Identity is a kind of feeling that makes a group of people belong and identical to any place, an object or a collectivity to enhance physical and psychological security. It is composed of many parameters that can wave, change and transform depending on time and space. Identity is constructed by otherness. Defining an identity, a society unavoidably places similar elements into one cluster and different elements into another. The characteristic of an identity is determined by drawing a line that marks the difference with the other. If this line is provocative and thicker, it is not possible to live together with the other as a result of the turbulent demarcation process. Nevertheless, if this line is smoother and moderate, it is possible to keep the different cultures concomitantly without the loss of differentiation. In this context, it is important to bear in mind that identity is a construction, and it can be shaped by historians, officials and statesmen.
From this point of view, the acquisition process of Turkish identity can be followed by a trajectory that emerged in Central Asia and is shaped around Chinese otherness and expands toward Caucasia, Balkan Peninsula, Europe and ultimately Asia Minor as a result of the Battle of Manzikert. Turkish identity coming into prominence by its potential to establish states, its organization capacity and its military victories attain the possibility to build civilization by embracing Islam. The great Seljuk Empire and Anatolian Seljuk Empire are much more focused on the aim of spreading the zone of influence for Turkish identity by systematically forming alliances. This period is an episode that shaped the conception of Islam that is grounded in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam. Ottomans, as the frontier political unit of the Seljuks, gained justification why they established the first contact with Christendom during its period and then rapidly marched on the Balkans and Europe. This era was a crucial turning point when the East and West, Islam and Christianity, establish mutual interaction and familiarized with each other.
The glorious time of the Ottomans was the rule of Süleyman the Magnificent when the Mediterranean turned into the "Muslim and Turkish Lake." In this era, Europe had experienced the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, rationalism, humanism and Cartesian philosophy and left behind the scholastic and patristic thinking of the Middle Ages. Europe began to identify itself with obtained identity inspired by the democracy experiment of antiquity. Nevertheless, these acquirements urged Europe to have a Eurocentric point of view. From this perspective, a society pending to be civilized must follow the cultural evolutionary ladders of the West. This approach led to orientalist thinking about the East. For this, Eastern civilizations were deprived of the mental capacity to utilize the resources they had, and the West had to shoulder the mission of putting these resources into all humanity's service. This was the remote and purported reason why Europe developed imperialist and colonialist policies as a justification for all exploitation and culture-bound approaches.
Whereas if there had been no almighty Ottoman Empire of the 16th century to the east, Europe would not have had an opportunity to create a common European culture and identity by means of collaborating with each other, and it could not have built a worldwide civilization by universalizing its national values arisen from its movement west. Therefore, all developments demonstrate that the Ottoman Empire transformed into a constitutive other for Europe by stimulating it to unite and connect with the rest of the world.
Confronting the other
The last period of the Ottoman Empire led to the emergence of different socio-political and cultural identities through confrontation with Europe. This is the first time in history a civilization decided to come together with another one because of being protected from its evil and enormity. However, it seems that what was inferred from modernization was Westernization as a result of fear and menace felt by Europe. To take a stand against the increasing popularity of nationalist sentiment, which the French Revolution brought, the late Ottoman governing elite forged Ottomanism and Ottoman identity on the idea of the union of components (ittihad-ı anasır). In addition, the Ottoman bureaucracy developed Islamism against the threat of modern values and Turkism against the survival problem of the Turkish component. It can also be mentioned that there was Western identity, whose justification depends on one's strong ties to the West and thoughts that the Ottomans lagging behind the West resulted from our religious, spiritual and moral values.
Eventually Turkish identity followed the trajectory to reshape itself as European through a Westernization process once again from the last period of the Ottoman Empire to now. This tendency can be analyzed at three levels. The first is the dualist modernization in the late Ottoman period that kept tradition and modernity alive together, attempted to modernize the military and tried to be a part of Europe by promoting the rights of non-Muslim minorities within the empire. The second level is the Kemalist modernization process that was based on radical Westernization by complete interruption of tradition and the inclusion of ordinary people into the modernization process by means of a top-down imposition. The third and last level is the Westernization and modernization within the European Union integration process after Turkey was announced as an official candidate to the EU in the Helsinki Summit in December 1999, and continuing today. At the beginning of this process, the EU served to enhance the promotion of democratic status and especially the normalization of civil-military relations by breaking military-bureaucratic tutelage and oligarchy in Turkey thanks to building itself on relatively democratic values and as an external changing mechanism. Nevertheless, this relationship was reversed as time passed because of the changing character of the EU. Over time, the EU gave up supporting the democratic values that legitimize the bloc and exposed it to the influence of racism, chauvinism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. This transformation was the distortion of our existing and future relations with European civilization.
Under these circumstances, Turkey had to reconstruct her identity urgently because if Turkey refrains from doing this, the surrounding ideologies and neighboring sociopolitical environment attempt to encourage defining its identity and confining its cultural frontiers. On the other hand, bear in mind that Turkey is going through a process of reconstructing the state with all institutions because of the last referendum results for the executive presidency. Therefore, this new structure needs to redefine the state's identity as well. However, to comprehend the role of nation-state in national building strategies, let's remember the famous remark of Massimo d'Azeglio, one of the founders of modern Italy: "We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians."
* Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, head of Political Science and International Relations at Dumlupinar University
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