Kemalism, also Ataturkism, is the ideology of Turkish nationalism put forward by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is still considered to be the official ideology of the Republic of Turkey.
At the Congress of the Republican People’s Party in 1927, four principles were adopted: republicanism, nationality, nationalism and Laicism. At the Congress of 1931, two more were added to them: statism and revolutionism — and these six principles became the basic principles of Kemalism. In 1937, they became the official ideology of the state, enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. These principles are also called the six arrows.
Let’s look at each principle separately and try to understand if it still works.
- Republicanism: the establishment of a republican democratic constitutional system as opposed to the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Empire period. Proclamation of the principle of electability of the government and its accountability to the people (the principle “Sovereignty certainly belongs to the people of Turkey”).
Today, this principle is undergoing serious tests. For example, after the referendum in 2017, Turkey ceased to be a parliamentary republic and became a presidential republic. Despite the fact that it is still a republic, the departure from an absolute monarchy to a republic implied that the country should be a parliamentary republic.
- Nationalism: the ideal of a nation-state that patriotically educates its citizens in the spirit of loyalty to the titular nation. Nationalism according to Ataturk distanced itself from racial nationalism and pan-Turkism and was understood as the ideology of a political nation within the borders of the Turkish Republic. The Islamist component was also rejected. The nation was conceived by Ataturk as a community of all citizens of the country, not just ethnic Turks, but on the basis of Turkish ethnic identity; non-Turks were subject to education in the spirit of such, that is, assimilation. The criterion of a nation: common citizenship, common language, common territory, common origin, common history and mentality.
It is difficult to understand what was meant by assimilation, how strictly it should take place, etc. If we take brutal assimilation, then most likely Turkey still follows this principle. For example, Kurds are still discriminated against, which is why the Turkish leadership is in difficult relations with Western countries.
Also, in my opinion, Turkey is returning to pan-Turkism. In 2009, the Nakhchivan agreement established the organization Turkic Council. In 2021, the Turkic Council was renamed the Organization of Turkic States. The preamble of the Nakhchivan Agreement confirms the will of the Member States to adhere to the goals and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and defines the main goal of the Turkic Council as further deepening comprehensive cooperation between the Turkic-speaking States, as well as making a joint contribution to ensuring peace and stability in the region and around the world. To date, it is not clear how deep this cooperation can become in the future (free trade zone, economic integration, military alliance, mergers of states, etc.)
- Nationality: the struggle against class inequality and class privileges, the unity of Turkish society and inter-class solidarity within it, as well as the sovereignty of the people and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey as its representative.
Today, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey still exists, but after 2017 its influence has significantly decreased.
- Statism: the leading role of the state in the economy, in practice – the nationalization of the economy while maintaining a small private sector. In fact, this is state capitalism.
It is necessary to understand the historic context of this principle. Turkey recently miraculously escaped the partition by European countries, Ataturk had to work hard to get rid of the monarchical elements of the state, and separate the state from religion. Also, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution (1937), the world was two steps away from the Second World War. If the state did not control big business, most likely, there would not be a familiar Turkey today. However, different times have come now, and Turkey has also changed. Small and medium-sized businesses in Turkey account for ninety-nine and eight percent of all businesses registered in general, that is, large businesses there are only two-tenths of a percent of small and medium-sized businesses that produce more than half of exports and almost three-quarters of the workforce work there.
- Laicism, secularism: secular nature of the state (abolition of Sharia law, ban on religious education (closure of madrasahs), persecution of pro-Islamic parties).
Since Turkey is a presidential republic after 2017, it is not difficult to guess how much in the country depends on the president. Today, the President of Turkey is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Here are some interesting facts about him: during his political career he was a member of various Islamic parties; in the late 1990s he was found guilty of violating article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code “incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred”. You can make your own conclusion.
- Revolutionism: a course towards Westernization and the fight against the remnants of traditional society, relying on progress and enlightenment. In fact, it is a break with traditionally established cultural traditions (replacing the Arabic alphabet with Latin, introducing Western–style civilian clothes, banning the wearing of fez, granting women the right to vote, etc.).
Despite the fact that some elements have been preserved (granting women the right to vote, the introduction of Western-style civilian clothes, etc.), certain steps have been taken back. For example, as I said above, relations with Western countries are not at the highest level now, there is an increasing emphasis on religion and so on.
Today, the principles of the six arrows are undergoing serious tests, and it depends only on the Turkish people whether they will continue to follow the legacy of Ataturk, or whether the social contract will be revised.