Dhe history of Turkey in the twentieth century knows the change from the politically, militarily and economically eroded Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey, which today belongs to the G-20 states. For decades, the radical modernization of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the twenties and early thirties of the last century formed the center of an apparently completely new history of this country. For a good decade, however, “modern” Turkey seems to have been politically, institutionally and culturally dismantled by the Islamist reaction. The long road to Europe embarked on in the nineteenth century has turned.
Maurus Reinkowski’s “History of Turkey” is a political history of Turkey in which the actions of the political actors and the actions of the state are in the foreground. There are few explanations on the economy, social-historical descriptions and analyzes as well as cultural history that go beyond the realm of religion and political culture are missing. But that is the intention of the author, who can use his strengths as an Islamic scholar in this way.
Ambivalences of the historical new beginning
His book contains a finely nuanced account of three opposites: that of secular and religious Turkey, the related conflicts between the politics of urban and rural milieus and the politically relevant emotional-historical tension between confidence and anger, including “the rapid change of heroes – and the role of victim, of virility and fragility ”.
Reinkowski systematically and precisely explains how closely Ataturk’s reforms follow the Europeanization and modernization of the Ottoman Empire since the late eighteenth century. Also the late emergence and radicalization of the nationalism of the Young Turks, whose government led to the genocide of the Christian Syrians and Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as well as the continuity of the Young Turkish elite into the Republic of Turkey founded in 1923 are among the ambivalences of the historical new beginning.
Nevertheless, the historical turning point was deep. As a result of the reforms associated with the name Ataturk and the political dominance of the Kemalists, the “Kemalist bureaucratic-intellectual-judicial-military complex” emerged, which means that the Kemalists ruled the state and had their supporters among educated townspeople, but hardly any the country and among believers of Sunni Orthodoxy.
One of the most momentous contradictions of the secular, ideologically oscillating Kemalist project, however, consisted in defining the Turkish nation in the secular state with the help of Islam. A Turk should not only – as one of the political slogans of the early republic read – be happy to be allowed to call himself a Turk, but should also be different from others in national terms through his Sunni Islam. This exclusionary nationalism in the face of a religiously and ethnically heterogeneous population in the Turkish “nation state” has remained the constant political action of all Turkish governments to this day. The continuity of the nationalist repression affected not only the largest minority of the Kurds, but also the Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Alevis who remained after the “population exchange” in 1923.