- Nationalism, Democracy, and Islam in Turkey:The Unfinished Story
In most of the Middle East, nationalism is far less influential as a motivating ideology than it was 40 years ago. However, Turkey appears to be an exception. This may be because, in material terms, Turkish nationalism has been politically successful, especially when compared with the failed pan-Arab nationalist project, or perhaps because periodic tensions with some of Turkey's neighbors keep nationalist passions at a boil.
In Tormented by History, Umut Özkirimli and Spyros A. Sofos add the comparative dimension by analyzing nationalism in their two countries, Turkey and Greece. As they suggest, the two nationalisms can be seen as "parallel monologues," emphasizing their differences but painfully aware of their similarities (p. 2). They also operate in unacknowledged symbiosis, with Greek nationalists identifying Turks as the "other" and vice versa. In a series of chapters, the two writers focus on formative themes which have helped to shape the nationalist narratives —modernity, culture, history, territory, and the problem of minorities, ending with a final comparative chapter. Given that they see nations as essentially modern social constructs, they argue that the two nationalist projects arose from [End Page 127] the transformations caused by European imperialism, being informed by a Westernist vision. In the Greek case, this was articulated as a "Neohellenic Enlightenment" —looking forward to the establishment of a Hellenic state, oriented towards Europe, and backwards to the vision of classical Greece, and free of the "oriental barbarism" of the Ottoman Empire. This was not uncontested, however, since popular culture and identity, especially as shaped by religion, could not ignore Byzantium and "Helleno-Christian civilization." Both Turkish and Greek identities were shaped by the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, in which the religious authorities of Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam (as well as Judaism) played essential parts in the system of government. Unlike its Greek counterpart, Turkish nationalism rejected the religious identity, regarding Islam as an obstacle to progress, and entirely ignoring the history of the Ottoman Empire in school textbooks. It was not until the 1980s that the "Turkish-Islamic synthesis" attempted to reconcile the Muslim identity with the nationalist narrative. In both cases, geography was highly controversial. For Greece, the "great idea" of re-establishing Greek rule in Asia Minor ended in 1922, with its disastrous defeat by the Turkish nationalist armies. Similarly, in the early 20th century, Turkish nationalism was distracted by the idea of "pan-Turkism," aiming to unite the Turks of Anatolia with the "Turkic" nations of Central Asia. This was sharply rejected by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, fitfully resurrected in the 1990s following the dissolution of the USSR, and then quietly shelved with the revival of Russian power.
This is not the first book to look at Greek and Turkish nationalisms in tandem, but it has the great advantage over its predecessors of tackling...