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Officially Silenced Narratives in Republican Turkey

RoundTable III-5, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

RoundTable Description
Many life stories of actors who lived during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic have been silenced by the official historiography of the state, institutionalised in Nutuk (The Speech) by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Nutuk has been the only master narrative of the formation of the Turkish national movement and the Republic. It still holds so much power in shaping our understanding and blocking our critical engagement with the foundation of the Republic as well as alternative/critical voices and narratives. Uncovering these implicated subjects provides a much richer context of history than the nationally monochromatic one promoted by the Turkish state and society. This roundtable probes how multiple histories of the period open new avenues of a truly integrated, and critical historical synthesis of the early years of the Turkish Republic. The four papers comprising this roundtable tackles with the questions of rupture and continuity between the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic through the lens of biographies. They will delve deeper into the officials, organisational and political structures and political cultures of these two consecutive states by centering around the genocide of 1915, its aftermath, and questions of culpability and denial therein. The first paper zooms in the years of the Independence Struggle, 1919-1923 and brings a fresh and an alternative perspective to the power dynamics between the two governments, one in Istanbul standing for the Ottoman imperial administration of the Sultan, and the other in Ankara representing the newly rising Kemalist national forces. The second paper explores how the hundred-year history of the Republic of Turkey was shaped by the contractual and colonial logic of power and substantiates this dual structure under the name of the Türklük Sözleşmesi (Turkishness Contract). The third paper focuses on Halide Edip, a novelist and public intellectual of the late Ottoman and republican periods. Drawing on her writings in the last years of the Empire and the formative years of the Republic including her autobiography, it examines her reflections on the nationalist resistance against the occupation of Anatolia and Mustafa Kemal’s Speech. The final paper on Rıza Nur, a very controversial figure of the early Republican period, concentrates on his voluminous “History of Armenians” with a particular attention to the sections that deal with Armenian Genocide. It unravels how Rıza Nur depicted the Ottoman Armenians and justified the genocide.
  • Contractual and Colonial Logics of Power: The Dual State of the Republic of Turkey I think that the modern world has been shaped by two parallel and complementary logics of power and sovereignty: contractual and colonial. According to this distinction, the contract operates in the interest of a legitimate, supreme and unique nation, within a certain democratic, meritocratic, legal, ordinary, predictable framework, and therefore has the consent of this nation; the colonial logic, on the other hand, governs peoples who are somehow excluded or left out of that nation through physical and cultural violence, threats, oppression, states of emergency, and does not have the consent of these peoples. To put it differently, while the contractual logic of power rules over the nation in an almost invisible way, the colonial logic rules over those outside this nation in an open and naked way. An important point here, I believe, is that these two different logics of sovereignty exist as a dual structure within a single state. In my opinion, the complementary but at the same time tense relationality between contract and colony is a global phenomenon that has played a crucial role in the making and functioning of the modern world. Accordingly, I think that the hundred-year history of the Republic of Turkey has also been shaped by this dual structure of the nation-state. On the one hand, a more or less functioning democracy, meritocracy, rule of law and welfare state have been built for the Turkish nation and Turkish individuals. On the other hand, Kurdistan and Dersim have been ruled with physical and cultural violence, states of emergency, lawlessness and impunity since the foundation of the republic. In my talk, I will argue that this dual state structure of the Republic of Turkey was established simultaneously in the 1920s and has continued to function simultaneously and in parallel with each other ever since. And this duality is of course not only visible in the differences in state functioning and policies. Depending on which side of the contractual and colonial line individuals live on, the dual structure has also left its mark on the minds, bodies, ways of thinking, feeling, knowing and behaving of modern subjects. Therefore, I think that an analytical discussion of both the history of the Republic of Turkey and individual biographies should address the contractual and colonial logics of power together.
  • The many lives of Halide Edib – This contribution to the round table focuses on Halide Edib (aka Halide Salih and Halide Edip Adıvar, 1884-1964), a novelist and public intellectual of the late Ottoman and republican periods. A comparative reading of Halide Edib's writings in the last fifteen years of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of the republic, including her autobiography, which she first wrote in English (1926-28), portray a woman whose works reflects the tension between her American liberal arts education, on the one hand, and her experiences with European imperialism and Turkish nationalism, on the other. In the first part of my presentation, I will pay particular attention to the evolution of her writings on Ottoman Armenians during the fifteen years between the Adana Massacre of 1909 and 1924. In the second part, I will document the differences between Halide Edib's reflections on the nationalist resistance against the occupation of Anatolia and Mustafa Kemal's Speech (1927), specifically attending to Halide Edib's portrayal of Mustafa Kemal. The last part of my presentation focuses on Halide Edib's re-writing of her memoirs in Turkish (1962-63) with a view to demonstrate the impact of her return from her self-imposed exile to Turkey in 1939 (after the death of Mustafa Kemal) on her representation of the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of the republic.
  • Rıza Nur as a Historian of Armenian History. The Unpublished Work “Ermeni Tarihi” (1914-1923) Rıza Nur began to work on his “History of Armenians” (Ermeni Tarihi) in exile in Cairo, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, and continued until May 1918, according to the preface. However, some sections of the work concerning later events between the years 1919 and 1923 were added either in Turkey or when he was in exile in France (from 1926), and most probably during his stay in Lausanne between November 1922 and July 1923, when he was part of the Turkish delegation. It was also in Lausanne that he assigned one of the Turkish secretaries to prepare the fair copy of his draft, which the author sold, together with other manuscripts, to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin in 1935 (with a blocking period until 1960). Unlike his twelve-volume History of the Turks (Türk Tarihi), which he was working on at the same time, the History of the Armenians was never published. Rıza Nur planned this work as the prelude to a series on the history of non-Turkish peoples. In his preface, he states that he also wanted to write a work on the Greeks and Arabs. He aimed to educate Turks about the intentions of these peoples, whose goal was to “exterminate the Turks” (Türk’ü yok etmek). The author saw his work as a patriotic service to empower Turks with knowledge and thus provide them with the appropriate arguments to “defend their rights”. This justificatory work is probably the first monographic work in Ottoman-Turkish to date that focuses exclusively on the history of the Armenians. After an introduction of the work, which is spread over three large chapters and contains over 500 pages, the paper will focus on the sections that concern the late Ottoman period, especially the Armenian genocide. On the basis of (but not only) these sections, it will be revealed which image the author conveys of the Ottoman Armenians, which works he refers to and which argumentation strategies he uses for his justificatory writing, which is ultimately designed to deny the Armenians any right to exist in Turkey.
  • Perhaps the least known period in Turkish history corresponds to the years of the Independence Struggle, 1919 to 1923 when there were effectively two governments in Asia Minor, one in Constantinople corresponding to the Ottoman imperial administration of the sultan, and the other in Ankara representing the renegade nationalist Ottoman officials and officers who were intent on establishing a new state, more participatory state. The nationalists also interrupted the imperial telegraph system running though Asia Minor, thereby preventing the imperial capital from keeping up with what was happening in the countryside. Missionaries, merchants, and Muslim and non-Muslim migrants were the only social groups still traveling in the region albeit with decreased frequency. Critical cultural studies need to be undertaken first to identify who has the power and capacity to speak during this period of upheaval and then to study who does actually speak publicly.