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Kemal Ataturk’s Reforms as the Period of Establishment of Democracy in Turkey
Kemal Ataturk is one of the most outstanding personalities and heroes for Turkish people taking into account his vital contribution to the establishment of Turkish development. It is hard to call Ataturk an absolute democrat since the age of his reform frequently required not democratic methods. However, he made a successful attempt on the way to the constant establishment of democracy and European values in Turkey. Ataturk provided a number of revolutionary reforms that formally made people’s rights and status equal. The paper analyses Ataturk’s reforms from the political, economic, and social perspectives as a contradictory symbiosis of democracy and Kemalism.
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Ataturk’s Reforms were a series of political, legal, cultural, economic, and social changes that have turned the fragments of the Ottoman Empire into a modern democratic secular nation-state of the Turkish Republic. Those reforms have been conducted during the reign of Ataturk in accordance with the principles of Kemalism. It is important to note that their main essence was the establishment of a range of Western values and achievements in Turkish society. The political reforms have led to such serious changes in society that many traditions of the Ottoman Empire started to fade. Consequently, the whole system of the society of the former state has been revised and amended.
Ataturk’s Reforms initiated constitutional amendments, and in 1924 a new Turkish constitution has been adopted. Simultaneously, he led the process of implementation of reforms in management and education, and the Republic of Turkey has got a secular society. However, this series of reforms have been so radical that Turkish society frequently could not understand them and people organized harsh resistance. According to Andrew Mango (2001), “The principles that guided Mustafa Kemal’s efforts to establish a modern Turkey were functional for the period the country was then passing through” (p. 197). Among the reasons for such misunderstanding were centralized providing of those reforms by one-party government of the Kemalists and elevated control of the military structures. The main historical predecessor of Ataturk’s reforms was the era of Tanzimat that “gave the future leaders of Turkey the intellectual and practical foundation” (Goodwin, 2006, p. 46). It was the period of the first reorganization that began in 1839 and ended with the first democratic Constitution of 1876. The next wave of economic, political, and social reforms was held after the official start of Turkey’s European integration process on April 14, 1987.
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Before the official proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire continued its formal existence with cultural heritage, religiosity, and the Sultanate. Officially, the government in Ankara abolished the sultanate but people still maintained the traditions and cultural heritage. Only a few reformers actively refused from the old customs for the sake of building a new state and society. Hence, on October 29, 1923, the Turkish Grand National Assembly officially proclaimed the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
The political system in Turkey has been divided into several parts. The last stage of the reform was conducted in 1935 when religion was separated from the state. The latter has become secular and democratic, and the government proclaimed the republic’s political system. Turkey has got official sovereignty over its all territories, and Ankara controls them nowadays too. In addition to those measures, Islam has ceased to be the state religion of Turkey. Ataturk initiated the establishment of unicameral parliament – Majlis. The Constitution enshrined the principle of nationalism as one of the key components of the prosperity of the Republic. The basic concepts of the Constitution were laicism, social equality, legal equality of all Turkish citizens as well as the unity of the Turkish Republic and the people of Turkey. Thus, after the establishment of the democratic republic, Ataturk led the formal process of division of power within Turkey into legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. However, the division has been very hard between the executive and judiciary branches but vague between the executive and legislative ones.
Establishment of the Multi-Party System
Ataturk abolished the bicameral system of the Ottoman Empire that consisted of two assembly Chambers: the upper Chamber of the viziers and the lower House of Representatives. However, before Entente’s forces captured Istanbul, this system still formally existed on the paper. The new government defined and limited the power of the president and prime minister; also, the unicameral parliament was established. The first parliamentary elections were held under the proportional system.
Before the elections of deputies, a group of Kemal’s opponents attempted to spread provocations against him. First, they proposed to ban people who were born outside the borders of modern Turkey to participate in parliamentary elections. Second, the opponents tried to prohibit the participation of those candidates who have not lived in Turkey for the last five years. Despite those initiatives were not adopted legally, Ataturk did not receive serious support on that election. Obviously, his only way out was entering a coalition but Ataturk preferred not to participate in negotiations and abandoned his parliamentary mandate. Consequently, the delegation of newly elected deputies demanded Kemal’s resignation from his post of the president of the National Assembly.
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Considering this fact, “the Republican People’s Party (RPP)” was the only party in the parliament “until 1945”, which means that the system was multiparty only formally (Ciddi, 2009, p. 15). Only in 1950, the Democratic Party became the leader of the parliament, which essentially changed the political system. During the 1930s, there was a time when few small parties tried to play a role in leading Turkey but they were not ready to compete yet.
State Control of the Economy
The reforms of Ataturk in the economy sector may seem contradictory in some aspects since he actively maintained the nationalization of strategically important objects as the measure of their safety and resources of income to the state budget. Initially, Ataturk and his team actively supported private initiatives in the country. However, the establishment of equal rights and capitalist norms did not make much change in a society that recently lived under Sharia law. Most of the dealers who received full freedom started to invest in the development of a commercial business or even in primitive speculation, and it did not stimulate Turkish economic development. The officers and officials saved their contempt of traders since they saw how private entrepreneurs had ignored the calls of government to invest in the creation of industry. Along with that, Ataturk abolished the old Ashar system that obligated people with paying taxes in a tenth of the offspring of cattle.
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Turkish tobacco is one of the main crops of the region. As the Ottoman Empire was occupied, exclusively French companies were growing the tobacco. Only two French monopolies – the R?gie Company and Narquileh tobacco controlled even the sale of tobacco and cigarettes. Consequently, the tobacco monopoly appeared in Turkey but due to large debts of the Empire, it collapsed fast. The R?gie has got control over the entire cycle of production and trade of tobacco including its export and prices limiting. Thus, the majority of Turkish farmers became dependent on French mercy. In this regard, in 1925, the company was nationalized and renamed into Tekel. Later, Ataturk started the restructuration of Anatolian and Transcaucasian railway routes that became the first international message, which the Republic of Turkey controlled.
The global economic crisis seriously affected the new “Kemalism economy” (Hanioglu, 2011, p. 7). The government has seriously increased the role of the economy public sector specifically in the development of industry and transport. As a result, it opened the markets for foreign investors who developed the production of their goods. In 1928, when the world experienced its first economic Great Depression, Ataturk started to build powerful electricity stations. Agreeing with Takim and Yilmaz (2010), “While the world was occupied in the Great Depression […], Turkey applied a self-enclosed economic policy, remained out of the crisis to some extent, and took significant steps in the industry” (p. 549). Ataturk activated the building of foundry, steel, ceramic, and chemical plants and improved paper production all around the country. The result of his democratic reforms in the economy and openness to the European investments was the fact that in 1930s Turkey was on the third rank in the world in terms of industrial development.
The main objectives of the social reform were changing the social structure of the society, establishment of equality, and abolishment of the right of individual groups (including religious unions) to influence the decision-making about all Turkish people in any form. Ataturk promoted producing and wearing clothes of European models applying to its comfortableness and the fact that it did not divide people regarding their social status. In 1934, Ataturk abolished all titles of the old regime and provided registration of surnames.
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The most outstanding social democratic change that Ataturk implemented was the establishment of equal rights of men and women. For the first time in the history of Turkey, women gained the right to vote. Ataturk actively supported emancipation; consequently, under his ruling, females got wider rights for education, which led to an increasing in the number of educated women. In addition, the latter was allowed to ride in the same tram and railway carriage with men and stay on the decks of ferries while crossing the Bosporus. Previously, they were not allowed to leave the cabin, so this change brought democratic evolution in the social sector. Finally, for the first time, polygamy was officially banned, and the official punishment for the breaking of this law cost 2 years of imprisonment.
On December 5, 1934, women got the right to be elected to the local municipalities and parliament. It is interesting to remark that in Turkey this reform was provided much earlier than in many other countries of the world. In 1930, the first female judge was certificated in Turkey. However, in the practical aspects, absolute gender equality was not implemented even until Ataturk’s death since women had had difficulties in leading business. In addition, they were supposed to present special permission when wanted to go abroad for different reasons.
The reforms Kemal Ataturk provided and implemented brought Turkey from the position of conservative and weak state to one of the strongest republics with progressive democratic laws and economy. Ataturk changed the form of power in the state and divided it between onto branches, provided multiparty and unicameral parliament. His innovations in education and social sector and contribution to the development of the economy through the increasing of national industrial rates elevated the reputation of Turkey on the world arena. Hence, Kemal Ataturk became the first great reformer of modern Turkey whose measures of democracy and Kemalism particularly had contradictory character.
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