Archive for the ‘REVIEW’ Category

Turam, Berna, Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. pp. 264. ISBN: 9780804793629.

Reviewed by Defne Kadıoğlu Polat (2015/2016 Stiftung Mercator-Istanbul Policy Center Fellow at Sabancı University)

Sociologist Berna Turam, whose book debut “Between Islam and the State: the Politics of Engagement” (2007) was apid_22821 major success, strikes again with her 2015 publication on urban democratic practices in Istanbul and Berlin. Using ethnographic methods, Turam analyzes the formation of political identities, alliances and fault lines in the two metropolises asking what the importance of urban space and citizenship are for democracy. Her answer is that the quality of democracy, particular in settings in which institutional democracy is weakening, is highly dependent on everyday urban contestations and alliances build across different social groups.

Turam argues in the beginning of her book “Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin” that urban researchers have typically paid attention to socio-economic inequalities in cities when trying to explain the emergence of urban social movements and struggles over space. She claims that while class and material opportunities certainly matter, the significance of political identities and issues such as the advocacy of human rights beyond socio-economic interest and background have so far been ignored in academia. And this is where her newly published book comes in.

Her ethnographic study is based on three sites – an upper class neighborhood (Teşvikiye) and a liberal university campus in Istanbul and Berlin’s famous ‘immigrant district’ Kreuzberg. By defining democratization as a process in which alliances are build between groups and individuals that belong to different classes, ethnicities, generations and sexes in favor of the advocacy of universal freedoms and rights, Turam argues that particularly socially mixed spaces can turn into important sites for democratic struggle “because they unsettle conventional ideological divides and free people from ancient fault lines.” (p.16)

While common knowledge tells us that Turkey’s most significant fault line is the one between the secular and the religious parts of the population, Turam shows that in face of Turkey’s increasing authoritarianism, pious Muslims and secular groups have frequently come together to stand up for universal rights and freedoms such as the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Turam for example tells the story of secular students on the Istanbul campus she scrutinized and who protested for the right of female students to enter the campus with headscarves. She also argues that the Gezi protests that erupted across Turkey in the summer of 2013, though initiated by secular middle class Istanbulites, were joined by a number of groups who initially shared little commonalities, such as practicing Muslims, Alevis, as well as working-class Turks and Kurds. For Turkey, Turam thus maintains that while the population seems extremely polarized, repressive politics have actually softened social divisions at times when the rights of all groups in society were at stake.

For Berlin, Turam describes that while there are divisions among the Turkish Diaspora in Germany, different social groups who can be considered as social outcasts such as Turkish immigrants, LGBTQ individuals or former anarchists all feel at home at Kreuzberg and are ready to come together when they need to defend the unique character of their socially mixed neighborhood.

Turam’s book is impressive in that it goes against the grain: she does not take pre-established social divisions for granted but instead analyzes under which circumstances people in two very different societies –Germany and Turkey- stand united despite their disparities. Her identification of the urban as primary site of democratic struggle is particularly intriguing given that we all have witnessed multiple of such struggles within the last decade. Moreover, Turam stresses the value of loose rather than close-knit neighborhood ties for building alliances between different social groups which is a remarkable point. She very plausibly argues that fault lines within groups that have historically (more or less) stood together, such as pious Muslims in Turkey or immigrants in Germany, are actually beneficial for democracy because these groups then have to rely on democratic institutions instead of their ‘communities’. This in turn means they have to fight for the proper working of these institutions and they frequently do so with the help of people from outside their own ‘in-group’.

However, there is at least one substantial point that may be considered problematic in Turam’s work: that is Turam’s claim to depict political identity formation and alliances among different groups, instead of staying confined to the realm of socio-economic analysis. This is one of the cornerstones of her analysis. She acknowledges the importance of material structures, but argues that urban contestation tells us something beyond that. Struggles such as the Gezi uprisings are not necessarily connected to class position and material interest and thus must be accounted for otherwise, she says. This is, however, a bold claim that may need some qualification. The question is really how we can separate political from socio-economic analysis and whether we should attempt to do so. While Turam frequently acknowledges the difference in material opportunities among the social groups that come together for urban contestation, she does not really tell us what this implies in terms of her analysis.

Another matter worth debating and again related to Turam’s analytical separation of political from socioeconomic issues is that she argues that Istanbul has –as an unintended result of the  AKP rule- “changed from being a ‘divided’ city into a more ‘integrated’ mixed geography” (p. 30). While in the past, so Turam says, Istanbul was divided into more religious-conservative and secular spaces, today it is quite common to encounter both social groups within one neighborhood. In fact Istanbul today is more segregated in terms of socioeconomic inequality than it has ever been before with poor populations increasingly being pushed to the periphery of the city. Hence, the fact that women wearing headscarves are today maybe more likely to be seen in what Turam labels secular neighborhoods is probably not enough evidence to suggest that Istanbul is more integrated today than it was in the past.

Despite the need to engage critically with these points, “Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin” is certainly to be recommended in that it shifts our focus from ancient societal conflicts to the circumstances under which inter-group solidarity becomes possible, giving us hope for a new road to democratization even under the aggravation of repressive policies.


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Kyris, George. The Europeanisation of Contested Statehood: The EU in Northern Cyprus. Surrey: Ashgate, 2015. pp. xiv+ 154. ISBN: 9781472421593


Reviewed by Dr. C. Akça ATAÇ (Çankaya University, Turkey)


Although advised otherwise, disclaimers in fine print are rarely read. The terms and conditions of using a product 9781472421593could go so lengthy and wieldy that no consumer would take the trouble or time to read them through and grasp them fully. The instructions and prerequisites provided legally for the user sometimes tend to be so extremely irrelevant and boring that Apple Inc., at the launch of their Ipod Shuffle, has approached the situation ironically by including the warning “Do not eat it.” Unfortunately, the introductions of books that are the later versions of PhD dissertations increasingly resemble the unexciting and dull, implicit and explicit terms and conditions accompanied by legal and technical disclaimers. When the narrow margin of movement in the discipline in question is cluttered with too many similar theoretical, analytical, methodological and empirical studies, introductions of new contributions to the field risk becoming dry and repetitive approaches that struggle to justify their existence.

Since Peter Gourevitch’s call to focus on the international sources of domestic politics in 1978, an inordinate number of studies of the sort have been published.[1] Similarly, Europeanisation, which seeks to pin down the impact of the EU on the domestic dynamics of member/candidate/partner states, has become one of the most widely adapted, faddy theoretical approaches to understanding the EU. On this account, newcomers to the overcrowded Europeanisation studies now have to communicate their works to the editors, publishers or PhD-juries through detailed disclaimers in the form of introductions that are dreary and uninteresting for the non-scholar -and sometimes even for the scholar- reader. The delicate reason why one study is different from many other similar ones with which it shares the same theoretical framework and empirical case requires extensive explanation and this takes its toll on readability.

The introduction of the book under review also suffers from this urge of self-explanation in the field of Europeanisation, too jammed with too many publications. The book partakes of the Europeanisation studies, but “without aiming to conceptually challenge or build on the Europeanisation debate.” [p.4] Within this framework, it also seeks to delve into the EU-Cyprus relations, but since this topic is also overcrowded with studies pinning down the EU impact on the Cyprus problem or the Republic of Cyprus’s international acceptance and legitimacy, it only concentrates on “the EU’s relevance to the Turkish Cypriots” as “a missing empirical account.” [p.3] Of course, because the impact of the EU on the domestic affairs of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has been studied before, the book approaches the topic by placing it within the context of contested states that are “self-declared states which are not recognized internationally.” [p.ix] And among other contested situation of sovereignty such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kosovo and the Ukraine crisis, the author, George Kyris, picks TRNC to be examined as a “single case study linked to the Europeanisation debate.” [p.6]

Although the current suspension of acquis communautaire in TRNC diminishes the urgency for a full-fledged investigation of Europeanisation in terms of “institutional compliance,” “change of domestic opportunity structures” and “change of beliefs and expectations,” the EU impact on institutions, political parties and civil society could still be adequately traced through the Financial Aid Regulation and the Green Line Regulation [pp.22-3, 10, 5]. Also, even though TRNC, as a contested state, is a non-EU member, the possibility that the Cyprus problem would be solved by a unitary federation allows this study to make “references to the literature on enlargement-driven Europeanisation.” [p.22] However, the “six main parameters of contested statehood” [p.23], which are “lack of recognition,” “international isolation,” “influence of a ‘patron’ state,” “lack of effective state structures,” “lack of effective control of the declared territory by the contested state,” and “importance of the regional dispute for domestic affairs,” continue to be valid altogether for TRNC, and the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus remains a territory outside the EU jurisdiction. [pp.20, 22] And after all such disclaimers, terms and conditions and self-explanations are provided, the focus of research manifests itself as the question that appears on page 5 as “What is the impact of the EU on the Turkish Cypriot contested state?”

Kyris’s book consists of 7 chapters. They cover the contested statehood literature with reference to Europeanization, a political and historical overview of TRNC’s contested statehood, and the EU effect on Turkish Cypriot civil society, political parties and institutions. The author uses policy papers and media reports as well as interviews with EU elites and Turkish Cypriots, who are involved in the EU-related processes, as primary sources. The qualitative analysis of these sources results in revealing how the EU has affected the institutions, power structures, and political practices and ideas in TRNC; and how the contested statehood has mediated this impact through the six parameters mentioned above. Within these parameters, it is challenging that Turkey as the patron state engages with the Turkish Cypriot institutions, political parties and civil society in an “easier and longer” manner than does the EU; and this situation definitely puts Ankara forward as a tough “contender for influence.” [p.115] Naturally, such competition between Turkey and the EU at times deepens the rift between Europeanisation and Euroscepticism. Nevertheless, as long as the EU maintains its relevance to TRNC through “integration prospects” and the “solution to the ‘Cyprus’ problem,” Europeanization seemingly scores a better chance in its competition with Euroscepticism. [p.117] To claim, however, within this context that the UN’s EU supported Annan Plan had “triggered a strong pro-solution/EU trend amongst Turkish Cypriots” in the name of Europeanisation [p.117] is problematic, because the way the EU disowned the plan after it was rejected actually unleashed an equally visible flow of Euroscepticism. This point seems to be left out rather under-elaborated.

In fact, once the reader reaches beyond the ‘terms and conditions in fine print,’ Kyris’s book is a coherent attempt to tackle the Republic of Cyprus’s accession to the EU as “the accession of a separated country.” [p.118] and TRNC’s position as a contested state experiencing Europeanisation and Euroscepticism at once. In the course of the restarted negotiations between the two parts of the island, it could be a good read to sharpen one’s focus on TRNC’s contested statehood and the EU impact on its domestic dynamics of change.

[1] Peter Gourevitch, ‘The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Politics,’ International Organization, 32(04), 1978, pp. 881-912.

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Documentary Title: “Voices of the Unheard” by Assoc. Prof. Alper Kaliber

Length: 44 minutes

Language: Turkish with English subtitles

“Europeanisation of Public Debates and Civil Society in Turkey” (EUROCIV), financially supported by the European Commission, was conducted by Assoc. Prof. Alper Kaliber at Istanbul Bilgi University European Union Institute from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2014. Activists from more than 35 civil society organisations in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir were interviewed within the scope of this research. This short documentary features selected civil society organisations, which could not make their voices heard due to different reasons, yet which have carried out vital works on the economic, social and cultural aspects of the Kurdish issue.

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Review of Massimo Rosati / Alessandro Ferrara (2015) The Making of a Post-secular Society: A Durkheimian Approach to Memory, Pluralism and Religion in Turkey, Ashgate, ISBN: 978-1-4724-2312-2, 320.

By Sevket Sefa (PhD candidate at Humboldt University Berlin)

PPCspine22mmIn his last work, most of which was completed right before his unexpected death, Rosati applies a Durkheimian theoretical analysis to the case of Turkey which is in the process of transformation from a Kemalist view of secularism to a post-Kemalist view of the religious and cultural diversity in social and political life (p.119). In this sense, this study using Turkey as an illustrative case, focuses on the practices and rituals that stimulate dynamism of the symbols and transform the central value systems (p.7). In this study, he employs the current theoretical approaches mostly from Durkheimian sociological framework on the formation of the central value systems, de-privatization of the religion, establishment of post-secular sanctuaries, functionality and dynamism of memories and the rituals. While he does not remain in the theoretical analysis of the transformation of the value systems, he elaborates on the laboratory of Turkey which is for him a perfect case study for analyzing the formation of the post-secular and multicultural society due to the ‘conflicts and unusual merging and mixing of traditionally polarized actors’ and their ‘potent symbols’ (p.2). However, a more significant thing that makes him study the Turkish case is the recent reformations in Turkey during the AK Party governments. In this process, plurality and neo-Ottomanism became the central issues that contributed the formation of post-secular society. Thus, the main objective of the book is to shed light on the emergence of the post-secular society through the case of Turkey. In his analysis of the memorial of Hrant Dink, he employs almost all of the instruments that he introduced in the theoretical chapters of the book such as collective memory, ritualization, formation of symbols and the social construction of the victimhood. Here, he does not only show the formation of the post-secular sanctuary; but he also elaborates on its function as constructing the post-secular society. His ethnographic work in the memorial site enriches the content and the quality of the analysis. Stemming from this civil societal movement, Rosati claims: ‘Hrant Dink is a symbol of the post-Kemalist Turkey’ (p.231). He observes the emergence of ‘new standards of morality, new ultimate sacred postulates and a new regulatory hierarchy’ founding the post-Kemalist, post-secular Turkey. Although this is enough to understand Rosati’s important contribution to the study of the formation of post-secular societies, other cases contribute to the main argument in varying degrees due to mainly their dependence on secondary sources and interviews with journalists.

The theoretical part of the study defines the Shils’ center-periphery model, concepts of post-secular, Rappaport’s ‘cybernetics of holy’, sacred space, collective memory, and main theories of Durkheimian studies and tends to systematize all those theoretical insights. This tendency on the one hand makes the study easy to be grasped; on the other hand, it reinforces the risk of freezing such dynamic concepts as the post-secular. Despite the well-established analysis of the term, it might have been limited and somehow sterilized from its current enhancement, for example by the global turn to political conservatism (Braidotti 2008, p.5).

He was able to easily depict the anatomy of the post-secular sanctuary in his analysis of Hrant Dink’s memorial with the great help of his field work. In other cases, especially the transformation of the Atatürk as the old symbol, he might have relied too much on secondary sources, the works of other scholars, the comments of journalists and official documents. This methodological choice might challenge the authenticity of the work and make the other cases less attractive for the readers.

This book advances a great contribution to the discussion of the dichotomy of the secular and religious. It does not only bring a different and critical insight to the debate, it also exemplifies its argument by revealing through the case of Turkey that something is happening out of this classical dichotomy. Thus, he reveals the different organization of central value systems which lets the plurality and coexistence of the secular and the traditional, constituting the central value creating its own collective memories and sanctuaries. Therefore, during the deadlock of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union and the increasing negative perceptions on both sides towards both Europe and Turkey, the release of this book would contribute to the changing visions – on both sides – regarding the pluralities and coexistence of societies, minority and religious freedoms.

Rosati’s well-structured theoretical framework based on the Durkheimian studies merging with the Gramscian approach of ‘cultural hegemony’ and the critical concept of the ‘post-secular’ makes this book very useful and valuable for the further employment of its theoretical approach. Also, his field observations and analysis of Dink’s memorial with many photos from the site strengthen his arguments. Yet, his insufficient contributions to Özyürek’s analysis of the new symbolism of Atatürk or Mattalucci-Yılmaz’s creation of the ancestor (Ata) from a dead person as well as his over-reliance on English sources and the journalists of Today’s Zaman in some chapters, limited discussions of Gezi protests regarding the complexities of the secular/Islamic divide may be regarded as some of the weaknesses of the study.

Overall, Rosati’s book makes an important contribution to the literature on the post-secular studies. In this sense, it could be useful for the students and scholars of theology, humanities and social sciences especially for those who are interested in the post-secular studies, Durkheimian studies, minority, religion, diversity, Turkish and European studies. The charts, graphs and the simple language used in the book while explaining and illustrating theoretical points can also help other interested readers to more easily understand certain key sociological concepts.


Braidotti, Rosi (2008) “In Spite of the Times The Postsecular Turn in Feminism.” Theory, culture & society 25(6): 1-24.

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by Dr. Bilge Eris Dereli (Marmara University, Turkey)

Associate editor of ChangingTurkey.com


According to World Bank’s World Development Indicators, Turkey has been listed among the biggest 20 economies in terms of current GDP, steadily since 1997. Yet, development-related indicators other than the economic growth have been on the agenda of many development debates. Indices of human development, gender inequality, innovation, education, health, democracy, happiness, technology achievement, environment, media independence, human rights and many others have been treated as important indicators of national development and there is almost total consensus that a country’s overall social and economic success should be evaluated as a combination of its performance at these numerous aspects.

In order to evaluate Turkey’s mid-2015 well-being performance in terms of different development indicators, it is suggested to gather the most well-known development indicators mentioned above and compare them with each other. Since many of the indices are published by different institutions; both the calculation methodologies and the numbers of countries involved in the estimation differ from each other. This makes the evaluation of different indices at once challenging. Consequently, it is useful to put forward the indicators published by a selected institution, which cover the same countries[i] in ranking. The OECD publishes “Better Life Index” that compares countries’ well-being based on different essential topics which cover most of the key indicators of development. I use the most recently (July 5th) extracted data[ii] of Better Life Index for Turkey in order to evaluate Turkey’s rank of well-being in comparison with other OECD countries.[iii]

Before evaluating the indicators, it is necessary to look at the distribution of Turkey’s rankings out of 36 OECD countries for the selected indicators. Figure-1 shows that Turkey’s rank[iv] is 30 or more for 67% of the indicators, between 20 and 30 for 25% of the indicators, 15 for 4% of the indicators and 5 for the 4% of the indicators. Turkey is ranked 5th at best, and 15th at second best. Turkey is ranked at tops rarely: Turkey is ranked as 5th out of 36 countries in terms of voter turnout (which makes Turkey’s overall ranking for civic engagement in top 10) and 15th in terms of the housing expenditure. For all of the other indicators, Turkey is ranked 20th or higher out of the OECD countries.

Figure-1: Distribution of Turkey’s Ranking by Better Life Index Indicators


After introducing the indicators where Turkey is ranked at tops, let me move to where Turkey is ranked at bottoms. Figure-2 (the scale of the y-axis is reversed to make higher ranks to appear at the bottom) puts forward Turkey’s ranking among 36 OECD countries for the selected indicators of the Better Life Index. Turkey’s ranking for the following indicators is 30 or more: Household financial wealth, educational attainment, employees working very long hours, time devoted to leisure and personal care, dwellings with basic facilities, employment rate, personal earnings, air pollution, water quality, household net adjusted disposable income, job security, student skills, life expectancy, rooms per person, life satisfaction and quality of support network. It is observed that Turkey is performing very poorly in terms of housing, income, job quality, education, environment, life satisfaction and work-life balance indicators. Among these, I focus on the education and job quality indicators and it is very disappointing that Turkey performs almost worst out of 36 countries at these aspects.

Figure-2: Turkey’s Ranking by Better Life Index Indicators


Other sets of indicators where Turkey’s rank lies between 20 and 30 (still worse than the half of the countries) are related to community, health and safety: Years in education, assault rate, consultation on rule-making, homicide rate, long-term unemployment and self-reported health. With a very high voter turnout, Turkey performs very well in terms of civic engagement. However, it fails in the remaining main categories.

In terms of overall education indicators, Turkey performs the worst after Brazil and Mexico. Taking into account the growth-stimulating role of innovation and human factor lying at the heart of innovation and technology, and education being one of the most important components of human capital; education indicators show us that Turkey needs to go a long way to be ranked among the top 10 economies in the world. The dramatic increase in the number of universities since 2000 is claimed to be one of the biggest successes achieved by the Turkish education system. However, if the share of higher education graduates in total unemployed since 2000 is taken into account, this success story becomes questionable: According to TURKSTAT statistics; while 9.5% of the unemployed were recorded to be individuals with higher education degree in 2000, this share increased to 20% by 2014. On the other hand, unemployment rate across higher education graduates has jumped from 7% in 2000 to 10.6% in 2014. Moreover, the quality of the education at the universities has been questionable for the last years. The unplanned increase in the number of universities and thus the number of individuals with a higher education degree have led to serious labor market deficiencies.

Overall evaluation of Turkey’s job indicators makes its ranking 34, ranked just before Greece and Spain. Low employment rates (especially for women), low job security and low personal earnings are the main reasons that explain Turkey’s poor performance in this sector. Only long-term unemployment rate helps Turkey to be ranked as the 20th country. In addition to these; low female participation rates, high youth unemployment rates, high share of informal sector, gender inequality, long working hours, occupational accidents and mismatch can be listed as other poor  indicators of labor market in the country.

Although Turkey is among the top 20 economies in the world, there is a long way to go for it to be classified as a developed country, or at least to be among the top 10 economies. There are many policies that Turkey needs to implement in order to achieve that goal and it can be suggested to give the priority to education policies providing equal opportunities and aiming to increase both the quality and attainment for all levels of education. In this sector, quantitative improvements should not be considered more important than qualitative improvements. If the education system does not bring up innovative individuals capable of contributing to research and technology, it seems that Turkey will keep its place at the bottom of the development indicators ranking.

To conclude, it is important to remember that Turkey performs poorly on other macro-economic indicators too. There are many macroeconomic indicators that make Turkish economy fragile. Among them; low saving and investment rates, high current account deficit, increasing external debt of private sector can be listed as the most alarming ones.

[i] Most of the countries ranked as bigger economies than Turkey are captured by this classification as well.

[ii] http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=BLI#

[iii] OECD itself evaluates each country’s Better Life Index (for Turkey: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/turkey/); here, I to put forward Turkey’s ranking at a glance and analyze the indicators in more depth.

[iv] The higher the rank, the worse the performance.

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Şükrü Hanioğlu’s Atatürk

(Review of M. Şükrü Hanioğlu (2013) Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography, Princeton University Press)          

By Prof. Feroz AHMAD, Yeditepe University, Istanbul

Professor Şükrü Hanioğlu began his career in Istanbul University as a political scientist and wrote his doctoral thesis11716023_10153048010533546_1339893570_n on the Ottoman intellectual Abdullah Cevdet. It was then published and received moderately good reviews except from the pen of Cemil Meriç, himself an intellectual and man of letters of some distinction. Writing about Hanioğlu’s thesis later published as a book, Cemil Meriç wrote: “I got no pleasure from the doctoral thesis on Abdullah Cevdet. It is an extremely ordinary and insipid book. Based on police reports it is like a bad police novel. The writer knows neither the language nor does he understand Cevdet’s language. Those who supervised his thesis were also totally ignorant….” [1]. I do hope that Cemil Meriç would have been kinder and appreciative of Hanioğlu’s later works.

     Since writing his thesis, Hanioğlu’s years at Princeton University have matured him into a scholar of some repute. There he reinvented himself as a historian and shifted his attention to what is becoming a multi-volume biography of the Young Turk movement, having completed two volumes so far. The first volume published in 1995 covered the years 1889, the founding of the Committee of Union and Progress, to the Paris congress of 1902. Volume two, published in 2001, covered the years 1902 –1908 when “the Young Turks prepared for the revolution”. I expected to see the publication of the next volume, perhaps two volumes on the Young Turks revolution and the constitutional period 1908-1918. But he seems to have decided to leapfrog that decade and write the book under review [2].

   Hanioğlu’s decision has a certain logic because Mustafa Kemal was, after all, a product of the Young Turk movement and that is how he has generally been portrayed. Hanioğlu argues for “continuity as opposed to the sudden rupture often depicted….” (p.7) I shall take up this point later in the review.

     Hanioğlu has been disturbed by the “personality cult” that has grown up around Atatürk and he wants to portray Mustafa Kemal Atatürk “as he really was”. He wants to create the historical Atatürk, “demythologizing” him though he claims that this “is still difficult”. He doesn’t seem to understand that it is difficult to “demythologize” historic figures because nations, old and new, need their myths and heroes; Turkey is still a new nation just in its 90th year. A younger nation like India continues to need its Gandhi and Nehru. But take the United States of America, now over two hundred years old. America’s founding fathers are still important to the American people who wonder what their heroes – Thomas Jefferson or George Washington – would have thought about affirmative action, or the invasion of Iraq. “When in doubt”, writes Jill Lepore, “in American politics, left, right and center, deploy the Founding Fathers”[3]. Therefore, it is not surprising that Turks today still look to the Kemalist period for some of today’s answers, especially as many who lived through those years are still alive. Hanioğlu belongs to the post-Atatürk generation.

         Hanioğlu’s is based largely on the multi-volume catalogue of books Atatürk read, his underlinings, his special signs, his questions, marginal notes, and personal writing inside the books. From all this Hanioğlu concludes that “Clearly he was not an intellectual in the strict sense of the word” (p.6-7). What does that mean: “in the strict sense of the word”? Much depends on how the word “intellectual” is defined, something Hanioğlu does not do. If one defines an intellectual as someone who thinks critically and who questions traditional values in the name of reason and progress, then perhaps Atatürk ought to be considered an intellectual.

     But let us agree with Hanioğlu that “Mustafa Kemal, was above all, a practitioner, not a theoretician (p.60), and later: “He was no thinker like Comte, Marx, or Lenin…. He was a leader who strove to realize a vision….” Hanioğlu is essentially correct. Atatürk was a pragmatist. Then why call it an “intellectual biography” and not the biography of a pragmatist? (p. 226)

       We don’t know when he read books with such attention as to underline, use his special signs, his questions, marginal notes, and personal writing inside the books. Would he have had the time to do this while he was an officer, fighting at various fronts of the Empire, at Gallipoli, and finally leading the national struggle between 1919 and 1922, and then founding a revolutionary state? I doubt if he had the time or the energy to do so during these years; or even a library. He probably began serious reading and discussion in 1926-27 when he began thinking about his “Great Speech” of 1927.

           When Atatürk could not sit and read book he would have found time to follow the rich and lively press of the constitutional and post-constitutional period. Hanioğlu, the bibliophile, doesn’t seem to have considered this possibility and not had I until I came across the first volume of Mahmut Esat’s Collected Works published only in May 2014 [4].

     Mahmut Esat [Bozkurt] 1892-1943, one of well-known intellectuals and publicists of these years, began writing during the constitutional period in papers like Hizmet, İttihad, Akenk, Köylü, Anadolu (1911). He continued writing between 1920 and 1924, the years when the new Republic of Turkey was founded and its future discussed by the nationalists. Mahmut Esat’s essays were published in journals like Anadolu’da Yeni Gün, Hakimiyet-i Milliye, Sada-yı Hak and Anadolu’da Yeni Gün and included a vast array of subjects about the Ottoman past and the Anatolia of 1920. In Hakimiyet-i Milliye (1921), Sada-yı Hak and Anadolu’da Yeni Gün (1924) Mahmut Esat began to discuss “the meaning of the Turkish revolution and its principles” as well as a variety of subjects dealing with the ongoing revolution such as “Thinking about a People’s State”.

       These essays by Mahmut Esat and others escaped Hanioğlu’s attention. Mahmut Esat is not to be found in the index; his book under Bozkurt (the surname he adopted in 1934) entitled Atatürk İhtilali: Türk İnkilabı Tarihi Enstitüsü Derslerinde (Istanbul, 1940) appears in his bibliography. It would have been critical journalistic writing of this period that Mustafa Kemal might well have found the time to read while he was waging the national struggle and creating the new Republic

       I shall return to the question of Atatürk’s vision later, but first Atatürk’s birth and his formation as an Ottoman officer (Chapters 1 and 2). They may be interesting chapters but add little to what we already know from earlier biographies, especially Andrew Mango’s Atatürk.

     Basing himself on Ali Fuat Cebesoy’s memoir, Hanioğlu seems to take seriously Cebesoy’s claim that in 1907j9408 Atatürk suggested that the Ottoman Empire should voluntarily dissolve itself. Should historians take memoirs at face value, especially the memoirs of one of Atatürk’s principal rival? After all memoirs tend to be self-serving and merely justify the author’s prejudices. Given that Cebesoy was Atatürk’s rival in the nationalist movement, might he have simply wanted to attribute such an outlandish idea to Mustafa Kemal? In 1907 Mustafa Kemal may well have made such a tongue in cheek remark in jest, but it is not a remark a historian ought not to take seriously [4].

       Has there ever been an empire that has dissolved itself voluntarily? Atatürk’s career as an Ottoman officer suggests that he took the existence and the continuation of the Ottoman Empire very seriously. He fought in its defense on various fronts after the constitutional revolution and established a reputation for himself as a soldier of some standing during the First World War. After the armistice he even hoped that the Sultan would lead the struggle against the foreign powers and that he, Mustafa Kemal, would be the war minister in the cabinet. Atatürk only took the reins of the nationalist movement after the Sultan failed to do so.

     In Chapter 3 Hanioğlu discusses the question of Atatürk and Islam. He concludes that what Atatürk “… read was that science promoted progress while religion [read Islam] retarded it….” (p.53) That must have seemed logical given the state of Islam at the time. But he saw his reforms as making Islam rational as it had been originally.

     Atatürk believed in Enlightenment ideals: rationality, critical analysis, and freedom of inquiry. He wanted to have these ideals adopted by the modern Turkey he wanted to create. I have no idea what Hanioğlu means by “a reconfigured version of Islam….” (p.56) Given the state of Islam in the late Ottoman Empire, he wanted to see Islam reformed so that it was again rational and scientific as it had been in an earlier age.

       In an editorial in Hakimiyet-i Milliye (30 Dec l925) Mustafa Şekip, a professor at Dar-ül-Fünun and a supporter of the new regime, defined a laicist government as a government which transfers the leadership in religious life from the ignorant to the enlightened. He went on to say that: “We can with certainty claim that our revolution has more of a religious than an irreligious character, as it has saved consciences from harmful tyranny and domination. To think that a nation can live without any religion is nothing less than denying humanity, sociology and history”. Perhaps laicism was “a reconfigured version of Islam”! As Atatürk noted in his oft-quoted Kastamonu speech on August 30, 1925, the Republic of Turkey was not to be a country of sheikhs, dervishes, disciples and their followers because the most correct and truest path was the path of civilization. [5].

          In his attempt to portray Atatürk “as he really was” and trying to “demythologize” him, Hanioğlu takes certain liberties with the facts. For example how valid is his claim that the new Assembly Mustafa Kemal had “achieved total domination of politics”? (p.144). He disregards the existence of the other nationalist generals – Ali Fuad Pasha, Kazım Karabekir, Hüseyin Rauf, and Refet Bele – his rivals who founded the Progressive Republican Party (PRP) on 17 November 1924. They were serious challenges to Atatürk’s position but are mentioned only once on page 144. Had the Sheikh Said rebellion not broken out in June 1925 and not been defeated, thus allowing the new government to pass extraordinary laws it is likely that the Progressive Republican Party, with its promise of continuity would have been able to come to power in normal elections. Mustafa Kemal’s position had been tenuous until his victory at Sakarya on 13 September 1921; had he lost at Sakarya, leadership might have passed to General Kazım Karabekir, one of the founders of the PRP. Sakarya was a turning-point in his fortunes [6].

     When we come to chapter 5, there is confusion about whether Atatürk’s policy was “opportunistic” (p.109) though earlier Hanioğlu had described it as pragmatic. I suppose it could be both. But essentially Atatürk was a pragmatist who dealt with situations rationally and realistically and in a way that is based on practical and not theoretical considerations; opportunism suggests pursuing a policy of doing what is expedient. Surely he was a realist who saw reality as it was and not as it could be. Were Atatürk and the nationalists “masquerading as communists”? (p.122). Or was their alliance with the Bolsheviks an alliance of convenience for both sides threatened by imperialism? There was no possibility of masquerading as communists for that would not have deceived Lenin.

     Perhaps it is time to come to Hanioğlu’s conclusions and wind up the review. Here we come to the question of continuity of change. Hanioğlu believes in continuity from Empire to Republic. He writes: “the Turkish transformation led by Atatürk was not a rupture with the late Ottoman past but, in important respects, its continuation…. The ideas he espoused had been widely discussed…. Had the Great War not occurred, the normal evolution of Ottoman society would not, in all likelihood, have brought about the triumph of these ideas in the 1920s” (p.227).

       Hanioğlu is right in seeing the continuity of ideas, but he fails to understand how they were implemented in the Empire and then the Republic. Enver Pasha wanted to simplify the Arabic alphabet so that Ottoman soldiers could read and write simple sentences. He was a radical reformer and that is all one may say about him. Atatürk was an iconoclast and revolutionary who discarded the Arabic script and introduced the Latin one in its place. He then went on to transform the language itself to meet the needs of the “new Turk” he was in the process of creating.

     Take the position of women. As we know there was a women’s movement in the late Ottoman Empire and Hanioğlu finds that “the Republican women’s movement had far less marked feminist undertones than the Late Ottoman women’s movement of 1908-1914” (p.210). He misses the point about the Republic and women. The initiative came not only from women but from the new state. Take the example of women’s education. Fatima Aliye (1862-1936), the daughter of Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, the statesman and historian, was one of the first to speak out on the question of education for women. She was born into a cultured and educated family, the nearest thing to an Ottoman aristocracy. While she wanted educational facilities for women of the middle and upper class, she did not try to pose a threat to the social order. The journals of this period spoke for the concerns of urban women, middle and upper class, affected by Westernization. They painted a picture of the educated mother who would be better wives and ‘home builders’, and raise children who were healthy and true to social mores.

     The situation of women changed dramatically in the Republic. The Republican movement launched the process of emancipation because it wanted to educate women, not only because they would be better wives and mothers but they would enter public space as teachers, doctors, and lawyers and all other professions open to men. That would not have been possible by a religion-driven society led by the Ottoman dynasty. Thus urban women began to benefit from Atatürk’s revolutionary policies. Atatürk was determined to transform Turkey’s society so that it would no longer be patriarchal as it had been for centuries. Attacking patriarchy was a process that would take generations before it took root, a process that could be undermined by antagonistic political and socio-economic forces if they were in power. Hanioğlu seems unaware of patriarchy and therefore the concept finds no place in his essay.

     This was Atatürk’s “vision”, a vision not shared by his rivals in the national struggle. They believed continuity under a centuries-old dynastic rule understood by the people. If it had to be a Republic lets its president be the Ottoman Caliph as Sultan had been deposed in 1922. There would be instant legitimacy under an Ottoman president – and perhaps even a restoration to a monarchy a few years later; the situation would have been easier if things were not changed too drastically. There are still people who yearn for an idealized Ottoman past. But Atatürk took the difficult path and opted for revolutionary change and created what we have today.


  1. (Cemil Meriç, Bütün Eserler 3, Jurnal, Cilt 2 , 1966 – 1983, 318) This is what the Turkish original says: “Abdullah Cevdet hakkındaki doktora tezinden hiç hoşlanmadım. Son derece adi ve yavan bir kitap. Polis raporlarına çiziştirilmiş, seviyesiz bir polis romanı. Yazar ne dilini biliyor, ne Cevdet’in dilini anlayacak hazırlıkta. Tezi yönetenler de kara cahil…” I owe this reference to my colleague, Professor Cemil Oktay.
  2. Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp.6-7
  3. Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, Princeton University Press, 2010
  4. Ali Fuat Cebesoy, Sınıf Arkadaşım Atatürk, 114-17
  5. Söylev ve Demeçleri, ii, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu 1959, 215
  6. Andrew Mango, Atatürk. 323-326

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Bahar Başer (2015) Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective, Ashgate.

Reviewed by Damla B. Aksel –PhD Candidate in Political Science, Koç University, İstanbul

Two hot topics of politics scholarship, that of “diasporas” and “conflict” are brought together by Bahar Başer, in herAshgate Generic Series 1136 newly published book entitled “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective”. Baser sheds new light on diaspora politics by investigating how domestic conflicts are brought into new geographies as a result of migration and how these contentions endure over generations. Looking into the diffusion of what she describes as the “low-scale civil war in Turkey”, the author takes on the conversion of the Kurdish/Turkish problem into domestic controversies in Sweden and Germany, two host countries to Kurdish and Turkish migrants. The book stands as an important contribution to political science in general and to theories on migration and conflict studies as it focuses on the variations in the spillover of domestic conflicts, as a result of structure (host states’ policies and politics) and agency (second generation migrants’ practices and interactions).

The book begins by setting information for the reader who might not be familiar with the main determinants of the discussion. The background chapters include a discussion of the main puzzle of “Kurdish/Turkish problem in Turkey and elsewhere” and of evidence on Swedish and German politics and policies on migrant incorporation, followed by the history of migration from Turkey to these two host countries. In the empirical chapters, Baser provides a comparison first, across the cases of Sweden and Germany and second, within case comparisons by looking at the role of interactions among diaspora groups and the structural factors in the host countries. Baser’s comparative case study makes it possible to discuss determinants of variation in both macro- (state policies and politics) and micro-level (migrant interactions). Therefore while revisiting the existing literature on migration from Turkey to Germany heralded by scholars including Ostergaard-Nielsen and Argun, the author broadens the discussions through cross-country comparison and the results of extensive ethnography. The six year long fieldwork (2008-2014) includes participant observation and interviews with approximately 200 informants.

As a result of this rich and challenging study, Baser argues that contrary to the earlier discussions in the literature, conflicts that are imported from the homeland are not necessarily transferred into the newer generations as they are in the new countries of residence. Rather, they are translated into new contentions due to variations in the interactions between the new generation migrant groups that are in conflict and the migrant incorporation regimes of the host countries. The interactions between the second-generation Kurdish and Turkish communities diverge in the Swedish and German settings significantly. Whereas in Sweden there is negative peace due to spatial and social distance among Turks and Kurds, it is possible to talk about multifaceted interactions between two politicized groups (from violent clashes to sporadic alliances) in Germany. Furthermore, the migration regime in the host country determines the channels that are used by migrants (and their descendants) on homeland issues. As such, Baser argues that while the Swedish multicultural migration regime allows Kurds and Turks to politically mobilize through institutional channels of lobbying and agenda setting, in the more inaccessible German system second generation migrants opt for mobilization in less institutionalized and often violent means. Therefore different from the initial Kurdish/Turkish problem spilled from the homeland in the past, the current conflict is the result of a reconstruction by the second generation through the prism of own experiences in the host country.

One of the current discussions in the literature on “diasporas” is about conceptualizing the notion, which has been converted from its initial definition to be used nearly anonymous to concepts as “transnational communities” or even “migrants”. “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts” does not fall into the trap of reifying the groups with interests of mobilizing on “homeland” issues under the concept of “diasporas”. Providing a processual account on diasporas, Baser offers a convincing discussion and emphasizes the heterogeneous, transformative and interactive characteristics within the Turkish and Kurdish populations in Sweden and Germany. Second generation Kurdish and Turkish groups have not been considered as monolithic entities, through depictions of intra-group divergences, resulting in different practices of alliance building and conflict across various groups. Moreover, the book chapters are nicely built to refer to the triangular relationship between migrants, host countries and home countries, even though the weight is given on the first two in the overall discussion. The strongest feature of the book is the empirical data obtained from extensive field research with hard-to-reach members of the Turkish and Kurdish activist groups. With “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts” and her other related articles, Baser proves academic expertise on Turkey-origined migration in Europe, and especially regarding migration and post-migratory processes of Kurdish populations in the present-day.

Although the discussions on theory and the empirical data deliver substantial evidence on the arguments, further support could be provided via more systematized factual material on the political practices of diasporas. Very often the individual histories of the second-generation diaspora members and the activities by associations are presented in an intertwined fashion. This makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish micro and meso determinants of variations within the conflict and trace evidence on the main arguments of the sections. While the background chapters provide a certain historicity for the Kurdish/Turkish problem in Turkey, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere, there is limited reference in the empirical chapters to the context-related changes of the issue and their reflections on the communities, such as the Kurdish opening process in Turkey and Gezi movement. The research takes place in 2008-2014, a period when significant administrative, cognitive and structural changes in the policy making on non-resident citizen communities have taken place in Turkey. More emphasis on the role and reflections of these changes on the communities in Sweden and Germany could heighten discussions on ethnic Turks’ recent mobilization and the emergence of ethnic alliance building – both among Kurds and Turks from outside of Turkey. Finally, the author often cites accounts from the social media (e.g. Facebook and bloggers among diaspora members) without acknowledging the role of communications technologies for the diffusion of domestic issues in the transnational spaces. The recurrent references to these outlets also prove that domestic conflicts in the global age cannot be rendered understandable only within the premises of physical and social territories.

Başer’s book is valuable insofar as it brings in the discussions on conflict importation and the role of second generations to the extensive literature on diasporas and transnationalism. Revolving around the topic of Kurdish/Turkish problem, the book also provides profound insights on domestic politics in Turkey. The present state of political affairs in Turkey, stirred with the entry of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) to the Turkish parliament bypassing the 10% election threshold, the coalition-building negotiations and the results of extra-territorial votes brings new questions for further research on this topic.

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