Turkey, Culture and Kemalism (Part I)









Turkey is a country located in two continents with the area approximately 814.578 sqs. About 90% (790.200sqs) of the area is in Asia continents, and about 3% (24.378sqs) is in Europe continents. Due to this strategic geography, Turkey is like a bridge between the East and the West. Historically, Turkish inherits Roman civilization in Anatolia, Islam civilization, Arabic, and Persian as a legacy from Usmani Emperor, and the influence of modern Western countries. Besides that, Turkish is thought originally from central Asia. There are lots of historical buildings from Bizantium era that we can see in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey. The most famous one is Aya Sofia, a Bizantium era church that has been changed into a mosque in the reign of Ottoman Caliph. Since the reign of Mustafa Kemal, it has been changed to be a museum until now.

Islam civilization with the influence of Arabic and Persian has become a deep heritage for Turkish as a relic from Ottoman Dynasty. Islam in the reign of Ottoman is applied as a religion that regulates the relationship between humans and the creator, God; and as a social system that underlies social and state life. This is because Islam that initially from Arabian Peninsula has been developing for a long time in Persia, and also has been developing in the territory of Ottoman with bringing a civilization from those nations. As a result, it gave a huge impact to Turkish culture. This condition has evoked a mistake on ordinary people who assume that they are similar to Arabian. This erroneous assumption has always wanted to be straightened by Turkish since there is a great growth of nationalism spirit in 19th century. Further, the western-oriented modernization has absorbed the cultural elements of western that are considered modern. The cultural assimilation among Turkish civilization, Islam and the West has been colored the identity of Turkish society.

Indonesian knows Turkey as a Muslim majority country, and as a nation that has led Islam world for 700 years, from the beginning of 13th century until the collapse of Ottoman Empire in the early of 20th century. The phenomenon of Turkish life is getting interesting since the country that was founded in 1923 declared to be a secular country.  Islam roles as a religion in social life for more than 7 centuries was dropped and replaced by Western system. This paper is trying to explain the phenomenon from historical sociology perspective.

From Westernization to Secularization

The collapsed of Constantinople, the capital city of Bizantium, into the hands of Ottoman troops under the command of Sultan Muhammad II in 1453, has been marked as the first momentum of the relation between Turkey and the West. Constantinople, a metropolis city that located in Asia and Europe renamed to be Istanbul. This is the starting point of the golden age of Ottoman Empire and has been growing up rapidly until 18th century. The territory has been widening stretched from North Hungary in west to Iran in east, from Ukraine in north to Indian Ocean in south.

Ottoman Empire succeeded in building a great Empire with a multi-ethnic and multi-religion society. Freedom and cultural autonomy that has given to non-Muslim people is a proof for contemporary world that Caliphates system with Islamic concept has shown the tolerance and a noble justice.

Sultan is also a caliph; it means as the leader of the government, he is also the leader of religion. Ottoman Empire is supported by the power of clergy (syekhul Islam) as the holder of sharia law and the power of military. It is well-known as Janisssari army. This power of super-disciplined military supported the invasion Ottoman Empire, and it is also the cause of its collapsed in 20th century.

The failure of Turkish troops in an attempt to conquer Vienna in 1683 is an early wan of Turkish Empire. This is understood as the weakening of Turkish troops. On the other hand, it is the awakening of Europe troops. Moreover, it also means of the degradation of the technique of Turkish army. Off of those reasons, Turkish army tried to imitate Western military technology as they considered as an advanced one. As a result, this condition brought Ottoman Empire to renewal period and modernization.

After World War II in 1918, the Central that Turkey supported were collapsed. Therefore, Ottoman Empire experienced a very sad declined period. Besides that, one by one the territories that far from the central of Ottoman Empire declared themselves to be free. Even the worst, the Allies attempted to divide Turkish territory to be their country colonies. However, this condition has grown the spirit of nationalism of young Turkish generation. The thought of nation identity and the importance of nationalism have been a hot issue.

To be continue

*Source: Ade Solihat M.S. He is an alumnus of Postgraduate Islam and Middle East Countries Institute, Marmara University, Turkey. This paper was presented on a public lectures–KEMALISME: Budaya dan negara Turki–By Linguistics & Literature Department FIB Universitas Indonesia, Mei 10, 2005.

Translated to English by: Nanak Hikmatullah, Humboldt State University, English and Political Science Major. October 2011.

Pictures: Abul Ismail, California State University, Fresno.



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