In late 1910s, before the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, a tool should be found in order to mobilize people against the hostile forces, and it was nothing but the religion. The reason why it was religion hides behind the social conditions of the Ottoman Empire, in which the people were just the subjects of the Sultan and were not aware of any other identity, but the religious one. As a result of the Ottoman Millet System, the population were divided with respect to their religion and consequently, during the Turkish Independence War, Muslims, in other words Ummah, unified to protect both themselves and the religion against nonMuslim hostile forces.
After the victory of the war, the nation building process was started by M.K. Atatürk and his colleagues, and the newborn republic had its first constitution in 1924, in which it was written “The religion of the state is Islam…” in its second article. So, would being a “Turk” be equal to being a Muslim? What were the prerequisites of Turkishness, of being a citizen of the Republic of Turkey? Religion?
With laicization and westernization process, religious references were swept away from political structure with intention to create a nation regardless of any religious components; however, within time, Islamic identity started to be pointed out with its superiority and association with real Turkishness. What is the real Turkishness? Is it the new nation identity based on western perspective started to be built with the proclamation of the Republic; or, is it the traditional one based on Ottoman Islamic heritage? Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, these two identities have been in a struggle with accusing the other of undermining the real Turkishness. While, supporters of new identity have claimed that distinguishments of Islam was a threat of reactionary, supporters of traditional identity have claimed that laicism was against their cultural values and religion itself.
This paper will analyze the struggle of two different perceptions of Turkishness within a historical context of political discourses. In which period of the Republic, have Turkish politics trended to tie up to which identity? With consideration of last decade’s discourses and events, such as Gezi Park Protests, today, what does Turkishness stand for?
Key words: Turkishness, Turkish nation, ummah, Ottoman Islamic heritage, Republic of Turkey, laicism, identity struggle.