Kemalist ideology

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (series)
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Atatürk's Reforms & Kemalist ideology
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"Six Arrows" as depicted by the CHP's logo

Kemalist Ideology, "Kemalism" (Turkish: Kemalizm, Atatürkçülük, Atatürkçü düşünce,) or also known as the "Six Arrows" (Turkish: Altı ok) is the principle that defines the basic characteristics of the Republic of Turkey. It was developed by the Turkish national movement and its leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[citation needed]



Atatürk's conception of realism and pragmatism have been the foundation of Kemalism.[1] There are six fundamental pillars of the ideology. Secularism and reformism principles were accepted and entered into the constitution following the first four. The principles came to be recognized as unchangeable and sacrosanct. These principles were formulated and applied but not defined as an ideology during the life of Atatürk.


General view of the Turkish Parliament. The chair of the Speaker is seen far back, facing the deputies. The Prime Minister and the ministers have their seats on the right side of the picture, close to the Speaker.

Republicanism (Turkish: cumhuriyetçilik) Kemalist ideology replaced the absolutism of the monarchy (Ottoman Dynasty) with the rule of law, popular sovereignty and the civic virtue with an emphasis on liberty practiced by citizens. Kemalist republicanism defines a constitutional republic, where representatives of the people are elected and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government's power over citizens. The head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and their decisions are subject to judicial review. In defending the change from Ottoman State, Kemalism claims that all laws of Republic of Turkey should be inspired by actual needs here on Earth as a basic fact of national life.[2] Kemalism asserts that only the republican system can best represent the wishes of the people.

Among many forms of "republican systems," the "Kemalist republic" is a representative democracy with a Parliament elected in general elections, a President as head of state elected by Parliament and serving for a limited term, a Prime Minister appointed by the President, and other Ministers appointed by Parliament. The Kemalist President does not have direct executive powers, but has limited veto powers, and the right to contest with referendum. The day-to-day running of government is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers formed by the Prime Minister and the other Ministers. There is a separation of powers between the executive (President and Council of Ministers), the legislative (Parliament) and the judiciary, in which no one branch of government has authority over another–although parliament is charged with the supervision of the Council of Ministers, which can be compelled to resign by a vote of no-confidence.

The Kemalist republican state (unitary state) is a state whose three organs of state are governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. For some issues, the political power of government is transferred to lower levels, to local elected assemblies represented by mayors, but the central government retains the principal right.


Populism (Turkish: halkçılık) is defined as a social revolution in terms of its content and goals, and differs from the western understanding of the term populism greatly. This revolution was led by an elite with an orientation towards the best interest of the general public. The Kemalist reforms brought about a revolutionary change in the status of women. Women were granted the right to vote in 1934. Atatürk stated on a number of occasions that the legitimate rulers of Turkey were common citizens, such as villagers and workers. At the time, this was actually a goal rather than a reality in Turkey.

Kemalist ideology was, in fact, based on the supreme value of Turkish citizenship. A sense of pride associated with this citizenship would give the needed psychological spur for people to work harder and achieve a sense of unity and national identity.


The secularism (Turkish: laiklik) of Kemalist ideology aims to banish religious interference in government affairs, and vice versa; solidified in public education and government-subsidized cultural and legal affairs. It is a rationalist, anti-clerical secularism, differing from that in most predominantly Christian societies, but similar to the concept of laïcité in France. Many of Atatürk's reforms were brought forward to establish secularism, such as the establishment of a modern, secular school system. The roots of Kemalist secularism extend to the Ottoman Empire, especially the Tanzimat period and the later Second Constitutional Era. In that period the Ottoman parliament pursued secular policies, which was stated as the reason for the Countercoup (1909), because, as the crowd claimed, "the state's hostility to religion became clear".[citation needed] The allegation of hostility to religion of the Ottoman parliament's secular policies also factored in the Arab Revolt during WWI.

Kemalist secularism does not imply or advocate agnosticism or nihilism; it means freedom of thought and independence of the institutions of the state from the dominance of religious thought and religious institutions. In neutralizing political Islam as a force Kemalism aimed at developing a pluralistic (liberal) Islam on the social front. The Kemalist principle of secularism is not against an enlightened Islam, but against an Islam opposed to and fighting modernization and democracy. The social narrative of Kemalist secularism continues into the 21st century, with a Turkish Islam rooted in Sufism, particularly Naqshbandi Sufi orders, and punctuated by frontier conditions of Turkey.

Politics and religion

The Kemalist form of separation of state and religion pursued the replacement of a complete set of institutions, interest groups (such as political parties, unions, lobby groups), the relationships between those institutions and the political norms and rules that govern their functions (constitution, election law). The biggest change in this perspective was the abolishment of the Caliphate on March 3, 1924. The removal of the Ottoman Caliphate was followed by the removal of its political mechanisms. The article stating that "the established religion of Turkey is Islam" was removed from the constitution on February 5, 1937.

From a political perspective, Kemalism is an anti-clerical secularism which abolished the religious political establishment of the Ottoman Empire. In the Kemalist political perspective politicians cannot claim to be the protector of any religion or religious sect, and such claims constitute sufficient legal grounds for the permanent banning of political parties. The current Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while mayor of Istanbul, was once jailed for reciting poetry laced with aggressively religious terms, which was deemed by the judiciary to advocate separatism among the Turkish people, into camps of "believers" and "non-believers".

Controversially, the constitutional concept of laïcité is also used to justify a ban on Muslim women wearing Islamic coverings such as headscarfs in public universities and other public buildings. Joost Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament and chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee with Turkey, has publicly criticized these clothing restrictions for Muslim women;[3] whereas the European Court of Human Rights ruled in numerous cases that such restrictions in public buildings and educational institutions do not constitute a violation of human rights.[4][5]

State and religion

According to the Kemalist perception, the Turkish state is to stand at an equal distance from every religion, neither promoting nor condemning any set of religious beliefs. The Republic of Turkey is neutral in religious affairs. Kemalism has an "Active Neutrality" and actions related to religion should be carefully analyzed and evaluated by the government through the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which is responsible for managing the religious affairs and institutions in the country. The Presidency of Religious Affairs pursues the responsibility for planning, coordinating, and implementing the balance.

Kemalism has to balance the space between different religious sects. Religious education, which was originally left to private initiative with after-school courses until 1980, when it was brought to secondary education with a formal curriculum covering religious doctrines. This change of politics to balance religious doctrine is debated. There are three main ideological perspectives in this debate. The first one views this change as a breach of Kemalist secularist ideology, and demands a return to the previous policy. The second perspective accepts the religious education but objects to its compulsory position. The third position accepts the compulsory position except those responsible for minority communities, who wish to have their own religious courses, within the boundaries of the regulations administered by the Ministry of Education.


Revolutionism (Turkish: devrimcilik / inkılâpçılık): a principle formulated by Atatürk, which means that the country should replace the traditional institutions and concepts with modern institutions and concepts. This principle advocated the need for fundamental social change through revolution as a strategy to achieve a modern society. The core of the revolution, in the Kemalist sense, was an accomplished fact.[6] In Kemalist sense there is no possibility of return to the old systems which were deemed backward.

The principle of revolutionism went beyond the recognition of the reforms which were made during Atatürk's lifetime. Atatürk's revolutions in the social and political life are accepted as irreversible. Atatürk never entertained the possibility of a pause or transition phase during the course of the progressive unfolding or implementation of the revolution. The current understanding of this concept can be described as active modification.[6] Turkey and its society, taking over institutions from the West, must add Turkish traits and patterns to them, and adapt them to the Turkish culture, according to Kemalism.[6] The making of the Turkish traits and patterns of these reforms takes generations of cultural and social experience (which results in the collective memory of the Turkish nation).


"Sovereignty belongs, without any restrictions or conditions, to the nation" is embossed behind the speaker's seat at the Grand National Assembly

Nationalism (Turkish: milliyetçilik): The Kemalist revolution aimed to create a nation state (Turkish: Ulus) from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish People" as "those who protect and promote the moral, spiritual, cultural and humanistic values of the Turkish Nation."[7] Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish Nation" as a nation of Turkish People who always love and seek to exalt their family, country and nation, who know their duties and responsibilities towards the democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law, founded on human rights, and on the tenets laid down in the preamble to the constitution of the Republic of Turkey.[7] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk defines the Turkish Nation by saying "the folk which constitutes the Republic of Turkey is called the Turkish Nation." Article 301 of the Turkish Penal code made it a crime to insult Turkishness (Turkish: türklük), but under pressure of the EU, this was changed in 2008 to protect the "Turkish nation" instead of Turkish ethnicity in 2008, an 'imagined' nationhood of people living within the National Pact (Turkish: Misak-ı Milli) borders.[8]

Kemalist nationalism is an extension of the Kemalist modernization movement. It was brought against the political domination of sheikhs, tribal leaders and Islamism (Islam as a political system). Initially the declaration of the republic was perceived as "Returning to the days of the first caliphs".[9] However, Kemalist nationalism aimed to shift the political legitimacy from autocracy (Ottoman Dynasty), theocracy (Caliphate) and feudalism (tribal leaders) to the active participation of its citizenry, the Turks. Active participation, or the "will of the people", was established with the republican regime and Turkishness rather than other forms of affiliations that were promoted. The shift in affiliation was symbolized with:

Turkish: Ne mutlu Türküm diyene.
(English: How happy is he/she who calls himself/herself a Turk)
—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The term "Ne mutlu Türküm diyene" was promoted against the "long live the Sultan," "long live the Sheikh" or "long live the Caliph." Kemalist nationalism originates from the social contract theories, especially from the principles advocated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract. The Kemalist perception of social contract was effected by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire which was perceived as a product of failure of the Ottoman "Millet" system and the ineffective experimentation with Ottomanism. Kemalist nationalism, after experiencing the Ottoman Empire's breakdown into pieces, defined the social contract as its "highest ideal".

In the administration and defense of the Turkish Nation; national unity, national awareness and national culture are the highest ideals that we fix our eyes upon.[10]
—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Kemalist nationalism's social content does not accept any adjectives placed before the definition of a nation [a nation of ...]; denounces the types of national unity based on racial, religious, totalitarian and fascist ideologies, by claiming:

Unconditional, unrestricted sovereignty belongs to the people.[11]
—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Regarding expansionism, Kemalist nationalism opposes imperialism and aims to promote "peace" in both the domestic and the international arenas.

Within the political and social unity of today's Turkish nation, there are citizens and co-nationals who have been incited to think of themselves as Kurds, Circassians, Laz or Bosnians. But these erroneous appellations - the product of past periods of tyranny - have brought nothing but sorrow to individual members of the nation, with the exception of a few brainless reactionaries, who became the enemy's instruments. This is because these individual members of the nation share with the generality of Turkish society the same past, history, concept of morals and laws.[12]

Criteria for nationality

Kemalist criteria for national identity or simply being a Turk refers to a shared language, and/or shared values defined as a common history, and the will to share a future. Membership is usually gained through birth within the borders of the state and also the principle of jus sanguinis. Kemalist form of nationality is integrated to the Article 66 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Every citizen is recognized as a Turk, regardless of ethnicity, belief, and gender, etc. Turkish nationality law states that he or she can be deprived of his/her nationality only through an act of treason.[13]

Extent of nationality

Kemalist nationalism believes in the principle that the Turkish state is an indivisible whole comprising its territory and people, which is defined as the "unity of the state". It was a nationalism which did respect the right to independence of all other nations.

Kemalism had not only displaced "Pan-Turkism" as the official state ideology; it also focused on the nation-state's narrower interests, renouncing the concern for the "Outside Turks".[14] Pan-Turkism was an ethnocentric ideology [to unite all ethnically Turkic nations] while Kemalism is polycentric [united under a " common will"] in character.[14] Kemalism wants to have an equal footing among the mainstream world civilizations. Pan-Turkists have consistently emphasized the special attributes of the Turkic people, and wanted to unite all of the Turkic people. Kemalism wants an equal footing (based on respect) and does not aim to unite the people of Turkey with all the other Turkic nations. The Kemalists were not interested in Pan-Turkism and from 1923 to 1950 (the single state period) reacted with particular firmness.[14]

Kemalism had not only displaced "Turanism" as the official state ideology; it also focused on the Turkish People, within the alive and historical cultures and peoples of Anatolia [an Anatolian-centered view]. Turanism centered the nation as the union of all Turanian peoples (Tungus, Hungarians, Finns, Estonians, and Ryukyuans) stretching from the Altai Mountains in Eastern Asia to the Bosphorus.[15] Kemalism had a narrower definition of language which wanted to remove [purify] the Persian, Arabic, Greek, Latin, etc. words from the language used in Anatolia. Turanian leaders, such as Enver Pasha, wanted an evolving language common to all Turanian peoples, minimizing differences and maximizing similarities between them.


Statism (Turkish: devletçilik): Kemal Atatürk made clear in his statements and policies that Turkey's complete modernization was very much dependent on economic and technological development. The principle of Kemalist Statism is generally interpreted to mean that the state was to regulate the country's general economic activities and the state was to engage in areas where private enterprise was not willing to do so, or where private enterprise had proven to be inadequate, or if national interest required it. In the application of the principle of statism, however, the state emerged not only as the principal source of economic activity, but also as the owner of the major industries of the country.[16]


The history of the concept of Kemalism can be traced back to the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire. The political experience of the Ottoman Empire, through Tanzimat, and the First Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire were synthesized into Kemalism.

The Republican People's Party was established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on September 9, 1923, not long before the declaration of the Republic of Turkey on October 29. The party uses the ideology to symbolize itself.

Jung and Piccoli state that "the Kemalists incorporated certain elements of cultural Pan-Turkism in order to construct a new, and cohesive nationalist ideology".[17][page needed] On the other hand, according to Don Peretz, Turkish nationalism has been free from racism.[18]

Tocci asserts that "Religion was viewed as a potential threat to the Kemalist nation-state", and therefore "the state actively attempted to reduce the role played by religion in private lives."[19] In constructing an identity based on the Western model, the new Turkish state provided laïcité on its citizens[citation needed].


  1. ^ Webster, Donald Everett (1973). The Turkey of Atatürk; Social Process in the Turkish Reformation. New York: AMS Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0404563332. 
  2. ^ Mustafa Kemal as quoted in "A World View of Criminal Justice (2005)" by Richard K. Vogler, p. 116
  3. ^ Lagendijk, Joost (2006-03-22). Başörtüsü yasağı savunulamaz. Sabah.
  4. ^ ECHR Rules for Turkish Headscarf Ban: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of Turkey's policy of banning headscarves at universities. (Today's Zaman, 30 June 2004)
  5. ^ ECHR Insists on Headscarf Ban, Journal of Turkish Weekly, 2006-10-17
  6. ^ a b c Hamilton, Peter (1995). Emile Durkheim: Critical Assessments. Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 0415110467. 
  7. ^ a b Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of National Education. "Turkish National Education System". T.C. Government. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  8. ^ Finkel, Caroline (2006). Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Basic Books. pp. 549–550. ISBN 0465023967. 
  9. ^ Mango, Andrew (2002) [1999]. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Paperback ed.). Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. p. 394. ISBN 1-58567-334-x. 
  10. ^ Republic Of Turkey Turkish Armed Forces. "Ataturks Principles". T.C. Government. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  11. ^ Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, Washington, DC.. "Constitution and Foundations of the State System". T.C. Government. Retrieved 2008-02-20. [dead link]
  12. ^ Andrew Mango, Atatürk and the Kurds, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.35, No.4, 1999, 20
  13. ^ Citizenship is defined in the Wikisource-logo.svg 1982 constitution, Article 66. (amended on October 17, 2001).
  14. ^ a b c Landau, Jacob M. (1995). Pan-Turkism: From Irredentism to Cooperation. Indiana University Press. p. 275. ISBN 0253209609.  Page 186-187
  15. ^ Paksoy, H.B., ‘Basmachi’: Turkestan National Liberation Movement 1916-1930s, Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and the Soviet Union, Florida: Academic International Press, 1991, Vol. 4
  16. ^ Kemalism, Burak Sansal, All About Turkey
  17. ^ Dietrich Jung and Wolfango Piccoli: Turkey At the Crossroads: Ottoman Legacies and a Greater Middle East, London: Zed Books, 2001. pp. 178-179
  18. ^ Don Peretz. The Middle East Today, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963, p. 165
  19. ^ Tocci, Nathalie, 21st Century Kemalism : Redefining Turkey-EU Relations in the Post-Helsinki Era. CEPS working document №. 170, September 2001.

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