Regionalism in the Middle East and the Case of Turkey

Article excerpt

In the 1920s the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish nation were established and defined, largely under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" (Father of the Turks). Under his paternalistic guidance, Kemalist Turkey was redefined as a nation-state that was modern, secular, and Western. This pursuit of a European ideal created a number of stark contrasts for the new republic in terms of its identity, its history, and its geography. Turkey rejected the historic multiethnic, religious, and imperial geographies of the Ottoman Empire and instead sought to be a Turkish nation-state of Anatolia that would someday become an integral part of Europe. Embedded in the promise of these singular aspirations were the pitfalls--foreign and domestic--that today confront the Turkish nation-state as it is compelled to redefine its place within the world. (1)

This study examines the ongoing shift from a once relatively insular nation-state model of the Kemalist Turkish republic that arose from the strife and wreckage of the Ottoman Empire's collapse to the Turkish nation-state of today, a state that is expressing itself in an ever-more-outward fashion. In so doing, it not only underscores the fluidity of place-based identity constructs but also demonstrates how such constructs are particularly dependent upon shared historical narratives and civilization- and/or region-based symbolisms. A constructivist approach is employed with respect to the discourse of identity and place for both the nation-state and regions amid globalization (note Murphy 1991; Paasi 1991). This approach also benefits from an awareness of scale. As we see emerging articulations of the Turkish nation-state, we also see shifts in scale, from the place of the territorial nation defined spatially by its fixed national boundaries to the wider cultural region, a place that evades applications of a definitive outline.

Through the course of this discursive shift of territories, however, the place of the nation also becomes expanded in people's consciousness--and maybe eventually even in policymaking--from one scale to the next. Turkey was once proudly depicted simply as the Turkish state of Anatolia; today the Turkish nation-state is commonly rendered within its own borders as the leading state in a wider Turkic region that stretches from Europe to Asia--and sometimes even into the Middle East. This work situates these changes amid processes of globalization (and regionalization), post-cold war economics and geopolitics, and questions of legitimacy confronting the Turkish republic from within, in order to understand both this shift itself and its limitations in the post-9/11 era.


In the modern age, prevailing constructs of identity have been institutionalized politically and geographically in the form of the nation-state (2)--itself the prevailing regional construct of the modern age. The place, populace, and purpose of the nation-state were defined with far greater rigidity than were most other types of regions. Borders were fixed socially and psychologically, and they were institutionally legitimated when they were declared by politicians, charted in the field, and illustrated by cartographers. The entire nation-state era has carried with it the mission of identifying and delineating places on the basis of national majorities and/or historic national attachments (Murphy 1990, 2002). In practice, many boundaries arose that could be criticized as having gone beyond this mandate, based on imprecise knowledge of frontier areas, conflicting claims, or irredentist ambitions. In such instances the norm has not been to revise these territorial boundaries; instead, the imperative of the state has been nation building. Viewed critically, many perspectives on and experiences of nation building implied that the nation-state ideal both demanded and legitimated state policies designed to eradicate heterogeneity within its borders. …


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