Ottoman Ulema, Turkish Republic: Agents of Change and Guardians of Tradition

By Amit Bein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Trials of the Early Republic

The Treaty of Lausanne of July 1923 largely settled the international aspects of the conflict over Anatolia but opened a period of internal upheavals in Turkey. During the preceding years, the nationalists had concentrated on jointly confronting their common enemies and were mostly able to paper over the quite evident ideological and sociocultural differences among them. A range of viewpoints, from secularist and revolutionary on the one end to Islamist and ultraconservative on the other, found representation under their big tent. Once the struggle was determined by a string of stunning nationalist military successes in 1921 and 1922, however, differences in visions for the future of Turkey became gradually but unmistakably evident. The establishment of the republic in October 1923 and the abolition of the Caliphate in March 1924— both very controversial decisions in their own right—were thus followed by a period of struggles for political and ideological dominance in new Turkey, struggles that coincided with and were influenced by Kurdish rebellions in the southeastern regions of the new state. The period between 1923 and 1930 was characterized by varying degrees of political repression of opponents and critics of Mustafa Kemal and the republic over which he presided, and by internal contestation among the nationalists over the economic, cultural, and political orientation of Turkish nationalism and the state. A short period of transition to democracy in 1930 was followed shortly by more restrictive forms of authoritarianism and the rise to dominance of radical forms of Turkish nationalism, secularism, and statism, all considered part of an ideology that came to be known as Kemalism. This period was exhilarating for many citizens of the young republic. For many others these were miserable times with devastating consequences for the state and society.

The majority of ulema, though by no means all of them, were mostly inclined toward the latter viewpoint. Government policies during the

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