Influenced by fascist ideas in Europe, Turkism began to be understood not as nationalism but as racism.
29 Kasım 2023 Çarşamba

While serving as the Minister of National Education, Reşit Galip, one of the passionate figures of Kemalist reforms, wrote a text in 1933 on the occasion of April 23rd (National Sovereignty and Children's Day), which later sparked many controversies. This text, known as the Student Oath, is as follows: "I am Turkish, honest, diligent. My principle is to protect the younger, to respect the elder, to love my homeland and my nation more than myself. My ideal is to rise, to progress. May my existence be a gift to Turkish existence." This oath, greatly admired by Mustafa Kemal, had been recited by children in all schools every morning since the complete approval of the Ministry of National Education from that time onwards.

After the coup on March 12th, in 1972, the word "budunum" (my nation) was changed to "milletim" (my people). Additionally, a paragraph was added: "O great Atatürk, who created our today! On the path you opened, in the ideal you established, in the goal you showed, I swear to walk without stopping. How fortunate is the one who says, 'I am Turkish!'" After the coup on September 12th, 1980, the word "yaratan" (who created) was changed to "sağlayan" (who provides) in the text. In 1997, the term "yasam" (my law) was transformed into "ilkem" (my principle). The anthem that began with "Our name is Oath, We devote our lives to your path, We consider being Turkish the greatest honor and glory," was also recited by everyone in schools.

Dr. Reşit Galip is a revolutionary figure who played a significant role in the prohibition of adhan (the call to prayer), the promotion of Turkish-language worship, the establishment of People's Houses, and the famous university reform that resulted in the closure of Dar ul-Funun (and transformed into Istanbul University), leading to the dismissal of many scholars. Having received mixed-gender education at the Alliance Israelite Jewish school in Rhodes, he was known for his open-mindedness.

On May 19th, he defended the demonstration of the girls wearing shorts against the Minister of National Education, Esat Bey. Despite being politely dismissed from the Çankaya table by Atatürk, he asserted, "This is the people's table. You cannot dismiss me." In response, Atatürk stated, "In that case, we will leave the table," resolving the matter without further ado.

However, later, Reşit Galip was appointed as the Minister of National Education in place of Esat Bey. Referred to by Vasfi Rıza as "the spoiled child whose every action is tolerated in the mansion," Reşit Galip also served as the prosecutor in the Revolutionary Tribunal (Turkish: İstiklal Mahkemesi) that sentenced İskilipli Atıf Hoca to death. He is the grandfather-in-law of Baskın Oran, Turkish academician.

The Term "Turk" Refers to Whom?

In the ancient and medieval periods, people of the same race lived together. Over time, due to political, social, and economic reasons, people from different races also came together. Among them, the stronger one, in terms of language and culture, influenced the other; this led to assimilation, forming nations.

The names given to nations by themselves have not always been the same as those given by others. "Rum," meaning Roman, is the name given by Arabs and Turks to the Anatolian people who spoke Greek. However, Europeans consider them Greek. The people whom Turks call "Arnavut" refer to themselves as "Shiptar," while Europeans call them Albanian. The Circassians call themselves Adige, the Chechens Nohchi, and the Armenians Hayer. What Turks and the French call "Alman", the English refer to as "German," while Germans themselves use the term "Deutsche."

The name "Turk" was given to them by the Chinese and Romans. In the 3rd century BC, among the people of the Hun Empire, there was a large and powerful tribe named Turk. When this tribe seized power and established the Gokturk Khaganate, the name Turk was given to all communities that spoke the same language. From 1071 onwards, the Oghuz Turks who migrated to Anatolia were also referred to as Turks by Europeans.

Arabs referred to Mongols as Turks. Indeed, the description of Turks in medieval Arab literature aligns with the Mongol type. Turks, possessing genetic characteristics such as fair complexion, wheatish skin, light-colored eyes, and medium height, have no commonalities with Mongols. Turks are not blonde; they belong to an ancient Aryan race settled in Central Asia.

Turks did not likely have a specific name for themselves. During that time, everyone knew and identified their own tribe. Oghuz was Oghuz; Kayı was Kayı. Kipchak was Kipchak; Uyghur was Uyghur. Despite being of the same race, they did not have a sense of belonging. This was the case worldwide. Normans did not consider Franks as one of their own, and Angles did not see Saxons as kin, even though they were all Germanic. In ancient times, seeking a national consciousness among people who spoke the same language was pointless.

Nations generally expressed themselves through the religion or culture to which they belonged. Race was also known as a sub-identity. A Greek, for example, is primarily Orthodox. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where 72.5 nations lived, when asked who they were, many, including Hungarians, would simply say they were Catholic or from a specific city or region (Martin Rady, Habsburgs).

In the modern era, it was inevitable for nation-states to construct artificial races. Therefore, for example, Orthodox speakers of Greek who did not all have Hellenic origins but came from different lineages constituted the Greek race.

Principles of Turkism

The use of the term "Turk" as an ethnic description emerged after the Tanzimat period and was influenced by nationalist movements in Europe. The architect of this idea was Konstanty Borzęcki, a Polish nationalist who sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire after fleeing from the Russians, later adopting the name Mustafa Celalettin Pasha upon converting to Islam. He passed away in 1876 and, along with his son Hasan Enver Pasha, was among the first to ponder the origins of the Turks, also being the grandfather of Nazım Hikmet.

Seeking to weaken Russia, England, through the Jewish-Hungarian double agent Vambery, who gained the confidence of the Ottoman Sultan by entering the palace as a French tutor, laid the foundation for the Turanism ideology to incite Muslims in Russia against the government. A century later, Germany considered using Turanists in Türkiye to incite Turks in Russia by employing the same tactic. However, due to their romanticized visions and the realization that it would be costly, they abandoned the plan. In the late 19th century, as some intellectuals observed the weakening ties of non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire and found ideologies like Westernism, Ottomanism, and Islamism ineffective, they turned to a new idea: Turkism. This meant emphasizing the Turkish identity both politically and culturally. It's interesting to note that these intellectuals were referred to as "Young Turks" by Europeans.

Following the disastrous outcome of the Balkan War, the Young Turks increasingly embraced this new ideology, which they now began to understand as the political unity of all Turks worldwide. The influence of intellectuals like Ismail Gasprinski, Crimean and Kazan intellectuals who experienced Russian captivity, played a role in this. Ziya Gökalp, Ömer Seyfettin, Moiz Kohen, and Mehmet Emin Yurdakul were among the most significant representatives of this movement. The ideal homeland for Turks also gave its name to the new ideology: Turanism.

Mustafa Celalettin Pasha
Mustafa Celalettin Pasha

Türkiye Belongs to the Turks!

Influenced by fascist ideas in Europe, Turkism began to be understood not as nationalism but as racism. The non-Turkish elements of the empire suffered greatly from this shift. Albanians and Arabs, who had a strong connection to Islam, turned away from the center. The new regime, established after the dissolution of the empire, initially used an Islamic rhetoric to mobilize the population globally. However, in a short time, Turkism took on a racist meaning and became the official ideology of the new regime, to the extent of harming those who were truly of Turkish descent.

Türkiye was now a nation-state, but one-fifth of its population did not belong to the Turkish race. Efforts were made to either eliminate them or categorize them as Turkish. In a speech given by Mustafa Kemal in Adana in 1923, there is an indication of this approach with the statement, "This country is yours, it belongs to the Turks." In the early years, the term Turkish primarily referred to race, and even skull measurements were taken.

In 1926, Mustafa Kemal mentioned projects related to racial improvement at a meeting of the sports society in the presidential mansion. In his address to the youth in 1927, he manifested this by stating, "O Turkish youth, the strength you need is present in the noble blood flowing through your veins." The "Sun-Language Theory" and the "Citizen, Speak Turkish!" campaign were part of the project to transform the 'Turkish race' into the 'Turkish nation.'

The period of World War II was no longer conducive to Turanism. Those who spoke about Turanism were imprisoned and subjected to torture. Simultaneously, Turkism was gradually distorted from its original meaning and turned into a tool of oppression by a subordinate elite. Over time, the term "Turk" came to be used for "Turkish speakers," "those who identify themselves as Turkish," and eventually, as expressed in the constitution, for "citizens of Türkiye."

After September 12, 1980, according to the official ideology known as the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, a Turk was considered to be a "Turkish-speaking Muslim." In response to the question "Are you Turkish, are you Muslim?" Alparslan Türkeş, famous Turkish politician and nationalist, concluded the debate by saying, "As Turkish as Mount Tenrgi - Tian Shan (7429 m); as Muslim as Mount Hira (621 m)."

In a broad segment, it is still considered tragically comical to mandate children to read a fascist text like the Student Oath in the 21st century. Connecting Turkish nationalism, which aims for the prosperity and happiness of the nation without being based on racism, with outdated ideologies is seen as reactionary.

Is the Sultan Turkish?

The word "Turk" also has a sociological meaning. After becoming Muslim, Turks used the term "Turk" to refer to nomads and peasants who had a weaker Islamic culture and their non-Muslim compatriots. In many parts of Anatolia, this term was used for ordinary villagers, which is quite normal. In the classical period, if you asked a Turk, "Which nation are you from?" they would typically mention that they were Muslim and then perhaps identify the tribe to which they belonged.

A conversation between an officer affiliated with the Young Turks and a young soldier during World War I:

- Son, are you Turkish? - No, I'm Ottoman. - Which language are you speaking? - Turkish. - Then you are Turkish. - No, sir. - Is the Sultan Turkish too? - No, the Sultan cannot be Turkish. (Rahmi Apak's Memoirs)

Thanks to Hungarians

In 1918, freeing themselves from German domination prompted the Hungarians to search for their roots. Through this, they rediscovered their kinship with the Turks and conducted serious research. Turks, in turn, were able to learn about their origins largely through the Hungarians. Hungarians are considered the founders of Turkology as an academic discipline in the world.