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Anticommunism in Cold War Turkey

Panel IX-21, sponsored byThe Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
This panel explores how perceptions of communism have changed in response to cultural, economic, and political currents in modern Turkey and considers how anticommunism has served as a means of uniting otherwise antagonistic groups. These anti-communist groups differed in political stance, message, and audience, yet all united to strongly oppose and direct hatred towards this ideology since communists always posed a threat to the established order. But how did politicians, intellectuals, ordinary citizens, and communists themselves understand communism: as an ideology, economic system, or an external threat? What made a person, a movement, or a policy communist in the official discourse and public imagination? What were the commonalities and variations in how individuals and masses interpreted communist groups? These questions inform the central motifs of individual presentations in this panel. Overall, each presentation deals with the shifting, vague, and broadly-defined meaning of anticommunism in Cold War Turkey. Older histories of anticommunism in Turkey concentrated on Soviet-Turkish relations and the emergence and competition of new communist parties over the decades. A new generation of historians, as exemplified by the works of Cangül Örnek, Murat Kılıç, Ertuğrul Meşe, and Abdulazim Şimşek, sheds new light on cultural and political aspects of anticommunism. This panel builds upon this growing literature by explicating the link between anticommunism and the broader, global context of the Cold War. Through archival and textual sources, these presentations argue that anticommunist narratives affected not only domestic and foreign policies and intellectual debates but also everyday interactions between different segments of the society. The first paper deals with the formation of an anticommunist frontline in the early years of the Democrat Party (DP), within the schema of regional and global Cold War conflicts. The second presentation turns to immigrants from the Balkans who simultaneously became highly politicized symbols of communism and anti-communism. The third examines the iconography of communist poet Nâzım Hikmet, one of the most celebrated icons of the Turkish left, in relation to the historical development of anticommunism in modern Turkey.
  • Nâzım Hikmet Ran (1902-1963) became a powerful symbol that Turkish people collectively reinterpreted over time. His decades-long affiliation with the Communist Party of Turkey and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) made this globally-known poet an international face of communism and a focus of public outrage in Turkey. His image resonated more profoundly than most other local socialist icons both in the early republican period and the Cold War. To many anticommunists in Turkey, he remained symbolic of a fifth column of a foreign power even after his death in 1963. The end of the Cold War and the partition of the USSR, however, triggered the transformation of his image from a communist traitor and public enemy to a patriotic intellectual, a symbol of freedom, and a voice of dissident and political opposition. Even public figures who were categorically against Nâzım’s ideology began to portray him in a positive light and recited his poems in their public speeches. His popular image has been partially emptied of its communist content though he remained a subversive figure to the present day. This presentation uses the astonishing spectrum of his iconography as a prism to explore the historical development of anticommunism in Republican Turkey. It explains domestic and external factors that made possible the radical change in his public image. It consults a rich trove of primary sources: Official documents detail how various governments followed his activities abroad and the reception of his ideas, actions, and literary works among local and foreign audiences, as well as press accounts, parliamentary speeches, and memoirs to unpack the emergence of Nâzım Hikmet’s multiple, often contradictory, images in the public imagination. An analysis of these sources illustrates the dynamic nature of anticommunism, as evidenced by the shifting and overlapping images of Nâzım Hikmet.
  • This presentation draws a rich and nuanced picture of the links between Balkan immigrants and anticommunism in Cold War Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims migrated from the communist-ruled Balkan countries to Turkey after World War II. Political authorities and mainstream media welcomed them as these immigrants were seen to be the victims of communist perfidy. Anticommunist public discourse benefited from their first-hand accounts and photos to demonstrate to the Turkish public that communism was an ideology that persecuted people and oppressed religious freedom. The immigrants continued to be appropriated in official narratives in the struggle against the USSR and socialist states in the Balkans well into the 1990s. At the same time, state officials continued to cast suspicion upon the immigrants, especially working-class ones, since they believed immigrants’ experience in a communist country made communist ideology more attractive to these people and made them more likely to foment revolution to topple the established order. This suspicion shaped the politics of organized labor across the country and adversely affected immigrants who were wary of being labeled communists. This suspicion of immigrants affected their social and political integration into the society. Accordingly, immigrants became victims of not only communist regimes in the Balkans but also anticommunist hysteria in Turkey. This presentation utilizes a variety of primary and secondary accounts to develop a more complete picture of how Balkan immigrants functioned in popular culture as both anticommunist symbols and potential communist sympathizers. As archival documents provide insights into the concern of state officials and business owners, memoirs and oral history accounts unpack the daily encounters of Balkan immigrants, including children and women, with anticommunism. By adopting a micro-level analysis, this presentation moves beyond the intellectual and political surveys of anticommunism. Through its focus on the social and economic aspects, it illustrates that anticommunism needs to be understood as a plural concept whose influence transcends the world of politics in modern Turkey.
  • This paper argues that involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953) marked a crucial turning point for the development of the Turkish state. It looks at several major trials from this period—in particular, prosecutions of students and instructors at Istanbul University—and argues that anticommunism became a primary purpose of the state, serving to organize and unify the activities of officials in much the same way that other aims like reaching the “level of modern civilization” had done for decades. This focus on communism was not inevitable. When Turkey’s Democrat Party (DP) came to power in 1950, as a result of the country’s first free-and-fair elections, there was little space for communist activity. The “transition to democracy” that had occurred over the past five years had been accompanied by unrelenting pressure on left-wing activists. A general amnesty passed by the DP in 1950 released famous political prisoners like Nazım Hikmet into an environment where any new activism was unlikely to have much success. Even so, between late 1950 and 1953, the DP oversaw large-scale arrests and prosecutions of citizens accused of communist activities. This “Red Scare” was part of Turkey’s deepening involvement with America’s anticommunist economic and security order. In July 1950, the DP government committed Turkish soldiers to fight in Korea; within weeks, neighboring Bulgaria announced its intention to allow up to 250,000 Turkish Muslim to cross the border in Turkey. Faced with these challenges in distant lands on Turkey’s western border, DP leaders became acutely concerned with suppressing communists and encouraging anticommunist organization throughout the country.