I thought that while books aim to describe a historical period, they actually tell more about the internal world of the writers. These writers might not have even understood the period they lived in or their own prejudices. However, what they wrote reflects their views.
In the 1931 book “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti” (Turkish Republic), Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic) was naturally and fairly praised, as at that time a harmful social adventure was finished thanks to his leadership. But why was the praise so extreme? Atatürk is not only depicted as a model ruler who rose to the top of the heap but also as a person who acts on behalf of the entire nation and bears mysterious powers. In this case, the writers of the textbook view Atatürk in this light and assume it is correct to pass their views on to the students. I was beginning to accept the feeling that there may still be someone else’s views inside my own views. I started to read through the book more carefully.
The Hat Law of 1925, one of the most important reforms, is described in the book as follows: On Aug. 24, 1925, the Veteran (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) sets off from Ankara towards Kastamonu. “As was known nationwide,” when he was about to go on a trip, “what his journey was going to lead to was a matter of curiosity.” He appears “with a Panama hat in his hand while the cheering ‘long live the great leader!’ goes on.” So far no one had thought that the “fez could be removed at a stroke.” The public “felt relieved that they were getting rid of the fez” (according to the book). That night “the public relentlessly cheered him by taking off the fez, the sarık (turban) and the ağbani (a type of turban).” Mustafa Kemal delivers his renowned speech about headwear. According to the book, “public confederations applauded him saying, ‘Long live our opinion guide!’” After the speech, the tailors of Kastamonu started sewing hats night and day. The Veteran travels to İnebolu and there the public shouted, “We are ready for whatever you want.” Let me not draw the story out, during this journey, the tekkes (Islamic monasteries) are “asked to close themselves down immediately.” The book says that while all of this was taking place “the public responded in accordance with the pledge that every signal by the Veteran was to be considered an order.” On Sept. 2 the Representative Assembly (Vekiller Heyeti) gathered and relevant decrees were released (pp. 231-238). In other words, after the leader stated his decision, everyone mobilized and the decision was put into practice within a week.
The leader(ship) in school books
What interests me is how the actions were perceived. The importance attributed to the leadership of Atatürk is surprising. The abolishment of the caliphate was announced on March 1, 1924, via a sermon and the required laws were enacted on March 3 “after a hot debate that endured for five hours.” The legitimacy of the leader taking such initiatives and his ability to enact change immediately is explained in the book as follows: The leading party had a special characteristic. The book says “not a group of people but the entire nation was a part of the leading party.” (p.168) We can understand Atatürk’s characteristic nature from a young doctor’s address to him: “You are not only an individual but an entire nation. Your personality and party are the personality and party of the whole nation. O Veteran, may you live long!” Mustafa Kemal listens to these and adds only a couple of sentences: “The staff of the Republican People’s Party consists of members of the entire nation. Those who can’t grasp this fact are the unfortunate few who can’t accustom themselves to this understanding.” (p.174)
These thoughts were developed in 1925 and written in textbooks of the 1930s. For years, such statements about Atatürk have been repeated in textbooks. However, we can’t say that Atatürk’s profile made the republican regime suddenly emerge. There was background. Maybe it was the result of a “sultan” and “padişah” culture; maybe the “sheikh” and “baba” (a celebrated leader in Sufism) tradition; the habits concerning “murşid-murid” (murşids are spiritual guides in Sufism and murids are those who commit to them); the traditional family’s strict hierarchy and its heritage; the lack of individualism -- an environment created by the Enlightenment; maybe it is the combined effect of all these factors. The republican regime couldn’t brush aside this glorification of Atatürk but, as we witnessed, it sustained this glorification.
I can attribute meaning to some situations like this. The only way that I can explain why leaders interfere in individuals’ private lives, personal choices and family issues and why leaders think they have the right to interfere is the existence of “a heritage of authority.” In the aforementioned book we read the following sentence: “The core of social life is the home life. About our women, about our men, I can’t present any more explanation. … I will utter only a few words and you will immediately understand what I mean.” (p. 227) From now on what was uttered about this issue has a secondary importance. What is important is the didactic and authoritarian expression of the leaders who are meant to fulfill the public’s wishes and defend the weak and minorities against possible oppression by the strong.
The padişah, murşid, intellectual tyrants, authoritarian politics and each link of the military tutelary chain have always been pedagogical and moral in a self-proclaimed way, and interfering with citizens’ privacy. The reason and legitimacy of this drive always catches up with it.
Convenient excuses can satisfactorily relieve leaders’ consciences. But the individual who feels oppressed has nowhere to hide. He is alone and defenseless. Referring to such situations as “a necessity of democracy (and the majority)” is a rationalization, just like the “a necessity of science” was once used as a rationalization. The situations mirror each other. The actual reason for interference in private lives is the “leadership syndrome.” It is the fact that interfering is considered normal and acceptable by the leader, people around the leader and the society as well. Because the syndrome is internalized by those around the leader, it is difficult to recognize. The syndrome then turns into a tradition.
Has it ever happened that such leaders, big or small, realized their position and changed themselves? What does “respect for traditions” mean? Can’t a person be allowed to reject tradition? What do those who oppose the person that opposes tradition represent? Don’t we remain unchanged if we don’t leave our traditions behind? While leafing through the textbook, I thought about these questions. However, the book didn’t even have these questions, let alone the answers.
*Herkül Millas is a political scientist.