152 years ago, Eugene Morel wrote that Turkey's main shortcoming was the lack of a bureaucracy and argued that the Turks must learn about proper centralization from France. France, he claimed, was not only Turkey's best ally but also an ally that did not pursue its own interests.The French thinker thought that bureaucracy and centralization were the Ottoman Empire's most urgent needs and urged the Turks to learn from the French model. To be clear, Mr. Morel was not the only advocate of this view. A large number of Westerners imposed policies of dependence on the Ottoman Empire in the name of reform and modernization.
Turkey could not break this cycle during the Republican period either. The bureaucracy emerged as the main player during this process. The bureaucracy not only promoted Westernization but also became the country's most important holder of power. Civilian and military bureaucrats shaped civilian politics and kept politicians within the limits of the Westernization paradigm.
First, the Turks turned to France. Then they adopted the U.S. model. Ironically, the French-style bureaucracy became no less influential even after 1945, when Turkey turned to the United States. The Turkish state continued to function according to the French model. This situation pushed the state further away from society. By the early 2000s, state and society had become strangers to each other. The country had been able neither to complete Western-style modernization nor to create a method compatible with its own culture.
The Westerners attempted to impose the French-style state structure on Turkey in an effort to resolve the Eastern Question. So what did the Westerners mean by the Eastern Question in the 1860s?
Again, Morel talked about the coexistence of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds devoid of historical memory or political motivation under the authority of a Muslim ruler. The question, he said, was whether those communities could be united under the banner of a modern state as opposed to promoting a national identity whose limits were impossible to identify.
But the Ottoman and Republican elites had different expectations. They assumed that the French-style state organization was the solution to all problems of underdevelopment. It became clear that they were wrong. The country paid a heavy price, but the oppressed people came to shape Turkey's politics after a 150-year break. In the wake of the 2002 elections, important steps have been taken regarding this transformation process. We are still going through the same period. In recent years, state-society relations have normalized, as the country developed its own modernization policies. During the same period, the French influence on state organization has been reduced. At the same time, this meant the elimination of the Westernist bureaucratic oligarchy. On April 16, 2017, Turkey took a giant leap forward in this regard.
Now there is an election ahead that will end this process. On June 24, Turkey will have completed this massive transformation and translated the popular will into public administration. Only then will Westerners see whether the Turkish people have political yearnings. They will understand what political and social unity looks like.
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