Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

An Intellectual History of Turkish Nationalism

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

An Intellectual History of Turkish Nationalism

Article excerpt

An Intellectual History of Turkish Nationalism. Between Turkish Ethnicity and Islamic Identity. By Umut Uzer. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016. 276 pp. $25.

In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey upon the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Breaking with longstanding traditions of the empire, he abolished the caliphate and embraced a form of Turkish nationalism that was as progressive as it was revolutionary, one that separated mosque from state and treated men and women as equal.

Fast-forward to the present day: As the modern state of Turkey approaches its centenary and with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidating dictatorial control, the Justice and Development Party leader has turned Kemalism (as Atatürk's ideology became known) into a conservative ideology glorifying Ottomanism and Islamism.

Uzer breaks new ground with a comprehensive intellectual history of this evolution and transformation of Kemalism. Beginning with the rise of Turkish nationalism in the late nineteenth century, Uzer argues that this phenomenon occurred largely in reaction to the rise of other nationalist movements-such as in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania-struggling to free themselves of the Ottoman yoke. Soon Turkish émigrés from Russia and a renewed intellectual interest about the language and history of the Turks coalesced to create a template upon which Turkish intellectuals built.

Uzer details the names and works not only of those who sought to catalyze a Turkish enlightenment but also the Islamists who opposed it. His comparison of the ideas of Yusuf Akçura and Ziya Gökalp, two formative Turkish nationalist intellectuals who influenced Atatürk and his contemporaries, is especially important: They differed in their emphasis on ethnicity (Akçura) or culture (Gökalp). …

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