Kemal Ataturk’s Reforms


Ataturk’s reforms

Atatürk was a military genius, a charismatic leader, also a comprehensive reformer in his life. It was important at the time for the Republic of Turkey to be modernized in order to progress towards the level of contemporary civilizations and to be an active member of the culturally developed communities. Mustafa Kemal modernized the life of his country.

Atatürk introduced reforms which he considered of vital importance for the salvation and survival of his people between 1924-1938.***These reforms were enthusiastically welcomed by the Turkish people.

Chronology of Reforms

1922 Sultanate abolished (November 1).
1923 Treaty of Lausanne secured (July 24). Republic of Turkey with capital at Ankara proclaimed (October 29).
1924 Caliphate abolished (March 3). Traditional religious schools closed, Sheriat (Islamic Law) abolished. Constitution adopted (April 20).
1925 Dervish brotherhoods abolished. Fez outlawed by the Hat Law (November 25). Veiling of women discouraged; Western clothing for men and womenencouraged. Western (Gregorian) calendar adopted instead of Islamic calendar.
1926 New civil, commercial, and penal codes based on European models adopted. New civil code ended Islamic polygamy and divorce by renunciation and introduced civil marriage. Millet system ended.
1927 First systematic census.
1928 New Turkish alphabet (modified Latin form) adopted. State declared secular (April 10); constitutional provision establishing Islam as official religion deleted.
1933 Islamic call to worship and public readings of the Kuran (Quran) required to be in Turkish rather than Arabic.
1934 Women given the vote and the right to hold office. Law of Surnames adopted – Mustafa Kemal given the name Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks) by the Grand National Assembly; Ismet Pasha took surname of Inönü.
1935 Sunday adopted as legal weekly holiday. State role in managing economy written into the constitution.

On assuming office, Atatürk initiated a series of radical reforms in the country’s political, social, and economic life that aimed at rapidly transformingTurkey into a modern state. For him, modernization meant Westernization.On one level, a secular legal code, modeled along European lines, was introduced that completely altered laws affecting womenmarriage, and family relations. On another level, Atatürk urged his countrymen to look and act like Europeans. Turks were encouraged to wear European-style clothing. Atatürk personally promoted ballroom dancing at official functions. Surnames were adopted: Mustafa Kemal, for example, became Kemal Atatürk, and Ismet Pasha took Inönü as his surname to commemorate his victories there during the War of Independence. Likewise, Atatürk insisted on cutting links with the past that he considered anachronistic. Titles of honor were abolished. The wearing of the fez, which had been introduced a century earlier as a modernizing reform to replace the turban, was outlawed because it had become for the nationalists a symbol of the reactionary Ottoman regime.

The ideological foundation for Atatürk‘s reform program became known as Kemalism. Its main points were enumerated in the Six Arrows of Kemalism as republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, statism, and secularism (see the Principles of Atatürk). These were regarded as “fundamental and unchanging principles” guiding the republic, and, as such, they were written into its constitution. The principle of republicanism was contained in theconstitutional declaration that “sovereignty is vested in the nation” and not in a single ruler. The nation-state supplanted the Ottoman dynasty as the focus of loyalty, and the particulars of Turkish nationalism replaced Ottoman universalism.

Displaying considerable ingenuity, Atatürk set about reinventing the Turkish language and recasting Turkish history in a nationalist mold. The Presidenthimself went out into the park in Ankara on Sunday, the newly established day of rest, to teach the Latin alphabet adapted to Turkish as part of thelanguage reform. Populism encompassed not only the notion that all Turkish citizens were equal but also that all of them were Turks. What remained of the millet system that had guaranteed communal autonomy to other ethnic groups was abolished. Reformism legitimized the radical means by which changes in Turkish political and social life were implemented.

Etatism, or statism, emphasized the central role reserved for the state in directing the nation’s economic activities. This concept was cited particularly to justify state planning of Turkey‘s mixed economy and large-scale investment in state-owned enterprises. An important aim of Atatürk‘s economic policies was to prevent foreign interests from exercising influence on the Turkish economy.

Although all of the Kemalist reforms were unsettling to traditionalists, ***it was the exclusion of Islam from an official role in the life of the nation that shocked Atatürk‘s contemporaries ***most profoundly, and discontent continued to focus on the regime’s secularist policies long after the other reforms had been generally accepted.*****The abolition of the caliphate ended any connection between the state and religion. The religious orders were suppressed, religious schools closed and public education secularized, and the Sheriat (Islamic rule) revoked, requiring readjustment of the entire social framework of the Turkish people. Despite the protest that these measures provoked, however, Atatürk conceded nothing to the traditionalists.

In 1924 the Grand National Assembly adopted a new constitution to replace the 1876 constitution that had continued to serve as the legal framework for the republican government. The 1924 constitution vested sovereign power in the Grand National Assembly as representative of the people, to whom it also guaranteed basic civil rights. A unicameral body elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage, the assembly exercised legislative authority, including responsibility for approving the budget, ratifying treaties, and declaring war. The new constitution did not provide for an impartial judiciary to rule on the constitutionality of laws enacted by the assembly, but rather empowered the elected legislature to alter or defer judicial decisions.

The President of the republic was elected for a four-year term by the assembly, and he in turn appointed the prime minister, who was expected to enjoy the confidence of the assembly. Throughout his presidency, repeatedly extended by the assembly, Atatürk governed Turkey essentially by personal rule in a one-party state. The Republican People’s Party (RPP) was founded in 1923 by Atatürk to represent the nationalist movement in elections and to serve as a vanguard party in supporting the Kemalist reform program. Atatürk‘s Six Arrows were an integral part of the RPP’s political platform. By controlling the RPP, Atatürk also controlled the Assembly and assured support there for the government he had appointed. Atatürk regarded a stage of personal authoritarian rule as necessary for securing his reforms before entrusting the government of the country to the democratic process.

Nevertheless, opposition existed. Specific misgivings about Atatürk‘s personal dominance took early form in a grouping of his old associates called the Progressive Republican Party. Some also felt that Atatürk was carrying the reform program too far, too fast. Atatürk was willing to experiment with amultiparty system, and in November 1924 he replaced Inönü as prime minister with Fethi Okyar, who represented the new party.

Scarcely had this experiment begun, however, when an uprising broke out that quickly spread throughout the Kurdish region in southeastern Turkey. Although sometimes characterized as an expression of Kurdish nationalism, the revolt was led by a hereditary chief of the Naksibendi dervishes, who had been disbanded as part of Atatürk‘s secularist reforms. He and other dervish leaders urged their Kurdish followers to overthrow the “godless”government in Ankara and restore the caliphAtatürk recalled Inönü to the prime minister‘s office in March 1925 and rushed legislation through the Grand National Assembly that provided emergency powers to the government for the next four years. Special courts with summary powers were established, and the Progressive Republican Party was outlawed. Meanwhile, the Turkish army swiftly extinguished the revolt.

A plot to assassinate Atatürk was uncovered in 1926 and found to have originated with a former deputy who had opposed abolition of the caliphate and had a personal grudge against the President. A sweeping investigation brought before the tribunal a large number of Atatürk‘s political opponents, fifteen of whom were hanged. As a result of the inquiry, some of his former close associates were sent into exile. This action was the only broad political purge during Atatürk‘s presidency. Whether there were specific connections between the Progressive Republican Party, the Kurdish revolt, and the assassination plot remained a subject of conjecture among historians. The pattern of organized opposition, however, was broken, and Atatürk‘s rule and the single- party state were never again seriously challenged. Another experiment with multiparty politics was made in 1930 in the form of an authorized loyal opposition party, but this effort degenerated into factionalism and was quickly ended.

The Clothing Reform

With the clothing reform, women stopped wearing veils; they started to wear modern women‘s clothing. Men started to wear hats rather than the fez.

Civil Rights for Women

With the reforms of Atatürk, Turkish women, who for centuries had been neglected, were given new rights. Thus with the civil code passed, Turkishwomen would now have the same rights as men, could be appointed to official posts, would have the right to vote and to be elected to Parliament. The monogamy principle and equal rights for women changed the spirit of Turkish society.

Atatürk’s Works on Turkish History

Following the reform of the script, which was meant to be a kind of nationalism in the cultural field, Atatürk concentrated his attention on history. He established the Turkish Historical Society in 1931. Here, Turkey‘s history was thoroughly examined and evaluated.

The New Calendar, Weights and Measures, Holidays and Surname Laws and many other reforms were achieved as well. An example of this is the Weekend Act of 1924, the International Time and Calendar System of 1925, the Obligation Law and Commercial Law of 1926, the System of Measures 1933 and the Surname Act, 1934. According to the law passed by the Grand National Assembly in 1932 Turks took surnames and the Nation’s leader was given the surname of Atatürk, “Father of the Turks“.

Language Reform: From Ottoman to Turkish

Atatürk teaching the new Turkish AlphabetHistory records few instances of a government‘s altering the language of its people as drastically and imposing that language as forcefully (and, on balance, as successfully) as in the Turkish case. Atatürk considered language reform to be an essential ingredient in the creation of a new Turkey and of new, modernized Turks, and he viewed the revisedTurkish language as one of the ways to create a new national identity.

Within the Ottoman Empire, the Turks were merely one of many linguistic and ethnic groups, and the word Turk in fact connoted crudeness and boorishness. Members of the civil, military, and religious elite conversed and conducted their business in Ottoman Turkish, which was a mixture of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Arabic remained the primary language of religion and religious law. Persian was the language of art, refined literature, and diplomacy. What littleTurkish there was usually had to do with the administration of the Ottoman Empire Turkish not only borrowed vocabulary items from Arabic and Persian but also lifted entire expressions and syntactic structures out of these languages and incorporated them into the Ottoman idiom. Thus, pure Turkish survived primarily as the language of the illiterate and generally was not used in writing. Ottoman Turkish, on the other hand, was the language of writing, as well as the language spoken by the educated elite.

Its multiple origins caused difficulties in spelling and writing Ottoman Turkish. The constituent parts – Turkish, Persian, and Arabic – belong to three different language families – Ural-Altaic, Indo-European, and Semitic, respectively – and the writing system fits only the last of these. Phonological, grammatical, and etymological principles are quite different among them.

During the nineteenth century, modernist intellectuals began to call for a reform of the language. They wanted to fashion a language that would be easier to use and more purely Turkish. Thus, the principle of Turkish language reform was intimately tied to the reforms of the 1839-78 period. Later in the nineteenth century, the demand for language reform became political. Turkish nationalists sought a language that would unite rather than divide the people. In the writings of Ziya Gökalp (1924), Turkish nationalism was presented as the force uniting all those who were by language and ethnic background Turks.

With the establishment of the republic, Atatürk made language reform an important part of the nationalist program. The goal was to produce a language more Turkish, modern, practical, and precise, and less difficult to learn than the old language. The republican language reform consisted of two basic elements – adoption of a new alphabet and purification of the vocabulary.

The language revolution (Dil Devrimi in Turkish) officially began in 1928. In May 1928, numbers written in Arabic were replaced with their Western equivalents. In November the Grand National Assembly approved the new Latin alphabet that had been devised by a committee of scholars. Many members of the assembly favored gradually introducing the new letters over a period up to five years. Atatürk, however, insisted that the transition last only a few months, and his opinion prevailed. With chalk and a portable blackboard, he traveled throughout the country, giving writing lessons in schools, village squares, and other public places to a people whose illiteracy was suddenly 100 percent. On January 1, 1929, it became unlawful to use the Arabic alphabet.

The new alphabet represents the Turkish vowels and consonants more clearly than does the old alphabet. Composed of Latin letters and a few additional variants, it contains one symbol for each sound of standard Turkish, which was identified as the educated speech of Istanbul. By adopting the Latin alphabet, Turkey turned consciously toward the West, severed a major link with the Islamic world, and rejected a part of its Islamic heritage. By providing the new generation no need and scant opportunity to learn the Arabic letters, the alphabet reform cut them off from the Ottoman past and its culture and value system. Specifically, this new generation could no longer be educated by the traditional establishment of religious scholars.

Non-Turkish words were seen as symbols of the past, and there was great nationalist enthusiasm, supported by government policies, to get rid of them. Purification of the language became a national cause. Dictionaries began to drop Arabic and Persian words and sought to resurrect archaic terms or words from Turkish dialects or to coin new words from old stems and roots to be used in their place. The Turkish Language Society (Türk Dil Kurumu), founded in 1932, supervised the collection and dissemination of Turkish folk vocabulary and folk phrases to be used in place of foreign words. The citizens at large were invited to suggest alternatives to words and expressions of non-Turkish origin, and many responded. In 1934 lists of new Turkishwords began to be published, and in 1935 they began to appear in newspapers.

The mid-1930s saw the height of the enthusiasm for language reform, and some of the suggested reforms were so extreme as to endanger the understandability of the language. Although purist and zealot opinion favored the banishment of all words of non-Turkish origin, it became obvious to many that some of the suggested reforms verged on the ridiculous. Atatürk resolved the problem with an ingenious political invention that, though embarrassing to language experts, appealed to the nationalists. He suggested the historically preposterous but politically efficacious Sun- Language Theory, which asserted that Turkish was the “mother of all languages,” and therefore all foreign words were originally Turkish. Thus, if a suitable Turkishequivalent for a foreign word could not be found, the loanword could be retained without violating the purity of the Turkish language.

By the late 1940s, considerable opposition to the purification movement had begun to surface. Teachers, writerspoets, journalists, editors, and others began to complain in public about the instability and arbitrariness of the officially sanctioned vocabulary. In 1950 the Turkish Language Society lost its semiofficial status, and eventually some Arabic loanwords began to reappear in government publications.

The long-term effects of the language reform have been positive, but at a price. Reading, spelling, and printing are now infinitely simpler than before, and literacy has spread because of this. Modern Turkish is more concise and direct than Ottoman Turkish, and hence better meets the demands of modern life, including science and technology. The language reform has to some degree closed the language gap that used to exist between the classes of Turkish society, and a certain democratization of language and literature has occurred. The cost, however, has been the drastic and permanent estrangement from the literary and linguistic heritage of the Ottomans. Although some pre-republican writing has been transcribed in the new alphabet, its vocabulary and syntax are now barely understandable to a modern speaker of Turkish. The loss of old words and their rich connotations has resulted in some aesthetic impoverishment of the language.

Language and language reform continued to be political issues in Turkey in the late 1980s. Each decade since Atatürk‘s death has been characterized by its own particular stance or stances vis-à-vis language reform or support for either a more traditional lexicon or a modern, “Turkified” one abounding in Western loans or indigenous coinages. Not surprisingly, language reform and modern usage were pushed forward during periods of liberal governmentsand de-emphasized under conservative governments (such as those of the 1980s). As for religious publications, they were not touched much by these reforms and continued to use an idiom that was heavily Arabic or Persian in vocabulary and Persian in syntax. In spite of the fact that coinages lack some of the rich connotations of the older lexicon, modern Turkish prose and poetry came into their own in Kemalist (1923-38) and, especially, post-Kemalist (since 1938) Turkey, as writers and poets created powerful works in this new idiom.

Secularist Reforms

***In 1922 the new nationalist regime abolished the Ottoman sultanate, and in 1924 it abolished the caliphate, which the Ottoman sultanate had held for centuries. Thus, for the first time in Islamic history, no ruler claimed the spiritual leadership of Islam; this was still the case in the late 1980s. The withdrawal of Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Empire, as the presumptive leader of the world Muslim community was symbolic of the change in Turkey‘s relation to Islam.

Secularism or laicism (Laiklik in Turkish) was one of the “Six Arrows” of Atatürk‘s blueprint for modern Turkey; these founding principles of the republic, usually referred to as Atatürkism or Kemalism, were the basis for many of the early republican reforms. As Islam had formed the identity of the Ottoman Empire and its subjects, so secularism molded the new Turkish nation and its citizens.

Establishment of secularism in Turkey was a process of distinguishing church from state or the religious from the nonreligious spheres of life. In theOttoman Empire, all spheres of life were theoretically ruled by religious law, and religious organizations did not exist apart from the state.

The reforms bearing directly on religion were numerous. They included (1) the abolition of the caliphate; (2) abolition of the office of seyhülislam (Islamic ruler); (3) abolition of the religious hierarchy; (4) closing and confiscation of the dervish lodges, meeting places, and monasteries and outlawing of their rituals and meetings;(5)  establishment of government control over the Evkaf, which had been inalienable under Sheroot (Islamic rules); (6) replacement of Sheroot with adapted European legal codes; (7) closing of the religious schools (Redresses);(8) changing from the Islamic to the Western calendar; (9) outlawing the fez for men and frowning on the veil for women, both garments associated with religious tradition; and (10) outlawing the traditional garb of local religious leaders.

The nationalist regime made attempts to give religion a more modern and more national form. The state also supported use of Turkish rather than Arabic at devotions and (11) the substitution of the Turkish word Tansi for the Arabic word Allah. The opposition, however, was strong enough to ensure that Arabic remained the language of prayer.(12) In 1932, for example, the government‘s determination that Turkish be used in the call to prayer from the minarets was not well accepted and in 1934 it returned to the Arabic version of the call to prayer. Most notably,(13) the Hagia Sophia (church of the Holy Wisdom, theByzantine Emperor Justinian’s sixth century basilica, which was converted into a mosque by Mehmed II) was made into a museum.

Turkey is gradually regaining the global attention it once enjoyed albeit for different reasons. The main international focus has been on Turkey’s EU entry talks which began in October 2005 on joining the European Union (EU). But the subtler and the less pronounced is the revival of Islam in Turkey despite nearly 90 years hostile secular Governments.Although today Turkey seldom figures in Muslim or Islamic discourse, it was for five centuries the centre of the Muslim world, until that fatal day, March 3rd, 1924, when Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk abolished the Caliphate -office of the successors to prophet Muhammad, the supreme politico-religious office of Islam, and symbol of the Turkey sultan’s claim to world leadership of all Muslims—was abolished.Turkey Ottoman Islamic architecture mosque*****Today 98% of Turkey’s population is officially Muslim but the proportion of practicing Muslims is as low as 20%. However unlike in Europe where church attendance gradually fell in Turkey it is the result of a systematic attempt to constrain and weaken Islam by successive Kemalist secular governments and the military.The hostility towards Islam began in early 1920s. A military commander, Mustafa Kemal Pasha led the Turkish War of Independence to form the Republic of Turkey as the successor state of the defunct Ottoman Empire. For this Mustafa Kemal became very popular and adored by all Turks. Thereafter he became the first President of the Republic of Turkey. The Turks venerated him so much he was given the name ‘Atatürk’, meaning Father of the Turks, (honorific name formally presented to him by the Turkish Grand Assembly in 1934.)

Ottoman Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk Father of Turkey

But Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk was no ordinary leader. He was an astute statesman and strewed strategist. He didn’t express to the public how he would develop Turkey until he got the power to execute his vision (i.e. not until he was President of Turkey.)

Then Atatürk carefully constructed and deployed a master plan, today known as the Kemalist ideology or Kemalism. Believing in this strategy Ataturk and his associates started to publicly question the value of religion and held the view religion was not compatible with modern science and secularism was imperative for modernity.

Ataturks reforms Ottoman Islamic Turkey

Thus Ataturk regime began step by step to implement the Kemalist ideology with a radical reformation of the Turkish society with the aim of modernizing Turkey from the remnants of its Ottoman past. In line with their ideological convictions the Ataturk government abolished Islamic religious institutions; replace the Shariah law with adapted European legal codes; replaced the Islamic calendar with the Gregorian calendar; replace the Arabic script which was used to write the Turkish language with the Latin script and closed all religious schools.

In addition Ataturk took over the country’s 70,000 mosques and restricted the building of new mosques. Muftis and imams (prayer leaders) were appointed and regulated by the government, and religious instructions were taken over by the Ministry of National Education. Mosques were to preach according to the Ataturk’s dictates and were used to spread the Kemalist ideology.

For Sufi Muslims it was worse. Atatürk confiscated Sufi lodges, monasteries, meeting places and outlawed their rituals and meetings.

Turkey mosque muslim hijab girl

According to Ataturk modernity was valued and represented as not wearing any religious dress or being non-religious. So he ordered what cloths Turkey’s citizens should wear. The traditional garb of local religious leaders was outlawed. The fez (Turkish hat) was banned for men and the veil and hijab (headscarves) were discouraged and restricted for women.

Atatürk and his colleagues even wanted to Turkify Islam. They ordered Muslims to use the Turkish word Tanri instead of Allah for God and use the Turkish language in Salaath (the 5 times prayers) and Azaan (the call for prayers). These preposterous changes deeply disturbed the faithful Muslims and caused widespread resentment, which led in 1933 to a return to the Arabic version of the call to prayer.

After some time the Atatürk regime moved towards more extreme measures. Ataturk prohibited religious education. The existing mosques were turned into museums or used for the regimes secular purposes.

Turkey oppress Kurds Sufi Sunni Shia Islam

The faithful Turkish and Kurdish Muslims be they Sunni, Shia or Sufi were powerless against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s regime and his military. But they tried to resist the oppression and even led rebellions. But he was too strong for them and Ataturk suppressed the rebellions after massive bloodsheds. (e.g. Seyh Sait rebellion in southeastern Turkey which claimed nearly 30,000 lives before being suppressed had its roots in religious grievances.)

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in 1938. After that some of his preposterous laws were revoked by his successors due to their harshness and the fact that Islam was always a strong force at the popular level despite the suppression.

ottoman islam mosque in turkey

Since then there have been occasional calls for a return to Islam. But the secular governments and military true to the Kemalist ideology have managed to suppress them. Amidst this environment in the 1980s a new generation of educated, articulate and religiously motivated leaders emerged to challenge the dominance of the Kemalist political ruling elite. By their own example of piety, prayer, and political activism, they have helped to spark a revival of Islamic observance in Turkey.

But the Turkish military and the state bureaucracy are infiltrated with (Kemalist) secularists and act as the guardians of Ataturk’s reforms and work to preserve Kemalism and weaken Islam. This situation has gradually led to a polarization of the Turkish society and today Turkey remains as someone observed a ‘torn society’.

Kemalism Replaced by Gülenism in Turkey

Numerous Turks believed (Kemal Ataturk,) had super intelligence and indeed was the savior of Turks, and many secular Turks almost worshipped Ataturk and his principles. It was hard to criticize him and his work, because anyone who criticized him either lost their job or ended up in jail due to the blasphemy law that considered any derogatory remark against Ataturk to be a defamation of Ataturk. Even the Turkish Constitutional law forbids anyone from denigrating him.

Today Kemalism is dead, a substitution of Gülenist tyranny for the former secularist or Kemalist tyranny, and that shift does not make Turkey any more democratic. Kemalism was a phenomenon beyond party politics; it was a way of life, and even some secularists treated Kemalism as a religion and the founder Ataturk as an extraordinary person. Nevertheless, based on the military’s stronghold, a powerful central role for the state, and the Kemalist ideology, today this system is being replaced by another ideology or ism called “Gülenism.” Gülenists think of and see Gülen as an extraordinary person and his ideology as a way of life; some of his followers even see him and think of him as the Mehdi, the savior of Islam and humanity, believing that they are the chosen ones, that they are the ones who know best in all matters, and that they can never speak against Gülen. They want to have one man, one party, and one hegemony with no room for competition. In a strong central hierarchy, like most of human history has been telling us, a craving for power drives men.

Democratic politics is sometimes driven by self-interest and greed. Gülenists are using democracy in each election to grab power; they do whatever they can within the law and sometimes outside of the law to influence public opinion with the weapon of misinformation. For example, for a long time Gulenists have praised Erdogan and used his government to gain power both internationally and domestically. Internationally they use governmental high officials, bureaucrats, and diplomats to visit their NGOs, cultural centers, and missionary institutions to gain credibility, but once the Prime Minister did not listen to Gülen but paid attention to his constituency, and now they are doing negative campaigning against Erdogan. Soon they might slander Erdogan as well. Time will tell what happens. Since Erdogan wants to do away with the special courts that are sending anti-Gulenists to prison, the Gulenists are drawing back from Erdogan who, perhaps, is beginning to understand that a country cannot have two governments. Now they are praising Gul over Erdogan because whenever Gul is touring, President Gul visits their schools and missionaries’ NGOs, but the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister now realizes the agenda of the Gulenists, and most likely this divergence of purpose will not be reconciled any time soon. For sure, Gülen places people who believe his ideology in the top of the government bureaucracy.

The checks and balances system guarantees democracy. In Gülenism there are no checks and balances, and Gülen’s ideas are absolute. Gülenism may be described in terms of an ideology or system that has to be a centralized, political system with a multi-cultural perspective. The main unification is an Islamic identity as was the case with the traditional Ottoman and Islamic model.***The main goal of Gulen is to bring back the golden generation, which was the Ottoman Empire.

The main goal of Kemalism was to make Turkey become a European country with European values and culture. Ataturk was a ruler with total power over Turkey, and like most demagogues, typically one who had obtained power by force. The survival of Gülenism is due to a dictatorial, authoritarian, secretive, highly centralized system that generates fear of being excommunicated from the community in its members and of having the nature of an ideology rather than being more tolerant or democratic.

Now Gülen uses the same strategies as his predecessor by having total power over Turkey via all civil, social, political, and economical entities as well as the military and the police. Granted, Gulen has helped bring change to Turkey like Ataturk did from 1925 until his death, which was a great era for Turkey with its single party, that of Ataturk, having absolute power with no checks and balances. As we see today that Gülen has absolute power over his movement with an unchecked hierarchy, Gülen is the untouched, unchallenged, and unchecked balance of power. Ataturk closed down all venues of civil society, political parties, institutions, and independent parties that did not agree with his ideology and, consequently, challenged his cult. Today Gulenists are doing the same thing, closing down the institutions or putting those involved in prison. All the secular, Kurdish civil institutions, political figures, academician, writers, journalists who do not believe but instead challenge his ideology are incarcerated. Ataturk had obtained power by force, but Gulenists have obtained power in a similar way— by force of lies in not telling the truth about their agenda– so that now they have total control and are using force, either to threaten those who object to them or to bring a lawsuit against them because most of the judges in Turkey are also Gulenists. Ataturk never challenged his opponents’ political parties but rather had free and fair elections. Instead he relied on arbitrary courts to produce the death certificate to execute thousands of dissidents, such as Mollah Said, Iskilipli Mehmed Atif Hoca, Ali Sukru, and Kazim Karabekir, with some of them being murdered by Ataturk’s followers. Meanwhile, Ataturk’s most notable dissident who refused to belief his cult ideology was Saidi Kurdi, an imam who spent most of his life in prison cells and moved from location to location even to the degree that nobody knows where his grave is.

For a long time Turks have been trying to define their identity and where they belong. In 1923, when Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic, Kemalism was a movement for Ataturk to express his ideology, in the name of the republic, for teachers to raise generations with free ideas, free conscience, free knowledge, and a movement of enlightenment. Ataturk was also opportunistic; Ataturk wanted to get Western technology, instruments, factories, science, as well as the philosophy of the West and the Western education system so that art, science, and technology could grow. Turks need to have a culture of freedom of thought, respect, and appreciation for science. Ataturk did not want institutions or individuals to be under the pressure of any religion dogma. He established legal and governmental mechanisms to allow Turks to embrace Islam in their private lives while banning religion from public affairs. Ataturk separated mosques from the state and withdrew its dominant influence. He wanted Turkey to be modern like Europe with the modern secular laws governing public life rather than with the Ottoman-imposed Shar’ia law. Because the Ottoman Empire was “the sick man of Europe,” it helped Ataturk to implement his policies. However, Ataturk put into official practice his six principles of Kemalism: republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism, and revolution or reformism, tenants which were written into the Constitution of 1924. Whoever criticized these principles was vigorously repressed. Thus, Ataturk became the symbol of Turkey, with a generation supporting this Turkish revolution and its founder Atatürk.

For Kemalism, republicanism meant to have no democracy but only authoritarianism.

Kemalism as a top down Westernization model of statism is dead. Nothing would portend the end of the Kemalism better than the rewriting of the Constitution of Turkey and all of its defenders, the realistic, hard-core generals, being in prison, in addition to the changes in the education system and civil society. Today Gulenists work hard to restore the Ottoman Empire, exactly what Ataturk destroyed.


Another principle of Kemalism is secularism or the idea of separation of mosque and state. In this view secularism means separation of religion from educational, cultural, and legal affairs. No religion or group can interfere in the state affairs and cannot claim any privilege in the state. No religion or groups can influence state law, so that the state remains impartial towards all religious groups and does not interfere in religious affairs, but in certain circumstances the state can interfere in the religious affairs of groups. For example, if a group asks its member to commit suicide or to sacrifice himself or herself, the state can intervene in the religious affairs, but in Turkey the state does interfere in a religious group’s affairs. Turkey has an official Directorate of Religious Affairs that looks after the religious affairs of only the Sunnite Moslems. Gülenism is trying to monopolize the discourse about itself around the globe among academicians, politicians, diplomats, civil society groups, and NGO’s who have been invited to Gülen’s conferences, where they are given red carpet treatment and two-week tours to Turkey and then later asked them to write positive things about Gülen and the movement. The result is mostly favorable but is that scholarly? How could one expect a person to produce an objective study about Gülen and his organization if the organization gives them benefits? By contrast, everything has been written or produced by the Gulenists themselves.

All Muslims are called to follow Mohammed’s way of life, his lifestyle, his leadership as the sole leader, and his philosophy as well as to disseminate his doctrine. The question is why do Gulenists disseminate Gülen’s name? Why do Gulenists in writing any articles quote from Gülen instead of quoting from Mohammed? Why has every conference been given the name of Gülen and not the name of Mohammed if Mohammed is the founder of Islam and the messenger of God? Is it because Gulenists are ashamed to associate with Mohammed and have a hard time to answer some of the Westerns’ accusations against Mohammed and his life? When Mohammed gave his last sermon, he recommended to all his devotees to follow two things: one is the Quran and the other is his teaching and his Sunnah. Also, in Islam idolatry is not allowed, but today many Gulenists idolize Gülen. Is Gülen’s lifestyle equal to Mohammed’s? Why do they not quote Mohammed or Quranic verses? Is Mohammed’s lifestyle or his Sunnah not compatible with today’s life, and that is why they do not associate themselves with Mohammed or his Sunnah? Is Gülen more moral than the Prophet Mohammed and that is why most of his followers are trying to disseminate Gülen’s ideology, and instead of giving conferences to discuss what the Quran says about violence, what the Quran says about peace, love, or war, they speak of Gülen’s ideas? What does the Quran say about interfaith dialogue? What does the Quran say about the future of the world? What does the Quran say about where Muslims should look and pray? What does the Quran say about politics and human rights? What does the Quran urge about tolerance toward other religions? Gulenists quote Gülen more than Quranic verses. America wants to have a moderate Islam that it can work with and can give directions and orders to its leaders. But that is a very wrong-headed and dangerous hope to have such this kind of Islam. A student of Islam and its history knows that the religion has always had problems with power. Once the leaders get full power, then they ask for submission as the only way to be respected and accepted by all. Today Gulenists have organized economically, socially, politically, educationally and gained an enormous amount of power.

Secularism is based on separating religion from all the affairs of this life. It rules by the laws and regulations other than Allah’s laws. Hence, secularism rejects Allah’s rules with no exception and prefers regulations other than those of Allah and his messenger. In fact, many secularists claim that Allah’ law might have been suitable for the time they were revealed but are now outdated. By contrast Kemalism presupposes no religion in politics and no politics in religion or that religion is a private matter between the individual and Allah, and that the state is for the people. However, in truth, faith is an important resource for the tranquility of a society. If society does not have any faith, then it will not have any tranquility and order.

Revolution/ Reformism

Kemalism represents a political revolution, a change from the multinational homogeneous society to a mononational society that established the Republic of Turkey. Kemalists believed that republicanism is the best system for the Turkey and its people. Kemalism was also a social revolution in terms of its main purpose. This revolution was led from the top down with a dictatorial orientation towards the populace. Kemalism brought a change by adopting Western codes of law in Turkey, and Ataturk claimed that true rulers of Turkey were the peasants, but in reality the elite ruled.

The Kemalist revolution was a nationalistic revolution which respected the right to independence of all others nations; it employed nationalism with a social context. Ataturk’s view of nationalism adheres to the principle that the Turkish state is an indivisible whole comprising its territory and people. Ataturk made clear that principles of statism were interpreted to mean that state was to regulate the country’s general economic activity and that the state was to engage in areas where private enterprise was not willing to do so and, therefore, took the ownership of the major industries of the country. Gülen’s revolution is a nationalistic and religious revolution. Like Kemalism, Gülenism sought hegemony and domination; both are monopolistic systems that co-opt, subordinate, or destroy diversity. Wherever either has gone, native traditions, local culture, and non-monotheistic belief get marginalized or eliminated. Gulenists look to Gülen for the answer to modern problems, including these of an economic, scientific or political nature. They take Gülen literally as God’s last and most perfect progenitor. This means that when Gülen exhorts his followers to do anything, they take it to mean a divine edict.

Summary of Kemalism vs. Gülenism

Kemalism ideology was based on a corporatist ideology of progress and order. The main idea of Kemalism came from Ziya Gokalp, the most nationalistic thinker. Kemalism as an ideology promoted the superiority of the Turkish nation over all other nations. The main idea of Gülenism came from Saidi Kurdi but has been twisted because Saidi Kurdi was not advocating supremacy of any race’s superiority to another race but rather Saidi Kurdi emphasized a general welfare of all Muslims. Gülen believes that the Turkish people are chosen people, God has assigned them to this movement, and thus they are the saviors of the world. He called them “golden generation,” claiming, “The world is to be saved by that ‘golden’ generation who represent the Divine Mercy from the entire disasters intellectual, spiritual, social, and political with which it has long been afflicted. The world will come back through their efforts to its ‘primordial’ pattern on which God created it and be purified of all kinds of deviation and ignorance so that people may rise to ‘the highest of the high’ on the ladder of belief, knowledge, and love supported against the heavens by the Divine Message.”

Ataturk prevented religion from becoming a tool for politics. He created a management of religious affairs and put it under a state institution, the Directorate of Religion Affairs. The directorate privileged Sunni Islam, leaving out non-Muslims and allowing the Sunni Muslims to build a homogeneous nation state. Gülenism is using religion for political Islam. The main goal of Kemalism was to raise Turkey to the level of contemporary civilization by dismantling the institutions of the Ottoman Empire and by building a nation state. Ataturk abolished the Sultanate, the Caliphate, and Shar’ia law; the establishment of the civil code was the major moves that disestablished the political and religious wings of the Empire.

Gülenists’ hegemony in Turkey is trying to bring back the Ottoman Empire by using its tactics and strategies. One of the most effective strategies is using an organic model implanting their intellectuals, media, schools, politicians, foreign media, foreign, politicians, writers, and journalists in the local and global society. All other public manifestations, identities, ideologies, worldviews and personalities that do not conform to Gülenism and its vision are demonized, vilified, or even criminalized. As long as one loves Gülen and does not have objections to him, but rather deeply respects him and believes he makes no mistakes, he or she is welcomed by Gulenists. Under the Kemalist regime, non-Muslims, leftists, liberals, and Kurds have always been discriminated against by the Kemalists state whenever these identities were manifested in public spheres. Using the divide and rule policy, Gülen sets up people against each other, playing the puppeteer. Now days, trying to pit secular Kurds against religion Kurds, he gives positions and a certain degree of prestige and power to those who serve the interests of Gulenists, but they are never fully trusted. The most perfect and the most trusted Turkish citizens are members of Gülen’s community. The Gulenists have infiltrated the Kurdish parties and use surveillance to control other members of society in order to ensure that they are under control and do not do anything wrong against them. By using this mechanism, the Gulenists make sure they always employ the members of their movement; members of the Gülen movement are called Sakird. The organization makes sure all Sakird placed in the sensitive state bureaucracy or employed in some state department, judiciary, or military are Gülen’s followers, so that almost all bureaucrats are Gülenists’ Sakird.

 When the Kurdish people protested against a religious directorate and read the Friday sermons in Kurdish, the Gulenists slandered the Kurdish imams calling them a cult. There is another reason for Gülen’s recent decree to kill all the Kurdish guerilla in Turkey and that is because the Kurds who support the PKK’s cause are considered a threat to his ideology. Therefore, he uses his media and all his power to demonize the Kurdish PKK in the eyes of the people. It is true that the PKK has done some awful things, but the Turkish military, the police, and the politicians in the past have done horrific crimes as well. For Gulenists, even purely religious issues are often given a nationalist flavor. Gülenists’ solution to the Kurdish issue is one nation, one state, one motherland, one flag. They believe that there are no inside problems but that outside powers create discord among the Kurds and Turks. They also think that only about five hundred people recognize that there is a Kurdish problem and that if the government eliminates those who create discord or if his followers go to their houses and villagers to recruit more Kurdish children and indoctrinate them, then the Kurdish problem will go way. Gulenists claim they have a democratic system, but the core institutional definition of democracy is that the people must have complete freedom to worship privately or corporately; they should also be able to publically advance their values in civil society and sponsor organizations and movements in political society as long as the public advancement of these beliefs does not impinge negatively on the liberties of other citizens or violate democracy and the law by coercion. What Gulenists and their media are doing is closing the Kurdish youth groups on campuses all over the Turkey and opening Gülen’s lighthouses. With their media they disseminate lies about Kurds, or they recruit Kurdish politicians to be their spokespersons. Gülen himself does not believe there is such a Kurdish issue, so how can he solve the issue? For those who advocate democracy, no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. The higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous the rulers become to the subjects. Hence, Gülenism, a system of theocracy, is the worst of all governments. Even though Gulenists believe that the Gülenism system of rule is effective to keep social order and foster the notion of hard work, education, interfaith dialogue and the necessity of community to thrive, Gulenists have a Calvinist perception of human nature and God. Humans are conceived as naturally evil and could only be encouraged to be good by constant penitence as well as surveillance of their peers. Because every member of the community keeps an eye on the other’s business, few dare to break the rules of the community or show anti-community behaviors. To the leaders of the community who are in charge of ruling over social, economic, civil and religious matters, there seems to be no clear difference between offenses and sins. There is no difference between public and private matters, and the followers of Gulen chose to be on the safe side and obey all the rules. When there are non-followers in the community, they are not considered trustworthy, so the community is very cautious about those outsiders. Secrecy is the Freedom of tyrants dream of. Turkey is changing from rule by secular Kemalist dictators to rule by Gulenist dictators. I am always worried when I see a Majority of Gulenists only believe Quran that themselves cannot understand an read then listening to another person (Gulen) explaining what they should do.

Dr. Aland Mizell is with the University of Mindanao School of Social Science, President of the MCI and a regular contributor to You may email the author

(7783 words)

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