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Kaplan Military and Religion in Turkey

Kaplan Military and Religion in Turkey



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Published by Aydın Fenerli

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Aydın Fenerli on Jul 20, 2009
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 Int. J. Middle East Stud.
(2002), 113–127.
Printed in the United States of America
Sam Kaplan
Every Turk is born a soldier.
Secularism is neither atheism nor animosity for religion. On the contrary it is respectfulof religious feelings. But no pressure must be made in the name of any religion over someone’s individual conscience. The structure of Islam is secular.
It is interesting that the front covers of all religion textbooks are adorned with a portraitof a thirty-five year old Mustafa Kemal Atatu¨rk, wearing a bow tie and a tuxedo, whomthe artists have depicted in the manner of a Sheikh u¨l-Islam. . . . Although you expectto see the
[article of faith] on the first page of the religion textbook, youencounter a saying of Atatu¨rk, followed by his “Speech to the Youth” and the words of the National Anthem.
Current discussions on the political developments in Turkey frequently frame thestruggles between the military and religious parties as a war between secularism andIslam and draw out incommensurable differences between the two sides. Indeed, themilitary establishment, which casts itself as the guardian of the secular republic, suc-ceeded in 1997 in having the Supreme Court ban the Welfare Party, the first openlyreligious party ever to form a government in the Turkish Republic. The generals justified this seemingly undemocratic move by claiming that that this party was tryingto reinstate the sacred shari
a law.Although political rhetoric in Turkey often assumes a sharp difference between asecular and a religious vision of the nation, the military ideals that children learn atschool suggest a more ambiguous relationship between these two adversarial world-views. In fact, the curriculum emphasizes that the Turkish soldier is a
defender of the nation. Clearly, Islamic rhetoric is used to valorize the military heritage in thenational education system, and the question is how are we to account for this whenthe military establishment does its utmost to limit holders of religious worldviewsfrom participating actively in national politics?At the core of the ambiguous relationship that the military maintains with the reli-gious public have been ongoing struggles over the constitutive role of secularism in
Sam Kaplan is Assistant Professor, Department of Middle East Studies, Ben-Gurion University, Beer-sheva84105, Israel; e-mail: skaplan@bgumail.bgu.ac.il.
2002 Cambridge University Press 0020-7438/02 $9.50
Sam Kaplan
Turkish society and the Turkish polity. In Turkey, where there is a strong state tradi-tion, all interest groups, including the military, try to impose on the entire citizenrytheir specific understandings of modernity, social identities, and political authority.The controversy over secularism is most evident in the educational system. Becauseschools engage a captive audience, carry the weight of official approval, and imposespecific interpretations on key social issues, they are widely perceived as definingnational experience for schoolchildren. It is this systematic intervention into children’ssubjectivities that has spurred the military to participate actively in shaping the curric-ulum at the same time that it attempts to forge a consensual understanding of stateand society.
After all, as the sociologist Charles Tilly has pointed out, a major activityof a state is war-making, but conscription alone does not create soldiers who arewilling to sacrifice themselves for the state.
By examining in detail the curriculum in the secular primary school, I will showhow neither religious nor martial ideals can be understood as centuries-old traditionsand customs; rather, they are constantly reworked within the social, political, andcultural transformations of the country. Since the 1970s and even more so after the1980 coup, the military leaders have most often associated themselves with the right-of-center political spectrum—most notably, the religious sponsors of the “Turkish–Islamic Synthesis(
Tu¨ rk ˙slam Sentezi
) ideology. As a result of this alliance, thecountry’s military leadership overtly approved of greater religious instruction in thesecular-track school system. Moreover, together with the right-of-center political par-ties, these military leaders disseminated, through reworked textbooks and pedagogicaldirectives, earlier myths and images to emphasize a particularly visceral collectiverepresentation—“the Turkish soldier, defender of the Muslim faith.” In effect, throughthe new curriculum they appear to have reinstituted the pre-Republican duality of state and faith—the
din-u devlet 
—as a viable mechanism for political consensus.Yet, other factors show that this is not the case. The consensus over the religiousorientation of the country’s schools does not extend to the shaping of the nationalelite. The highly prestigious military academies, whose graduates have become leadersin the country’s military, financial, and political domains, refuse to admit graduatesof religious-track schools. The admissions criteria of these academies have provokedacrimonious debates about secularism and the role of the military in fashioning thecountry’s political culture and educational policies. My argument here is based bothon written “ministerial” sources (textbooks, programs, circulars) and on data I col-lected during the course of two years of ethnographic research in the school systemof a small town in southern Turkey I will call Yayla, where I conducted fieldwork between 1989 and 1991. My study on the politics of national education shows thatreligious and martial virtues are historically constituted through the school systemand its curriculum. It also highlights the uneasy, complex relationship between thereligious public and the military.
Studies about the pedagogical roles of the Turkish armed forces have confined their scope to how the military teaches literacy and “modern” practices to conscripted sol-diers.
Not enough attention, however, has been given to the various ways in which
Din-u Devlet
All Over Again?
115the state school system fosters identification with the military institution and values.As in many other countries, the curriculum in Turkey places emphasis on the fraternalperson of the citizen-soldier, who metonymically embodies the united, sovereign na-tional community. Not surprisingly, educational materials used in primary schoolsemphasize heroic episodes of Turkish military history, self-sacrifice for the nation,and pride in war heroes.
Central to these martial virtues has been devotion to the national flag, whose whitecrescent and five-pointed star are placed on a red background. Since 1939, two yearsafter the Turkish Parliament legislated the dimensions and spiritual importance of theflag, reading primers for elementary schools have been mandated to include passagesthat “inculcate feelings of respect and ties to the national flag.”
The level of instincton which these feelings are supposed to operate is made evident in the third-gradereader that was in use during the 1988–89 school year.
In the reading passage, “For the Flag,” children are taught that the future of the nation is contingent on retrievalof the regiments flag from enemy hands. The narrated event occurred during theTurkish War of Liberation, but the moral is for all times: the flag is more valuablethan the present-day children’s lives.
Sergeant Hasan: I am not worried that the enemy is closing in on us and will kill us. I regretthat the regiment’s flag will pass into the hands of the enemy. . . . [Corporal Turgut dies retriev-ing the flag.] The flag wrapped tightly around him, the corporal hero lay dead. The moonlighthitting his clean forehead was announcing news of a happy tomorrow.
The drawing that accompanies the text makes the image visually clear: a soldier lies dead with the flag covering his chest. Both text and artwork render the flag ametonym of the nation that is intended to induce children’s patriotic sentiments andloyalty to the state. The curriculum further situates the flag’s colors in a symbolicfield of associations. Its crimson color is meant to evoke the blood shed by the school-children’s warrior ancestors. The author of a currently used second-grade natural sci-ences primer indeed stresses this dimension of the flag: “Our beautiful fatherland iswatered everywhere with the blood of our martyrs. For this reason our flag is holy.. . . It is our national honor.”
As evident in the passage, children are expected toenvisage the banner as the life-giving arteries of the national body.The schoolchildren, then, are expected to feel indebted to the blood their ancestorssacrificed on the battlefield. The textual accounts in their primers serve to bind thepresent schoolchildren to earlier generations of Turkish warriors, from the medievalepic heroes in the Book of Dede Korkut to the more recent soldiers at C¸anakkale(Gallipoli) and the War of Liberation in the 20th century. School primers belie a naiverealism in which “textual” war veterans are bestowed with an authoritative voice tofashion the childrens collective memory. These veterans, most often portrayed asgrandfatherly figures, become spokesmen in whom children must place their faith. Inclass, the children read out loud the narratives about Turkey’s military past and, inparticular, how war veterans offered their lives for the future of the Turkish nation.Second-graders, for example, are (silent) interlocutors to the fictional amputee’s patri-otism in the story “My Grandfather’s Arm.” The grandfather explains to his grandsonhow he lost his arm during the War of Liberation: “We died, we sacrificed our arms,we got wounded but we did not give up the hill to the enemy. We entered the war 

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