Mehmet Perinçek’s misinterpretation of history by PETER EDEL*

Mehmet Perinçek’s misinterpretation of history by PETER EDEL*

October 01, 2010, Friday/ 17:07:00
There are those in Turkey considered by others and themselves as ulusalcıs, neo-nationalists. The most radical of them are associated by the government and prosecutors with Ergenekon, the secret network assumed to be preparing the way for another military takeover in Turkey. Although there are many aspects to these hard-liners, for now let’s see how they explain their cherished dream of a cultural, economic and military alliance against the Western powers on the part of the several Central Asian republics, Russia, Iran, India and China. “Kemalist Eurasianism,” as they call it, is one of the reasons for their fierce opposition to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as well as their desire to have Ergenekon terminate the current administration in Turkey -- maybe even a stronger incentive than the headscarf issue.

A good example of the Kemalist-Eurasianist approach to Turkey’s position in the international community is the article “Kemalist Eurasianism, An Emerging Geopolitical Discourse in Turkey” (, written in 2009 by Emel Akçalı of the University of Birmingham and Mehmet Perinçek of the Atatürk Institute and İstanbul University. The latter is the son of Ergenekon suspect and Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek. Mehmet Perinçek faithfully sympathizes with his father. Consequently, his ideas are to a great extent exemplary of the most radical ulusalcı circles.

It goes without saying that cooperation between Turkey and the previously mentioned countries can only be encouraged, especially because Turkey has all the qualities and characteristics enabling it to be a bridge between Central Asia and Western Europe, providing many advantages for all involved on the economic, political and cultural levels. But this is not what Mehmet Perinçek and other radical ulusalcıs stand for; Eurasianism is not about building bridges -- at least not in their interpretation. On the contrary, it strives to deter Turkish cooperation with the West, creating an atmosphere of hostility and isolation instead.

Kemalist, Eurasianist and Marxist

Mehmet Perinçek follows three ideologies. He’s a Kemalist, a Eurasianist and a Marxist. However, he has a hard time aligning these ideologies because of the many differences and contradictions between them. The combination of Kemalism and Marxism is a difficult one to begin with. To prove his point, Perinçek mentions Kemalist aspects like statism and populism, which he claims were borrowed from the Soviet Union. He also points to Soviet support for the Turkish War of Independence. The mutual respect and relatively good relationship between the early Turkish Republic and the Soviet Union cannot be denied. It also cannot be denied that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk wanted to install a form of socialism. But Atatürk also made it quite clear that the communism of the Soviet Union was unsuitable for Turkey due to its specific circumstances. Consequently, political parties based on the Marxist principle of class struggle were prohibited during the Atatürk years, while communists were prosecuted. Anyway, Turkey never came close to becoming a Marxist country.

Eurasianism and Marxism is another hard mix. Mehmet Perinçek uses popular Marxist terminology like anti-imperialism in his argumentation about Eurasianism. However, he does not seem bothered by the fact that the countries he wishes to include in his desired anti-Western alliance don’t adhere to Marxism. Even China hardly answers to such a description nowadays with all its capitalist tendencies.

Perinçek is also not bothered that Eurasianism can easily be a disguise for non-Western imperialism -- namely, by Russia. It’s no coincidence that Eurasianism had its birth among Russians sometime in the 1920s. Later, it became a source of inspiration for nationalistic circles of a far-right nature, which seriously conflicts with any Marxist idea, of course. But Mehmet Perinçek does not seem to mind this contradiction in his ideological stance and simply ignores the fact. As long as a movement or country manifests itself as anti-Western, it will receive his blessing.

An ‘anti-Western’ position

Mehmet Perinçek assumes that Atatürk modernized Turkey from an anti-Western position. In order to do so, he denies many significant facts. For instance, would Atatürk have encouraged the Turkish nation to wear Western clothes if he wanted to disassociate Turkey from the West in the long run? If this was the case, Turkey would have been wearing costumes similar to those of some countries in Central Asia in the ‘20s as opposed to those of Western Europe and the US.

On another level, it is highly questionable whether Atatürk would have been so candid about his admiration for the principles of the French Revolution if he was anti-Western, as Mehmet Perinçek wants us to believe. And there are more examples. Like the decisions to switch to the Western calendar and to make Sunday the weekly day off in Turkey. Or take legislation introduced by Atatürk which was entirely based on laws in Switzerland and Italy. Not to mention the adoption of the Latin alphabet used by Western countries for the Turkish language. Obviously, this switch occurred because Atatürk wanted to make another connection with the West. Radical ulusalcıs like Mehmet Perinçek may find it hard to accept, but the truth is that Atatürk wanted Turkey to be a Western country. That he did not sever ties with Central Asia at the same time does not change anything.

To prove that the modernization of Turkey was not primarily based on Western ideas, Mehmet Perinçek brings up Atatürk’s emphasis on the Hittites. Several aspects dear to him, like secularism, equal rights for women and parliamentary democracy, were derived from this ancient civilization, according to Perinçek. The son of the Ergenekon suspect mixes a few things up, though -- (probably on purpose) to defend his case. What he seems to forget is that Atatürk was confronted with the fact that several minorities had been in Anatolia much longer than the Turks. To show that the Turks had the oldest rights to the territory, he tried to prove that the ancient Hittites were Turkish. This short-term policy had everything to do with nation building, and Atatürk’s emphasis on ancient civilizations in Anatolia helped with his effort to secularize Turkey -- putting the accent on possible non-Islamic influences helped to minimize the contribution of Islam to Turkish culture. Moreover, another of Atatürk’s policies was to make Turkey become a country in line with Western civilization.

Mehmet Perinçek is right when he states that Adnan Menderes followed a pro-Western course after his election in 1950. But did the military takeover of 1960 bring any change in this respect, as he claims? If that had been the case, the 1960 junta certainly would have objected to the presence of American nuclear missiles on Turkish soil aimed at the Soviet Union, for instance. The removal of these weapons in 1963 had nothing to do with the change of power in Turkey but everything to do with the deal President John F. Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, made.

It is highly questionable whether the coup of 1960 would have happened in the first place if Washington had disapproved of it. In fact, there are reasons to suggest that the Americans welcomed the takeover for it was Menderes himself who turned away from the West toward the end of the 1950s, which must have caused frustration in Washington. The Americans even had their man on board the 1960 junta in the person of Alparslan Türkeş, who later founded the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and had already been active in CIA/Gladio-related organizations in Turkey for years. Although the motivation behind the 1960 coup was strongly related to the restoration of Kemalism in Turkey, it had nothing to do with the establishment of an anti-US stance, as Mehmet Perinçek asserts.

Mehmet Perinçek needs these kinds of misinterpretations of history to bring Kemalism, Eurasianism and Marxism into alignment with each other. The end result is an ideological impossibility, which may satisfy only a very few, also within his own ulusalcı rank and file. Meanwhile, those he opposes in Turkey are working towards a real democratic state, a state willing to cooperate along all points of the compass, in the meaning of “peace at home and peace abroad,” just as Atatürk himself put it.

*Peter Edel is a freelance journalist and photographer based in İstanbul.
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