75 YEARS OF THE TURKISH REPUBLIC.

Author:Gorvett, Jon
 
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29 October marks the 75th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Jon Gorvett reports from Istanbul on an era of change.

Three quarters of a century ago, in the then small town of Ankara in Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his colleagues founded a new state amidst the ruins of an old one, a state then still fighting to establish a nation of Turks where before there had been an empire of Ottomans.

Following World War One the Ottoman Empire, which next year celebrates its 700th anniversary, largely collapsed or was dismembered by the victorious allies. Much of the modern political geography of the Near and Middle East was shaped at this time, the Ottoman provinces of Palestine and the Arabian peninsula gaining either independence or a new colonial ruler -- France or Britain -- while in the West Greece grabbed a large slice of Anatolia. War followed between Turks and Greeks, Turks and French and was within a hairsbreadth of happening between Turks and Britons as Istanbul and its environs came under British control. In the end the Turks won what they now call the War of Independence and set up, through large scale population swaps, an ethnically more homogeneous Turkish state.

Seventy five years on, the state that Ataturk founded has changed greatly. Yet to some extent the legacy of those years at the start of the century still very much lives on.

One of the main projects of Ataturk's new republic was to create a sense of what it is to be Turkish. Under the Ottomans, the idea of being defined by nationality was alien -- the empire's subjects were defined according to religion. "Turk" had a linguistic sense, and a derogatory one, signifying a peasant of the Anatolian interior as opposed to an "Ottoman" of the sophisticated metropolis.

The 19th century idea of nationalism, even by the end of the War of Independence, was only held on to by a narrow, military elite around Ataturk himself, who saw his grand project as capable of dragging the people into the 20th century by harnessing the beliefs and structures of the West.

Principle among these was the idea of the nation state. As such, the idea of a religious identity -- which was strengthened by the fact that the new republic was around 95 percent Muslim -- was, from the beginning, an obstacle to Ataturk's grand design.

However, using the huge popular support he had been able to win as the victor of the independence war, Ataturk moved fast. The Arabic alphabet was dropped, religious orders were...

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