Politics of Nationhood and the Displacement of Founding Moment: Contending Histories of the Turkish Nation

Alev Çınar, and Hakkı Taş (2017) ‘Politics of Nationhood and the Displacement of Founding Moment: Contending Histories of the Turkish Nation,’ Comparative Studies in Society and History 59 (3): 657-689. Full Text

Abstract: This study examines the conception of nationhood developed by a political movement referred to as Ulusalcılık (nationalism), which emerged at the turn of the century. We focus on ways in which the Ulusalcı movement makes use of nation-building techniques to establish and propagate its own version of Turkish nationhood as one that is primordially secular and patriotic. This is expressed in its opposition to Islamism, Ottomanism, and what it sees as imperialist Western powers. We argue that the most significant technique Ulusalcı nationalists use to rebuild Turkish nationhood is a relocation of the nation’s founding moment, from the official Kemalist one marked by the founding of the Republic in 1923 to the War of Independence fought against the European powers between 1919 and 1922. Our premise is that nationhood is ultimately the product of storytelling, and that the politics of nationhood involves the contentious production, dissemination, and negotiation of different stories and their corresponding founding moments. We analyze the story of Turkish nationhood told in the bestselling book Those Crazy Turks, which became the bible of the Ulusalcı movement. We argue that the Ulusalcı narration of Turkish nationhood interpellates a new national subject that is primordially secular, militaristically patriotic, and adamantly anti-Western. These are projected as essential qualities that must, at all cost, be upheld and defended against Islamist, Ottomanist, and Western powers that are conspiring to bring Turkey down.

Photo: Nationaal Archief/Spaarnestad Photo

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