Speaking of the Turks vs. the Principles of Turkism

Numerous books discuss Turkish history

Numerous books discuss Turkish history, and each seems to have a unique perspective on the past. They each have distinctive tones and content that make them worth contrasting. This essay compares an excerpt from The Principles of Turkism by Ziya Gökalp, released in 1923, with an excerpt from Speaking of the Turks by Mufty-Zade K. Zia Bey, published in 1922 (pp. 127–160). (pp. 12-21). Both texts assert that they describe the members of the Turkish nation and the traits of Turks. However, this paper tries to explain the difference in the substance and the tone between the texts. The research question to be discussed, therefore, is how the events in the Ottoman Empire between 1918 and 1923 have influenced the substance and the tone of Gökalp’s text relative to the one of Bey’s and the common ground between Bey and Gökalp?

Comparison of Mufty-Zade K. Zia Bey and Ziya Gökalp

While Mufty-Zade K. Zia Bey was an Ottoman-Turkish journalist based in Istanbul, where he moved in 1919 after having spent the war years in the U.S., Gökalp, on the other hand, was an Ottoman-Turkish sociologist, who was often viewed as the most significant ideologist of Turkish nationalism. His work was used as the basis for the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s policies in 1923 that were used in building the Republic of Turkey. According to Gökalp, Turkism means to exalt the Turkish nation. Gökalp looks at the definition from the point of view of a sociologist. According to sociology, individuals come into the world as the non-social creatures meaning that they carry no social consciousness with them. Gökalp also outlines six concepts in defining the so-called ‘nation’. The concepts draw from the viewpoints of the racist Turkists, the ethnic Turkists, the geographic Turkists, the Ottomanists, the Pan-Islamists, and the individualists.

Education and Society

Each individual is a member of a nation by the virtue of their feelings. Therefore, in this aspect, the nation that is Turkey is represented by the society, where one has obtained education. It means that through the education, a person has acquired the society’s traditions and trends, in which he or she lives; thus, this individual reflects the society he/she exists within. One becomes sick by moving to another society, and hence, returns to that society that he or she feels to be part of emotionally. It is the education that takes the prevalence over the geographic, the racial, the ethnic, the political, and the volitional forces. According to the sociologists, sharing the education and the culture is the tie that goes far beyond all those. The greatest impediment to leaving one’s own society to join another is the impossibility of erasing the education that one has acquired from that society on their soul.

Defining a Nation

A nation is not a political, racial, ethnic, or even a volitional grouping, but rather the one made of the individuals with a “common language, religion, morality, and aesthetics”. In other words, it is reasonable to call them those, who have obtained the same level of education. Therefore, according to Gökalp, it means that for the Turkish people, those, who share with them linguistic and religious background, are one of them. In this regard, the author sees those, who have received the education and worked for the sake of Turkish ideals as citizens, since they cannot be set aside; yet, they have experienced not only “the same blessings, but also the misfortunes”. It does not make sense to declare that one is not Turkish when they have made lots of sacrifices and done great services to the nation of Turks.

Turkism versus Turanism

Turks should recognize those, who declare that they are Turks, and punish those, who, in one way or the other, betray the Turkish nation. However, to differentiate Turkism and Turanism, it is important to delineate the borders of the two groups. By delineating the boundary, ‘Turk’ is the name of a nation, and a nation refers to a group with a cultural peculiarity. The challenge to this definition is that some Turks are trying to come up with a language and culture that is different from the Turks of Anatolia. However, the immediate objective of Turkism is the dominance of just one culture throughout the great expanse. The word ‘Turans’ means the descendants of Tur, and therefore, Turk is the only social term that embraces the Turks only. Therefore, the term ‘Turan’ should be restricted to Greater Turkistan, which includes every branch of the Turks.

The Definition of a Turk

By the year 1923, the word ‘Turk’ was only used to refer to those, who live in Turkey. At the same time, those with the Turkish culture of Turkey also use the name. It means the long-range ideal that the Turkists desire is to unite in one literature, language, and culture once they have come together under the name Turan. Magnitudes of Turkism can be distinguished into three; these include Turkey-ism, Oghuzism or Turkenism, and Turanism. However, it is only Turkey-ism that is a reality.

Common Ground between Speaking of the Turks and The Principle of Turkism

One of the main common ground between Speaking of the Turks and The Principle of Turkism is the period, during which they were written. While Speaking of the Turks was written in 1922, The Principles of Turkism was written in 1923. Even though Bey tries to define Turkish nation members and characteristics, he applies a journalistic approach. He suggests a lot of his personal experience. Bey talks of people he knows and how they relate to Turkism. For instance, he exemplifies a Persian tobacconist, whom he knows as Persian, yet wears the Turkish fez. When he meets with the people, whom he happens to somehow know, they exchange the “temenahs”, which is a graceful Turkish salutation. He terms their homes as Turkish homes, since they welcome anyone, no matter who they are, and are charitable and hospitable to them. However hard the situation may be, the Turks always have something to offer their guests. It is only the Turks, who give a thought of the Turkish refugees. However, the Turks are too proud to beg for the assistance of the foreigners.

Identification as a Turk

It is a Turkish norm to accompany their departing guests at least to the front doors. Gökalp thinks of Turks as people, who are defined by political boundaries. For instance, he talks about Pera, which he claims is now inhabited by almost all the races in Europe with an exception of the Turks. They have been pushed out of the quarter and are clearly not keen to come back there, given its present conditions. The puzzle of identification as a Turk or a non-Turk is a tricky one, even for the foreigners. For instance, foreigners always had some privileges in Turkey; the present-day Levantine refers to himself as a foreigner when dealing with the Turks or the Turkish authorities. However, when dealing with a foreigner, he finds it is very clever to refer to himself as a Turk, a Greek, or an Armenian.

Defining a Turkish or Ottoman Subject

In the midst of lacking clear definition of who is a Turk, Bey states that a person from the Near East, who calls himself a non-Muslim Turk, is just a Levantine. Also, for foreigners, those, who admit that their families live in the Near East for at least two generations, are most likely also a Levantine. A Turkish or even an Ottoman subject ought to be faithful to Turkey, just like a Scotchman is faithful to Great Britain. It is only the Turks, who consider it natural that one should be a Venizelist.

Fear and Safety of Turks

Turks are feared for their might. The higher-class Greeks are not considered Venizelists enough to put on the Greek uniform, since they might be sent to battle; yet the battles fought against the Turks are very unsafe. Therefore, they stay off, so that they do not risk their lives. According to Bey, in the old days, more than half of the people in Pera were Turkish. However, today, hardly one out of 15 people on the streets is a Turk. Turks have moved to Istanbul and some to the heights of Nishantashe, since they do not feel properly safe in Pera. The fear is that the Turks will receive little or no attention from the Inter-Allied policemen when there is litigation for a foreigner. The Turkish policemen, who happen to work in Pera, have traffic regulation as their only duty. The result is Pera’s becoming under the eyes of its police and the best place for the Greeks and the Levantines.

Theaters and Performances

The Turks, just like the Greeks, like to do shows for their own people. While at the theatre, the Greeks are performing for the benefit of their refugees and the Turks too are doing so for the benefit of their refugees. They are very much keen not to hurt each other’s feelings. In the past, the theaters were almost exclusively Turkish, but over the years, some sections are crowded with foreigners. To identify much as Turkish, the young Turkish leaders do gala performance with the venue covered with Turkish flags and humming to the Turkish enthusiasm.


Gökalp, Ziya. The Principles of Turkism: Translated from the Turkish and Annotated by Robert Devereux. Translated by Leiden Brill. 1923.

Zia Bey, Mufty-Zade K. Speaking of the Turks. New York: Duffield and Company, 1992.

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