Dec 12, 2018 in Informative

How did Mustafa Kemal Reform the New Turkey Essay

Mustafa Kemal is a prominent figure in the history of Turkey. He founded the Turkish Republic and became its president. He was very decisive in transforming the country and managed to achieve it while he was a president. His presidency inspired the whole world. When Turkish people struggled to liberate their country in 1919, he became their leader. Then he participated in defeating people who wanted to invade Turkey. Although the struggle was not easy, he managed to lead the country to independence. As long as the Ottoman dynasty has disappeared, Kemal was the one who had a chance to make independence possible. He established the government that, for the first time, represented the will of the people. His presidency lasted for fifteen years until he died. During his rule, he introduced a number of significant reforms in the spheres of policy, government, language, economy, religion, culture and the society. 

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When the Republic was created, many people started discussing how to turkify the worship, and Kemal also thought about such possibility. One of the theology schools which was situated in Istanbul decided that it was one of the expectations of the government. A member of the school wrote a report that contained the ideas of possible reforms concerning the religion. The dean, who read the report, gathered other members to discuss it. The meeting occurred in 1928. Professors, whose majors were philosophy, pedagogy and, most importantly, theology, were present at the meeting. The professors spent much time discussing how to modernize the religion. However, they did not manage to find a solution and that is why they had to arrange another meeting. Anyway, one of the local newspapers found their report and published it. Some experts claim that Kemal had did not know about it, while others believe that the members of the government asked for it. The representatives of the theology school formed a commission, which recommended the modernization in four spheres: the forms, thought, intent and language of worship. For example, the commission offered to put seats in mosques and allow citizens not to take their shoes off before entering there. The commission also advised to give prayers in Turkish but not in Arabic as before. Another recommendation was concerned about musical accompaniment. The reform related to giving the prayers in Turkish was accepted. 

Kemal considered the modernization of the religion to be pivotal among all other innovations. Although it is not clear how deep Kemal’s religious beliefs were, the citizens certainly did not consider that by implementing the secularism he tried to attack their religion in some way. For him, Islam was full of rationality and naturalness, so he had no intention to harm the religion. According to Turfan (n. d.), “He believed the decay of the Muslim world and its falling under oppression to be the fault of Muslims, dominated by their own wrong thinking” (n. p.). He stated that Islam was lack of reasoning and turned into the faith that was completely blind. He added that the rationality could be returned because, in essence, the religion contains it. His purpose was to enlighten the citizens religiously. Thus, worship became the foremost issue in Turkey. Occasionally, the citizens started discussing the translation of Qur’an into their own language. After some time, people debated about it more often. When people’s concernment increased much, the government decided to deal with it, and Kemal also paid his attention to the advancements. Kemal also controlled personally a number of efforts that were made to contribute into the advancement. He was the one who supported carrying out worship in Turkish. Of course, not all citizens supported his idea, but being a wise leader, he managed to find words to convince them. Kemal did not want to hurry with such reform, taking into account that the citizens should be ready for it. According to Aydar (2006), “In Ramadan of 1932 Mustafa Kemal chose some imams, whom he had dubbed as ‘enlightened’ and called them to Dolmabahce Palace, assigning them to different mosques”(p. 8). Such imams read the sacred book in Turkish. Finally, the official language of the nation also became official in worship. 

The attempt to make the nation secular started when The Caliphate was abolished. According to Manutty (n. d.), Kemal held the following view, “Islam had kept the Turks backward and ‘uncivilized,’ and nothing less than total secularization of both the state and the people’s attitudes could bring the country to health” (p. 22). Seemingly, the new government had to uphold Islam, like it was while the Ottoman government ruled. A newly adopted constitution recognized Islam as the official religion of the nation. A group of Islamic law experts had to verify every law to ensure that there was no contradiction between them and the religion. However, the sultan still remained in Istanbul and such fact prevented the new government from working. There was a strong conflict in the purposes of the two governments. So, in 1922, Kemal ended the era of the Ottoman sultanate by transferring its authority to the new government. Yet, Kemal decided to postpone the abolishment of the Caliphate. The Sultanate ceased to exist, but the Caliphate remained though it did not have the authority anymore. Kemal was aware that the citizens would not consider such deed positive. He found a convenient justification and explained that the lack of power for the Caliphate was an old tradition and several centuries ago a vizier or a warlord had been in charge of the state but not the Caliphate. When Prophet Muhammad died, the Caliphate began its existence. Muslims who lived in other countries considered Kemal’s deeds threatening to the Caliphate. Indian Muslims were especially outrageous at Kemal’s deeds and established a moment which aim was to save the Caliphate from both outside and inside threats. However, Kemal strongly opposed that movement. He thought that Muslims who lived in other nations had no legitimate right to interfere into the events and policies in Turkey. The movement accelerated the abolishment of the Caliphate. As a result, the whole Ottoman family had to leave the country. 

Some authors consider Kemal’s efforts as controversial or even negative, “With the caliphate out of the way, the Turkish government had more freedom to pursue policies that attacked Islamic institutions” (How Ataturk Made n. d. n. p.). Not to interfere into Islam politically, the government remodeled the educational scheme. Non-dogmatic or, in other words, secular schools replaced Islamic education. The religious infrastructure was basically destroyed. For example, the government banned the council that used to verify the laws, though the council had existed for only several years. The government became in charge of the funds gathered for religious purposes. The authorities also made sure that Sufi lodges would become closed. They also closed Islamic courts and dismissed all judges who worked there. 

Kemal’s ideas concerning secularism also spread on the citizens’ day-to-day life. For example, it was forbidden for people to wear the fez and turbans, though they were common for individuals who believed in Islam. Instead, the hats of a European style appeared. Women were allowed not to wear the hijab in public facilities, in fact, such garment became unaesthetic. The authorities also replaced the Islamic calendar with the Gregorian one. If earlier the citizens were called to prayer in Arabic, at that time it was forbidden and they were called in Turkish. Before that time, the weekend included Friday, but the authorities changed such tradition and followed the European example by establishing Saturday and Sunday as the days of rest. Then the government excluded from the constitution the article that stated which religion was official in the state. The purpose of Kemal’s reforms was to decrease the influence of the religion on the citizens’ everyday lives. Thus, according to Blythe (2000), “The secular model of the state became the highest power” (n. p.). Some Turkish individuals did not accept such modernizations because the religion meant too much for them. Such people had an intention to save their religion, language and culture. They thought that the authorities provided to much pressure while adopting the ideology of secularism. Secularism saved its force for decades. When somebody attempted to return Islam into the government, the army strongly resisted it. In fact, the army considers that one of its aims was to protect Kemal’s secularism. Today, long after Kemal’s death, the Turkish society is still divided into two groups: those who support secularism and those who would like Islam to become a more significant compound of their lives again. It is estimated that it will take much time till the citizens will come to the shared vision concerning current issue.                  

Kemal reformed the language, and such reform was, to some extent, extensive. Kemal considered the language spoken at that time as an obstacle for his reforms. Many citizens did not understand it because it contained too many words taken from Persian and Arabic. Before Kemal, some individuals had offered changes, but they had not been implemented. Kemal’s team was willing to do it. They managed to design and then to execute the reform. The modernization started in 1928. Kemal created a committee and participated actively in implementing the reform. After 1929, the usage of characters in Arabic became unlawful. The same year, schools ceased to contain Persian and Arabic in the curriculum. Then the nationalization of Turkish began. In a year, Kemal offered to strive to enrich, defend and renew the Turkish language. According to Fishman (1993), “Defense implied purification from Arabic and Persian loan words, while enrichment meant the coining of neologisms based on Turkish elements” (p. 273). Kemal also wanted to simplify and purify the language. As a result, there was a possibility for individuals to become literate by learning for only several months.  

In the social sphere, Kemal’s aim was the modernization of the society. Kemal wanted the citizens to become happier by offering them more freedoms. Before his presidency, the nation had remained the same for centuries, but the whole world had moved forward and he knew that Turks were tired of the old regime. First of all, secular government allowed people to save time for themselves, but not for God. His close attention to the advancement in education was also beneficial for the citizens - more of them became literate. The society benefited from the allowance of the religions of the minorities. Kemal pointed out that Turkey had neither classes nor privileges for certain individuals. “He also stressed the paramount importance of peasants, who had long been neglected in the Ottoman times” (Mustafa Kemal 1994 n. p.). Moreover, he called them owners of the state. Beside the changes in citizens’ images, there were also other major changes. For example, he let them take surnames. In general, that time the transformations spread both on villages and cities. 

Kemal also modernized politics. He realized that Turkey could not stay isolated from all other countries anymore. He wanted the nation to become as progressive as any other nation of the world. Kemal believed that to reach progress, science and knowledge should be developed. Turkey became a member of the League of Nations. The state joined the West in sanctions designed to punish Mussolini’s regime in Italy. The state also formed alliances with neighboring countries. Kemal had no intention to pursue expansionism; he was never involved in acts that contradicted the idea to coexist peacefully. Kemal managed to maintain friendly relations with many nations and contributed to the development of democratic institutions of the republic. However, some historians consider Kemal’s regime authoritarian and blame him for practicing nationalism. According to Mango (2000), “After 1924, he opted for a strong centralized government on the French model” (p.121).    

The citizens did not accept Kemal’s modernizations at once, especially those that were concerned with the religion. Before the implementation of the reforms, the citizens tended to show their violent dissatisfaction. Such dissatisfaction caused revolts and Kemal had to deal with them. After the closure of the shrines, the citizens began to protest. According to Zurcher (2004), “Under the Law of Maintenance of Order nearly 7500 people were arrested and 660 were executed” (p. 173). In 1933, the citizens who lived in Bursa decided to share their feelings concerning one of the reforms with the governor and they walked towards him. The governor asked the military for help. When Kemal heard about the incident, he ordered to catch and punish the protestors. Nevertheless, such protests occurred from time to time. The laws related to the Qur’an and the worship in the national language were made compulsory and those who disagreed with the laws were disciplined. According to Aydar (2006), “For many years, the adhan was recited in Turkish at gun point” (p. 9). Basically, the citizens had no choice but to accept the modernizations.  

The strong opposition and revolts constituted most of the challenges that faced the state during Kemal’s reforms. For example, in 1924, Piran organized a rebellion. He was wealthy and he had many powerful followers who defended Islam and the previous order. In fact, the rebellion was an effort to reverse the effects of the revolution. Some parliamentarians were also dissatisfied with the reforms, so it was not easy to implement them. In 1926, there was an intention to assassinate Kemal. As for external challenges, “The young republic, like the rest of the world, found itself in a deep economic crisis during the Great Depression” (Mustafa Kemal 2011 p. 24). At that time, Kemal ordered to create a central bank. The nation had not ability to finance significant imports. Peasants had no opportunity to pay taxes. Kemal managed to restructure the state’s debt that included the one of the previous government. The private sector had no possibility to receive exchange credits. Nevertheless, Kemal managed to lead the nation to the growth.    

Before Kemal’s presidency, if a woman lived in a village, she had to work. She helped her husband in the farm lands. If a woman did not live in a village, she did not have the permission to work. However, in some cities, a woman could get a permission to work, but only if no man was present at her workplace. For instance, a woman could be involved in the enterprises which were run by her family: she could work at a bakery or stitch embroidery, weave carpets or knit. The first attempts to receive more rights for a woman were made in 1839. A small group of intellectual women decided to establish a movement supporting women’s rights. Some of them earned their living by writing prose or poems. The women’s liberation was common for big cities but it did not spread on villages. Living in a big city, a woman had more opportunities to learn about the European norms and ideas. Thus, women realized that they needed schools for young girls. Although, the movement did not gain much popularity, it managed to achieve some results: schools for young girls were opened and the first serial publication designed especially for women were represented. Then, the first college for future female teachers appeared. In 1915, one of the universities created a department to train future female teachers. During the world and the inner conflicts, women started working more because men went to war and their work had to be done by someone. Women also worked at hospitals as volunteers. The old tradition did not allow a woman to have equal rights with a man and it required a woman to hide herself. Qur’an did not impose such tradition, instead, the clergymen did. As a result, a woman had to put on a veil, cover herself, be a housewife and serve her partner as the better half and mother of their children. Moreover, a woman had the minimum rights to inherit. By contrast, a man had all privileges, he was even allowed to live with more than one wife at a time on a legal basis. A man was also allowed to divorce anytime he wished. A woman lived, so to say, apart from the society. Most of them could neither read nor write. Consequently, they could not participate in developing the state so Kemal decided to change the situation.

According to Sumer and Boray (2013), “Ataturk emphasized the urgent need for legislation which would bring equal rights to women” (p. 6). Kemal admitted that the previous treatment of women was wrong. He proposed to change the role of a woman in both personal and public lives. He thought that a woman should become a man’s partner and friend, but not simply a wife. He understood that a woman could be helpful in various areas of social life, as well. Moreover, he considered a woman as someone who is so significant, that the nation could not manage without her. He pointed out that to raise smart children, women must be developed intellectually, as well. He also agreed that a woman should have certain personal qualities that could help her become relevant for the nation. To make a woman equal, self-confident and educated, Kemal proposed a number of significant modernizations. For example, the education became available for females and primary education became necessary for all. Schools finally became coeducational, allowing girls to attend the schools where boys studied, as well. Kemal allowed women to wear the garments that were modern and he abolished a veil and carsaf. Finally, Kemal’s implementation of equal rights became a great victory for Turkish women. Such reforms were a bright example for the rest of the world because in Turkey, Kemal ensured that women would be granted what they deserved without the need to fight for it. Kemal granted them equal rights in various spheres, including inheritance, annulment of a marriage, custody and wedlock. He banned polygamy. After about a decade of his presidency, he managed to give female Turks the right to vote. Some women were even elected to the Parliament.   

To conclude, Kemal managed to change the state drastically. He implemented a number of relevant modernizations, though his efforts were strongly opposed. One of his main achievements was the secularization of the state. The other of them included sweeping reforms in the spheres of religion, government, society, language and politics. He granted more rights to Turkish females and it was a great benefit for them and for the following generations. Kemal was an outstanding leader who succeeded in renewing the state.


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