Skip to main content

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

  • Alev Çinar (a1) and Hakki Taş (a2)

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.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Akbay, Cevdet. 2013. Gezi Parkı kalkışmasının arkasında neo-con çetesi var [It is the neo-con gang behind the Gezi Park revolt]. Yeni Şafak, 5 July.
Aktürk, Şener. 2015. The Fourth Style of Politics: Eurasianism as a Pro-Russian Rethinking of Turkey's Geopolitical Identity. Turkish Studies 16, 1: 5479.
Alaranta, Toni. 2014. Contemporary Kemalism—From Universal Secular-Humanism to Extreme Turkish Nationalism. New York: Routledge.
Altun, Mesut. 2016. Tarihimiz 1919'da başlamadı [Our history did not begin in 1919]. Sabah, 30 Apr.
Aşık, Melih. 2005. Askerler Çılgın Türk'e Hücum Ediyor [Officers storm to the crazy Turks]. Milliyet, 22 Oct.
Bahçeli, Devlet. 2013. Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi Genel Başkanı Sayın Devlet Bahçeli'nin “Malazgirt Zaferi'nin 942. Yıldönümü” münasebetiyle yayınladıkları mesaj. [Chairman of the Nationalist Action Party, Mr. Devlet Bahçeli's message delivered on the occasion of the “942th Anniversary of the Manzikert Victory.”], 26 Aug. At (accessed 25 May 2015).
Batuman, Elif. 2014. Ottomania. New Yorker, 17 Feb. At (accessed 2 Feb. 2017).
Berkan, İsmet. 2004. Hem Ulusalcı hem de Osmanlı [Both Ulusalcı and Ottomanist]. Radikal, 22 Mar.
Berkan, İsmet. 2005. Kızıl Elma'nın Kaç Oyu Var? [How many votes has the Red Apple Coalition got?]. Radikal, 28 Sept.
Bhabha, Homi K. 1993. Dissemination: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation. In Bhabha, H. K., ed., Nation and Narration. New York: Routledge, 291322.
Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications.
Bora, Tanıl. 2003. Nationalist Discourses in Turkey. South Atlantic Quarterly 102, 2/3: 433–51.
Bozkurt, Ceyhun. 2008. AB Faşizmi [EU Fascism]. Yeni Çağ Gazetesi, 31 Mar. At (accessed 25 Mar. 2017).
Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge.
Çayır, Kenan. 2008. The Emergence of Contemporary ‘Muslim Democrats.’ In Cizre, Ümit, ed., Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey: The Making of the Justice and Development Party. New York: Routledge, 6279.
Celnarova, Xénia. 1997. The Religious Ideas of the Early Turks from Point of View of Ziya Gökalp. Asian and African Studies 6, 1: 103–8.
Çınar, Alev. 2001. National History as a Contested Site: The Conquest of Istanbul and Islamist Negotiations of the Nation. Comparative Studies in Society and History 43, 2: 364–91.
Çınar, Alev. 2005. Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places, and Time. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Çınar, Alev. 2010. Globalism as the Product of Nationalism Founding Ideology and the Erasure of the Local in Turkey. Theory, Culture & Society 27, 4: 90118.
Çınar, Alev. 2011. The Justice and Development Party: Turkey's Experience with Islam, Democracy, Liberalism and Secularism. International Journal of Middle East Studies 43, 3: 529–41.
Cizre, Ümit and Çınar, Menderes. 2003. Turkey 2002: Kemalism, Islamism, and Politics in the Light of the February 28 Process. South Atlantic Quarterly 102, 2/3: 309–32.
Coşkun, Bekir. 2016. Bizim tarihimiz 1919'da başlar [Our history begins in 1919]. Sözcü, 1 May.
Dönmez, Rasim Özgür. 2008. Vigilantism in Turkey: Totalitarian Movements and Uncivil Society in a Post-9/11 Democracy. Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 9, 4: 551–74.
Dressler, Markus. 2013. Writing Religion: The Making of Turkish Alevi Islam. New York: Oxford University Press.
Eğitimsen. 2016. 2015–2016 Eğitim Öğretim İstatistikleri [2015–2016 statistics on education.], 22 Mar. At (accessed 25 Mar. 2017).
Ellis, Joseph. 2000. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Vintage.
Erdemir, Aykan. 2005. Tradition and Modernity: Alevis’ Ambiguous and Turkey's Ambivalent Subjects. Middle Eastern Studies 41, 6: 937–51.
European Commission. 2007. Eurobarometer 68—Public Opinion in the European Union. At (accessed 25 Mar. 2017).
Göle, Nilüfer. 2000. Snapshots of Islamic Modernities. Daedalus 129, 1: 91117.
Gürcan, Metin. 2016. Power Struggle Erupts in Turkey's Security Structure. Al Monitor, 12 Oct. At (accessed 20 Oct. 2016).
Gürpınar, Doğan. 2013a. The Reinvention of Kemalism: Between Elitism, Anti-Elitism and Anti-Intellectualism. Middle Eastern Studies 49, 3: 454–76.
Gürpınar, Doğan. 2013b. Historical Revisionism vs. Conspiracy Theories: Transformations of Turkish Historical Scholarship and Conspiracy Theories as a Constitutive Element in Transforming Turkish Nationalism. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 15, 4: 412–33.
Hale, William, and Özbudun, Ergun. 2010. Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey—The Case of the AKP. London: Routledge.
İlhan, Atilla. 2005. Yıldız, Hilal ve Kalpak—Gazi'nin “Ulusal” Solculuğu. [The star, the crescent and the fur hat—the Gazi's “Ulusal” leftism]. İstanbul: İş Bankası Yayınları.
Khoury, Nadim. 2016. National Narratives and the Oslo Peace Process: How Peacebuilding Paradigms Address Conflicts over History. Nations and Nationalism 22, 3: 465–83.
Kınalı, Hasan. 2008. Söz konusu vatansa gerisi teferruattır [If the homeland is at stake, then everything else is trivial]. Hürriyet, 1 Feb.
Konuralp, Okan. 2005. Denize Dökülen Ortadoğu Tasarılarıydı [Whatever thrown into the sea were scenarios on the Middle East]. Interview with Turgut Özakman. Tempo, 5 Sept. At (accessed 20 May 2008).
Kösebalaban, Hasan. 2005. The Impact of Globalization on Islamic Political Identity: The Case of Turkey. World Affairs 168, 1: 2737.
Kurban, İklil. 2009. Aslında Türk ulusu laik bir ulustu [The Turkish nation was in fact secular]. Vatan, 1 Jul.
Manisalı, Erol. 2008. AB Faşizmi [EU Fascism]. Yeni Çağ, 30 Mar.
Morden, Michael. 2016. Anatomy of the National Myth: Archetypes and Narrative in the Study of Nationalism. Nations and Nationalism 22, 3: 447–64.
Navaro-Yashin, Yael. 1998. Uses and Abuses of ‘State and Civil Society’ in Contemporary Turkey. New Perspectives on Turkey 18: 122.
Oğuzlu, Tarık. 2010–2011. Turkey and Europeanization of Foreign Policy? Political Science Quarterly 125, 4: 657–83.
Ongur, Hakan Ovunc. 2015. Identifying Ottomanisms: The Discursive Evolution of Ottoman Pasts in the Turkish Presents. Middle Eastern Studies 51, 3: 416–32.
Öniş, Ziya. 2007. Conservative Globalists versus Defensive Nationalists: Political Parties and Paradoxes of Europeanization in Turkey. Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans 9, 3: 247–61.
Özakman, Turgut. 2005. Şu Çılgın Türkler [Those crazy Turks]. Istanbul: Bilgi.
Özdalga, Elisabeth. 2009. Those Crazy Turks: Polemical ‘Pamphlet’ Rather than Historical Novel. Middle East Critique 18, 1: 6171.
Özkırımlı, Umut. 2010. Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction. Hampshire, N.Y.: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Özkırımlı, Umut. 2013. The Topography of Nationalism in Turkey: Actors, Discourses and the Struggle for Hegemony. In Kastoryano, R., ed., Turkey between Nationalism and Globalization. New York: Routledge, 7186.
Poyraz, Ergun. 2007. Hilafet Ordusundan Arap Kürt Partisine [From the Army of the Caliphate to the Arap Kurdish Party]. Istanbul: Togan.
Saltık, Ahmet. 2004. Laiklik Nedir? Ne Değildir? [What is Laicism and what is not?]. Atatürkçü Düşünce Derneği [Association of Atatürkist thought]. At (accessed 21 Dec. 2009).
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 2007. Nausea. Alexander, Lloyd, trans., Introduction by Howard, Richard. New York: New Directions Publishing.
Şener, Bülent. 2014. Sevr Fobisi/Sendromu: Türkiyenin Güvenlik Endişesini Anlamak Üzerine Düşünceler [The Sèvres Phobia/Syndrome: thoughts on understanding Turkey's security concerns]. Journal of Turkish Studies 9, 5: 1835–47.
Şevkli, Selma. 2011. Bir “Ulusalcı” Nasıl Düşünür - Seküler Milliyetçiliğin Zihin Haritası. [How Does an “Ulusalcı” Think – The Mental Map of Secular Nationalism]. Istanbul: Ufuk.
Smith, Rogers M. 2003. Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spillman, Lyn. 1997. Nation and Commemoration: Creating National Identities in the United States and Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taş, Hakkı. 2015. Turkey—from Tutelary to Delegative Democracy. Third World Quarterly 36, 4: 776–91.
Taylor, Charles. 1992. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Türk Tarihi Heyeti [Turkish History Committee]. 1996 [1930]. Türk Tarihinin Ana Hatları: Kemalist Yönetimin Resmi Tarih Tezi [The outline of Turkish history: official history thesis of the Kemalist rule]. 2d ed. Istanbul: Kaynak.
Uslu, Emrullah. 2008. Ulusalcılık: The Neo-Nationalist Resurgence in Turkey. Turkish Studies 9, 1: 7397.
White, Jenny. 2013. Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Yanık, Lerna. 2008. ‘Those Crazy Turks’ that Got Caught in the ‘Metal Storm’: Nationalism in Turkey's Best Seller Lists. Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies Working Paper Series 4.
Yıldız, Ahmet. 2001. Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene—Türk Ulusal Kimliğinin Etno-Seküler Sınırları (1919–1938) [How happy is he who calls himself a Turk—the ethno-secular boundaries of Turkish national identity (1919–1938)]. Istanbul: İletişim.
Yılmaz, Hakan. 2011. Euroscepticism in Turkey: Parties, Elites, and Public Opinion. South European Society and Politics 16, 1: 185208.
Zencirci, Gizem. 2014. Civil Society's History: New Constructions of Ottoman Heritage by the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. European Journal of Turkish Studies: Social Sciences on Contemporary Turkey, 19 Dec.: 120.
Zerubavel, Yael. 1997. Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 17
Total number of PDF views: 216 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 855 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 7th June 2017 - 24th May 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.