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Feroz Ahmad
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


The nationalist ideology known as Turkism or Pan-Turkism, and also called Pan-Turanism or Turanianism, began to emerge in Turkey during the Young Turk era (1908–1918) as a response to the failure of Ottomanism in the face of other nationalisms (Greek, Armenian, Arab) in the Ottoman Empire. Jacob Landau explains, “The guiding objective of this movement is to strive for some sort of union—cultural or physical, or both—amongst all peoples … of Turkic origins. … Turanism is a far broader concept than Pan-Turkism, embracing such peoples as the Hungarians, Finns, and Estonians …” (p. 1).

The roots of this nationalism may be traced to the second half of the nineteenth century, when Turkish intellectuals came into contact with Pan-Slavism in csarist Russia, as well as with national movements in western and central Europe. The works of European scholarship on the new discipline of Turcology increased Turkish consciousness by emphasizing the Turkish link with Central Asia and the role Turks had played in civilization. By the 1890s, especially following the victory in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897, the poet Mehmed Emin Yurdakul (18691944) could write with pride, “I am a Turk. My faith and my race are mighty,” and “We are Turks, with this blood and with this name we live.” (Lewis, p. 343.) This new sense of Turkishness was still closely linked with Islam and the Ottoman dynasty.

After the Young Turk revolution of 1908, Turkism came out into the open largely through associations like Türk Derneği (the Turkish Association) and Türk Ocakları (Turkish Hearths) and their publications. The date from which the Turkists became influential was August 1911, when the Türk Yurdu Cemiyeti (Turkish Homeland Society) was founded in Istanbul with the journal Türk Yurdu as its voice. Their stated purpose was “to raise the level of Turkish intellectual and cultural life and to serve those with wealth and initiative.” In 1912 Ziya Gökalp's (1876–1924) membership in Türk Yurdu and the serialization in 1913 of his seminal essay “Türkleşmek, islamlaşmak, muasırlaşmak” (“To Be Turkish, To Be Muslim, To Be Contemporary,” Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization: Selected Essays of Ziya Gökalp) signaled the Committee of Union and Progress's (CUP) active interest in Turkism. However, Gökalp had already acquired a reputation in nationalist circles for poems that glorified the Turks. In a poem published in 1911 he defined Turan: The country of the Turks is not Turkey, nor yet Turkistan. Their country is a vast and eternal land: Turan. (Heyd, p. 126.) Up to this point the Turkist movement was essentially cultural, seeking to emphasize historical and linguistic elements common to all Turkic peoples. Even in the Ottoman Turkist movement the principal concern was how to lead the multiethnic, multireligious empire, even though the Turks were a minority in it. Following the territorial losses in the Balkan War (1912–1913), some intellectuals proposed the dual monarchy model of Austria-Hungary for the Ottoman Empire: just as the Hapsburg empire rested on the shoulders of Germans and Hungarians, the Ottoman Empire would rest on the shoulders of Turks and Arabs, with Islam as the uniting factor. Although this formula was never formally adopted, the government began to emphasize the importance of both Arabic and Islam in its ideology.

The impact of the Turkist movement was felt more directly in the area of economic reform. The Turkists spoke of the necessity of creating a national economy and a Turkish bourgeoisie in order to maintain their hegemony. Here the influence of Turks who had migrated from Russia was overwhelming. Men like Yusuf Akçura (1876–1935) and Ağaoğlu Ahmed (1868–1939) had been educated in St. Petersburg and Paris and had witnessed the role of European bourgeoisies in the modernization of their economies and societies. Akçura issued the warning that if the Turks fail to produce from among themselves a bourgeois class, the chances of survival of a Turkish society composed only of peasants and officials will be very slim. Therefore, capitalist economic development under state supervision and the creation of a capitalist class became the principal concern of the Turkists, and great progress was made during World War I.

Politically Turkism was overshadowed by Islam until 1917. Two grand viziers with Arab connections, Mahmud Şevket Pasha (d. 1913) and Said Halim Pasha (d. 1921), governed from 1913 to 1917. Şevket Pasha came from Baghdad and declared that he was Arab, while Said Halim hailed from the khedival family of Egypt. They were appointed in large measure to mollify Arab/Islamic sentiment. When Turkey entered the war in November 1914, the proclamation of jihād gave primacy to Islam, but in the war against Russia, Turkism was also brought into play, though not directly by the government. For example, the Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Muslim, Turkish, and Tatar Peoples in Russia, headed by Yusuf Akçura and Hüseyinzâde Ali, issued a manifesto in January 1916. It demanded independence for the khanates of Bukhara and Khiva, the union of Russian Turkistan and the Turkmen with these two khanates, political and administrative independence for the Kirghiz people, and the creation of a Crimean Khanate under the protection of the sultan of Turkey. During the war, however, the isolation of Anatolia increased awareness of local patriotism identified as Turkish Anatolian nationalism (Türk Anadolu milliyetçiliği), and this, rather than Pan-Turkism, became the ideology of the republic. See BUKHARA KHANATE; CRIMEAN KHANATE; and KHIVA KHANATE.

Turkism peaked during the revolution in Russia in 1917–1918. There was hope that the Ottoman Empire would acquire a new basis by integrating the Turkic lands of a disintegrating Russia. The Congress of Russian Muslims held in Kazan in August 1918 demanded self-determination while Istanbul encouraged the delegates to seek the sultan's protection. The capture of Baku on September 15 was the high point of Pan-Turkist aspirations; as his forces advanced, Halil Pasha was welcomed with a ballad that began, “May God open your way to Turan.” An editorial predicted that Turkey would become a great power once again “if the strong moral force of Turkish culture was added to the spiritual force of Islam and the Caliphate” (Tanin, 16 April 1918). Here was the formula of what came to be described in the 1970s as the Turkish-Islamic synthesis. Enver Pasha's adventures notwithstanding, Pan-Turkist aspirations were dashed following the Ottoman collapse in 1918. See ENVER PASHA.

The Kemalists abandoned all forms of irredentism as a chimera and focused their attention on creating a new Turkey within the boundaries of the National Pact of July 1919. Given the republic's good relations with the Soviet Union, all manifestations of Pan-Turkist irredentism were discouraged, even though cultural aspects like revisionist historiography and language reform were adopted into the nationalist ideology.

Moreover, the Soviet Union made the task of the Turkists more difficult by fragmenting the Turkic peoples into separate republics, each with its own language. At the same time, Kemal Atatürk did not want another ideological focus competing with his own nationalism based on Anatolia. Therefore, the Turkish Hearths were dissolved in 1931 and replaced by the governing party's People's Houses (Halk Evleri). Thereafter political Pan-Turkism became dormant, to be awakened later during the Cold War.

Turkism in the 1930s, influenced by Nazi ideology, tended to be secular and racialist and emphasized blood as the element of unity. When World War II broke out in 1939, there was a Pan-Turkist reassertion, especially after the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. Berlin financed and exploited Pan-Turkism and found many willing collaborators, though the Turkish government remained neutral. But once the tide turned against Germany, and Soviet troops entered Ukraine in January 1944, the government arrested Turkist leaders. There were trials in September, and their organizations were dissolved. At the start of the Cold War, however, charges against the Turkists were dismissed in higher courts and the movement was vindicated.

In the multiparty period after 1945, Turkism was again dormant, though it became an instrument of Cold War propaganda. In the early 1960s it was revived to counter the challenge from the left, especially the Workers Party of Turkey, permitted under the constitution of 1961. The Turkists established a political platform in August 1965, when Alpaslan Türkeş (1917–1997), a member of the 1960 junta who had been tried for Pan-Turkist activities in 1944, took over the Republican Peasants Nation Party, renamed the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) in 1969.

Initially the party was secular and racialist, looking upon Islam as an Arab import alien to the Turkic genius. This alienated most of the party's supporters, and in 1969 Türkeş attempted to reconcile Islam and nationalism with the words, “We are as Turkish as Mount Tanri and as Muslim as Mount Hira; both philosophies are inherent in our character.” But the party's ambiguous attitude toward Islam did not disappear totally, and Muslim voters preferred to support the National Salvation Party (Millî Selamet Partisi, MSP, later reformed as the Refâh Partisi or Welfare Party). After a weak showing in the 1973 elections, Türkeş turned more openly to Islam. He went on the pilgrimage to Mecca and acquired the honorific Haci. Meanwhile, a group of nationalist intellectuals and politicians had formed a group known as the Intellectuals’ Hearth (Aydınlar Ocağı) whose aim, they claimed, was to create a synthesis between Turkic and Islamic values and culture. They also mediated between the political parties and played a role in the creation of the coalition governments of the seventies. Before the 1977 elections Türkeş won the support of some religious orders as well as the defection of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, an important nationalist-Islamist publicist, from the MSP. He also appealed openly to the Sunnī Turkish majority against minorities like the Kurds and Alevis, whom he described as the greatest threat to the Turks after communism. His party performed better in 1977, though it remained politically marginal. Its improved electoral performance resulted from the patronage it exercised as a coalition partner after 1975 rather than from its Turkist platform.

The MHP was dissolved by the military junta that seized power in September 1980 and reappeared as the Nationalist Labor Party (Milliyetçi Çalışma Partisi). The Turkist movement declined in the 1980s while its top leaders were on trial for conspiracy to overthrow the state, but it received a boost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. As in the period after 1918, the dream of a union of Turkic states was revived; it remains to be seen whether the dream will be fulfilled this time.



  • Arai, Masami. Turkish Nationalism in the Young Turk Era. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1992. Essential for an analysis of Turkist journals.
  • Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism in Turkey. New York: Routledge, 1998. Probing analysis of Turkish nationalism, especially the socioeconomic aspects.
  • Georgeon, François. Aux origines du nationalisme turc: Yusuf Akçura, 1876–1935. Paris: ADPF, 1980. Fine monograph on Akçura and his ideas.
  • Gökalp, Mehmet Ziya. Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization: Selected Essays of Ziya Gökalp. Translated and edited by Niyazi Berkes. London: Allen and Unwin, 1959. Essential for Gökalp's ideas, with an excellent introductory essay by Berkes.
  • Heyd, Uriel. The Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gökalp. London: Luzac, 1950. Remains an essential source on the subject.
  • Kushner, David. The Rise of Turkish Nationalism, 1876–1908. London and New York: Cass, 1977. Competent work on the origins of the movement.
  • Landau, Jacob. Pan-Turkism in Turkey: A Study of Irredentism. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1981. Most informative for the entire period; excellent bibliography.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. 2d ed.London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Authoritative account of intellectual trends, including Pan-Turkism.
  • Zenkowsky, Serge A.Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. A most readable, informative book, full of provocative ideas.
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