The 13th century saw the rise of a powerful state, a multinational empire that at its peak would control vast stretches of northern Africa, southeastern Europe, and western Asia, this dynastic state would become known as the Ottoman Empire. A grand empire that was passive, inward looking and parochially conservative, ingrained through long centuries of habit and tradition, and from the defeatism engendered by the decline of its power. Due to out of date social and technological developments, by the early 1900s, the empire only controlled Asia Minor, part of the Balkans, and the Middle East.
With it’s involvement in World War I, the Ottomans lost even more land, and allied troops moved in to occupy the empire until 1922, when nationalist forces under the leadership of a young revolutionary — Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — impelled several ethnic groups to seek independence and consequently lead to the empire’s fragmentation. On July 24, 1923, with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the independence of Turkey was recognized by all states, this new republic under the rule of Ataturk was focused on westernizing the empire’s hindered Turkish core – Anatolia and a part of Thrace.
Turkey has risen out of the ashes to become a modern and strategically important part of world politics, as a result of Ataturk’s political, social, and economic reforms. When ex-Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal landed in the Black Sea port of Samsun on May 19, 1919 to start the “War of Independence” against the occupying allied powers, he boasted a military record of all victories and no defeats.
A soldier for the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919, and was a foremost peacekeeper, who upheld principles of humanism and a united humanity. Ataturk blazed across the world scene in the early 1920s as a strong commander, and following a series of impressive victories; he led his nation to full independence. By rallying the remnants of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, Ataturk defeated the invading Greeks, and threw out the treaty of Sevres, at the same time winning national recognition.
Ataturk aimed to replace the image of Turkey as the ‘sick man of Europe’, with that of a dynamic and self-renewing non-imperialistic country that was capable of winning the respect of Europe, and for 15 years following Turkey’s independence in 1923, Ataturk reinvented Turkey on the model of European nation-state, a creation that would not only survive, but thrive as well. This new Republic with Ankara as it’s capital, was as Ataturk put it, “the state of the people (Mustafa… Creator, 4),” a country truly representing the people’s will.
Ataturk began a series of political, social, and economic reforms in his crusade to create a modern and secular nation, one that would rise out of the ashes of the 600-eyear old Ottoman Empire and become of great international importance. His reform program which would become known as Kemalism, would later become concrete in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, its main points (“The Six Arrows”) were: Republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, statism and secularism.
For the most part, Kemalism believed that it is only the republic regime, which can best represent the wishes of the people. With the help of his reform program, Ataturk was able to establish a populist and egalitarian system from the antiquated Ottoman Empire. Republicanism was contained in the constitutional declaration that “sovereignty is vested in the nation” and not in a single ruler. Republicanism represented a change from the Multinational Ottoman Empire to the nation state of Turkey.
Along with the help of nationalism, which consisted of reinventing the Turkish language from Arabic to Latin and recasting Turkish history in a nationalist mold, republicanism helped preserve the independence of Turkey, an indivisible whole comprising of its territory and people. As with nationalism and republicanism, populism was equally focused on the equality and nationality of all Turks. Populism encompassed not only the notion that all Turkish citizens were equal but that all of them were Turkish as well.
Awareness of the national historical past, love of the country and its people, the concept of a national language, love of independence and liberty, the complete unconditional sovereignty of the nation, and faith in unity and independence strengthened the populist ideal that Turkey was for the people. Ataturk’s other reforms, reformism, statism, and secularism focused more on the modernization of Turkey. Reformism began this movement, as it legitimized the radical means by which changes in Turkish political, economic and social life were implemented.
Also know as revolutionism, reformism meant that the country replaced traditional institutions with modern ones. Of these economic changes, statism emphasized the central role reserved to the state in directing the nation’s economic activities, a concept cited particularly to justify state planning of Turkey’s mixed economy and large-scale investment in state-owned enterprises. However, it was Ataturk’s social and economic reforms that would make their mark in the history of the world, as it would be Turkey’s advances in these sectors that would give the country the respect it deserved and ever growing importance in the world.
Ataturk abolished the caliphate and ended any connection between the state and religion, creating a secular state, with religious schools closed, public education secularized, and the seriat revoked. Secularism, as it was called, meant separation of religion from educational, cultural, and legal affairs, which had been virtually unheard of in countries with such a large population of Muslim people.
With “The Six Arrows” in place as an outline to even more intricate and important reforms, Ataturk set forward his plans to politically, socially, and economically revolutionize Turkey, in an effort to create a country that would stand apart in uniqueness and modernism but also serve a great importance in all international affairs. On March 2, 1924, Ataturk officially abolished the powerful caliphate, one of his many political reforms, which would force all Monarch leaders into exile, therefore replacing an absolute monarchy with a democratic republic.
Ataturk’s political policy, which had as its main objective the preservation of the independence and integrity of the new republic, was careful, conservative, and successful. The Ottoman Empire had been war-hungry, and had focused little on political happenings within it’s own state. Ataturk replaced the fractured and inefficient administrative system with a centralized bureaucracy and at the same time, enunciated the principle of “peace at home and peace abroad (Ataturk, 2),” a guideline that was necessary not only to the task of internal nation building but as well to restoring friendships with countries it had long been at war with.
At the crossroads between two civilizations, Europe and Asia, Ataturk was determined to create a stable Turkey that would be able to serve as a preserver of peace and stability in the region, as well as bridge the gap between the democracies and market economies of the west and the young democracies of the east, a link of friendship and cooperation between Islam and Christianity. To do so, Ataturk had to build Turkey up politically and legally from the inside.
He adopted three new codes based on ones already existing in European countries: an Italian penal code; a civilian code that was of Swiss origin; and a German commercial code. Simultaneously, Ataturk followed concepts of public peace, national solidarity, democracy, the basic rights of all people, and the supremacy of law over everything. Easing the transition between governments, he created a democratic opposition to his government and effected provincial elections with a democratic method, a step that would later aid the reforms he geared towards better international relations.