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In Ottoman history, being a Turk has been understood to be the same as being humiliated. As one example, let us examine the statements of the late-17th century Ottoman court historian Naima Mustafa Efendi about the Turks, which appear in his history of the same name (Tarih-i Naima). Naima refers to the Turks as ‘brainless’ or ‘dull-witted’ (idraksiz Türkler), ‘ugly in appearance’ (çirkin suratlı Türk), ‘deceitful’ (hilekar Türk) and ‘large and sheepdog-shaped’ (çoban köpegi˘ ¸seklinde bir Türk-ü sü-türk).44

Clearly, the Ottomans themselves did not appreciate being referred to as Turks, particularly not by Westerners. The orientalist Vambéry relates an experience he once had in Istanbul:

…upon inquiring among learned Turks as to their interest in the matter of their racial and cultural relationship to the Turks of Central Asia, these learned souls felt as if they had been insulted, because it was claimed that they were somehow related to this nomadic people. In their eyes, ‘Turk’ was a term used only for the lowly levels of society, particularly for villagers.45

Veled Çelebi, one of the important figures among the Turkists, was scorned not just by his social circle, but even by his family during the time that he labored to develop the Turkish language. The work that Çelebi did was innocent in the extreme, changing the Arabic spelling of a few words and bringing them closer in line with the Turkish language. But even this was sufficient for him to be ostracized and cursed. In his foreword to a 1941 reissue of a work he had originally translated in 1897, Çelebi wrote:

…at that time it was a great sacrifice to make this revolution. Because of my love and ardor for my nation, my language and its grammar, some of my own community and family were furious at me; they criticized me viciously, saying ‘Instead of humbly continuing to follow the pure path of great persons of exalted lineage, is it proper for this underling to rush headlong and adopt such improperly novel habits, or even to write a piece in a manner so contrary to everyone else and in opposition to the previous rules [of orthography]?’ And they imparted to everyone in the council at which we were present a pearl of wisdom from the eternal and noble forefathers and, considering this poor soul a decadent type, they cast him out from among them.46

The widespread hostility toward the ‘Turks’ was, in a general sense, due to the following causes.

(a) The dev¸sirme identity of the Ottoman bureaucracy. The Empire’s central administrative arm was formed for several centuries by the forcible levy, or dev¸sirme, of Christian children, who were then converted to Islam and educated to be the Empire’s bureaucratic and military elite. This group always looked poorly upon Turkish tribesmen and humiliated them. Some officials even explained the decline of the Empire by the ‘seepage of Turks’ into administrative structures.47

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(b)The defeat by Timur (Tamerlane). In the period before the momentous Battle of Ankara in 1402, the Turkish beys of Anatolia betrayed the Ottoman cause and went over to Timur’s side, thereby paving the way for Sultan Beyazid’s defeat and the temporary collapse of the Empire. ‘Exploiting the House of Osman’s inferiority complex and the bitter feelings born out of this defeat at Timur’s hands…the dev¸sirme leaders strove to exacerbate the feelings of mistrust…and rancor against the Anatolian Turks.’48

(c)Arab–Islamic science. This was one of the main reasons for antiTurkish hostility and scorn for things Turkish in Ottoman society. In Ottoman medreses, the foundation of the educational curriculum was comprised of works of Arab–Islamic origin, which denigrated the Turks. In the Arab–Islamic world, and particularly in the koranic commentaries, Turks were imagined to be a herd of monsters, hostile to humankind, a race that visited disaster upon humanity. In all of these works, certain hadiths, (‘traditions of the Prophet’) that described the Turks negatively were included. The contents were attributed to Muhammad himself: ‘The Day of Judgment shall not arrive before war is waged against the Turks, who are beady-eyed, red-faced, flat-nosed, and whose visages resemble shields made of thick leather.’49 These and other similar denigrating descriptions can be found in nearly all of the fundamental Islamic works. Here are but two examples: the land of the Turks ‘is the source of unbelief and sedition’; the Turks are creatures who ‘have nails like claws, tusks and molars similar to those of wild animals, they have teeth that resemble those of dogs, chins that resemble those of camels, their entire bodies are covered with bristles, and when they eat something, their teeth are heard clicking together like the sound made by mules and mares.’50

d). The Alevi-Türkmen revolts. These occurred at various times throughout Ottoman history, and were often socio-economically motivated rebellions by Anatolian villagers, and even more so by nomadic groups, against the central administration of the Empire. Whether the rebels in large part consisted of Türkmen tribes or were of a religious character, they served to push the Ottoman rulers into a more generally hostile attitude toward the Alevi Türkmen.

This denigrating and hostile view of the Turks, which emerged as a byproduct of Ottoman history, was sharpened by foreign relations. In both the Middle Ages and more recent history many foreign works depicted the Turks as barbaric, violence-prone creatures. For example, Esther Kafé, who has pored over European works of the Renaissance period, says that in many of these works, legends abound about the Turks, who are described as ‘boorish, lustful, and beast-like persons’ and ‘unchaste, rotten and disgusting dogs’…who only open their moldy mouths in order to shout at and attack the very holy Christian religion.’51

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This description of the Turk as barbaric, violence-prone, and animallike continued into the modern era. In the theories of well-known historians and theoreticians of civilization such as Oswald Spengler, Nikolai Danilevski and Arnold Toynbee, as well as in the works of many other writers, this opinion is encountered again and again. For Danilevski, for instance, the Turks were ‘the most negative factor in history.’ For his part, the famous French historian Ernest Renan saw the Turks as ‘a coarse and boorish people, devoid of intelligence.’52 In the letters of Voltaire, who has won a place in the hearts of many as a champion of liberty, there are numerous references to the Turks as ‘these bullies’ and ‘these pillaging people.’53 In a letter to the Russian Czarina, Catherine II, who was then at war with the Turks, Voltaire says that he ‘wanted to help her, at least by killing a few Turks,’ and reports his sorrow at being unable to do so.54

In travel accounts, in particular, this anti-Turkish attitude is expressed in the most casual manner. One can find in such works countless passages about the Turks as a violence-prone nation, as having obliterated civilization and culture in Europe, and about the absolute necessity of driving them out of the continent. Here are but a few examples: ‘ignorant and bullying Turks…’;55 ‘With every step he took on the Balkan Peninsula, the Turk trampled underfoot the products of thousands of years of culture’;56 ‘Wherever the Turk sees a tree, he cuts it down’; ‘The Turks have destroyed cultures in every place, and have not preserved those things that they have taken into their possession. They were not a people of culture in any sense of the word, and they also failed to build upon the cultural foundation of the places they occupied.’57 Thus, most authors concluded, it was necessary to save Christians from the clutches of these barbarians: ‘We must hasten to the assistance of our Christian brethren…Let us cast the Turks out of Europe.’58 It was also proposed to solve the problem of the Turks by immediately conquering and dividing up the Ottoman Empire: ‘The solution to the Eastern Question is nothing other than the elimination of the Turks.’59 ‘It is the destruction of the Turkish holdings that they call the Eastern Question…’60

What is significant here is not the continual denigration and contempt of the Turks, but the Turkish consciousness of being disparaged. The Ottoman Turkish officials and learned men were well aware of the negative judgments of them in the West, and this awareness was a factor that in large measure determined their behavior. Thus, it should not be surprising that the first Turkist thinkers devoted a great portion of their labors to proving that each of the accusations directed against the Turks by westerners were false and slanderous. While stating the aim of his book Türk Tarihi (Turkish History), Necip Asım expressed the hope that he would be able to recount the triumphs of the Turks with the aim of disproving the baseless

 

 

 

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claims

of

persons not ashamed of ridiculing this great and

felicitous

nation.

61

 

·

 

 

Both in the newspapers (for instance, in Ikdam, which appeared

for the first time in 1893 with the motto ‘The Turkish Newspaper’) and history books of the period, ample place is given to laudatory views of the Turks. In these writings the Turks are praised for their cleanliness, their honesty and their superiority, and it is claimed that ‘human virtues…like patience, courage and civility are traits of the noble Turkish nation.’62

In Europe during this period, positive writings about the Turks and the Ottomans began to be sought, and brochures and books were published and disseminated. Among them were both translations and local publications,

which collected those passages that praised the Turks and showed them in

·

a positive light, such as those found in Ikdam. The 1898 work Türklerin Ulûm ve Fünûna Hizmetleri (The Contributions of the Turks to the Sciences and the Arts) by Bursalı Mehmet Tahir is but one of many examples. In the book’s introduction the author writes the following:

My aim is not to write a broad history of the Turks. Rather, by writing briefly in the form of an index about the historical situation of our writers who have grown up among this people and have left behind valuable works in the scientific and technological fields, my aim is to disprove the senseless ideas of our writers who suppose that each one of the Turks is simply a coarse warrior from a marauding race.63

These attempts continued into the first part of the 20th century. In the journals published by the Young Turks, some writers stated their goal as ‘the elimination of the negative aspects of the Turkish image in the eyes of the Europeans.’ The Türk Gazetesi, for instance, which was published in Egypt, claimed that ‘the Turks have earned Europe’s hatred even though they don’t deserve it in the least,’ and published numerous pieces aimed at erasing this negative image.64

Erasing the West’s negative image of the Turk turned out to be one of the major endeavors of the leaders of the Turkish War for Independence,65 because throughout both the First World War and the War for Independence the Western powers exploited the image of Turkish ‘barbarism’ and ‘savagery’ as a propaganda tool in their struggles against the Turks. Some Entente propaganda even claimed that the First World War itself had basically been waged against the Turks. In a bulletin dated January 10, 1917, for instance, which was issued with the goal of encouraging American participation in the war, the authors describe the Allied war aims thus:

The Entente states are conscious that they have not fought for selfish aims. Above all…they are fighting in order to preserve truth and humanity. The war aims of the Entente principally and necessarily include…the rescue of fallen

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peoples from the bloody tyranny of the Turks and the eviction from Europe of the Ottoman Empire, which is totally foreign to European civilization.66

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George always mentioned the Turks in a tone of disdain and loathing. In November 1914 he characterized them as ‘a cancer on humanity, a wound that has worked its way into the flesh of the earth that it has misruled.’ He characterized a potential Turkish victory as ‘the torch of pillage, cruelty and murder…that would be carried from Asia to Europe.’ Toward the end of the war, in a speech delivered on June 29, 1917, Lloyd George said that the Turks had turned Mesopotamia, the ancient cradle of civilization, into a wasteland, and Armenia into a graveyard, adding that the areas of this cradle of civilization ‘shall not be left to the incendiary and destructive brutality of the Turks.’67

It would thus be no exaggeration to claim that the reaction to this denigration and ostracizing was an important motif during the Turkish War for Independence. Even as the first preparations were being made in Ankara in 1919, Mustafa Kemal gave a speech on the nature of the independence struggle that sounded like a reply to Lloyd George’s accusations:

Because our nation as a whole was devoid of natural ability, it has entered into places which were gardens and has reduced them to ruins. By means of the first accusation, tyranny is attributed to [our] nation; by the second, its natural abilities are placed into question…Both of them are pure calumny.68

The intent of the speech was to present the War for Independence as counter-proof against these baseless accusations. Kemal’s assertion, that it was necessary to fight in order to prove to the Europeans that the Turks were not barbarians, was not at all a new idea. It had also been held by some of the leadership of the CUP. Upon the Italian invasion of Tripoli (Libya) in 1911, in order to convince the members of the CUP central committee to resist the occupation, Enver Pa¸sa said, ‘We must act in such a fashion that it will demonstrate to civilized Europe that we are not barbarians but are persons deserving to be treated with respect.’ The Turks, he said, should then wage war, wherein ‘we shall either emerge victorious, or, if we perish, we shall do so with our honor intact.’69

The existence in the West of the type of prejudice described above against the Turks has had an important result in establishing as an idée fixe in the minds of many Turks the perception that they have been made the whipping boy of history, because of which the whole world is against them, and a great injustice has been committed against them. Feelings of being the focus of universal and undeserved contempt have worked their way into and embedded themselves in the Turkish marrow. Like an overly sensitive person who feels misunderstood no matter what he does, it has become a

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Turkish national characteristic to react negatively in almost all relations with foreign powers. Even in the daily Turkish press one often finds exclamations such as ‘They don’t understand us,’ ‘They willfully don’t want to understand us,’ and ‘They all just want to see our bad side.’

This touchiness amounts to a societal paranoia. It is as if a powerful syndrome of being misunderstood and the psychology of isolation determine all forms of behavior.

Even though the Turks performed the earliest and greatest services to world civilization through their language, science and arts, there have been efforts— behind which lie a variety of purposes—to forget all of these civilized contributions and to unjustly show them as idle and insignificant in the view of history.70

These words were actually spoken at the opening speech of Turkey’s first History Conference in 1932.

The Nation Destined to Rule: The Turks

For a nation that has been this denigrated and is conscious of the fact, the first order of business is naturally to work to prove that the opposite of the accusations against it is true. There is no need here to assess the fantastic theories concocted, especially in the republican period, in reaction to the constant denigration: theories of the racial superiority of the Turks and of their role as the founders of all the world’s civilizations and languages. From our perspective, what is significant is the taking root of a belief that the Turks are superior to other nations and peoples, and thereby have the right to rule them. The Turkish founding of world empires and rule over other nations were frequently repeated as demonstrations of this superiority and of the uniqueness of Turkish history.

In the debates among the Ottoman opposition movement of the late 19th century and later among the Young Turks, Turkish domination within the Ottoman Empire was regarded as perfectly natural, and any discussion on that point was seen as simply unnecessary. The existence of the other nations within the Empire would only be recognized on the condition that they accepted the principle of Turkish domination. Even in the period before Turkism existed, and ideas such as Ottomanism and Islamism still did not predominate, those who promoted these ideas reiterated in no uncertain terms that what they meant by these ideas was, essentially, a continuation of Turkish domination. Thus, it should come as no surprise that those persons who made the first attempts at formulating a Turkish nationalist ideology in language and literature were the same persons who had earlier promoted Ottomanism or Islamism. Ahmet Rasim, who was involved in the debates of the period, made an important observation: ‘In

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those days, meaning after 1278 (1861), when [the newspaper] Tasvîr-i Efkâr began to be published, the obvious answer to the question of who constituted of the Ottoman nation was Turks.’71

This point is of great significance in the nationalism debate. The answer to the question of when Turkish nationalism actually began is an aspect of this debate: to what extent can the absence of a political Turkish nationalism in the early period of attempts to simplify the Ottoman language (which began after 1839) be interpreted as a lack of developed nationalist ideas? If the advocates of language simplification clearly understood from their attempts the dominance of the Turkish language, should their work not be considered an aspect of Turkish nationalism as well? Some scholars of Turkish nationalism have seen the efforts at language reform during the Tanzimat period as the starting point for Turkist thought. Even so, these reformers can in no way be considered Turkists in their political sensibilities.

A crucial error committed by some who would locate Turkish nationalism’s advent in this period is their consideration that Ottomanism and Turkish nationalism are one and the same. While this position must be rejected, a connecting thread runs between the two that must not be overlooked. Even in periods in which Turkism had not yet developed as a political ideology, the cosmopolitan ideologies that were developed in order to bind together the multinational Ottoman Empire were themselves understood as the continued domination of the ruling group, and this group was understood to be the Turks. Yusuf Akçura, for instance, in his work Yeni Türk Devletinin Öncüleri (The Pioneers of the New Turkish State),

examines the first attempts at Turkism, and explains that the early pioneers

·

like Ibrahim Sinasi,¸ Namık Kemal, Ahmed Vefik, Mustafa Celâleddin and Suleyman Pa¸sa were not Turkists in the political sense, but advocated the politics of Ottoman nationalism or Islamic unity. But, Akçura assures us, these persons understood the policies they advocated as Turkish domination far more than as an equality of all the component nations within the Empire. Even the Ottoman ruling class, which politically speaking was miles from any notions like Turkish nationalism, thought that it would only be possible to hold together the various peoples living in the Empire under Turkish domination. For his part, Ali Pa¸sa, ‘having observed the conflicting interests and aspirations of the various nationalities within the Empire, commented on the particular role of the Turks as the unifying element in the Empire.’72

Many more examples can be given that show that the idea of Ottomanism must have been understood as continued domination by the Turks.73 One of the more important reasons for this attitude is that the Turks had, by virtue of Islam, always found themselves in a position of dominance as ‘the

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Ruling Nation’ (Millet-i Hakime). It is often argued that Islam is a religion of tolerance. Nevertheless, ‘this toleration was predicated on the assumption that the tolerated communities were separate and inferior, and were moreover clearly marked as such. This was because ‘the Muslim superiority over the infidels had…roots both in tradition and morality,’74 and abandoning their position of dominance was therefore inconceivable.

Namık Kemal argued that ‘we can reach an understanding if the Christians desire our domination. It is very natural, because since we have not allowed them into the government, they could not possess the right to complain about it.’75 And Kemal established this idea on a clearly racial basis: ‘Because there is both a swirl of populations and abilities within the Ottoman collective, the Turks, who possess excellence and virtues and qualities such as ‘breadth of comprehension’ (vus’at-ı havsala), ‘sobriety’ (itidal-i dem), ‘patience and calm-headedness’ (tahammül ve sükûnet), take pride of place.’76 Similar ideas are found in the writings of Ali Suavi, a leading member of the Young Ottomans, who explained why the Turks needed to be rulers with the theory that ‘the Turkish race is superior to and older than all other races on account of its military, civil and political roles.’77 Sinasi,¸ who can be considered one of the first secularist Ottoman intellectuals, even adopted and defended the principle of the Ruling Nation. He claimed that the fact that this principle was not being sufficiently defended was one of the main reasons for his publishing the daily

Tercüman-ı Ahval.78

The attitude of the Committee of Union and Progress on this subject turned out to be no different. Ahmet Rıza, the European-educated positivist who played a central role in the movement’s theoretical debates before the Revolution, states that by Ottomanism he too meant the continuation of Turkish domination;’ he placed at the center of his policies the Turkish nation’s establishment of its domination over the other communities. Ahmet Rıza’s Ottomanism was that of someone proud to be a Turk.79 In 1908, when the official state ideology was still Ottomanism, in a debate with some Greeks the Unionist journalist and publicist Hüseyin Cahit Yalçın openly defended the idea of Turkish domination: ‘Say what you will,’ Cahit stated, ‘the dominant nation in the country is and shall remain the Turks.’80

One of the most important demonstrations of the shared understanding of the theoreticians and politicians of the period that Ottomanism meant Turkish domination was the massive response to the article ‘Üç Tarz-ı Siyaset’ (‘Three Types of Policy’) written by Yusuf Akçura in 1904. In this Akçura essentially argues that Ottomanism would not maintain the unity of the Empire; therefore it should give way to Turkism. Many of the responses to the article said in effect: ‘For us, the Turk cannot be separated from Islam,

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nor Islam from the Turk, neither the Turk and Islam from Ottomanism, nor Ottomanism from the Turk and Islam. The singularity cannot be divided into three.’81 The prevailing mood of that period understood Islamism, Ottomanism and Turkism not as separate concepts, but rather as one and the same. Mizancı Murat, one of the earliest leaders of the Young Turk exiles in Paris in the late 19th century, subtitled the newspaper he published ‘the Turkish Newspaper,’ and frequently referred to himself as both a Muslim and an Ottoman. When a reader called this approach a contradiction in terms, Murat reaffirmed his previous position of adhering to all three appellations, ‘which to those who hold them are not contradictory.’82

Even during the First World War, when the dual currents of Turkism and Ottomanism diverged from one another, plenty of writers continued to defend the latter. They continued to criticize the Turkists, claiming that Ottomanism meant Turkish domination. ‘If Ottomanism becomes stronger, most Turks will draw the greatest advantage from it…Is it not Turkishness that represents the spirit of the Ottomans?’83 In short, even in periods when Turkism had not fully developed as a political ideology, the Turks considered themselves the dominant nation and argued the need to promote acceptance of this dominance by the Empire’s other nationalities.

Turkish National Identity

Developed against a Fear of Extinction

Turkish national identity emerged and developed against a background of fear of nonexistence or obliteration. The Ottomans passed their last century which was, in the words of one Turkish historian, ‘the Empire’s longest century,’84 amid the constant fear that if not today, then tomorrow they would disappear politically, or be partitioned. The problem known as the Eastern Question that engaged European diplomacy for nearly the entire 19th century was actually no more than the question of how to divide the ailing Empire between the imperialist powers. The Ottoman Empire was the ‘sick man’ of Europe, and the patient was only able to survive as long as it did because the Great Powers were unable to reach an agreement among themselves over its division.

It was a condition well known both to the Empire’s rulers and to their opponents that the fate of the Ottoman state lay not in its own hands, but in those of certain foreign powers. The belief that the Empire’s days were numbered was so widespread that Western statesmen did not even feel the need to mince words when communicating with their Ottoman counterparts. In 1895 the British prime minister, Lord Salisbury, wrote the following to Grand Vizier Said Pa¸sa:

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Every day the opinion grows that the Ottoman state will not endure. The only reason for its continuation is England’s misunderstanding with Russia. If this understanding is reached, the Ottoman state will come to an end.85

An air of anticipation pervaded Ottoman ruling circles about the judgment to be given in regard to their fate. ‘The ruling class and even the intellectuals were in a profound moral crisis.’86 Among these groups Ibn Khaldun’s theory of history was considered utterly valid—and many may even have found a certain amount of comfort in its inevitability. According to Zeki Velidi Togan,

The ideas of Ibn Khaldun concerning the state and politics, and the fate of nations had a great effect upon the ideas of Ottoman statesmen during the period of decline. His views, which recognized the same degree of mortality in states as in individuals and showed it as ‘inevitable and destined’ to occur, were the reason that a certain pessimism took hold among us.87

All that could be done, they thought, was simply to prolong the dying process.

Cevdet Pa¸sa, who translated Ibn Khaldun into Ottoman Turkish, expressed this openly:

Just as among all people there is an age of development and growth, an age of learning and knowing and an age of decline, so among every state are found three stages like this. Just as all persons behave in accordance with their age in regard to preserving their health, because it too resembles a person, it is also necessary for the ruling Council of State to be mindful that their actions are appropriate in every situation and at every stage.88

The sense of helplessness and the psychosis of awaiting collapse among the Empire’s ruling circles affected developing Turkish nationalism in a variety of ways. By far the most visible was the monumental effort and concern expended in order to prevent the collapse and halt the decline. The ‘sick man’ thesis was accepted, but the assumption that nothing could be done to prevent his demise was not. Among the Young Turk cadres, in particular, the prevailing mood of panic stemming from fear of decline and annihilation was one of the most significant factors in determining their actions. It was likewise this panic that acted to spur these groups to carry out the 1908 revolution.

On June 8–9 of that year, English and Russian leaders met for a conference at Reval. In the accounts in both Russian and Western sources concerning the protocols of the conference there is not a shred of evidence that what was discussed was the question of the Ottoman Empire and its partitioning.89 But what is interesting here is that this meeting was ‘interpreted in Turkey…in a way that [suggested that] a definitive decision

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