Imperialism and Nationalism
in the Era of Empires
NORMAN STONE, SERGEI PODBOLOTOV, MURAT YASAR
Comparing Russia and Turkey might appear to be a far-fetched enterprise. The differences are obvious, even too obvious to be dwelt upon at any length. There is a problem as to definition—what was nationalism about— and there is a difficulty as regards effect and timing. Russian nationalism (as distinct from empire-loyalism) is a nineteenth-century creation and Turkish nationalism came into being even later. Russian nationalists did not have to create a state until very, very late in the day—the end of the twentieth century, where Lenin's body still lies in Red Square next to the symbols of imperial Russia. Turkic nationalists came into their own during the War of Independence after 1918, when, in response to Greek and other invasions, a new Turkish State was created. Its makers maybe had a long ancestry in terms of Muslims versus Christians, but their ancestry in terms of Turkish nationalism was quite short, not much longer than a single generation. In fact you can more or less date Turkish nationalism back to a conference in Paris in 1902, when various associations, broadly known as [Young Turks,] established a single [Union and Progress] association (which, like the almost contemporaneous Russian social-democratic congress, famously split).
This essay will suggest that, despite these obvious differences, when it comes to imperialism and nationalism, there are never the less tantalizing comparisons throughout. A symbol: in both, the word 'empire' and 'nationalism' had to be adapted from imports (for instance, in Turkish, imparatorluk). Each country had a rather similar tangential relationship with the West, and each had had its period of glory, its empire. Each had its relationship with Christianity, and with Islam. Each had a native people, who gave their name to the empire, but sometimes could feel, none the less, that it was the victim of that empire. [Rus was the victim of the Russian empire,] runs a well-established line.1 Adapt that to [Turkey was the victim of the Ottomans] and you might even find that one or other of the nationalists said it. It will be this paper's argument that in certain aspects the similarities outweigh the differences. Hosking says that [a fractured and underdeveloped nationhood has been (the Russians') principal historical burden.]2 This could easily be asserted to the Turks.