NURAY MERT > Ottomanism as the new nationalism

Print Page Send to friend »
Since it is assumed that the sole obstacle for the Turkish democracy is the republican ideology and the political system of the “secular nation state,” it was also assumed that the conservatives would democratize Turkey and solve “the Kurdish problem.” Nevertheless, Turkish conservatives have never been less nationalistic than republicans, quite to the contrary - it was right wing nationalism that consolidated the power of the nation state. It was the definition of national identity as a synthesis of Turkishness and Islam that managed what republican civic nationalism failed to do: namely, secure the loyalty of ordinary citizens to the new nation state.

Turkish Islamists has long been critical of the republican regime only because of its secularist character. In addition, they opposed the idea of Turkish “nation state” because of its “minimalism.” In fact, Islamists have always felt resentful about the lost Ottoman Empire and have accused the Westernizers and secularists for this gigantic loss. Finally, the idea of the Ottoman Empire has never been an antidote to nationalism, far from it, Ottomanism just meant a different sort of Turkish nationalism. The empire has always been thought of as the last and the most glorious in the chain of historical “Turkish states.”

The idea of the Ottoman Empire has induced a nostalgic longing for the days when Turkish sultans ruled diverse people in vast lands. For Ottomanists, the idea of the Ottoman Empire as a multi-ethnic haven for diverse cultures and populations is rather misleading, since the basic idea has always been to recall the times when diverse populations lived under “Turkish rule.”

We can understand the AKP’s domestic politics concerning Kurds and foreign policies concerning the regional crises better under this light. The AKP tried to depend on “the politics of religious brotherhood” to suppress the Kurdish opposition, because of its Ottomanist/nationalist (rather than Islamist) convictions. The ruling party simply wanted Kurds to abide by the rule of the new Turkish state, which started to define itself as a sort of neo-Ottoman state. That is why Turkish conservatives feel genuinely disappointed and betrayed when Kurds ask for more than what they had under an Ottoman-style system of benevolence and obedience.

It seems that while right wing nationalism in Turkey does not sounding anything like its Cold War discourses, it has reinvented itself under a soft spoken Ottomanism. The new version of nationalism is liberal only concerning a handful of minorities, but no milder when the Turkish rule is actually challenged by the Kurds.

The AKP’s foreign policy can also be seen in similar way, and of course the limits of the Ottomanist idea are seen more clearly in the international arena. Still, it seems that the Foreign Minister cannot give up the idea. It has recently been reported that the Foreign Ministry has decided to define the “ex-Ottoman subjects” all over the world as part of the Turkish diaspora, and is planning to invite them to Turkish events in various Turkish Embassies. Thank God, this is the least dangerous, compared with other Ottomanist policies.


PRINTER FRIENDLY Send to friend »


Notice on comments

Erik Johansson

7/9/2012 10:15:56 PM

A constructive way to at least alleviate "the Kurdish problem" may be to finally find the responsible persons behind the killings of 34 innocent civilians at Uludere and bring them to justice.

The Lion

7/9/2012 9:52:52 PM

Red Tail, Turkish patriots don't talk about French or British imperialists unless they are forced to. They only bring them up to point out hypocrisy when the descendants of the French or British imperialists have the gall to say anything about the Ottomans (either they forget about their own far worse imperialist history or are being deliberately dishonest).

The Lion

7/9/2012 9:48:41 PM

V Tiger, "it has failed and will always fail"? How are you going to explain the African Americans or how most Russians aren't even genetically Slavic? Your views on the kurds are typical of an armenian who has no idea about Turkiye. Very few kurds speak their own [invented] language. Most speak Turkish primarily and more than half of them live in the Western part of the country. There's no historical basis for the kurds to even conceive of the concept of "independence". The PKK was invented by Russians.

Zlatan Zinho

7/9/2012 8:27:03 PM

@JohannaDew, in terms of culture the entirety of Old Istanbul (as opposed to two buildings in London) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and arguably the world's best contemporary novelist, Orhan Pamuk, uses Ottoman culture and civilisation as the backdrop for all of his work. Caliphates and republics alike come and go; it is what remains that is interesting.


7/9/2012 7:47:49 PM

No one is excited about Empires. Even the ardent nationalists know empires belong to history books. Nationalism is the antithesis of imperialism, by definition. By the way Ottomans were called many thigs but rarely a colonial power. There is a good reason for it, lets see if you can figure out.

Red Tail

7/9/2012 7:11:17 PM

People who are so excited about the empire, are they also excited and admire other forms of colonisation in history? Do they for example believe that Great Brittain was great? I am bit confused, because nationalistic Turks often talk about colonies (e.g. France) in a negative tone, but not about the Otoman Empire. Is it good or bad to attack countries and develop colonies or not? What do you think, nationalists?

V Tiger

7/9/2012 6:47:00 PM

Unfortunately some mentalities never change.People still think of forcefully assimilating other races & cultures.It has failed & will always fail.Look at the so called 'mountainous Turks'.Have they assimilated or increased in numbers & their desire for independence?'Could have easily' cannot & does not apply & that's why Young Turks committed ethnic cleansing & Genocide.

Chas Spencer

7/9/2012 6:03:30 PM

Let us put aside for a moment the past Glories of the Ottomans, relegate thoseevents to a well-balancedSchool Books for future Generations. Let us look at two examples for the Future. Henry Ford, creator of mass production, wanted to produce a affordable car that even his workers could afford to buy. In essence he wanted to share the wealth of Industrialization.Then Look at Swiss, where citizenry formed a responsive Government to utilize available resources, tourism & light Industry, look NOW!

Johanna Dew

7/9/2012 5:47:19 PM

@zlatan. Thanks for the reply. But you avoid the concrete points. Great civilizations always brought great ideas, inventions, property, pluralism with it. Did didn't happen under O rule. Why was it then that only n 1792 the Sultan allowed to print a book in Turkish? The only great thing about the OE was that for Muslims it was their caliphate...

The Lion

7/9/2012 5:11:21 PM

Murat, well said.
< >



AcerPro S.I.P.A HTML & CSS Agency