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Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric: the shaping

of Turkish anthropology (from 1850s to 1940s)
Sibel O
zbudun Demirer
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract Although the presence of anthropology is strongly felt during the first
decades of the Turkish republican history, namely the period between 1923 and
1940, it is striking to see that the discipline was conceived more as a nation-building
device than a scientific endeavour. This article traces the formation of Turkish
anthropology from the late Ottoman period to the consolidation of the Republican
regime, emphasizing the interesting oscillations between physical and social/
cultural anthropologies, which are alternately brought to fore according to the
requirements the political agenda.
Keywords Turkish anthropology Á History of anthropology Á
Nation-building Á Cultural policies Á Turkification
In a very similar fashion to many of the peripheral regions,
the presence of
anthropology is strongly felt during the first decades of the Turkish republican
history, namely the period between 1923 and 1940. Throughout this period,
anthropology is considered an important element in the nation-building endeavour.
Yamashita (2006), relating the beginnings of anthropology in Japan, says that in
1884, a group of young scholars had organized the Jinruigaku no Tomo workshop,
This article is the first part of a longer project which aims at tracing the history of Turkish anthropology
up to 1970s focusing on the mission(s) it has undertaken and does not claim to provide a bibliography (or
bio-bibliography) for its subject, a task which has been proficiently realized in at least two articles. See
Magnarella and Tu¨rkdog˘an (1976); and Erdentug˘ and Magnarella (2002).
S. O
. Demirer (&)
Department of Anthropology, Hacettepe University, Beytepe, Ankara, Turkey
For a comprehensive compilation on ‘peripheral anthropology’, see Ribeiro and Escobar (2006).
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Dialect Anthropol
DOI 10.1007/s10624-010-9210-x
in reaction to the claims of foreign researchers of cannibalistic practices in ancient
Japan. The group was asserting that Japanese culture should be studied by Japanese
themselves and not by foreign scholars. A similar story is related to the beginnings
of historiography and anthropology in the young Turkish republic, according to
which Afet I
nan, the goddaughter of Kemal Atatu¨rk, while still a high school
student, shows to Ghazi the claims in her history textbook about the affiliation of
Turks with the mongoloid race. The indignant Ghazi then orders new books,
personally involving himself in the investigation of history, mobilizing the
historians around him. Thus began the work to prepare a handbook determining
the guidelines of Turkish history (I
nan 2007: 256–7).
The roots of anthropology integrated to the project of ‘nation-building’ can be
traced back to the intellectual life of the late Ottoman period. It is, without doubt,
not possible to treat this literature in a comprehensive manner in a limited space. For
this reason, let us be contented with short side notes about the pre-Republican
An explicatory note for readers not familiar with recent Turkish history is
necessary before proceeding, though.
The pre-Republican period may, for
convenience, be separated into two sequences. The first may be dated roughly
between 1850–1908, a period which covers political events such as the declaration
of the First (and rather short-lived) Constitution (in 1867) followed by its abolition
by the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II, which, nonetheless, is marked by
desperate efforts to save the crumbling empire. The second sequence, instigated by
the 1908 declaration, of the Second Constitution imposed by the Association of
Union and Progress
, ends with the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, a
logical culmination of the quest of the abated Ottomano-Turkish socio-political
entity to continue its existence. Both of these sequences are marked by tempestuous
imperial wars (notably with Russia, which has mobilized the peoples of the entire
Caucasian region) and wars of liberation (notably in the Balkan peninsula) on part
of the subject nations to reclaim their independence from the Ottoman Empire and
hence were scenes of a progressive process of gaining awareness by the Empire’s
enthusiastic intellectuals of the importance of the idea of nation.
So, the efforts to keep the empire alive and going (which may be dated back to
the first endeavours to modernize the military in the eighteenth century) may be
characterized as a progressive crystallization process from blurred attempts at
modernization to conscious policies of nation-building. Berkes (1973), in his
pioneering research in the modernization processes of the Ottoman Empire, thus
distinguishes four orientations in this field: 1. Westernists—those who contend that
only by adopting Western ideas along with Western techniques can the empire be
For a brief but significant outline of late Ottoman politico-intellectual history, cf. Eissenstat (2005:
Association of Union and Progress (I
ttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti—IT). A conspirational organization
formed by dissident Ottoman military and civilian intellectuals abroad seeking to topple the autocratic
regime of the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II and to found a constitutional regime to save and restore the
debilitating empire. Seizing power through its ideologues and partisans in 1908, the association itself
would resort to despotic measures, pursuing a policy marked by fervid nationalism (some of its leaders
even yielding to Turanic, i.e. pan-Turkist temptations), allying with Germany during the World War I.
S. O
. Demirer
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restored; 2. Ottomanists—those who insist on modernizing the empire by keeping
its various ethno-religious ingredients (non-Muslims as well as Muslims) together in
a constitutional formation; 3. Islamists—those who try to rally the support of the
Islamic world by restoring and strengthening the (Islamic) Caliphate; and 4.
Turkists—those who think that only by relying on the Turkish ethnicity
(Panturkism) and/or by heading towards building a modern nation based on that
identity (Turkish nationalism), whatever is left over from the empire can be saved.
We may add that these three orientations towards modernization, Westernism,
Ottomanism and Turkism (Islamism being more of a context of reaction, albeit
(re-)formulated in modernist terms) were more consequential than simultaneous,
since the failure of each opened up to the next.
The end of the empire: can Darwin be a cure?
In the second half of the nineteenth century, during the Westernization process of
the Ottoman Empire and within the framework of efforts to adopt Western scientific
conventions, the Mecmua-i Fu¨nuˆn (Journal of Sciences) published by the leading
names of a movement which may be defined as Ottoman ‘Encyclopaedism’,
‘evolutionist’ articles were being published as early as 1863; for instance, ‘‘the
article by Hayrullah Efendi, ‘The Appearance and Diffusion of Man’ may be
considered the first instance of scientific narration of the history of mankind, outside
of the tradition of starting it by Adam.’’ (Dog˘an 2006: 150–151).
Nevertheless, ‘the first important representative of social Darwinism among
Ottoman intellectuals is Ahmed Mithat Efendi’ (Dog˘an 2006: 152) who, in the early
years of his intellectual life, was promoting Lamarckian ideas in the journal
Dag˘arcık. His claim that social development is enhanced by competitiveness and
not by language or social life clearly demonstrates his inclination towards social
Darwinism. Though in later life, he was to be overwhelmed by a rigid religiosity, he
was bold enough in his earlier years to claim that some of the orang-utans evolved
into human beings (Dog˘an 2006: 159). Another modernist, S¸ emseddin Sami, was
promoting the idea of man’s common origins with apes and trying to substantiate
human evolution by geological data, back in 1878 (Sami 1998).
Among other evolutionist intellectuals of the declining empire, the names of
Bes¸ir Fuad (1852–1887) who, in his brochure titled Humanity,
admits the influence
of Spencer on his philosophical formation (Korlaelc¸i 1986: 227–245); the
‘Westernizing’ intellectual Abdullah Cevdet whose ideas are strongly influenced
by Gustav Le Bon and whose social Darwinism is overrun by a racializing
and I
bn-i Res¸at Mahmut, who was printing Spencerian articles in the
journal Maarif, are worth mentioning. By the time of the Second Constitution
(1908), ‘evolutionary notions were being postulated without any restraint’ as Hilmi
Published in 1886.
In his writings dating back to the 1890s, Abdullah Cevdet was openly propounding that larger cranial
capacity signified higher intelligence and that the nation should naturally be confided to a biologically
superior elite (Haniog˘lu 1981: 16–18).
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
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Ziya U
lken testifies (cited in Dog˘an 2006: 203). Books by and articles on
evolutionists such as Darwin, Lamarck, Haeckel were amply translated and
published. The attitude of the Ottoman intellectuals towards evolutionary ideas and
their position vis-a`-vis religion and/or Islam varied from moderate apologism (for
example of Baha Tevfik) to radical agnosticism (of Subhi Edhem).
Of course, the ‘evolutionism’ of the Westernizing Ottoman intellectuals was
more ‘politically/ideologically inclined’ than purely scientific. The notions of
progress and development they inferred from the organic evolution were conceived
of as supporting their aspirations about the progress and Westernization of the
Empire. The theory of evolution was seen as a ‘scientific’ (hence indisputable)
frame which rendered the critiques of the socio-political situation of the Ottoman
Empire and aspirations to change it legitimate. It seemed to provide the modernizing
intellectual elite with arguments against the conservative Islamists who were
seeking the restoration of the empire by resorting to a strict religiosity and a call to
return to authentic sources of Islam.
Thus, far from being the object of pure
scientific scrutiny,
the arguments derived from evolutionist theses served more as
rhetorical devices in the endeavour of progressing towards an advanced civiliza-
tional stage represented by Western nations.
From biology to sociology
With the advent of the Second Constitutional period (beginning in 1908), discourses
based on biology gradually gave way to initiatives to adopt and popularize ideas
directly derived from positivistic social scientists.
Hence, for instance, between
1908–1910, the editors of Ulum-u I
ktisadiye ve I
c¸timaiye Mecmuası (The Journal of
Economic and Social Sciences) undertook the mission to diffuse the ideas of
Auguste Comte and Le Play, whereas I
c¸timaiyat Mecmuası (Journal of Sociology),
edited by Ziya Go¨kalp and Necmeddin Sadık in 1917, was more inclined towards
Durkheimian sociology (Korlaelc¸i 1986: 221–224).
For a concise article on Ottoman evolutionists, see Alkan (2009).
Heated discussions prevailed between the modernizers (i.e. the Westernists and Ottomanists) and their
opponents who often based their views on religious references during the last decades of the nineteenth
and the first decades of the twentieth century. To peek into the zeitgeist, see Lewis (2002: 234–37) and
Berkes (1973).
Witness to this fact is that no Ottoman intellectual, no matter the degree of his fondness for
evolutionary theory, ever thought of embarking upon a scientific enterprise—be it a research on living
species, on palaeontology, anthropometric practices, or whatever—or even a deeper study of the subject.
For specialists on the field, one had to wait for the Republican period.
Hence transforming the previous negative attitude towards ‘social sciences’, exemplified by physician/
philosopher Rıza Tevfik’s words (in 1895): ‘We refrain from labelling as sciences, [disciplines] such as
sociology, psychology, ethics which pertain to spirituality and the task of which is to study human
characteristics, let alone considering them exact sciences.’ (cited in Haniog˘lu 1981: 11). However, one
should avoid the impression that literature on biological evolution ceased abruptly. Quite on the contrary,
it thrived during the Second Constitutional period, to be taken over by the Republican scientific cadres.
What seems to be happening is that a social scientific discourse is stepping to fore, and more systematic
attempts to familiarize the Ottoman urban middle classes with the writings of Western social scientists are
S. O
. Demirer
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This shift from a biologically focused approach to sociological paradigms may be
explained by several factors. The first would be that medical doctors had a
privileged place as the first Ottoman intellectuals to have a Western education.
Hence, most of the first Ottoman (social) Darwinists were physicians trained in
Western universities. This prevalence would be challenged by the opening of
European higher educational opportunities for non-medical studies in the next
Secondly, Ottoman evolutionism coincides with the wake of the First Consti-
tutional period, marked by the intense persecution of liberal thought. Natural
sciences seem to have provided a safer source of metaphors in the face of the
persecutions by the autocratic regime of the Sultan Abdu¨lhamid II (r. 1876–1908)
than did social sciences, which usually are more straightforward in social criticism.
The declaration of the Constitutional regime in 1908, on the other hand, had ensured
a more permissive ground for the expression of opinions.
But the more important point is that this shift corresponds to the shift in the
ideological position of the dissident Ottoman intellectuals from Westernism (or
more precisely its sequel, Ottomanism) to Turkism.
As is known, the defeat of the empire in the Balkan War led the restorationist
Association of Union and Progress in power to abandon the idea of an empire
unifying the Muslim and non-Muslim elements under a constitutional regime
(Ottomanism) in favour of a formation dominated by the Muslim-Turkish element
(Turkism). The Association since then privileged the policies that would mobilize
the institutions to construct the ‘Turkish nation’.
A general idea of ‘progress/evolution’ derived from the theory of evolution,
which, in its distorted form, comprises elements to legitimize ideas about the
‘survival of the strongest nations and the inequality of races’, however, is
insufficient to provide the vocabulary necessary for the processes relating to nation-
building. To imagine a ‘nation’ which is about to relinquish its empire, sociology is
needed, and along with it, ethnography and ethnology to fill its content.
The passage from an evolutionary sociology bearing the mark of Spencerian/
social Darwinism to a Durkheimian and/or Le Playian one was realized by the ‘first
Turkish sociologists’ (Arı 1986:175) namely (Durkheimian) Ziya Go¨kalp and (Le
Playian) Prince Sabahattin. It is important here to dwell briefly upon the views of
Ziya Go¨kalp whose ideas had a deeper impact upon the (self-) identification of the
Turkish ‘nation’.
Go¨kalp has a rather zigzagging intellectual history; while an Ottomanist in his
youth (cf Yıldırım 2007), he later on embraced Panturkism and finally, in his later
years, decided upon a certain conception of cultural nationalism.
Though his
‘To be Turkish, it is not enough to carry Turkish blood and to belong to the Turkish race. To be
Turkish, one needs, before all, to have been educated into Turkish culture, and to work for Turkish ideals.
We do not label as ‘Turkish’ those who lack those qualities, even if they carry Turkish blood and make
part of the Turkish race.’ And, ‘nationality, just like religion, is attested by tongue and affirmed by heart.
Every individual who pronounces that he is Turkish with his tongue, and believes in it with his heart, is
considered a Turk. We may never question his Turkishness.’ (cf. Karadas¸ 2008: 104). But that underlying
this ‘cultural’ nationalism there is an ethnic or at least a religious ‘vein’ is obvious from the ‘lapses’ of
Go¨kalp when he insists that ‘the most important obstacle to Turkish national unity is the Christian
presence in Turkey,’ and that ‘the problem was solved when they, for various reasons, had left the
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
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views on ‘nation’ rest upon the opposition between culture (which he calls ‘hars’)
and civilization,
they tend to overcome it. For him, civilization is the product of
a conscious, methodical and individual effort and hence, ‘artificial’, whereas
culture is natural and organic (Koc¸ak 2002: 374); in other words, while
civilization pertains to materiality, techniques and practice, culture pertains to
spirituality and organicism. A nation may enter and leave different civilizational
spheres, whereas it cannot change its culture. Thus, the defining element of a
nation is its ‘culture’.
The identification of the generative element of nation as ‘culture’ would
inescapably set the mission ‘towards the people’ in the agenda of ‘nation-building’
young Turkish intellectuals.
From sociology to folklore
Anthropology, as Stocking (1982: 172) asserts, ‘is not so much a single science
produced by some Comtean logico-historical process of intellectual differentiation
as it is an imperfect fusion of quite different traditions of enquiry: biological,
historical, linguistic, sociological’. This flexibility makes it possible for it to be a
source of legitimization for many political and/or social projects, from supporting
to the building of nation-states;
from the civilizing mission
Footnote 10 continued
country,’ (Karadas¸ 2008: 100) or when he is tried (by the Martial Court instigated by the forces of
occupation in the Empire) in 1919 for ‘having resorted to violence against the Armenians’ [Yıldırım
2007]. For Go¨kalp, the ‘Turkishness’ of a non-Muslim citizen, even if ‘attested by tongue and affirmed by
heart’ seems to have been problematic—an attitude still present and disputed in contemporary Turkey.
[For the prevalence of the conflation of the terms ‘Islam’ and ‘Turkish’ during the formative years, cf.
Eissenstat (2005: 245–46). For a recent polemic, cf. I
nsel (2009) and Oran (2009), similar articles by two
liberal Turkish writers, coincidentally published in the same magazine].
This opposition has often been noted by theorists of culture and related to the ideologico-political
reaction to French Illumination with claims to a universal (technically conceived) civilization by German
romanticism/culturalism which privileges the particular, the mystical and the poetical. (Cf. Kuper 1999:
6; Eagleton 2005: 21).
The discipline was much criticized for the role it played in supporting colonialism. For a pioneering
example, cf. Asad (1985).
The compilation by Ribeiro and Escobar (2006) contains very interesting articles on different
experimentations of anthropology in nation-building processes. For an example on China, see Smart
(2006), on Mexico, Krotz (2006), on Brazil, Velho (2006). Another revealing example on Mexico is
Herna´ndez Castillo (2001).
The anthropologists of the so-called ‘functional school’ were uncritical in offering their services to the
‘civilizational mission’ of colonial powers. Malinowski, for instance, in many of his articles published in
Africa stresses the importance of the partnership between ‘practical man’ (i.e. colonial administrator) and
the anthropologist. (cf. Malinowski 1929).
Kuper (1999: xii–xiii) relates how South African anthropologists (particularly W. W. M. Eiselen, the
Afrikaner ethnologist) drew from Boasian notion of ‘culture’ to promote the preservation of ‘cultural
differences’ and to legitimize the notion of ‘separate development’, hence promoting the Apartheid
S. O
. Demirer
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The Turkish nation-building process has often made use of this compliant
repertoire. An important element of this process is ethnography (or rather, folklore
as the Volkskunde as distinct from Vo¨lkerkunde, or ethnography in the Anglosaxon
meaning of the term)
which plays an important role in determining the (cultural)
ingredients of the nation. Ethnography and/or folklore in the Ottoman land dates
back as early as the Decree of Reformation (1839).
But more systematic efforts
(such as articles about ethnography in various journals, lectures by Prof. Me´zsaros
Gyu`la in Daru¨lfu¨nun
or researches by Turkist associations
) were made possible
by the Turkism of the Second Constitutional period.
Hence, for instance, the Turkish Society founded in Istanbul in 1908 to promote
‘scientific Turkism’ formulates, in the first article of its Charter (1911), the objective
of the association in these terms: ‘The aim of the association is to study and teach the
works, conditions and environments of all the peoples known as Turks, that is, to
make research on and to diffuse information about the ancient relics, history,
languages, the popular and elite literatures, ethnography and ethnology, social
conditions and actual civilizations of Turks, to work to improve our language to make
it conform to civilizational standards and to research its grammar’ (cited by U
2004: 21–22). In other words, the Turkish Society engaged in the processes of nation-
building not only theoretically but also practically, and this engagement brought forth
the birth of a ‘Turkish ethnography’ (though still in an amateurish fashion). The
programme of the society, as cited by U
stel (2004: 14), charges the members with
obligations such as compiling local songs, proverbs, stories; registering the names of
and demographic data on Turkish tribes they encounter; studying local notables; and
collecting samples of medical herbs and information on local curing practices.
‘Turkish Hearths’ (Tu¨rk Ocakları),
the sequel to the Turkish Society, which
was founded in 1911/12, state in their Charter that the organization’s objective is ‘to
Differentiating between ‘empire-building anthropologies’ and ‘nation-building anthropologies’,
Stocking (1982) associates Vo¨lkerkunde, which he defines as the study of distant peoples with the first
(represented by the British tradition) and Volkskunde, defined as ‘the study of internal peasant others who
composed the nation or potential nations within an imperial state’ with the second (i.e. cultural
nationalism of many nineteenth century European political formations).
See Kos¸ay (1974) and O
ztu¨rkmen (1998) for details.
Daru¨lfu¨nun (lit. ‘House of Sciences), the first Ottoman ‘university’ in the European sense, was
founded in Istanbul in 1900 by the decree of Sultan Abdu¨lhamit II. The institution was later transformed
into I
stanbul University, with the higher educational ‘reform’ of 1933.
Various associations which may be labelled as ‘Turkist’ and/or ‘nationalist’ and which were aimed at
creating/inventing a ‘Turkish culture’ among various ethnic subject-peoples of the dilapidated empire,
were founded throughout the first decade of the twentieth century. These pioneering organizations which
would culminate in the ‘People’s Houses’ designed and controlled by the Party-State power of the first era
of Republican Turkey are Turkish Association (Tu¨rk Derneg˘i—1908–1912); The Association of Turkish
Land (Tu¨rk Yurdu Cemiyeti—1911; merging soon with Turkish Hearths); Turkish Hearths (Tu¨rk
Ocakları—1912–1931), The Society of Peasantists (Ko¨ycu¨ler Cemiyeti—1918/19, inspired by Russian
narodniks and Balkan populists) (U
stel 2004; Gu¨mu¨s¸og˘lu 2005).
Turkish Hearths was founded on 1911/12 by a group of students of the Faculty of Medicine and
prominent ideologues of Turkism. Being the most long-lived organisation among its contemporaries, the
society was influential in creating and propagating a sense of cultural nationalism (although Pan-Turkist/
Turanist tendencies were not lacking among its ranks) within the rest of the empire and contributed to the
formulation an idea of citizenship within the newly founded Republic.
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
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strive for the improvement of national education and the scientific, social and
economic levels of Turks, who constitute an important element of Islamic peoples
and for the perfection of the Turkish race and language.’ Turkish Hearths, though
conceptualizing ‘Turkishness’ on more racial terms than their predecessor, the
Turkish Association, which talked about ‘peoples (i.e. ‘ethnic/cultural groups’—S.
O.) known as Turks’, took over the interest of its predecessor towards sociology,
archaeology, ethnography and ethnology.
To build the nation: blood and/or land?—The principle of ‘blood’
The cultural front of the process of nation-building enthusiastically embraced by the
Kemalist elite,
who founded the Republican regime in the wake of the World
War I, was single-mindedly oriented towards manufacturing a ‘nation sharing the
same fate, sorrows and joys’ from an ethnically and (partly) religiously heteroge-
neous residual population of the empire, now retreated back into Anatolia, towards
generating a ‘society of citizens’ from rural communities who, for centuries, had led
an autarchic life, towards amalgamating those who were ‘brought in’ (the Muslim
populations of the Balkans and Caucasia: Bosnians, Macedonians, Albanians,
Pomaks, Muslims from Bulgaria and Greece, Circassians, Georgians…) in place of
those ‘sent out’ (non-Muslims; mainly deported and/or massacred Armenians,
exchanged Greeks) with the autochthonous elements (Turkomans, Laz, Kurds,
Arabs…) and ‘Turkifying’ them all. All intellectuals and all academicians were
called to this duty. In this mission, the dual heritage of the ‘anthropological/
ethnographical’ fermentation of the late nineteenth century provided them with a
malleable material to operate on biology and culture, or blood and land. This
inherently contradictory relationship within cultural institutions inherited or
instigated by the young Turkish Republic continued throughout the formative
years, now bearing to front one aspect, then the other.
The Turkish Republic was founded by a constricted cadre of military and civilian elite gathered around
Mustafa Kemal (Atatu¨rk), himself a military man committed to the ideals of I
ttihat ve Terakki during his
early career. World War I irreversibly destroying the possibility of restoring the empire and the
aspirations about Panturkism (embraced especially by the IT leaders from the Turkic lands of Tsarist
Russia) brought this cadre to more realistic conclusions as to the formation of a sovereign nation-state
consistent with the European model(s). The elite organized in the People’s Republican Party (Cumhuriyet
Halk Partisi—CHP), formed from the Anatolian and Rumeli Society for the Defence of Rights (Anadolu
ve Rumeli Mu¨dafaa-i Hukuk Cemiyeti), an organization which brought together and centralized the
committees of resistance to the occupation of Anatolia during World War I and which supplied military
and civilian support to the ensuing War of Liberation. The party, formally founded in 1923, monopolized
political power until 1950, when it had to cede before the newly founded Democratic Party (Demokrat
Parti—DP). The single-party regime (1923–1946) took radical measures in view of transforming the
country into a modern, Western-type nation-state and boldly suppressed all opposition, even mild
attempts. The party was keen on controlling the lives of the citizens to convert them into modernized,
Western-type AND patriotic individuals, a control which was effected through the party’s local
organizations and quasi-civic organizations such as People’s Houses. Most of the intellectuals of the time
seem to have endorsed these ideals; the opposing minority was intimidated by calumnies and banishments
(the leaders and participants of the few Kurdish or Islamic resurrections were less lucky, though. See
Aydog˘an 2007).
S. O
. Demirer
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But we have to point out to the fact that the commissioned intellectuals and/or
academicians were more disadvantaged vis-a`-vis their relatively autonomous
Ottoman predecessors in that they were under strict supervision of the cadre led by
Mustafa Kemal (Atatu¨rk); those who tended to violate or were thought of having
violated the set limits or to resist, even passively, the Kemalist agenda were
immediately eliminated, and critical voices were silenced. ‘The founders and the
rulers of the Republic have favoured, for the sake of a strong nationalism, an
invincible homogeneity in the political thoughts of Turkish intellectuals,’ says
Ersanlı-Behar (1992: 91), stressing that the formation of ‘a homogenous identity
was seen as necessary for the resolution of social, economical, political and cultural
problems’, and that ‘social and political dissents were thought to hamper the efforts
of modernization’ (1992: 92).
The first years of the Republic are full of such ‘attempts at homogenization’ and
hence, disillusionments, for (at least some of) the intellectuals. The cultural and
educational institutions within which they acted were being restructured with the
aim of narrowing their objectives and pushing them as close as possible to those of
the ‘founding will’. The response to any objection or even questioning was
For instance, the Turkish Hearths (which, through their president
Hamdullah Suphi seem to have claimed a degree of independence vis-a` vis the
party-government—cf. U
stel 2004: 251–252) that have played an important role in
the ‘Turkification’ of Anatolia, were closed down overnight to yield to the People’s
Houses under the total control of the Republican People’s Party in power, and
Hamdullah Suphi was sent to Bucharest as charge´ d’affaires (Ersanlı-Behar 1992:
98). Or Zeki Velidı ˆ [Togan] who criticized the official ‘Turkish History thesis’
during the first Congress of Turkish History held in Ankara, was forced to resign
from his post at Daru¨lfu¨nun (Ersanlı-Behar 1992: 149).
Hence, during the formative years of the Republic that can roughly be dated to
1923–1938/1940s, which discourse of or emphasis on nation would come to fore
was more dependent upon the preferences of political cadres than those of the
In these conditions, it must not surprise us to see that the founding cadre of the
Republic placed a great importance on anthropology. During the early years of
the regime, the adventure of anthropology may be discerned in two contexts: The
Turkish Centre of Anthropological Studies; and the two Congresses of Turkish
History (1932 and 1937) during which the official Turkish history thesis was
The first anthropological centre was founded in 1925 within the Daru¨lfu¨nun,
transferred in 1933 to the Faculty of Sciences of the same university and later, to the
Faculty of Language and History, Geography (DTCF) of the Ankara University,
founded in 1935 (Kansu 1946: 141–142). Among the founders of the Turkish Centre
of Anthropological Studies were prominent Turkists such as S¸ emseddin Gu¨naltay
That this ‘silencing operation’ was in great part successful is attested by the observation Ersanlı-Behar
(1992) makes upon her comparison of the two Congresses of History organized by Kemalist cadres with a
time lapse of five years (the first Congress having been held in 1932 and the second in 1937). Most of the
dissident (albeit cautious) voices of the first congress were silenced (or non-present) during the second
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
1 3
and Ko¨pru¨lu¨zade Fuat and among the honorary presidents were Hamdullah Suphi,
Mustafa Necati and Dr. Refik (Saydam) (Aydın 2002: 356). The Centre’s Tu¨rk
Antropoloji Mecmuası (Turkish Journal of Anthropology) was first printed in 1925
and was at its 22nd issue when it ceased publication in 1939, the year following
Atatu¨rk’s death. The objective of the Centre was defined by Atatu¨rk in a letter
(dated November 1925) to the president of the Daru¨lfu¨nun, Dr. Nureddin Ali as ‘to
inspect the Turk and the Turkish society’ (Maksudyan 2005: 88). And its mission
was explained by one of the professors of the Centre (later to be rebaptized as
‘Institute’) as ‘It is our righteous duty to establish the position befitting our race
among human races, just as it is our right to claim our political abode among
nations.’ (Maksudyan 2005: 99)
It is obvious that the founding cadre of the Republic and especially Mustafa
Kemal attributed an important role to anthropology in ‘establishing the position
befitting our race among human races’. Young people, including the physician
Dr. S¸ evket Aziz Kansu and the ‘goddaughter’ Afet I
nan, were sent to countries such
as France, Germany and Switzerland
to master anthropology (O
zbek 1998; Aydın
2002: 357); lectures on physical anthropology were organized between 1930 and
1933 in the Faculty of Medicine. Books on anthropology (and prehistory/
archaeology, since all were considered complementary to history. But this theme
will be dealt with later) were ordered from abroad to be placed in prominent
While it was within the Faculty of Sciences of the Istanbul University, the
curriculum of the Institute of Anthropology was based on the distinction of human
races. Topics such as ‘the description and history of human races’, ‘the techniques
of observation and inspection of racial characteristics’, ‘information on morphology
Significantly, Kansu would study in Paris under George Papillaut (Erdentug˘ 1998: 21) and Inan, in
Geneva under Eugene Pittard, both physical anthropologists known for their predilection for racial
studies. [Turda’s (2007:364) reference to Pittard as a mentor of Romanian (racial) anthropologists is very
significant and provides a clue which calls for a comparative analysis of the role of (physical)
anthropology within the nation-building processes of the Balkan countries and that of Turkey. The French
anthropologist G. Papillaut is notorious for his eugenistic and antihumanist stance. Cf. Adams (1990: 76,
One of which is, of course, the library of the National Assembly. A brief consultation of the book
registers on related topics in the actual Library of the Parliament reveals two significant points: That
‘Anthropology’ was conceived mainly as ‘physical anthropology’, as is suggested by the fact that almost
all of the 35 entries dating to 1943 or earlier, of the 239 books classified under ‘Anthropology’ were on
races, human biological evolution and prehistory. The concept of ‘culture’ seems to have attracted less
attention: of the 1,034 entries which may be accessed through this keyword, only twelve belong to 1940
and earlier. The second point is that the concern with culture was not theoretically oriented but was
focused on the necessities of nation-formation: ethnographic works, socio-political histories of the
Mesopotamian civilizations allegedly of Turkic/Central Asian origin, and the like. It is revealing that
books by prominent anthropologists of the time are lacking among the pre-1943 registers: there are no
A. Bastians, J. J. Bachofens, McLennans, H. Morgans, F. Boas, F. Graebners, C. Wisslers, A. Kroebers,
E. Sapirs, G. Roheims, R. Seligmanns, R. Lintons, B. Malinowskis, A. R. Radcliffe-Browns, R. Benedicts,
R. Firths, B. L. Whorfs, E. Evans-Pritchards, C. Kluckhohns, to mention but a few appearing on the
anthropological bibliography compiled by Keesing (1973). Those who are present, such as H. Maine,
P. Radin, E. B. Tylor, J. Frazer, M. Mauss are represented by marginal (or non-anthropological) works (for
a consultation, the website of the General Assembly’s Library may be visited: http://kutuphane.tbmm.
S. O
. Demirer
1 3
and eugenics’, ‘anthropological and racial principles of Turkish history’, etc. were
treated, and questions on ‘the diffusion of trades, customs, languages, religions and
institutions’ were asked as well as cranial and other anthropometric measurements
required in exams (Maksudyan 2005: 90). Hence, the activities of the Institute in
Istanbul, comprising a small group of medical doctors, were centred on physical
anthropology, and ethnography/ethnology was considered a peripheral subject. And
the anthropology of the Institute, like the great part of its counterpart and mentor,
continental European anthropology, was focused on racial/eugenic principles.
Hence, Nureddin Ali Berkol, president of the Daru¨lfu¨nun until 1927 and a member
of the parliament after that date, states in an article which appeared in the Journal
(March 1927) that the main objective of the Institute is ‘to inspect the Turkish and
other Anatolian races’ (Maksudyan 2005: 99). For the young Republic vexed in
defining its ‘citizens’ in the heterogenous homeland of Anatolia, racial/physical
characteristics seem to be promising ‘objective’ implements in determining who
was Turkish and who was not. To identify the physical traits of the ‘Turkish race’
was such an important mission that Berkol was willing to yield other fields of
anthropology to other faculties (N. A. Berkol 1/10) (Maksudyan 2005: 125).
However, notwithstanding the testimony of the racist historian Reha Og˘uz
Tu¨rkkan citing his father, who remarked that ‘Atatu¨rk fancied taking cranial
measurements of his guests in the presidential residence’
; as far as we know, this
sensitivity towards ‘races’ did not lead to such dramatic results as say, those in the
contemporary Nazi Germany.
So, how can we explain this passion of the young
Turkish anthropology towards races? I think, on several grounds:
• First, the Republican cadres inherited from the late Ottoman intellectuals the
convention that the distinguishing aspect of the Western civilization was its
‘scientific/positivistic’ character. But in the hands of the founding cadre of the
Republic, validations about the ‘truest mentor in life’
were at the same time
translated into a political programme: to bestow dominance to scientific
precision, to measurements, to methodology in daily life, simultaneously meant
to weaken the influence of religion (that is, of Islam) on society (cf. Maksudyan
2005: 73–74). Hence, the ‘pseudo-scientific aura’ enhanced by millimetric
measurements of cephalic index, enthusiastic discussions on fossil findings,
geological speculations not only constituted the ‘scientific capital’ of the
intelligentsia whose position vis-a`-vis the political power was quite fragile and
whose promotion as well as disposition was decided upon during dinners in the
presidential residence in C¸ ankaya, but also the arguments of the intellectual
struggle of ‘deislamization’.
• The efforts to prove that Turks were the autochthonous people of Anatolia and
that they belonged to the brachycephalic Caucasoid/Alpine ‘race’ and not to the
R. Og˘uz Tu¨rkan, ‘‘Kafatasc¸ılık Nedir? Anlayan Beri Gelsin’’,;imode.
Eissenstat (2005: 139) maintains that racial discourse in Turkey was part of the assimilationist
policies: ‘‘What is surprising, given our association of race discourse with the policies of segregation in
America or Nazi Germany, is that this discourse was fundamentally designed to act as an inclusory (if
aggressively assimilationist) rather than exclusory discourse’’.
An allusion to Atatu¨rk’s saying: ‘The truest mentor in life is science’.
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
1 3
despised Mongoloids; that they played a pioneering role in the foundation of
civilization; that the Sumerians, Hittites, Egyptians, Etruskians, founders of
ancient civilizations, were Turks who had migrated from Central Asia, their
homeland, was also in conformity with aspirations to include the country to the
Western civilizational sphere. In other words, the Eurocentric image of
‘barbarous Turks, enemies of civilization’ was reversed into the image of ‘the
first nation to teach the arts of civilization to Westerners’.
These speculations
would also form the axis of the Congresses of Turkish History, during which the
‘Turkish History Thesis’ would be sublimed into the official thesis of the
Turkish Republican State.
• And finally, the efforts to ‘create’ a Turkish nation out of various elements
imported from the Balkans and the Caucases and the autochthonous elements of
Anatolia needed a ‘founding myth’. [According to Samih Rıfat, a participant of
the First Congress of History, truth ‘was on the side of Turks. Hence, the Turks
would create the Turanic reality with positive data and scientific facts.’ (Ersanlı-
Behar 1992: 142)]. The mission to create an imagination and a myth of a nation
stretching from ‘pre’ to ‘post’ history
and sharing the same ‘blood’, ‘lineage’,
‘language’, and ‘culture’ called physical anthropology to duty and made it
(along with archaeology) the handmaids of the speculative history of Turks,
delineated during the two Congresses of history. So, anthropology, especially
physical anthropology, was transformed into an implement, a rhetorical device
to manufacture history.
Thus, the intellectual adventure of the Ottoman intellectuals from biology to
sociology and from sociology to ethnology seems to be reversed with the Republic:
the naturalistic approach in the determination of the social is once again at the
forefront. S¸ evket Aziz Kansu,
personally pronounced by Atatu¨rk as the magna cum
lauda of anthropology, in his Antropoloji Dersleri (‘Courses of Anthropology’),
Mustafa Kemal dictates to Afet I
nan: ‘Leaving aside the stone ages of humanity, metallic or stone
implements and ornaments were manufactured during the Age of Metals. To domesticate animals, to
make use of them, to herd them were among the first accomplishments of Man. So was agriculture. Apart
from those, men built houses of stone sundried bricks. They opened channels and dried up swamps, found
different methods of irrigation. They deduced the principles of calendar from their observation on the
movements of heavenly bodies, and discovered that the Nature was the greatest power. Those who built
the first ships and displayed the ability to navigate seas were again these human beings. And they were the
first ones to form the first societies and states based on democratic principles. These achievements are the
first civilized works of humanity. The homeland of Turks is the steppes of Central Asia.’ (Afetinan 1969:
51). In other words, Turks of Central Asia were the inventors of all the civilizational arts, including
navigation and trade!
Allusion to the lyrics of a popular march composed on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the
Republic, saying ‘we were before history, and we will be after it’.
S¸ . A. Kansu (b. 1903) was sent to Paris to study physical anthropology (1927–29) when he was a
research assistant in the Faculty of Medicine. After completing his doctoral dissertation, he was appointed
to professorship at the age of 30 on the request of Atatu¨rk. (With the ‘‘University Reform’’ of 1933,
universities were relegated to the authority of the Ministry of National Education and the academic
appointments were brought under the responsibility of the Minister). With the transfer of the Institute of
Anthropology to the Faculty of Languages and History, Geography, he was brought to the head of the
newly created chair of Anthropology and Ethnology as the ‘‘First Turkish Professor.’’ He later became the
president of Ankara University in 1946. (Magnarella and Tu¨rkdog˘an 1998 [1976]: 9; Erdentug˘ 1998).
S. O
. Demirer
1 3
published in 1938, emphasizes the primacy of physical anthropology which he labels
as ‘a branch of zoology’.
Anthropology, as a discipline ‘assistant to history’, would make its presence
heavily felt during the sessions of the two Congresses of history. The papers
presented to both were mostly centred on the Central Asian origins of Turks, on
proving that they were the founders of the first Mesopotamian and Anatolian
civilizations, and they mostly consisted of ‘second hand’ (physical) anthropological
data. In both, let alone free discussions, the faintest opposition was repressed and
primacy was given to the formulation of the ‘official thesis’ which would be taught
in primary and secondary schools and advocated in international platforms. It is
interesting to note that in the second Congress, assembled in 1937, in a milieu
dominated by the consolidation of the single-party regime and the identification
between the party and state under the influence of the Italian and German regimes,
the ground for free discussion was even more limited.
Another important event in the history of Turkish anthropology is the installation
in Ankara of the Faculty of Language and History, Geography (DTCF) to
institutionalize the official theses on History and Language. With the founding of
the DTCF, the axis of anthropological studies would shift from Istanbul to Ankara.
In the first years, ethnological/social anthropological studies were relatively feeble
compared to pretentious researches on physical anthropology
realized under the
auspices of S¸ evket Aziz Kansu (Erdentug˘ 1998).
And land: a culture-based nation—Turkish hearths and people’s houses
Nonetheless, ethnography and/or folklore were not totally abandoned. But interest-
ingly, these fields, rather than being evaluated as areas subject to academic/scientific
interest, seem to be conceived as opportunities to educate both the people and the
intellectuals and to be relegated to semi-official popular institutions.
Let me explain. I have emphasized above that the Turkish Hearths, since their
foundation, embraced the mission of investigating ‘popular culture’ and to make
publications on the subject. In these institutions which spread throughout Anatolia
with the mission of ‘Turkification’, more cautious voices were raised vis-a`-vis the
idea of ‘ancestors, migrating from the Central Asia’, probably because they were
more directly confronted with the pluriethnic nature of the population. The citations
of U
stel (2004: 151–153) from the discussions on the criteria of membership to the
Turkish Hearths during the First General Congress (1924) reflect the inclination of
the leaders to favour cultural criteria as opposed to racial ones.
The problem of
cf. Ersanlı-Behar 1992: 180.
Such as the spectacular ‘Turkish Anthropometric Inquiry realized on personal orders of Atatu¨rk, with
the cooperation of all state institutions’ (1937). Its results were embraced in the academic circles as late as
1960s. [See, for instance Yasa (1958: 30–31)].
The Chairman of the Hearths, Hamdullah Suphi, while opposing to base the membership (and
allusively the citizenship) on principles of blood, interestingly does not object the criteria of class: ‘The
Hearths are missionary institutions. If you accept workers as members, the next day, they will turn into
socialist clubs’ (cf. U
stel 2004: 155).
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
1 3
membership will finally be resolved with the formulation, ‘those men and women
Turkish by decent, or culturally embracing Turkish aspirations and feelings and who
have proven their faithfulness to Turkishness may be members of the Turkish
Hearth’ (Charter, 1924, article 5) (U
stel 2004: 162).
But ‘cultural nationalism’ is somehow problematic in the lands left over from a
pluriethnic Empire. At the Third Congress of the Hearths assembled in 1926, it was
emphasized that ‘some of the elements who have embraced Turkishness still insist
upon using their mother tongues’ and it was proposed that ‘those using a language
other than Turkish should be penalized’; it was claimed that ‘elements considered
minorities such as Circassians, Bosnians, etc. should be impeded from living in
communities and using their traditional garments and their mother tongue’; the
dominant position of non-Muslims in trade was criticized; it was suggested that
‘foreign companies bearing Turkish names should only employ Turkish personnel’;
the problems of assimilation of Kurds were discussed (U
stel 2004: 186–206).
Hence, the Turkish Hearths seem to have endorsed a double mission in their
‘cultural struggle’: to Turkify Anatolia, and to Westernize Turkey. With an eye on
this double mission, they, on one hand, were engaged in the compilation of
handicrafts, architectural styles, folk songs, proverbs, dances and to build museums
to expose them; on the other, in the teaching and propagation of Western science,
philosophy, art and techniques (cf. the ‘Programme of Turkish Hearths’ cited by
stel 2004: 214–223).
Despite their efforts at Turkification/Westernization, the Turkish Hearths could
not escape from the official impulse of putting all the institutions under the control
of the Party/State during the consolidation of the regime. They had to yield to the
pressures and dissolved themselves on the extraordinary congress convoked on
April 10th, 1931, transferring their assets to the Republican People’s Party in power.
A year later, on February 19th, 1932, People’s Houses were founded. They were
under direct control of the party in power; the foundation was officialised by the
ratification of their Charter (prepared by a Committee appointed by Atatu¨rk himself)
in the Third Congress of the People’s Republican Party (PRP) (1931); and in 1932
the Status of the People’s Houses of the PRP was printed: ‘In this area, we are faced
with the task of eradicating the remains of the now historical institutions deeply
rooted within the structures of society and to implement to all souls and to all
brains, the principles of the Republic and the Revolution as the most sacred faith.’
(cited in O
ztu¨rkmen 1998: 72–73) In the amended Status of 1935, it was established
that to be appointed to any administrative position within the People’s Houses, one
had to be a member of the PRP.
Apart from the missions inherited from the Turkish Hearths, i.e. to document,
compile and expose local cultural products and to convey to people the Western
culture and techniques, the People’s Houses seem to endorse another task: to
‘indigenize’ the intellectuals, to turn them into ‘populists’.
This is totally
The following quotation, taken from a letter published in U
lku¨, the central organ of People’s Houses,
reflects well the ‘popularizing’ pressure of the organization: ‘The youth says: Sir, do you believe in
democracy, and have a passion for the people? We do not want words, we do not want vice. Either go and
serve the progress of people, of the peasant, or else, I’ll tear up your throat which destroys our unity and
quenches our enthusiasm with my fist. Liberation: This is a cause. And this cause has an only answer:
S. O
. Demirer
1 3
consistent with the views of Ziya Go¨kalp who, incidentally, claimed that
intellectuals, armed with the amenities of higher culture, should be inculcated with
popular culture, while ‘civilizing’ the popular masses (Karadas¸ 2008: 108). As a
matter of fact, People’s Houses were addressing an urban population, or rather,
professionals who would be working in Anatolia (doctors, teachers, civil servants…),
and they aimed to form each and every one of their members as ‘torchbearers of
Turkish revolution’ who would carry ‘national consciousness’ and the ‘fire of
civilization’ to the remotest parts of the country; but also as amateur ethnographers.
Among its different sections, the section on language, history and literature was
charged with compiling words, sayings, folk tales, proverbs and inspecting popular
traditions, whereas the section on museums and expositions was charged with
compiling elements of material culture to prepare the substructure of ethnographic
museums (Charter 1935). As for the section of village affairs, they were charged
with reporting in ‘village monographies’ the information gathered from villages.
ztu¨rkmen 1998: 97)
The People’s Houses and their publications were, along with training these
‘amateurish ethnographers’, entrusting them with small ‘homeworks’. So, on the
sixth issue (1933) of U
lku¨, the central organ of People’s Houses appeared a village
poll, to serve as a sample to the amateurish ethnographers, along with an appeal to
the intellectuals, to practice ethnographic work. And village monographies started to
pour in, to U
lku¨ as well as other journals published by the local branches: all of them
were conveying information on natural surroundings of the village, climatic
conditions and ground formations, demographic information, subsistence activities,
technology, architecture, social organization, marriage customs, childcare, etc…
But it has to be kept in mind that our amateurish ethnographers never forgot that
they were more ‘agents of the Republic’ than ‘objective researchers’, since when it
came to choose between loyalties, they seemed not to hesitate to report ‘the
villagers’ religious feelings and their superstitions or their attitude towards the
Republic and its reforms…’ (O
ztu¨rkmen 1998: 127)
But more professionally inclined ethnographers fared no better. The compilation
of information on South Anatolian Turkomans and Yoruks realized by Ali Rıza
Yalman (Yalkın) during his expeditions between 1922 and 1932 is a good example
of early Republican ethnography. In this work, Yalman (Yalkın) (1977a, b)
describes, rather unsystematically, all that he saw during his visits to villages and/or
transhumant tribes: from garments to techniques of animal stamping, from
architecture to birth-marriage-burial customs, from folksongs to calendars, from
social organization to curing practices, from magical techniques to transportation…
The author does not enter into any explanation whatsoever about the facts, beliefs or
practices he has described. He, as a modernizing agent (actually he was a teacher, a
school headmaster and later, an educational inspector), is well aware that he is only
Footnote 34 continued
Leave the armchairs and the coffeehouses to mingle with popular masses and work with them without
bragging. The youth who hates babbling and gossiping is rising in the middle of the country like
Dumlupınar. (i.e. the river in the central-west Anatolia which is charged with metaphors of heroism since
the final phases of the Turkish liberation war were fought on its banks)’ [Bayraktar and Alpar (eds.) 1982:
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
1 3
compiling things of a passing world; things of a world to the disappearance of which,
he intentionally or unintentionally is contributing to. This ambiguity is best expressed
in 1925 by Hamit Zu¨beyir Kos¸ay, one of the first theoreticians of folklore of the
Republican era, who notes that, although ‘it is the duty of every Turk to accept many
of the novelties which are necessary for the survival of our land,’ it should not be
overlooked that ‘the guarding of the ancient Turkish traditions which are appropriate,
is very important in view of the sentiment of national unity.’ (Kos¸ay 1974: 40–41)
This is ethnography endorsing the project of creating an ‘imagined community’, a
secular (or better: ‘de-Islamized’) and modern nation-state, relinquishing its recent
history which is Ottoman, in favour of a reshaped and idealized distant past bearer of
universal civilization. Its mission seems to have been centred on (re-)constructing the
‘localness’ and shaping the ‘national character’ of this new modern entity.
As is seen, the project of ‘nation-building’ taken over by the Republic from the
Ottoman intelligentsia had two vocabularies: a vocabulary of ‘race’ referred mainly
to shape a fictive history; and a vocabulary of ‘culture’ referred, mainly to embark
upon the homogenization of real and heterogeneous peoples living on an actual
territory. And, the more interesting part is that, while these two vocabularies were
being operated parallelly but on different levels, a few people were aware of (or
were bold enough to express) the contradiction(s) between them… Whereas the
discourse of ‘race’ was more often referred to within circles where physical
anthropologists played prominent roles, the establishments with the mission to
popularize nationalistic ideas seem to have preferred a ‘culture-focused’ approach.
The decline of physical anthropology
The Second World War has caught the Turkish anthropology in its ‘segmented’
form. The defeat of the ‘Axis’ led the single-party regime that has kept a ‘benign’
silence vis-a`-vis Germany throughout the war, to a quite radical shift of policy and
to distance itself from the racist discourse.
Hence, for instance, the President I
no¨nu¨, in a speech he pronounced on May 19th, 1944 in Ankara, would condemn the
racist/Turanist propaganda activities, as ‘sick’ and ‘damaging’ and underline
historical ties of good neighbourhood with Soviet Union (Maarif Vekaˆleti 1944:
6–8). This shift of position was followed by a series of measures: the Turanist
manifestations were banned, and the manifestants were arrested. The Society of
Turkish History withdrew its support from racializing arguments. The history
manual published in 1931 with ultra-nationalistic and racist arguments was ousted
from the curriculum. The doctoral dissertation of Afet I
nan was heavily criticized in
the journal of the DTCF (Aydın 2002: 365). The legal persecutions of the critiques
against Turanism in the left press decreased.
But the Turanists were decided to prove that they were ‘not so easy to swell’.
Along with their supporters in the PRP, they started a campaign against the
Nazi Germany openly supported ‘Turanism’ in Turkey in view of enticing the country into war on its
front, and to instigate a ‘Turkist’ rebellion in the USSR. It is worth noting that these efforts were looked
upon benignly by the circles in power in Turkey. For racist propaganda in Turkey during WW II, see
Glasneck (n.d.).
S. O
. Demirer
1 3
moderate Minister of National Education, Hasan A
li Yu¨cel, who had appointed
‘leftist’ professors to the DTCF. These professors (namely Behice Boran, Pertev
Naili Boratav, Niyazi Berkes and Muzaffer S¸ erif) were accused of ‘propagating
communism’ during their lectures, ‘poisoning young minds’, ‘promoting contempt
towards great Turkish thinkers’, and even ‘giving poor grades to right-wing
students’ (C¸ etik 1998).
One of the most interesting outcomes of this campaign was that even S¸ evket Aziz
Kansu, the prominent ‘constructor of Turkish racial history’, the ‘magna cum laude’
of anthropology, then the President of Ankara University (of which the Faculty was
a part) could not escape, because of his lack of enthusiasm towards this ‘witch-
hunt’, from being calumnied as a ‘communist’ and from being harassed by a group
of young racists in his office. Kansu would resign from his post in 1948.
With hardy support from the MPs of PRP sympathizing with the Turanist cause,
the anticommunist campaign resulted in the dismissal of Berkes, Boran, Boratav and
S¸ erif from their posts at university.
The outcome of this liquidation was, as
Kongar (1982: 18) would state years later, ‘the detainment of Turkish social
sciences for fifteen to twenty years.’
Anthropology’s age of ‘retreat’ had begun… While physical anthropology was
left to oblivion in its chair in the DTCF
; social/cultural anthropology would
struggle to survive under the shadow of ‘folklore’ in the form of village
monographies, handicraft studies, compilation of customs and traditions; while on
the other hand, it would be absorbed in the studies of US-trained sociologists who
had begun their scientific production in 1940s (but interrupted for some time with
the persecution of the DTCF).
It is possible to summarize in a few points what has been said above:
• A certain predilection towards the Western evolutionary discourse within
the ranks of the late (and Westernized) Ottoman intellectuals who saw in it the
ideological means to restore the debilitating empire may be identified as the
beginning of anthropology in Turkey. Far from being of pure scientific interest,
evolutionary ideas were providing conscious or semi-conscious metaphors for
modernizing the empire.
• Physical anthropology championed by the Ottoman medical doctors trained in
European countries would soon give way to Western sociological thought as the
declaration of the Constitution in 1908 liberalized the Ottoman socio-political
scene but also as Ottomanism gave way to ideas about forming a modern nation-
state. To form the ‘spirit’ of the nation, ethnography in the sense of Volkskunde
was called upon.
• The shaping of Turkish social sciences during the Republican era may be
analysed in two periods: 1920–1940; and 1940–1970. The first is the stage of
nation-building, and the mission of constructing the nation is held above all
For a detailed account of the persecution of the professors in the DTCF (1948) and the following
events, see C¸ etik (1998).
The abandonment in oblivion of the ‘well-equipped laboratory of physical anthropology’ and of the
small ethnographic museum in the Faculty of Language and History, Geography, founded and cherished
by the clique of S¸ evket Aziz Kansu is significant in this sense (cf. Erdentug˘ 1998: 17).
Anthropology as a nation-building rhetoric
1 3
other considerations. A notion of directed social sciences prevails in this period,
both in their academic and popularized forms. Two important missions are
expected from them: to help to form a citizenry in the vision of the Republic and
to localize the intellectuals over-influenced by the West. During this period,
physical anthropology dominates within the academy, whereas a folkloric
‘ethnography’ to identify the content of ‘national culture’ is also present.
Although provided with a generous material support (a special faculty, a
laboratory, museums, personnel, research funds, scholarships in Western
countries) both seem be overwhelmed and/or crippled by their mission and
the strict politico-ideological control exerted on their disciplines. Instead of
studying real human beings (physically and culturally) they seemed to have
embarked upon creating citizens: brachycephalic-alpine-Turkish and secular…
a fact which renders it more appropriate to qualify the anthropological discourse
of the formative years rhetorical rather than scientific!
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