The ties between Turkey and the Arab East are far more profound and significant than those of mere geographic contiguity. For four centuries (since the beginning of the sixteenth) virtually the whole of this region was included in the temporal and religious domain of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and its Caliphate. This long political, religious and cultural association was bound to leave deep traces.
Even after the dissolution of the Empire and the abolition of the Caliphate, developments in Turkey continued to exert an influence ‒ albeit indirect ‒ on the rest of the region. Both Turkey and its former Arab provinces were faced by the same overriding problem: how to modernise an antiquated socio-economic structure, how to integrate into the modern world economy rather than be crushed by it. The road charted by Turkey ‒ state-guided capitalist development under military-bureaucratic political control ‒ was followed, a generation or so later, by most Arab countries.
Meanwhile, Turkey itself was turning its back on its long Middle-Eastern past, and looked exclusively to the west. But here too there has been some change. The Turkish bourgeoisie is now looking for a more active role in the Arab East.
Another continuing link between Turkey and the rest of the Middle East is the Kurdish problem. Kurdistan, the homeland of the oppressed Kurdish nation, remains divided between several states, notably Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
For these and other reasons, rooted in history, geography and contemporary politico-economic realities, the interactions between Turkey and the rest of the region are unlikely to diminish in importance.
This interdependence has so far received a sadly inadequate reflection in the political discourse of the left. Problems of the Arab East (and Israel) are discussed as if Turkey did not exist; and vice versa.
We in Khamsin have long felt that we ought to do something to help remedy this state of ignorance; but so far we have been unable to do so because we ourselves share this very ignorance. A happy way out of this impasse suggested itself when we made contact with a group of leftist Turkish intellectuals and activists, who agreed to impart to us some of their knowledge concerning their country. At our request, they later agreed to put together a special issue of Khamsin, wholly devoted to Turkey. We are extremely grateful to them for producing this excellent collection.
In his article ‘Capital and the State in Contemporary Turkey‘, Turgut Taylan traces the origins of the 1980 military regime and outlines the political-economic history of the Turkish republic. He argues that the 1980 coup differs from previous military interventions in Turkey, inasmuch as it represents a ‘united front’ of the Turkish bourgeoisie in its attempt to break out of its immobilisme by a combination of severe repression and an ‘opening up’ of a formerly ‘protected’ economy.
In a challenging article, ‘The Origins and Legacy of Kemalism‘, A. Ender argues that Kemalism ‒ the specific form of Turkish nationalism ‒ while overseeing the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into the Turkish Republic, was not particularly progressive, let alone revolutionary. Rather, the foundation of the republic was based on the forcible annexation of a considerable part of another nation (Kurdistan), and the repression of the workers’ movement. Ender points out that perceptions of Kemalism have, to this day, been tainted by ignoring the reactionary ‘original sin’ of its foundation.
In her article on women, Pembenaz Yorgun examines the extent and nature of women’s oppression in Turkey. She argues that this oppression is incommensurable with that of women in the advanced capitalist countries of the West. She analyses in some detail the attempt by the secular-modernist Kemalist movement to ameliorate women’s conditions, leading to the establishment of a Kemalist ‘feminist’ tradition among women in the higher echelons of Turkish society. Between this tradition and that of the workers’ parties, which tried to organise women for specifically ‘economic’ struggle, Yorgun outlines the possible shape of a future feminist movement in Turkey, and argues that the seeds of such a movement have already been planted under the dictatorship.
Mehmet Salâh’s article on the Turkish workers’ and socialist movement provides a historical survey of these two interconnected strands of the movement. Concentrating in particular on the 1960s and 1970s, he examines the exceptional strengths as well as the fatal weaknesses of the Turkish left.
In addition to the articles written and edited by the collective that prepared this issue, we are also printing an article by Ron Ayres dealing with Turkey’s foreign relations, particularly in connection with Turkey’s key role in the West’s global military strategy.