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GOKALP, MEHMET ZIYA (c. 1875-1924), Turkish social scientist, writer, and nationalist. Born in Diyarbakir to a family of mixed Turkish and Kurdish origins, Mehmet Ziya attended the Imperial Veterinary School (1896) at Istanbul, where he joined the revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). He was dismissed from the school, arrested, and jailed when his affiliation with the CUP was discovered by the secret police in 1897. After his release from prison, he returned to his native city and married his cousin Cevriye in 1898; they had three daughters who survived him and a son who died at an early age. G6kalp devoted his time in Diyarbakir mostly to ethnographic research among Kurdish and Turkoman tribes and to the study of Durkheimian sociology. Following the Young Turk revolution of July 19o8, he founded a local branch of the CUP. He was a delegate to the important CUP Congress of Thessaloniki in 1 9o9 where he was elected a member of the Central Committee, a position he held until the party dissolved in November 1918. Gokalp’s brilliant career as a nationalist thinker started in Thessaloniki, with the nationalist literary journal Genc kalemler (1911), where he used the pseudonym “Gok Alp” for the first time. When the Balkan War (1912-I9I3) broke out, he established himself in Istanbul, and continued to publish in various journals, notably Turk yurdu (I9I2-1914), Halka dogru (I9I3-1914), Islam mecmuast (1914-1915), and Yeni mecmua (1917-I9I8). In 1915, he became a professor of sociology at Istanbul University. As a member of the Central Committee of the CUP, he was arrested and tried after World War I as a war criminal and deported to Malta by the British (1919). After his release he lived for a short period in Diyarbakir where he published the journal Kucuk mecmua (1922-1923). Although he was elected deputy for Diyarbakir in 1923 on a Kemalist slate, he remained quite isolated in the capital city owing to his record as a notable CUP member and an admirer of Enver Pasha. He soon moved to Istanbul because of poor health and died there on 25 October 1924.

As a thinker, sociologist, poet, and politician, Ziya G6kalp has been one of the most influential minds in twentieth-century Turkish political and intellectual history. He is the theoretician par excellence of Turkish nationalism as a ground for synthesis of secularist westernization and Islamic reform movements. He never published a major work to express methodically his idea of nationalism. Even his Principles of Turkism (1923), which can be considered his final word on the subject, is a collection of essays on nationalism previously published in journals and newspapers. Yet, despite the tentative character of some of his ideas and his occasional modification of them, a highly articulate understanding of nationalism emerges in the numerous essays he published over a period of fifteen years.

Like almost all his contemporaries, G6kalp was obsessed with the predicament of the Ottoman state, and his initial quest for a solution to keep that polity viable can be considered an expression of Social Darwinism. What made him move away from his predecessors and contemporaries, however, was his conversion to French sociological thought through the works of Emile Durkheim and his subsequent reflection on the structure of Europe. This led him to make a distinction between culture, which remained national, and civilization, which was shared internationally. European society was divided into nation-states despite centuries of identification with the same religion and a few multiethnic polities. Since that history could not obliterate the differences of language and customs, nationality was the most essential characteristic of human societies. Hence, Gbkalp believed that Western civilization represented the sum total of Western nation-states who shared a material and political civilization. According to Gbkalp, this civilization cannot be related to Christianity for two reasons. First, despite the fact that religions are shared internationally, they exercise their appeal on individuals through a national language and a series of rituals that differ from one nation to another and are thus “nationalized.” Second, Western civilization was based on a suprareligious political organization and had already incorporated nonChristians such as Jews and Japanese. Gbkalp contends that not only would the reorganization of the Ottoman Turkish polity along nationalistic lines invigorate that polity, but it would also pave the way for the Ottoman Turks to join Western civilization. In other words, unearthing the national genius was synonymous with westernization. In accordance with this thought, he vehemently insisted that Turkish nationalism would be a source of strength for the Ottoman Empire and contended, somewhat later, that the empire should be reorganized as a confederation of Turks and Arabs.

To join Western civilization meant for Gbkalp both political action and social engineering. Political action consisted of secularization (muasirlasmak) of all aspects of social life, to the point of confining religion to the strictest individual sphere. As an influential member both of the Central Committee of the CUP and of the parliamentary commission that drafted the Turkish constitution, he was the mastermind in the secularization process at two important turning points, in 1917 and in 1923-1924. His insistence on placing the evkaf (Ar., awqaf; sg., wagf) schools under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and the seriat (Ar., shari`ah) courts under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice in 1917 can be considered as the first steps, respectively, toward the Law on the Unification of Education passed in 1924 and the Civil Code adopted in 1926. In perfect harmony with positivistic determinism, yet another fashion of his age, Gbkalp thought that social engineering too was necessary, for Turkish society had developed structural shortcomings for historical reasons. Composed almost exclusively of bureaucrats and agriculturalists, this society lacked the entrepreneurial class that had the most crucial role in the social division of labor in modern nation-states. Thus, Gbkalp was also the initiator of the mobilization for “national(ist) economy” (milli iktisat), which consisted of a propaganda campaign aimed at developing the moneymaking instinct of the Turks and a series of legal measures, the most significant of which was protectionism.

Ziya Gokalp’s name has been associated with PanTuranism and protofascistic solidarism. It is true that during the period between 1912 and the end of World War I, Gbkalp leaned toward Pan-Turanism under the influence of Russian emigres and particularly of the Azeri publicist Hiiseyinzade Ali, active in Istanbul. This leaning also partly explains his sympathy for Enver Pasha, the champion of Pan-Turanism among the CUP leadership, to whom he dedicated his collected poems, Kizil elma, published shortly after the Ottoman Empire entered World War I. This romantic weakness of Gbkalp survives also in his Principles of Turkism, though in the form of a mild utopianism. In the final analysis, his Pan-Turanism can be considered as a symptom of an age when the boundaries of a self-contained nation-state still appeared too modest to Turkish imperial hangover. His solidarism is less evident. There are sections in his Principles of Turkism that contradict each other, some thoroughly liberal and other solidaristic professions of faith. This is a result of the effect of the World War and the Bolshevik Revolution on Gbkalp. The scramble for mandates in the Middle East and the social upheavals in Europe in the aftermath of the war were rationalized by Gbkalp as the outcome of capitalistic greed. In 1923 he still thought of the entrepreneurial class as essential in the social division of labor, but he also advocated that the individual ventures be monitored by the state for the general good of the society.

Obsessed as he was with the nation-state, Gbkalp neglected the study of the Ottoman Empire, a polity he discarded as a cosmopolitan, hybrid oddity. It is this weakness in historical outlook that led him to equate secularization exclusively with westernization; he ignored, for instance, the secular kanun tradition that constituted one of the pillars of the Ottoman Empire. This is yet another characteristic typical of the generation who founded the Turkish Republic, for which Ziya Gbkalp was undoubtedly a spiritual father.

[See also Nation; Ottoman Empire; Pan-Turanism; Young Turks; and the biographies of Ataturk and Enver Pasha.]


No complete, reliable edition of Gokalp’s works is available in Turkish. Consult the following primary sources and discussions of his work:

Gokalp, Ziya. Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization: Selected Essays of Ziya Gokalp, Translated and edited by Niyazi Berkes. London and New York, 1959.

Gokalp, Ziya. The Principles of Turkism. Translated and annotated by Robert Devereux. Leiden, 1968.

Heyd, Uriel. Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gdkalp. London, 1950.

Parla, Taha. The Social and Political Thought of Ziya Gdkalp, 18761924.) Leiden, 1985.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/gokalp-mehmet-ziya/

  • writerPosted On: June 8, 2013
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