Ottomanism as the new nationalism

Ottomanism as the new nationalism

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.