Understanding a Complex History
Our most important question is where and how we are
going to connect with our past.
AHMET HAMDI TANPINAR, TURKISH NOVELIST
One of the most important historical transformations in Turkish society was the modernization project that unfolded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, Turkey experienced an important nation-building process that transformed it from an Islamic empire to a secular nation-state. The Turkish state was formed in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and was coupled with a dramatic cultural “revolution from above,” conceived and carried out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the military leadership that had emerged victorious from the Turkish War of Independence. Inspired by European models, the cultural revolution became integral to the nation-building effort, transforming Turkish society from a remnant of a failed empire to a unified and homogenized social entity.1 The root causes of the recent debate that has divided the country sharply between secular moderns and religious traditionals can be traced back to the original transformation and modernization project of the Republic of Turkey. During this period, radical cultural and legal reforms were adopted, including the codification of the entire corpus of domestic law. Such modernization involved the coercive transformation of the social structure of the society to resemble, as much as possible, its European model.2
During the transformation period, two consecutive, ideologically distinct policy approaches were offered to best implement the reform program