Sunday, 9 November 2008

Perry Anderson on Kemalism and Turkey

Previously, the renowned British historian Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books wrote a brilliant essay on Cyprus – The Divisions of Cyprus – which I posted about here. It's now been brought to my attention that Anderson has, in the same publication, written two similarly interesting and lengthy essays on Turkey and Turkish nationalism.

The first essay is called Kemalism and concerns the end of the Ottoman empire and the rise of the peculiar form of Turkish nationalism created by Mustafa Kemal. Here is an excerpt:

'Kemalism fashioned for instruction the most extravagant mythology of any interwar nationalism. By the mid-1930s, the state was propagating an ideology in which the Turks, of whom Hittites and Phoenicians in the Mediterranean were said to be a branch, had spread civilisation from Central Asia to the world, from China to Brazil; and as the drivers of universal history, spoke a language that was the origin of all other tongues, which were derived from the Sun-Language of the first Turks. Such ethnic megalomania reflected the extent of the underlying insecurity and artificiality of the official enterprise: the less there was to be confident of, the more fanfare had to be made out of it.'

The second essay After Kemal considers how the Kemalist order developed after the dictator's death, leading right up to the present day and Turkey's determination to join the European Union, even though, by any objective standard, that country's way of being and doing are wholly antithetical to what is supposed to be the European project and European values. Here is an excerpt from this second essay:

'The implacable refusal of the Turkish state to acknowledge the extermination of the Armenians on its territory is not anachronistic or irrational, but a contemporary defence of its own legitimacy. For the first great ethnic cleansing, which made Anatolia homogeneously Muslim, if not yet Turkish, was followed by lesser purges of the body politic, in the name of the same integral nationalism, that have continued to this day: pogroms of Greeks, 1955/1964; annexation and expulsion of Cypriots, 1974; killing of Alevis, 1978/1993; repression of Kurds, 1925-2008. A truthful accounting has been made of none of these, and cannot be without painful cost to the inherited identity and continuity of the Turkish Republic.'


Anonymous said...

John -- I read these articles when first published a few weeks back and they are superb. This is how history should be written!

He is quite pessimistic about the prospects of a peaceful Turkey with a more sane nationalism.

What do you make of these articles?


john akritas said...


Anderson is a first-rate analyst, stylist, satirist and all the rest. His intention is to be brutally honest – a good approach for a critic – though he does make a couple of mistakes, particularly in falling for the 'tolerant' Ottoman empire myth; though I suppose he does this in order to stress how vicious Young Turk and Kemalist nationalism was in comparison. Anderson's savaging of the EU and its officials is particularly entertaining. I agree with you that Anderson doesn't think Turkey is likely to undergo any form of democratic revolution any time soon, because this would mean the entire Kemalist state and deep state and all the associated myths and lies would have to be discredited and dismantled.

As for Greece, for more than two decades – probably even longer – it has had a policy of appeasing Turkey in the hope and expectation that Turkey is prepared and capable of reforming and becoming a normal country, especially when the carrot of EU membership is dangled before it. This has been a futile policy. In fact, Turkey's grandiose nationalist ambitions and aggressive stance towards Greece have hardly diminished. Christopher Hitchens – a cohort of Anderson's from New Left Review – has recently described Turkey as having three main spheres where it expects to assert its 'imperialist' (Hitchens' word) designs: northern Iraq; Cyprus; and Thrace. Greece has to be ready. If you want peace, prepare for war, as the Romans used to say. Anderson seems to be saying – and you would expect someone from a Marxist tradition to say this (I don't know if Anderson would still classify himself as a Marxist) – that the only hope for Turkey is that a genuine leftist movement emerges, and supplants the ultranationalist Kemalist statist pseudo-leftists of the Republican People's Party.

Hermes said...

Cypriot education...

Alevi's in Turkey

Good comment on the idiotic hysteria surrounding the new American lap dop, Obama

john akritas said...

In many ways, I hope the commies in Cyprus do try and push through these education 'reforms', because I predict it will encourage a patriotic backlash and politicise students, which will be a good thing. I'll say again that the people to blame for this impending fiasco are not the reds – who have always and openly argued that the Cyprus problem is a problem of 'chauvinism' and 'nationalism'; but the cretins in DIKO and EDEK, who allowed Christofias to come to power.

America is an imperial power with imperial imperatives and interests. Obama won't change that. In fact, he's probably in a good position to well-serve those imperatives and interests. Electing McCain would have hastened American decline. Obama's appeal is in his 'narrative', his Hollywood story. The meaning and climax of the story is his election, this ultimate affirmation and vindication of his 'struggles'. What he does from here on in is almost immaterial, and is just the epilogue.

Hermes said...

Obama has quickly gathered much the same coterie of opportunists, cheats, frauds and outright freaks that surrounded the Clinton carnivale. He is also beholden to much the same sponsors. In fact, he is beholden to much the same sponsors as Bush; although, the Evangelicals have been replaced by an equally destructive group, the human rights industry. Closer to home, many Greeks have championed his victory as being symbolic of the enduring appeal of the United States and the changes in society which have allowed a black man to ascend these heights. However, I remind them that although a black man now governs where in some places they were not allowed to vote 40 years ago, Greek people in Cyprus are still seeking justice. So in the space of 40 years the plight of the American negro has improved immeasurably, while justice for Greek people has gone backwards. There appears to be very little to celebrate.

john akritas said...

Greeks are other, but not other enough, nor are we good at playing victim. We're too proud. Perhaps if Cypriot refugees had chosen to live in squalor and blown up Turkish planes, then perhaps our just cause would have been recognised. Besides, as you know, justice is what the strong decide it is.

Hermes said...

I'd like to bring your attention to tis brilliant article. Congratulations to Nostos. Something similar to the article on legein a while back.

john akritas said...

Nostos' is a good article; though I don't agree with him about a powerful English-orientated elite in Cyprus comparable to the French one in Lebanon, nor about the marginalisation of the Cypriot dialect. The Cypriot dialect is still used in everyday conversation and in fact it's regarded as effete and pretentious to speak demotic Greek. Nor do I know about any top-down Anglicisation campaign. Again, I know people who've attended the privileged English school in Cyprus – language of instruction is English – and this doesn't produce and never has produced Cyprus' elite. There are those in Cyprus – some born in Cyprus, others in the UK or Australia – who have had their minds colonised by the Anglo-Saxons and believe the English way of being and doing is superior and that Greeks are backward – but they are contemptible and few and far between. You can read their slave thoughts in The Cyprus Mail.

I imagine that the situation in Cyprus regarding the British is not that different to that which existed in the Heptanisa – I don't think the British left much of an impression on the locals there, apart from a cricket ground in Kerkyra. Why would local elites and intellectuals look to English culture when they could look to Greek history and culture? Local elites, in Cyprus and I'm sure in the Heptanisa, regarded the British with contempt and as having an inferior culture to Greek culture and these elites were the main proponents of Hellenism.

Hermes said...

The English left little impression on the Heptanisia except for loathing and derision. The cricket pitch in Kerkyra was built by the English to waste their time on their fantasies. I would argue Napoleonic France had a larger influence despite being there for a shorter period. However, the Venetian influence is greater. In the 15th and 16th centuries a similar process described by Nostos occured. Some Zakynthians last names reflect a Venetian aristocratic past i.e. Lombardos. Even my great grandmother and grandfather were well versed in Venetian Italian. Arguably, much of this Venetian influence was based on prior Byzantine influence - Venice was established and ruled by Constantinople for many centuries. But today very little remains of this influence apart from words in the dialect. Thankfully, Greek chauvanism endures and trumps anything in its way.

Hermes said...

You'd be pleaseed to know that Kondylis's works are now being published for FREE in English on the internet:

Also, the following site mentions a debate on modern Greek philosophy referencing Psychopedis, Kondylis and Castoriadis:

john akritas said...

That is good news about Kondylis. I've never heard of Psychopedis.