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  • Turkey, Kemalism, and the Soviet Union: Problems of Modernization, Ideology and Interpretation by Vahram Ter-Matevosyan
  • Naira Sahakyan (bio)
Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, Turkey, Kemalism, and the Soviet Union: Problems of Modernization, Ideology and Interpretation (New York; London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). 279 pp., ill. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-3-319-97403-3.

Comparative studies of the Russian and Ottoman Empires have become fairly common in historiography. Surprisingly, interest in comparing the two countries does not extend to the successor states of the two empires, the USSR and the Republic of Turkey, and their ideological systems, Bolshevism and Kemalism, respectively. This is all the more conspicuous given the significant mutual interest of scholars in both countries. Soviet historians produced an impressive number of works on Turkey in general and on Kemalism in particular. Arguably, the lack of comparative studies of the Bolshevik and Kemalist regimes could be explained by the lack of command of the Russian language among Turkish and Western historians and by severe ideological contraints imposed on Soviet scholars.

The book by Vahram Ter-Matevosyan aims to fill this lacuna. After presenting the formation and development of the Kemalist regime and its perception by contemporaries (in chapters 1–6), in the final two chapters the author discusses Soviet perceptions of the Kemalist revolution and Kemal's ideas and reforms, and brings together the fragmented international historiography of Kemalism. In reconstructing Soviet attitudes to Kemalism, Ter-Matevosyan goes beyond a narrow focus on Soviet-Turkish relations and explores the broader political context of bilateral contacts, such as World War II.

The author approaches "Kemalism as a specifically republican phenomenon with strong and vivid characteristics inherited from the Ottoman past" (P. 9). Ter-Matevosyan sets two goals in his study: (1) examining the evolution and internal dynamics of Kemalism, and (2) examining existing problems and gaps in the study of Kemalism (Pp. 2–3). A salient feature of the book is its broad time frame, which covers the 1920s to the 1970s and encompasses three main topics: problems of defining and interpreting Kemalism (covered by chapters 1 and 6), a chronological account of the main stages of Kemalism's formation and transformation (chapters 2–4), and Soviet interpretations of Kemalism and their historical context (chapters 7 and 8).

In chapter 1, Ter-Matevosyan outlines the main trends and problems in the international historiography of Kemalism, and shows that even the definition of Kemalism and [End Page 214] its periodization remain contested topics. For example, he writes, "Before the late 1980s, most existing accounts of Kemalism failed to see Kemalist reforms and ideas as stemming from the Ottoman era" (P. 13). Transcending traditional historiographic boundaries, Ter-Matevosyan brings into the discussion the Soviet historiography of Kemalism, which he groups into several phases: the 1920s to the mid-1930s, the mid-1930s to the late 1950s, and the post-Stalin era. This periodization is dicussed at length in the book's final two chapters, while also systematically referring to Soviet studies and perceptions of Kemalism throughout the text.

Chapter 2 covers the political turning points of the 1920s and 1930s, from the foundation of the Republic of Turkey until the death of Atatürk in 1938. The author begins with an examination of the political consolidation of the 1920s, then turns to the first attempts of the ideological conceptualization of the new political regime – the development of the principles of the Republican People's Party (RPP) as the core of Kemalism. Ter-Matevosyan concludes that the Nine Principles elaborated by Mustafa Kemal on April 8, 1923, were more of a short-term policy platform rather than a strategic ideological vision (P. 45). These principles were elaborated in the wake of the RPP's Great Congress, where Mustafa Kemal delivered his "Six-Day Speech," known as "Nutuk." The first party statute adopted at the congress "for the first time … mentioned the party's republican (cümhuriyetçi), populist (halkçı), and nationalist (milliyetçi) nature" (P. 46). The Soviet emissaries present at the congress, Ol'ga Kameneva and Ziya Feridov, viewed "the cultural and educational reforms of the Kemalist regime as superficial and urban-centered" (P. 47).

Already at the beginning of the 1930s...