different to modern “Istanbul Turkish”, used many loanwords from Arabic and Persian, and in the empire, Arabic was considered their scientific and legal language, and Persian their literary language. The Turkish spoken by uneducated Turks was referred to as “rough Turkish”, but would eventually become reinstated as the national language of Turkey by Ataturk.
In doing so, Ataturk was able to work towards severing connections with the rest of the Muslim world, which he saw as stagnating, and move towards Europe, a symbol of progress . Ataturk spread nationalist ideology throughout Turkey through many mediums, including teaching it to children. As of 1924, the Ataturk regime began publishing new history textbooks, which, unlike its predecessors, focused almost solely on Ottoman heritage, rather than Islam and the Middle East, and portrayed the Islamification of Turkey as its downfall, emphasizing the importance of the 19th century nationalism movement.
In 1929, textbooks focusing on the spread of the Turkic people around the globe were released, stating that “Turks brought civilization to the world”, rather than focusing on Arab and Persian civilization, contrasting Ottoman era textbooks. Despite the progress made through nationalism, atrocities were also committed in Turkey due to the spread of this new ideal, such as the Armenian, Greek and Jewish genocide. After the Greco-Turkish wars, Greeks, and in extension, Christians were viewed as a threat to the Turkish republic, and due to this, were either deported or massacred.
Aggressive Kemalist nationalism has still left its mark on Turkey today, due to the discrimination non-Turkish Muslims face, who, prior to this new Turkish national identity, despite being discriminated against, live in relative harmony with Turks. However, throughout the years of the republic, those with mother tongues other than Turkish are actively discouraged from speaking them, and Turkish acknowledgement for even the existence of these groups is still limited.
Even today, almost all Kurdish political parties are said to have links to the armed militant organization “Kurdistan Workers Party”, and are banned by the Turkish government. Turkeys Kemalist One-Party state, an authoritarian regime lasting from 1925 to 1945, laid the groundwork for the stability of Turkish democracy. In twenty years, the Kemalist party established a constitution, an education system, cultural reform and international ties, lifting the nation out of poverty, and into a situation in which democracy was able to work.
Due to internal political turmoil throughout the Second World War (in which Turkey remained neutral), and a series of taxes targeting specific ethnicities and landlords, discontent with an authoritarian regime grew. From 1942 to 1944, these taxes were abandoned, and on the 12th of January 1944, Marshal Fevzi Cakmak, the chief of staff in Turkey since 1921, resigned from office, stating that the government’s intentions to establish some level of civilian control over the armed forces as his reason for resigning, signaling the beginning of the Turkish transition to democracy.
In the prior decades, Ataturk had unofficially encouraged oppositional political parties in an attempt not disillusion his people, and in 1946, an official opposition party was formed. From 1946 to 1950, Turkey transitioned into democracy. Ataturk himself was always outspoken on the topic of his support for a Turkish democracy, stating “My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science” Throughout its Ottoman years, Turkish women held the same political status as children, polygamy was legal, the Islamic headdress enforced, and women were systematically and socially oppressed.
As women were not conscripted, census takers failed to count them seriously, and they worked in certain areas such as weaving and cigarette making, which were referred to as “women’s work”, with a much lower wage than men. Female labour was regarded as “cheaper than water”, and rights regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance were limited. The Young Turks press proclaimed that “women must be liberated from the shackles of tradition”, despite the fact that the largely conservative Turkish population disagreed.
In the First World War, as with most other nations involved, women took the positions of their husbands who were at war, which was the first time women were allowed into bureaucracy in Turkey. This led to women being allowed to enter public places alone, and an increased their access to education. Under Ataturk, the “1917 Decree of Family Law” made Turkey the only Islamic Middle Eastern nation at the time to give women the right to divorce, and placed marriage into the hands of the state, rather than religious organizations.
Despite this, the 1924 constitution explicitly stated women’s suffrage would not exist in Turkey. Ataturk was aware that were he to impose the same bans on the veil as he did on the fez, or take any other form of extreme action to improve women’s rights, he would be overthrown, as King Amanullah of Afghanistan was. Despite this, he spoke out against the degrading practice of veiling, and publicly supported women’s rights until which time he felt his people were ready for political progress in the area, stating, “Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men.
Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? ” He married a “western” educated Turkish woman, and adopted two daughters, who grew up to become reflections of what he envisioned for Turkish women. One became a professor at the university of Ankara, and the other, a pilot on active duty for the Turkish air force. Along with opening beaches to women in the early 1930’s Ataturk supported the organization of a “Miss Turkey” contest, with the aim to challenge “the prudence of the conservatives”, the winner of which eventually won the “Miss Universe” title in 1932.
By the early 1930s, women were joining the workforce to work with such positions as judges, teachers and lawyers, and the practice of arranged marriages were breaking down. Eventually, in 1934, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates in elections, and in the 1935 election, eighteen women were elected. One of these women represented the peasantry, who had become the head of her village, and was encouraged by Ataturk to run in the election when the two met.
When Ataturk came to power, he was faced with a divided nation, which had been socially stagnant since its golden era in the sixteenth century. Faced with staunch opposition on behalf of his people, he was able to seize power and reform Turkish national culture until which point that the nation was ready to adopt democracy, and socially, politically and economically progress without an autocratic ruler. Ataturk’s secularization of Turkey in the early twentieth century separated it from the stagnant Islamic theocracies it was often classed with.
The liberation of women in Turkey, advocated by Ataturk has resulted in Turkey becoming possibly the most progressive Muslim nation in terms of women’s rights. A current trend that nations with worse women’s rights, and nations run with a state religion have a significantly lower Human Development Index than other nations can be seen. From this, it is possible to attribute at least a portion of Turkeys HDI, one of the highest of a predominantly Muslim Nation, to Ataturk’s reforms, along with his providing of his people with a national identity dividing it from other Islamic Nations.