Turkey: Cold War-Era Origins Of Islamism And Its Rise To Power – Analysis August 6, 2017
By Behlül Özkan
he dichotomy between Kemalism and Islamism is one of the dominant paradigms in studies of Turkish politics. According to this paradigm, the Kemalists achieved a monopoly over the Turkish political establishment with the founding of the Republic in 1923, at which point they undertook far-reaching reforms with the aim of thoroughly modernizing Turkey politically, economically, culturally, and socially. These reforms, especially during the first decade of the Republic, resulted in lasting changes to many areas of Turkish life, such as the adoption of the Latin alphabet, Western dress, a civil code, and a modern educational system. The fiercest resistance to the reforms came from the traditionalists in Turkish society, namely the Islamists, who – along with the religious communities known in Turkish as cemaats – lost much of their former standing in politics between 1923 and the end of the 1940s. Accordingly, the aforementioned dichotomy between Kemalism and Islamism is, to some degree, a useful lens through which to understand this era. There is, however, a danger in viewing it as the main dynamic in Turkish politics and in assuming that it has been in full force throughout the whole 90-year history of the Republic of Turkey.
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