Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography

In This Review

Ataturk: An Intellectual Biography
By M. Sukru Hanioglu
Princeton University Press, 2011
280 pp. $27.95
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The age-old European tendency to refer to the Ottoman Empire as “Turkey” obscures how revolutionary a change it was when remnants of that venerable empire became the Republic of Turkey following World War I. The coup de grâce was administered not by the victorious Allies, who were content to leave a truncated Ottoman Empire in place, but by an Ottoman general, Mustafa Kemal, who adopted the richly symbolic title Atatürk (meaning “father of the Turks”). Atatürk does not lack for biographers, most of whose books are adulatory, but none has so thoroughly brought to life the ideological climate that molded the man as has Hanioglu. And few have presented Atatürk with such objectivity. Hanioglu’s Atatürk is a product of Young Turk nationalism, Enlightenment secularism, and scientism. Hanioglu depicts a pragmatic Atatürk who could use Islamic or socialist symbolism as needed (one chapter is titled “Muslim Communism?”) but who was, most of all, a zealot pushing a surcharged agenda of a secularizing, modernizing Turkish nationalism. The many top-down changes that Atatürk imposed in religion, language, dress, and even the arts make for fascinating reading today. Nearly nine decades after the end of the Ottoman era, Turkey and the post-Ottoman Middle East are still digesting and resisting the ideas of Atatürk.