TURKEY-Becoming Turkish: Nationalist Reforms and Cultural Negotiations in Early Republican Turkey, 1923-1945

By Ryan, James | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

TURKEY-Becoming Turkish: Nationalist Reforms and Cultural Negotiations in Early Republican Turkey, 1923-1945


Ryan, James, The Middle East Journal


TURKEY Becoming Turkish: Nationalist Reforms and Cultural Negotiations in Early Republican Turkey, 1923-1945, by Hale Yilmaz. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013. 328 pages. $39.95.

Hale Yilmaz's pathbreaking work on the history of the Turkish Republic, Becoming Turkish, unearths and measures the ways Turkish citizens from all classes resisted, reacted to, or negotiated the touchstone re- forms of the Kemalist period. The book tar- gets four reforms: men's clothing, women's clothing, language, and national holidays. The content of these reforms are surely fa- miliar, but the depth of their enforcement, and the varied, uneven responses to them have been obscured by uneven access and attention paid to the pertinent corners of the Prime Minister's Republican Archives in Ankara. What Hale Yilmaz uncovered by peering into those dimly lit areas, and sup- plements the state-down perspective from which they have been viewed with oral his- tories, memoirs, and journalism, should be an invaluable resource for historians of the Turkish Republic for some time to come.

The first two chapters detail evocative sets of negotiations between Turkish citi- zens and the sartorial demands of the state. Taken together, they point out the significant differences in the ways men's and women's reforms, mainly aimed at headgear, were implemented and enforced. Both reforms were united in setting a model outfit for the modern Turkish citizen that was "in part de- fined by what it was not: clothes that were identified as or perceived to be ethnic, trib- al, Islamic, or traditional" (p. 88). Yilmaz shows how men's clothing reform carried the unambiguous, and violent, support of the bureaucracy, but reforms directed at female counterparts, though coercive in their own way, were set apart by widespread disagree- ment among the ministerial class regarding their enforcement. In both chapters, Yilmaz tells the rich and textured stories of Anatolian men and women whose lives were substan- tially altered by the imposition of a new dress code in the 1920s and 1930s, and how those people coped, resisted and negotiated with President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's vision.

The third chapter focuses on script re- form policies of the late 1920s and the ex- traordinary efforts on the part of the state, through the creation of "The Nation's Schools" (Millet Mektepleri), the army, and press subsidies, to proliferate the new Latin script and increase literacy rates. It is an in- teresting juxtaposition, since script reform, though unevenly successful, was not met with the levels of resistance as the sarto- rial reforms. …

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