By Gokhan Bacik
Just more than a decade before the demise of the Ottoman Empire, intellectual Yusuf Akcura argued there were three alternative ideologies that might unite the fading multiethnic, multireligious state: Ottomanism, Islamism and Turkism.
A remarkably modern concept, Ottomanism aimed to create a nation from the empire’s many religious and ethnic groups, united under the banner of Ottoman identity. However, the main problem with Ottomanism, as Akcura pointed out, was that Turks would not accept sharing equal status with members of the other ethnic and religious groups they had ruled for centuries.
More than a century later, the state of politics in Turkey is not dissimilar.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk attempted to turkify the new Republic of Turkey he founded in 1923 but the project has been plagued by instability. In particular, the country’s biggest minority, the Kurds, have remained unhappy partners in the new nation-state.
Islamism emerged as another source of opposition to the Kemalist project. Both Kurds and Islamists demonstrate the failure of the Kemalist project.
Despite its reservations about Kemalism, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) achieved success in its first decade in power from 2002 in trying to harmonise Islamism with the Kemalist values of Westernisation. The AKP was an ardent defender of EU reforms in those years and was praised for showing that Islam and democracy were not incompatible.
However, the "Arab spring" uprisings from 2011 virtually destroyed the AKP brand of Islamism, which failed to take root in countries across the Middle East.
Turkey responded by making a sharp U-turn and embracing Turkism. A large coalition of the elite, including Islamists and Kemalists, seem to believe the Kurdish threat requires some kind of Turkism, both in domestic and foreign policy.
Parties with such different ideologies as the secular Republican People’s Party and the Islamist opposition Felicity Party have embraced Turkism with the Turkish military offensive in Syria. Politics has been transformed into a competition between different nationalisms: far-right nationalism, Kemalist nationalism and Islamist nationalism.
The Felicity Party, which normally advocates Islamist universalism, ardently backed the Turkish military offensive against the Syrian Kurds. The tweets of Felicity Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu reveal it is a nationalist party before everything else.
Turkey’s military incursion into Syria against the Kurds displayed once again that nationalism is the shared ground upon which Turkish parties are founded. Distinctive features, such as Islam or secularism, come second.
The authoritarian turn Turkey has taken has virtually annihilated the historical dynamics of Westernism as well as the Islam-inspired Universalist elements within the AKP. Turkism came to the fore as the only alternative to the rulers of the new Turkey.
Gokhan Bacik teaches political science at Palacky University. This article first appeared on ahvalnews.com and is republished with permission.
Original Headline: The return of Turkism
Source: The Arab Weekly