Courtesy Reuters

Turkey: Emerging Democracy

To understand modern Turkey and its problems, one has to remember that the process of political modernization or Westernization began more than a century ago. Successive defeats beginning in 1718 taught the Turkish nation that its traditional social, political and economic system was inadequate for survival in the modern age. Turkey had to change. Hence the roots of many contemporary institutions can be traced back well into the middle of the nineteenth century, particularly after the Crimean War. The legal and administrative framework of present-day Turkey was laid down in that period. Modern transport and communications systems were introduced; railways, telegraphic communication and a postal system came into being. Compulsory primary education in modern schools, administrative and legal reforms, modern banking institutions and many other social foundations were also established prior to 1923.

However, all these efforts were superficial and insufficient to guarantee the survival of the Ottoman Empire. The piecemeal reforms failed to create a viable whole out of a decadent, multinational empire. The real modernization effort had to await the new Republic of 1923 to plant roots deep in the social fabric of Turkey. Kemal Atatürk was no less a radical social reformer in his approach to social change than his contemporary, Lenin. He was one of the frustrated young officers of the Ottoman army to whom the social change carried out by the Ottoman reformers seemed slow, inconsistent, piecemeal, hesitant and partial. For him, modernization required change that was comprehensive and revolutionary. As a social architect he attempted to change the life of the nation not only in schools, in offices, in factories, etc., but also in headwear, in family relationships, in language and in social customs.

Atatürk differed from Lenin, however, in several respects: he rejected ideology as a means of reconstructing Turkish society. His approach was empirical. He wanted to remold Turkish society according to Western European systems which were difficult to define in ideological terms because of their pluralistic character. He was an educated Turk, impressed

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