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Worth a read... Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding. Yet none will disappoint the lover of literature. Reading them one will always find something of value& Armenian News Network / Groong March 21, 2005 By Eddie Arnavoudian ON THE IDEOLOGY OF MODERN TURKISH NATIONALISM Published in 1926 Zarevant's `For A United and Independent Turania' was the first substantial Armenian language study of the ideology of modern Turkish nationalism. It needs to be said at the outset that this valuable volume is rather diminished by an absence of adequate referencing and citations whether this be to prove a point or establish a view. This makes it difficult to evaluate propositions that would be challenged by hostile critics. Nevertheless... Pan-Turanism, or Pan-Turkism, was born not in Turkey but in the 19th century Tsarist Empire where it gave expression to the then burgeoning national movement of Turkic people suffering Tsarist oppression and forcible Russian assimilation. Within the Ottoman Empire Pan-Turkism gained rapid ground among the Young Turks especially only after the Ottoman defeats in the Balkan wars. In fighting for the national rights of Turkic people under Tsarist occupation and in developing the Turkish language and Turkish culture Pan-Turkism could have had democratic potential. But this was suffocated and destroyed at birth by the political ambition of its leadership. In the struggle for the rights of Turkic peoples living under Russian occupation the Pan-Turkish leadership chose the decaying and savagely oppressive Ottoman Empire as its main ally. This alliance was no temporary expedient in the battle against another imperial power. The Ottoman Empire was to be the main agent and engine of liberation. The defence and strengthening of an Empire that was a prison to millions of Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and others, was for the Pan-Turkish ideologists the core of a political project that sought to extend Ottoman boundaries eastwards without regard for the national rights of non-Turkic people, among them the Armenians living in their historic Armenian homelands. This determined the irredeemably reactionary and chauvinist character of Pan-Turkism that was to become manifest as it gained ground in the Ottoman Empire after the so called Young Turk constitutional revolution in 1908. Considering Pan-Turkism's rapid growth in the Tsarist Empire Zarevant claims that the 1905 Azeri massacres of Armenians were not, as traditionally argued, merely products of imperial Russian machination designed to divide and rule the region. They were rather, Zarevant argues a first Turkish nationalist offensive to cleanse Armenians across the entire Caucasus that they regarded an integral part of a future independent Turkic state. Unsupported as they are, it is not possible to evaluate the validity of these claims especially given the judgements of many contemporary commentators, including ARF leaders and novelist Shirvanzadeh for example, who saw in the Azeri-Armenian conflict the ugly hand of imperial Russian intrigue. In his evaluation of Turkish nationalism Zarevant rather dubiously attributes a degree of democratic substance to the Young Turk movement. He argues, for example, that Pan-Turkism gained influence in the Ottoman Empire only after the collapse of the Young Turk effort to develop an Ottoman - as opposed to a Turkish - nationalism, a nationalism that would incorporate Turk and non-Turk. The Young Turk enterprise, he continues, failed in the face of Armenian, Greek, Arab, Jewish and Assyrian resistance. Were this line of argument supported, it would demand a wholesale re-evaluation of the fundamentally reactionary character of the Young Turk movement. The Young Turks however never represented a non-existent Ottoman nationality. They were rather the first flag bearers of a reactionary modern Turkish nationalism whose aim was nothing less than safeguarding the Ottoman Empire from the democratic demands of the national groups it oppressed. The Young Turks central aim was reconstituting this decaying Empire in order to secure it exclusively for the rising Turkish bourgeois/trading class. Thus it was irreconcilably hostile to the legitimate demands of other national groups within the Ottoman Empire. At best one could say about Young Turk ideology prior to its embrace of Pan-Turkism that it was inherently contradictory, containing as it did democratic shadings that did not sit well with Turkish nationalist ambitions but that were necessary to disarm other national movements. The Young Turks gradual adoption of Pan-Turkish conceptions was a resort to ideological forms more consistent with their chauvinist nationalism. With the Ottoman Empire on its last legs Pan-Turkish ideologists offered a new and well-argued political vision for an exclusive nationalism that legitimised their imperialist ambitions against the democratic national movements within the Ottoman Empire and with a perspective of securing Ottoman control of Turkic territories in the East to replace the lost lands of the Balkans, Pan Turkism also provided a programme for reconstructing empire. Zarevant's booklet draws attention to many apparently common features between Armenian and Turkish national movements. Both attempted to cleanse their languages of unnecessary foreign importation and to develop a vernacular literature and theatre accessible to the masses. Both developed an ambitious educational programme in the course of which they also worked to recover their ancient, classical history. They also envisaged an enhanced and emancipated role for women in society. Significantly both sought to abandon Istanbul, seen as an enfeebled and degenerate centre, in favour of the interior, Anatolia and Armenia. Turkish nationalism also took the unprecedented and almost sacrilegious step of translating the Koran into Turkish. Yet for all their formal similarities the contexts for Armenian and Turkish movements were fundamentally different. The Armenian expressed the strivings of an oppressed people. Turkish nationalism and Pan-Turkism within the terms of the Ottoman Empire at any rate expressed ambitions to defend the empire and was in this sense similar to the thoroughly unsavoury British imperial nationalism. The xenophobic essence of Pan-Turkism, evident in its politics after the defeats in the Balkan wars, was condensed in the slogan `Turkey for the Turks'. Within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire this slogan was a call to grab Kurdistan, Armenia, portions of Arabia and portions of Greece for the Turkish elite. It was thus despite its innocent appearance a slogan pregnant with the possibility of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Fiercely critical of imperial Ottoman concessions granted to non-Turks Pan-Turkish and Young Turk organisations embarked on economic boycotts against Armenians and Greeks and established their own exclusively Turkish financial, banking, trading organisations. With each setback in the Balkans the Ottoman state and the Young Turks sought to reinforce control eastward in Anatolia and western Armenia. So they sharpened the anti-Armenian and also anti-Russian blade of their politics. In the context of their efforts to preserve what remained of the Ottoman Empire, for the Young Turks Tsarist Russia with its eye on Western Armenia was unquestionably the main strategic enemy. In the same vein the Armenian national movement and the Armenian people despite its minimal ambitions to limited autonomy within the Ottoman Empire came to be seen as one, if not the main `internal' problem for the Young Turks. The Armenian movement was perceived as a challenge to the Ottoman Empire's so-called `territorial integrity' and treated as a dangerous potential ally of its strategic Russian enemy. It is thus easy grasp the stubborn Young Turk and Pan-Turkish opposition to any independent Armenian political entity, indeed to the very existence of the Armenian people in the region. One can grasp the reactionary logic behind the 1915 Genocide, the slaughter in Baku and the Turkish invasion of the Caucasus. Nevertheless accepting Zarevant's claim that Pan-Turkism gained a significant foothold in the Ottoman Empire only after 1908 it would be a mistake and a distortion to explain the Genocide in terms of Pan-Turkism. The Genocide was a function not of Pan-Turkism but of a long-term strategic ambition of modern Turkish nationalism that predated Pan-Turkism's growth in the Ottoman Empire stretching as it did back to the Russo-Turkish war of 1876. Pan-Turkism may have given this strategic design additional ideological underpinning but it was not its cause. Besides opposing Tsarist Russia, Pan-Turkism also strove for total Turkish independence from the western imperialist powers. The Young Turks seized the opportunity of WWI to withdraw economic privileges and monopolies previously obtained by European imperialist powers. Though this drive to independence collapsed with Turkey's defeat, a new generation of equally reactionary Turkish nationalists under the leadership of Ataturk persevered to establish the foundations of modern Turkey. Needless to say, in the context of the oppression of Armenian, Assyrian, Kurdish, Arabic and Greek peoples this Young Turk, Pan-Turkish and Kemalist opposition to western imperialism had no democratic substance. It was the wolf fighting other wolves for choice portions of the lamb. For reasons that merit study and analysis not available in this volume the Armenian leadership utterly failed to recognise the pernicious character of Turkish nationalism, despite readily available evidence. When this leadership began to reconsider the wisdom of its fatal alliance with the Young Turks that had disarmed the Armenian people, rather than rearm to confront the glaring spectre of genocide it returned to beg charity from the imperialist powers. Unable to grasp Young Turk/Pan-Turkish fear and loathing of Tsarist Russia, the Armenian leadership displaying no tactical sense loudly proclaimed their pro-Russian sympathies from the rooftop. But as they thus provoked the ire of the Ottoman Empire, they took no measures to defend the Armenian people against bloody reprisal. Zarevant's account includes a significant evaluation of Turkish-Soviet relations arguing that the Soviet leadership systematically sacrificed Armenian territory and interests to Turkish and Azeri Pan-Turkish ambitions. This all left Armenia without even minimal basis for a viable nation state. Turkish nationalists of all colours, Zarevant claims, conscious of Soviet vulnerability to British and other allied aggression, made pro-Soviet gestures in return for Soviet support for their attempt to evict Europe from Turkey and re-establish Turkey as a great power. In view of the weighty volume of Soviet Armenian historiography that rejects this thesis, it is a pity that Zarevant did not supply convincing evidence. Independent of the reliability of aspects of this volume it remains indispensable for students of modern Armenian-Turkish relations. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.