Originally published in Radikal.
ISTANBUL - The Republican era of Turkey began with the rejection of the Ottoman past by those destined to fill the ranks of the civilian and military cadres under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This new establishment was keen on modernization and Westernization, with the ultimate goal of creating a modern nation-state from the remnants of an empire.
One of their key requirements to see their goal succeed was to transform the mindset of the people. They believed that the masses could learn what is "good," "true" and "necessary" only under the leadership of a new elite. The founding cadres therefore believed that modernity could only be achieved by having absolute custody over the whole of the society - and were prepared to practice radical methods to see this through: Any form of opposition was crushed; democracy was never allowed to truly flourish.
This new Turkish national identity was thus taking form with a conflicting attitude vis-à-vis the West: On the one hand, it looked upon it as a role model; yet it also felt a sense of rejection and uneasiness brought on by an awareness that it could not attain the levels of advancement already achieved in Western Europe and the United States.
Hostility against the West was nurtured during the first years of the republic with the "Independence War won against the great powers" propaganda. At the same time, efforts were made to create a new state, a new order with Western foundations and terminology - such as nation, secularity and republic.
In the end, the solution was found in the discourse of Ziya Gokalp: "Civilization is universal while culture is local. Let us preserve our culture; there is nothing wrong with sharing the civilization from one side." And yet we now know that "civilization" and "culture" or "Western Civilization" and "Western Culture" have taken shape by interacting with each other.
While political relations with the West were downgraded to a minimum after 1925, major moves to westernize the country were taken in terms of clothing, law, women's rights, education, history, geography, archeology, language -with the implementation of a Latin alphabet - and architecture. With Turkey's love-hate relationship since the Ottoman times, the goal was both to catch up with the West and severe all ties with the East. In the end, the establishment was to strive for the goal, as summed up in Ataturk's famous quote: "We are like us."