- How Happy to Call Oneself a Turk by Gavin D. Brockett
In How Happy to Call Oneself a Turk, Brockett considers the role of Turkish provincial newspapers from 1945 to 1954. These, he argues, created a space for a national identity. In this decade, Turkey experienced the first multiparty election (in 1950), ushering in the Democratic Party. This party provided the majority Sunni Muslim population a critical platform from which urban-centered Kemalist ideology was reinterpreted, enabling a formulation of national identity. Yet, soon the government, headed by Menderes, became authoritarian and squelched free speech. Ultimately, Menderes is overthrown in a coup d’etat and hanged in 1960. Brockett’s narrative ends in 1954, and does not foreshadow Turkey’s first coup. Rather, his focus is on the role of provincial newspapers in generating a forum for debates, which laid the groundwork for the Democratic Party’s victory in 1950.
Brockett makes a case for provincial newspapers in helping historians understand what was happening in the era following Ataturk’s death (in 1938). How did a majority Sunni population reinterpret the Ottoman legacy and the narrative of Ataturk’s heroic ascendancy as founder of the state and savoir of the nation? Brockett argues that the nation emerged through print culture. The nation, he argues, was not generated by the Kemalist Revolution or its reforms, which is the accepted nationalist narrative. Rather a national identity became possible once Inönü, Ataturk’s successor, introduced multiparty politics in 1945. In this era, Turkish society became more “integrated.” A core prejudice of the elite Kemalist ideology is that the provinces are filled with backward, underdeveloped people who are blinded by superstitions and heterodox religious ideology. Brockett contends that in order to bring the majority into the nation, an Islamic identity had to be reconciled with a national identity. That is, unlike most scholars who date the merging of a Sunni and Turkish national identity, referred to as the Turkish-Islamic synthesis to the early 1980s, Brockett argues that this occurred much earlier. “[T]he increasing prominence of Islam in public debate and national politics in recent decades is undoubtedly the product of a negotiation that began in 1945” (223). Many will take issue with this claim because the question of the role of Islam in the Ottoman and Republican states predates 1945. Yet quibbling over when to pinpoint these dates should not detract from the important materials Brockett brings to light.
The chapters trace national history, the nationalist press, and nationalist historiography, in both provincial and metropolitan print culture. Because Brockett argues in his first two chapters that before 1945 there was no national identity, he entangles himself with nationalist historiography, which posits that [End Page 245] a Turkish nation predated the Republic and in fact had primordial roots in Central Asia (75). Characteristic of each chapter is Brockett’s careful contextualization of debates in provincial papers in the metropolitan press. Because Brockett packs in so much detail about the numbers of papers, I felt that analysis of their content was lacking. Clearly, there is much more that Brockett can write about, based on his extensive research. It would be useful to learn more about the terms of these debates in particular cities. How did these debates about laicism, Sunni Islam and the nation differ in regions where Kurds lived, where the Alevi were numerous, or where particular tarikats had power? An especially important chapter, four, considers the religious print media in relation to national print culture. This chapter presents a huge amount of detail on the presses, their purpose in printing information on Islam to educate a public which had been unable to attend Koran classes for decades due to government bans, and critiques of laicism. Some presses, we learn, made the argument that Islam and the nation were connected. Though Islamic practice is diverse in Turkey, Brockett does not distinguish Sunni from Alevi. Because the book is aimed at a scholarly audience, this distinction would have created a nuanced reading of Islam in the “provinces.” The...