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Westernisation Of Turkey
Sep 2011

Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, had  transported his country from Middle Ages to the threshold of a modern state in a period of a decade and a half. Kemal Ataturk  had sought to build a new Turkey. He had, in a short time, uprooted the traditions of centuries and tried to evolve a new culture in their place. To the women, Kemal declaimed �win for us the battle of education and you will do more for your country than we have been able to do. It is to you that I appeal�. To the men, he said: If henceforward the women do not share in the social life of the nation, we shall remain immediately backward, incapable of treating on equal terms with the civilization of the west. Remain yourselves but learn how to have from the west what is indispensable to an involved people. Admit science and new ideals into your lives. If you do not they will devour you. The President of the Republic himself renounced the titles of Gazi  and Pasha. For himself he chose a name which displayed pride in his Turkish origins. He became Ataturk, or Father Turk, dropped the Arab name of Mustafa and signed himself as Kemal Ataturk. His attempt, in short, was to mould a new type of Turk, filling him with education and example to rank with the people of Europe. He aimed at realizing the Turk from a dead past and to seek a place for him in contemporary western civilization. To attain his objectives, the Italian Penal Code, the German Commercial Code and the Swiss Civil Code were introduced.  After his death in 1938, he was rightly described by an English writer as modern �Cromwell of the Near East�.  The various steps that he took in this direction are briefly outlined below. This is based on Patrick Kinross's study: Alturk: The Rebirth of a Nation.

Change of calendar

Early in 1935, he introduced two last measures of Westernisation. The old Turkish calendar which was based on Christian months and on Islamic year was replaced with a complete Gregorian calendar of the Christian era. Along with this, the Muslim Friday was abolished. Instead, the Christian Sunday was declared as the day of rest.

Adoption of surnames

Hitherto, the Turks, like the Arabs, had not used family names. Ahmed son of Mehmed, for example, was the normal designation. This had caused confusion because of its multiplication. Kermal himself conferred suitable patronymics on his friends.

Abolished old titles

The old titles of Pasha, Effendi, Bey and Harim (Lady) following the names were abolished. They were replaced by plain Bay and Bayan (Mr. and Mrs) preceding it.   

Turkey becomes a secular state

The First Act of the third Grand National Assembly was to round off the religious reforms by deleting from the Constitution the Formula that �the religion of the Turkish State is Islam�. Turkey thus became legally and constitutionally a secular state in line with those of the West. Religion became a matter of individual conscience.

Reform of the Alphabet

There remained, however, one tie with the East and Islam - the Arabic Script in which Turkish had been written. The alphabet was that of Islam as used by the Arabs and Persians. It, however, did not suit the sounds of the Turkish language. Kemal decreed: The change will happen in three months or it will not happen at all. In November 1928 the new script became a law. The use of Arabic was prohibited from the end of the year onwards. A few days later civil servants throughout the country took a test for proficiency in the script. A School of the Nation was also founded whose chief instructor was His Excellency, the President of the Republic Ghazi Mustafa Kemal. 'Our rich and harmonious language (in Latin script) will now be able to display itself with new Turkish letters. We must free ourselves from those incomprehensible signs that for centuries have held our minds in an iron vice', observed Kemal Ataturk.

Statue of Kemal Ataturk

In 1926, in the Sarayburnu Park, in defiance of Muslim taboos against the portrayal of the human figure, a statue of the Gazi was unveiled.

End of the Sultanate

The Allies took a maladroit step in 1923 when they sent invitations to the Lausanne Conference both to the Government of the Sultan at Constantinople and the Grand National Assembly headed by Kemal at Angora. Kemal reacted strongly by asserting that it was a breach of the Mudanya Convention signed earlier which had recognized the sovereignty of the Grand National Assembly. Kemal declared that the Sultanate would be separated from the Caliphate. Accordingly, the former, representing the temporal power was abolished. With this, the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire was announced, and also the birth of the new Turkish State whose sovereign rights belonged constitutionally to the people. The opposition had, however, declared that the institutions of the Sultan and the Caliph were inseparable. Kemal countered the opposition charge and asserted that the opposition leaders had reacted on the well known fallacies and absurdities. Addressing the Assembly Kemal observed: Sovereignty and Sultanate are taken by strength, by power and by force. It was by force that the sons of  Osman  seized  the   sovereignty and Sultanate of the Turkish nation; they have maintained this usurpation for six centuries. Now the Turkish

nation has rebutted and put a stop to these usurpers.

The draft law comprised only two articles: The first declared that the form of Government in Constantinople resting on the sovereignty of the individual had ceased on 16th March, 1920 the day the British occupied the city. The second declared that the Caliph belonged to the Ottoman empire and the Assembly would choose the Caliph. For the first time, in the history of Islam there was a legal separation of the temporal and spiritual powers. Shortly thereafter the Sultan was deposed and Abdul Majid was made the Caliph.

Abolition of the Caliphate

Kemal declared fanaticism a poisonous dagger which is directed at the heart of his people. He declared that the Friday sermons in the mosques should be in harmony with the truths of science and knowledge. The preachers should follow closely the political and social conditions of the civilized world. The sermons must be delivered in Turkish and not in an ancient dead language. The moral treasure of the Caliphate must finally go. Was it not both a symbol and a rallying point for those dark forces of religious reaction?

In India, the Aga Khan and Ameer Ali wrote to Ismet Pasha asking the Turkish government to place the Caliphate on a basis which would command the confidence and esteem of the Moslim natives. The letter was released to the press even before it had reached Ankara. Kemal did not like the contention that the Caliphate was a link with the past and with Islam. He called a session of Parliament and the Parliament gave the go ahead: Cut out this turmour of the Middle Ages-the Caliphate. He went on to tell the Grand National Assembly that it had now become a plainly evident truth that it is necessary to liberate and to elevate the Islamic religion from its position of being a tool of politics, in the way that has been traditional for centuries.

The Caliph was deposed and his office abolished. The members of his dynasty were forever forbidden to reside within the frontiers of the Turkish Republic; the Ministry of Religious Affairs was disbanded, the historic  office  of  Sheikh  of  Islam ceased to exist, the revenues of the Pious Foundations were confiscated and    all    religious    schools    were transferred to the secular arm. The religious courts of the Sheriat were closed  and  a civil code based on the    Swiss model was put in operation. The Caliph was packed off to Switzerland. However, he was held upon the frontier on the ground that polygamists were not allowed into Switzerland. On the following Friday, for the first time, the prayer at Santa Sophia, no mention was made of the Caliph.

Dervish orders closed

The Kurdish revolt of early 1920's had been inspired by Sheikh Said who belonged to Nakeshbendi Order and who had declared that Islam was not Islam without a Caliph: Let people restore the Holy Law and destroy the government. Kemal had already swept away The Caliphate, the religious schools and the Holy Law. Now he decided to sweep away all the Dervish Orders. In August, 1925 he pronounced their doom. He also declared that henceforth no fortune tellers, magicians, witch doctors, writers of amulets would be allowed to function in Turkey. At the same time, all sacred tombs as places of worship were closed.

Revolution in Headgear

Fez, though a century old as a form of Moslem headgear, had become a symbol of Ottoman and Islamic orthodoxy. Kemal ordered that Fez be replaced with that of a hat. In this context, he asked a gathering: Is our dress national? (cries of no!). Is it civilized and international? (cries of no, no!). Kemal, thereafter, declared: A civilized, international dress is worthy and appropriate for our nation, and we will wear it. Boots or shoes on our feet, trousers on our legs, shirt and tie, jacket and waistcoat and to complete these, a cover with a brim on our heads. I want to make this clear. This head covering is called hat. Accordingly, a new bill was passed by the Assembly which obliged all men to wear hats and made the wearing of Fez a criminal offence.

Emancipation of women

The women's position in Turkey had changed little since the days of the Prophet. She still lived subject to the letter of the laws of Islam, in seclusion, which amounted at its worst to personal slavery. In short, it had become a collective as well as a personal duty to supervise her behavior. Kemal had said: Is it possible that, while one half of a community stays chained to the ground, the other half can rise to the sky? There is no question, the steps of progress must be taken by the two sexes together, as friends, and together they must accomplish the various stages of the journey into the land of progress renovation. The religious courts, Sheriat were abolished and in their place a new civil code based on the Swiss model was introduced. Repudiation of wife by a husband was abolished, with polygamy, and was replaced by civil marriage and divorce, with equal rights for both parties .


Tajik Republic was a state member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics constituted in 1929. Geographically, it is bounded in the north by Kirghistan, in the south by Afghanistan, in the west lies Uzbekistan and in the east of the country lies Chinese Turkistan. It is a mountainous country. It has an area of 55250 square miles. The total population is estimated at over 7 million. Of this nearly a million reside in the capital, Dushanbe. About half of country's population is under 14 years of age. More than 80 of the population is Sunni. The Tajiks are closely mixed with their Muslim co-religionists the Uzbeks. The Soviet partition of the area in 1924 had failed to segregate completely the two nationalities. As of now, Uzbeks constitute roughly 25 percent of the population. One third of the population lives in rural areas. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became an independent republic. Of the five Central Asian Republics, it is the poorest.

Tajikistan is one of the major producers of long-staple cotton. The country is rich in mineral deposits. However, agriculture and allied sectors are equally important. Tajikistan is classified as an industrial-agrarian state. Its per capita income is about U.S. $ 700. Exports are mainly minerals and their products. Remittances from Tajiks working abroad contribute nearly 50 percent of GDP.

Immediately after it became independent, the country was faced with a civil war. The five year civil war has been carried on by Islamist-led opposition. It ended in 1997. Some 50 thousand people had been killed and over one-tenth of the population is reported to have fled the country. The country has still not fully recovered from the ravages of the civil war.


Because of the damage done to the economic and social fabric of the country by the radical Islamists, the President, Emomali Rakhmon has initiated a number of steps to transform the country. These among others include: (a) Unregistered masjids would be closed and new one would become difficult to register. The idea being that they appear to function as breeding ground for radical fundamentalism, (b) The state has ordered the return of students who had gone abroad to study Islam. Furthermore, they would not be provided with any alternative occupation after they return home. Perhaps the state does not want to encourage the state funding of religious studies. As it is, Tajikistan is the poorest states compared to the other four Central Asian Republics, (c) Use of religious symbols like the growing of beards is being discouraged, (d) Children and teen agers would be banned from attending prayers. In order to make this effective, a bill on parental responsibility is envisaged to be passed.

It is too early to comment or write about the final shape of things to come. However, the leadership of the country appears to be keen to bring about economic development along with necessary improvements in the social laws governing the people.


April 2017


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