A Note on Turkey Becoming a Republic, Atatürk’s reforms and more…

A Note on Turkey Becoming a Republic, Atatürk’s reforms and more…

Throughout history, mankind has always been trigger happy and willing to fight wars whenever any conflict brewed between two nations, and/or their allies. In the past millennium, wars have been fought for numerous needless reasons like land and strategic resource grabbing, religious conversion, bringing democracy to another nation, overthrowing a stubborn leader, installing a puppet one who can easily be controlled into the target nation and even misunderstanding leading to friendly fire due to a moment of sheer panic and drunkenness (for this one, see the battle of Karansebes). None of the war mongering reasons listed above can be righteous and make up for the massive damage in the aftermath of a war, unless… it’s a war of independence or defending one’s homeland. 

Image: Berlin WWII

Once a glorious empire ruling over three continents, the Ottoman empire succumbed due to wars, overexpansion and mostly due to bad management of the one-man regime. Each sultan rising into power began working towards saving themselves rather than their country and its people. Then, inevitably invasions from all sides hit the nation and an empire fell.

There’s only so much to do when an empire collapses into rubbles. Trying to glue together the tiny pieces that once made up an empire won’t work as once something is shattered, it will never reach up to its former glory ever again, nor that it will have strong foundations to carry the same burden. Clearing out the rubble and reconstructing from scratch does not work either if the foundation of the nation which made it collapse in the first place, remains untouched. But, one man; Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, rose from the rubbles of a devastated empire and took up an impossible challenge that has never been done before: constructing a brand-new republic, thus putting the people of the nation into power. 

Fighting for independence at multiple fronts with makeshift, outnumbered armies and liberating cities on the go was a near-to-impossible task, but the real secret was implementing a whole new governing system and making radical reforms, so that history did not repeat itself. Founding a republic was a strategic choice and each choice is a renunciation. 

Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished. Never again one man would rule, making huge decisions depending on daily personal mood, personal gain of wealth and pleasure or by getting influenced to make decisions by others simply because the sultan in power simply liked them. The leadership that was handed down generation after generation onto offspring was no more valid, preventing the possibility of a seriously deranged child coming into power.

The caliphate system came to an end as well. Traditional religious schools were shut down and managing a nation through religious shenanigans was off the table. The state and the religion were separated, as it should in a newly formed nation inhabited by believers of varying religions. This freed religion in a way.

Shortly after, a clothing reform was put in place. Keeping up with the modern, western world was getting more and more difficult. Traditional clothing such as the fez, which had become a symbol of resistance to the new ways, and women’s veils were banned in turn. “You are what you wear!” after all.

Atatürk, waving his hat

Equal rights for men and women were established, such as women gaining equal rights in court, or having equal rights in inheritance. Islamic polygamy and divorce was outlawed and civil marriage was introduced, banning Turkish men to have as many as 4 wives. Finally, women were given the right to vote and hold office in 1934; earlier than most countries. Thanks to this reform, Turkey had become the very first country in the world to accommodate a female supreme court judge as well as to train the first female fighter pilot. In the end, the women’s suffrage gave the women the value they deserve(d).

Image: Sabiha Gökçen – The first female fighter pilot in history

A new Turkish alphabet based on Latin characters was adopted, as the spoken Turkish was never phonetically compatible with the Arabic writing system and that the literacy rate had been less than 10 percent under the Ottoman rule due to the difficulty and the incompatibility of the Arabic language and the lack of proper education. Implementing the Latin alphabet, not only boosted the literacy rate, it also enabled to keep up with the developing world scientifically, through education. And finally, education became easily accessible for everyone and not only for the few privileged elites.

All in all, the world is constantly changing and people have to keep up with it one way or another. Change is always unavoidable and there is no escape from it, but the wisdom lies in knowing exactly ‘when’ to change. And, that’s more or less why Turkey had been so fortunate.