Identity, Modernist Urges and Turkish Society in Changing

Opinion, by Prof. Dr. Hüsamettin İnaç*

Turkey which has an imperial past and glorious history today fall into the inferiority complex and feeling of dissatisfaction because of the persistent loss and keeping behind the contemporary civilization. Therefore, the Turkish intellectual always seeks the answers for the question of how Turkey develops, grows, and progresses for two centuries. Is it the matter of schooling, per capita income or unfair distribution of income which create the dissatisfaction and feeling of inadequacy? These questions were the signal flare of modernizing steps and confronting with the recent past of Turkish political experience.

As a matter of fact, there can be three important reasons why Turkey has risks in modernization process in spite of all efforts and attempts to be modernized: First reason is the lack of planning, competence and qualification. However, Turkey has wasted time, power, energy, and resources due to the clientelism, not well-organized projects, failure in finding her targets to implement the constant policies, and imprudence in determining the education in line with the developmental targets and reactivating her potential and capability rationally. Second reason is the lack of coherent democracy interrupted by the military interventions witnessed almost in every decade until the 15 July 2016 civilian occupation attempt. In fact, every coup d’état deprived Turkey from various opportunities and at least a decade from the progress. As it is known, economic development needs a high level democracy. Today it is proved that the enhancement of democracy is strictly relevant with the rapidly growing economy. The last reason as an extension of both ones is the need of bureaucratic modernization which prevents the competition and strife among the officialdoms. As a result, Turkey is supposed to learn to have innovative, creative, civilian and leading modernization rather than the radical, militarist and authoritarian one.
When we glance at the Turkish modernization and its risks, we can itemize the below parameters as the distinctive features of Turkish modernization:

Onur Aydemir

1. Turkish modernization has followed a course of development far from the democratic framework at the beginning of the process. This has led to the understanding that the democracy is just free elections made at regular intervals. This is one of the main reasons why Turkish society is not mature enough to tolerate the “others” during the early period of modernization.

2. Turkish modernization has been realized on the basis of women, which cannot be compared with any other modernization example (Russian, Japanese, etc.). A new image of Turkish women has been created and this new image has been accepted as the face and the most basic indicator of modernization.

3. While the modernization was carried out through political leaders (Mustafa Kemal At-atürk, as the founding father of Turkish Republic), created figures (Keriman Halis, as the beauty queen), or through those who claimed to be protectors and bearers of modernization (Kenan Evren, as the almighty general of 1980 coup d’etat), the opposition to modernization was carried out without any individual figures through the society, because there was no middle class as an agent of modern values.

4. Modernization, as it is known, has appeared at the ultimate stage of the Western historical experience. Because the Turkish modernization was not a product of the historical process itself, the results produced by the modernization in the West did not reflect to the ordinary life of Turkish people. For instance, the phenomenon of individualization in the West is confused with the selfish and individualistic community in the modernizing countries like Turkey.

5. The Japanese modernization was realized through ˝imitation˝ and succeeded in great success. Turkey has started to follow the intrinsic western trajectory and, nevertheless, has shifted to ˝imitations˝ from time to time. Today, this is one of the basic reasons underlying the partial success of Turkish modernization.

6. The military’s assumption the role of the pioneer, guardian, leading figure and proprietor of modernization and the perception of the hierarchical influence of the army over almost every field of the social life led the occurrences of some religious and political communities as the opponent of modernization in many respects.

7. As it is known, the prospective direction of Turkish modernization has always been the west since the beginning of newly established Republic and this has been criticized at many studies. As the ˝Modern Society˝ is a western origin, of course, the fact that the modernizing societies follow Western societies is anticipative. But that does not mean that the best of everything is in the west and western societies has monolithic character. The belief that the best of everything is in the west and constant emphasis on this mindset in Turkish modernization has led all European Union member states and societies to perceive within the same category. This was misperception so delusive that Turkey deemed all European people had the monolithically shaped a common culture and identity.

8. In spite of all criticisms, Turkish modernization has created a very strong and coherent ˝nation˝ and “nation state” which was inspired by the nation-building strategies of the west which is evaluated as a successful product when it is taken into consideration from this point of view.

9. It has been dealt with in a wide variety of studies that the Turkish modernization is interruption from the tradition and the isolation and alienation of the governments from the society because of its imposition by the political elite as top-down changing mechanism. Actually imposed values of modernization created a huge cleavage between the state and nation and the governing and governed. People who cannot find what they are looking for in their own state have either gone to search for informal structures or wanted to go other states.

10. In Turkey, modernity which was perceived as westernization is still seriously questioned and criticized by the different segments of society. However, during this period the west already has passed to the postmodern and even information society phase and this progressive transformation of European societies has made it more difficult for the two sides to converge in common discourse and action, and deepens the distance between the two sides.

Eventually Turkish identity followed the trajectory to reshape itself over the Europe and westernization process once again from the last period of the Ottoman Empire to nowadays. This tendency can be analyzed within three levels. The first one is the dualist modernization in Ottoman last period which kept the tradition and modernity alive together, is attempted to modernize over the military, tried to be a part of Europe by promoting the rights of non-Muslim minorities within the Empire. The second level is Kemalist modernization process which was based on the radical westernization by complete interruption from the tradition and the inclusion of the ordinary people into the modernization process by means of top down imposition. The third and last level is the westernization and modernization within the European Union (EU) integration process when Turkey denounced as the official candidate to the EU in Helsinki Summit of December 1999 to nowadays. At the beginning of this process, EU served to enhance the promotion of the democratic status and especially the normalization of civil-military relations by breaking the military-bureaucratic tutelage and oligarchy in Turkey thanks to her building herself over the relatively democratic values and as an ˝external changing mechanism˝. Nevertheless, this relationship was reversed as time passes by because of changing character of the EU and Turkey relations. Over time this transformation in mutual relations was anyhow the distortion of Turkey’s existing and futuristic relations with the European civilization. It can be generally expected that two parties will attempt to ameliorate their relations and a new type of togetherness will be provided in accordance with the changing sociopolitical conjuncture and newly constructed world order.

*Head of Political Science and International Relations; Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Dumlupinar University /

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