The Ottoman Islamic based pluralism towards all nations within the empire was negatively affected by the nationalist movements at the end of the 19th century. The Ottomans hadn’t even categorized people with respect to their nationality or race which caused four hundred years of welfare and peace for the people of Middle-East and the Balkans. Of course, this situation was considered as an obstacle for Russia, which wanted to reach warm-seas, and for Western Countries, which wanted to reach newly emerging oil deposits in the region and to establish Israel. And so, the nationalist propaganda was started in these lands by the Imperialist powers. The first impact of the propaganda was the separation of Balkan states.
In 1909, a new government emerged in the Ottoman Empire by staging a military coup against the Sultan Abdul Hamid II, they were called the Development Party. These patriotic and inexperienced leaders were mostly educated in Europe and they accepted nationalism as the government policy. This new idea of emphasised Turkish nation-state was not welcomed by the Gulf provinces. By the retreat of the Ottomans from the Gulf region during World War I, they decided to establish their own countries. Western aid played a major role in the decision of the emerging Gulf states. Syria and Iraq were still loyal to the Empire up until that time. The Syrian community even forced their own king to join the newly emerging Turkish Republic. This request was simply denied by the Republic which was going to accept Nationalism as the primary policy.
After World War I, new countries were formed in the region. It is also in that time new words were entered into the dictionaries of the Middle-Eastern people. These words were Turk, Kurd, Arab, etc. Such categorization didn’t exist in the Empire. That was the reason for the long-lived peace, prosperity and the tale stories written by foreign travellers.
The new government of Turkey left the Islamic pluralism behind and started to form a new type of Nationalism. In those circumstances, one had to say if s/he is a Turk even if s/he was actually not as preference was given to the Turks. Many religious unrests occurred in different regions of Anatolia as a consequence. One of them was Sheik Said unrest in 1925. Religious Kurds wanted the government to return to the previous Islamic pluralistic rule again. The Government stopped them completely but lost control in South-Eastern Anatolia at the same time. Over 50 years the governments could not emphasize the formal education in that region. The uttermost policy was banning local language and most of the culture.
Western Imperialist powers were not in a break during that time. They had gained self-confidence in Middle-Eastern politics by their success in dividing the region apart and controlling either by war or by clients. They benefited from the unrests in south-east Anatolia. Some pre-educated Kurdish nationalists involved in religious unrests. Kurdish nationalists propaganda started in the region.
With formal education of the Republic, the number of religious people was significantly decreased. In the 1970s, the religious unrests in south-east Anatolia evolved into a Kurdish nationalist movement. One can easily say that only a small percentage of Kurds were involved in the movement. But, this small number of people located themselves in the mountains. Their strategy was not peaceful at all which caused trouble for the region and for the country.
In 1950, elections started to take place in Turkey. From one election to another, each government understood the importance of Islamic pluralism better. The oppression towards Kurdish culture was decreased step by step. But the Imperialists who didn’t want unity in the region have always funded and supported the Kurdish nationalists against the common interests.
In the 21st century, Turkish policy has the potential to bring back pluralism again. Kurdish culture regained all its rights and the peaceful environment for the people of Anatolia is settling. Eventually, nationalist movements can’t find support as much as they found 20 years ago. It is hoped that state of affairs will be continued and it will be a good example for the rest of Middle-East.
Image Credit: MiddleEastEye
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