It was Turkish women who benefited most from the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code; through this, women were placed on the same social level as men, in contrast to the position hitherto reserved for them. In this way women became, in Turkey, an active element in the evolution of the Republic and in the national life.
In fact there exists today no difference between the formerly captive Turkish women, and women in countries which are the most socially advanced in the world. Feminine emancipation is one of Kemal's most brilliant humanitarian victories.
Nevertheless, the rights and freedom which had been given to the Turkish women mean no more than a return to the true spirit of the Turkish race. In the centuries when the history of the Turks is known in Central Asia, and in the periods of migrations, women always appear in a powerful position beside their husbands, and there were many who reigned as Queens and led their armies into battle. In the Turkish inscriptions in the region of the Orhon, dating from the seventh century, one reads words such as these : "The Queen who knows the State." There exists many proofs of the rank and equality enjoyed by the Turkish women; in the old edicts of the "Hakans" or Kings, there usually appears the formula "The King and his Lady ordain." Embassies were received by the royal couple.
Although the Turks had been converted to Islam, polygamy and the seclusion of women took centuries to enter the customs of the Turkish people, which was not prepared to deprive women of the freedom they had been accustomed to. The famous Arab traveller and geographer, Ibn Battuta, who toured Anatolia in the fourteenth century, has left some interesting descriptions of the life and customs of the Turkish population of the period. He drew attention to the fact that despite their religion, the women did not cover their faces, and he was surprised by the respect with which they were treated by the men. Identical accounts are given by other travellers in the East. One of these adds that contrary to Moslem custom, husbands and wives in Turkish villages were acquainted with each other before marriage.
Under the Empire, the Koran and mediaeval Moslem philosophers were interpreted in such a way as to bring the situation of women to a state we can hardly ever conceive of. They did not receive more than the most elementary education, and that only in their childhood. Later, once they had assumed the veil, they were allowed to read sacred works, in particular the "Mevlut", which were poems in honour of the Prophet's birth; it was considered scandalous for them to read anything else. Of course they only read who knew how to, and these were few. The virtue of these creatures, who were denied the honour of belief that they could personally defend themselves from the traps of adulterous love, was protected by strong walls and firm bars, vigilant eunuchs, and by their being forbidden to go out into the street unescorted or unaccompanied. For them, the street had to be seen through the "kafes", a wooden grille placed across the windows of the harem, or through the thick "peçe".
Selim, Mahmut and Abdülmecit, the reforming Sultans, did nothing in favour of women, who only obtained some improvements with the victory of the Young Turks, not so much by the efforts of the latter, as by the penetration of the Western mentality and customs. Girls' schools were opened, and overflowed with pupils anxious to learn. The peçe suffered evolution, and more transparent cloth was used; the "feçe" was adopted, which left eyes uncovered. A moderate improvement was also to be seen in the customs under which they lived, which became more marked and during the years of the war. Even polygamy was tending to disappear because of the new standard of living.
During the War of Independence, the women of Anatolia once again became fellow workers with their men, as they had been in ancient times; they worked the land, served in hospitals and carried ammunition. The creaking of the kagni, sacred song of liberty, sounded only to the rhythm imposed by those fearless peasant women who, without ceasing to look after their small children, followed the interminable roads which led to the front.
The Gazi gave a special place amongst his plans for reform to the emancipation of women, who had proved their vitality and patriotism before his eyes. However, he did not raise the question while the war was in progress, since such a plan would have favoured the reactionary campaign. In February 1923, he spoke in Smyrna of the necessity or both sexes to take part in progress, since a society was composed of two sexes both of which were indispensible, and if one of them remained backward, society and the country would be incurably weakened. "Women's original duty consists of motherhood", he said. "Et us remember that it is our mother who gives us our first education, and let us recognise the importance of that, at its true value. Our women will be taught all the sciences, and will pass through all the grades of instruction that men do. The women will go forward to the future together with the men, and will work with them. Ignorance is genera through-out our country, and does not affect only our women but our men too. Finally, I will say to our mothers that it is their duty to make us perfect beings; they have achieved their mission in the way they have been able, but from now on we shall need men endowed with other mentality, men who are perfected in a different way. It is the mothers of the future who will educate these men."
This speech marks the beginning of the Gazi's active campaign in favour of women; now he lost no opportunity to try to eliminate negative ideas about women from people's mind. In August 1924, he said publicly : "I must categorically declare when speaking of civilisation, that family life begets social, economic and political weakness. It is necessary that the male and female elements which constitute the family enjoy their natural rights, and are in a condition to fulfil their duties in the family."
At Inebolu, he made the people see that it was necessary to do away with all the customs imposed upon women, which could be supported by no serious reasoning. He treated the women as his comrades, and it is interesting to repeat some of his words : "Men comrades : these customs come in some degree from our egotism and from the fact that we are very attached to honour, and very vigilant. Yet our comrades, the women, posses the same faculties of understanding and thought as we do. Let them show their faces to the world and be able to observe it carefully with their eyes; there is nothing in that that can worry us."
"He had to face some reaction from the people to the suggestion that women should abandon their customs, the institution of the harem, and the veil; the Gazi therefore spoke very frankly: "Comrades, I repeat : do not fear this change. I will add that we are ready, in order to achieve so important a result, to allow the sacrifice of some lives; that is not important. I draw your attention to the fact that the obstinacy and fanaticism with which we hold on to the present state of affairs cannot save us from the dangers which threaten us, or from all of us becoming mere sheep destined for the "sacrifice".
Turkish women showed themselves less reluctant then man to accept modern life; they did not wait for legislation before throwing off their ancient yoke. They happily entered the new way of life; thousands of women took employment in various enterprises and factories; they entered the schools and penetrated every level, since no one would have dared to obstruct the will of Turkish women to emancipate themselves, that will being interpreted and maintained by the reforming President with all his strength. When the civil code was adopted in 1926, women felt the protection of the law within their homes and outside them. This event marked the free and final collaboration with that precious factor that women truly represent in the life of civilised peoples.
This was the end of Turkey in novels, in which foreign writers of great imagination, dealers in exoticism, found subjects for their works. For example, the legend of Aziyade, "Les Désenchantées" and other romantic books about Turkey, had misrepresented the features and spirit of that country as they were published throughout the world.
In the four years following the adoption of the Civil Code, women gave many proofs of their ability; they did useful work in the institutions of medical and social help, in the banks and commercial enterprises. A large number of women entered the university faculties. Kemal was extremely satisfied with the female sex, for which he had made himself responsible before the nation, and considered that women were ready to take part in political life. In 1930, the Assembly gave women the right to vote, and eligibility for municipal elections; this was a step towards complete equality between the two sexes.
Kemal's philosophy admitted all the natural and political rights of women, and he did not believe that their physical construction made them unfit to do military service, since they were the equals of men in rough tasks in the fields, and had shown their extraordinary capacity for endurance during the War of Independence. In addition, their behaviour at the front had made him believe that they could give great services on the battlefield itself. Now that the women had almost every right, and would soon be given all the rest, it was right that they should not be excluded from any of their obligations.
Those of backward mentality, who were horrified and alarmed by the inconceivable changes in the customs effecting women, were afraid for public morals, since they thought that with the disappearance of the material barriers which had guarded women's honour, they would allow themselves to be drawn into the worst excesses. The paltriness of these thoughts was shown by the excellent behaviour of women in all areas of national life, and in their method of amusing themselves.
The Turkish woman was transformed into a "sports woman" by several institutions for the physical education of women, "girl scout" organisations and the teaching of gymnastics and sport in the schools. From time to time there were held excellent mass displays of gymnastics, in which thousands of men and women took part, while the deportment of girl scout companies was applauded on military parades.
After five more years of observation, the Gazi and the country were confident that women could be admitted to the Grand Assembly. They were therefore given the right to be elected to it and vote in it, and in 1936, 20 female members took their seats in Parliament, not as representatives of their sex, but of the various electoral districts which had voted for them.
In this framework of complete equality, Turkish women did not cease to show their great qualities, and the error of their having been confined in the ignorance of the harem. Finally, in May 1937 a star of diamonds was awarded to the female aviator Sabiha Gökçen who had followed the course of the "Türk Kusu" (The Turkish Bird), with complete success, and also the courses of the School of Military Aviation. When she received her award, Sabiha declared that she would go as a military pilot whenever her country called.
Source : "Atatürk" by Jorge Blanco Villalta, translated from Spanish by William Campbell, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1991
The Calendar Reform
On the 23rd December 1925, the international calendar and time were adopted. This reform ended the complication and difficulties which the use of three different calendars caused Turkey in her international relations and her internal life.
The Ottoman Empire followed the Arab lunar calendar. The lunar month begins when the moon first appeared in the sky as a thin crescent, which is still referred to as "new moon". New moon occurs when the moon lies directly between the earth and the sun and, in consequence, can not be seen. The cycle of the moon's phases takes a little over 29 1/2 days and therefore in Arab calendar a lunar year contains 354 days and some hours, which show differences from place to place. According to the calendar used in the West, the year is that period of time in which the earth performs one revolution in its orbid around the sun. The year contains approximately 365 days and 6 hours. The lunar year is 11 days and 6 hours shorter than the solar year. The months of the lunar calendar do not keep the same season in relation to the sun. Therefore in countries where the lunar calendar is used, social gatherings such as the New Year, religious festivities or similar occasions may fall either on winter or summer. Besides the lunar calendar, it was necessary to use the solar calendar, which enabled observation of the growth of plants.
It was also complicated to make the months and days agree. The Imperial Government found it necessary to adopt a solar calendar. From then on, two calendars had been in use; the Turkish solar calendar for official purposes, and the lunar calendar, together with the international Georgian calendar, which had to be resorted to in order to find out what day the rest of the world was living in.
Another reform which was approved on the same day abolished the traditional division of the hours in favour of international time. From then on the time of sunset is considered 12 O'clock and afterwards the time runs as 1,2,3...Thus it had been that in earlier times the Turks had followed the time called "alaturca" , while the foreigners had followed the "alafranga" time, which as easy to imagine, gave rise to frequent misunderstandings.
Source : "Atatürk" by Jorge Blanco Villalta, translated from Spanish by William Campbell, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1991
The Abolition of the Caliphate
The year 1924 saw the abolition of the Caliphate. On the 2nd March the GNA passed a law deposing the Caliph and abolishing his office, "the function of the Caliph being essentially included in the meaning and connotation of the Government of the Republic". All princes and princesses would have to leavve Turkey within ten days. Other secularising laws were also passed abolishing the office of Seyh-ül Islam, and the Ministry of Seriat and Evkaf, and replacing it by a new Department of Prime Ministers' Office - the Directorate of Religious Affairs. Religious courts were abolished on 8th April, and on 20th April a new constitution was accepted. At the end of February, R.C.Lindsay reported confidentially to the new British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, Ramsay MacDonald, about the possibility of getting rid of the Caliph and his family, upon which D.G.Osborne made the following comments :
"...The Caliphate of the House of Osman is abolished and all the members of the house are to follow the Caliph and the late Sultan into exile. It is an historical event of the first importance. Their property is to revert to the state. Justice and education are to be entirely purged of their religious associations. The policy of disestablishment or laicization is carried to its logical limit...Kemal has always been determined to make a clean sweep of all contributory causes of of the decay of the Turkish Empire and to give the Turkish state a fair and fresh start. Hence the dissappearance of capitulations, the expulsion of the Greeks and Armenians, the repudiation of Constantinople as the capital, the overthrow of the Sultanate and now the abolition of the Caliphate and -which is almost as important- of Islamic law.
A tremendous revolution has been effected by entirely pacific means, and it is impossible not to admire the courage, determination and statesmanship of Kemal. The effects on Islam are incalculable...it is not easy to estimate the precise significance of the Turkish action. Turkey has repudiated the religious and political leadership of Islam technically inherent in the holding of the Caliphate by the head of the Turkish state...It seems to leave the way open to Kemal, as President, to assume the functions of Caliph if this be the ambition."
William Tyrell added on 4th March : "I should hesitate in my tribute to Kemal's statesmanship until we are in a better position to judge the effects of secularization in Turkey and the rest of the Mohammedan world, though I believe the effect upon the latter will be more considerable."
Meanwhile the Caliph was removed from his palace at dawn on 4th March and taken by motor to Çatalca. There he was put on the express train and sent to Berne. The New York Tribune observed on this occasion that Kemal's decision to abolish the Caliphate might have had a practical political motive, as the "powerful religious caste" might have attempted to plot counter-revolution through that institution. Kemal preferred secular education and civilisation to ancient Moslem theocracy. Under the Republic, "Turkish religious fanaticism" had withered, and the dominating fact was that the old and the new Turkey were separated by an "impassable gulf", concluded the paper.
The New York Times observed that, when the Turkish national regime was fighting for its life, the Caliphate was one of its strongest assets; if Kemal was now prepared to discard so valuable a trump, it must be that he felt that his country's position was secure. The Christian Science Monitor said that the Kemalists had turned the course of Turkish destiny definitely towards the West, and by abolishing the Caliphate had challenged all Islam to make a similar choice.
Meanwhile, the president of the association of Ulema , Al Azhar, published to the Muslim World on 15th March 1924 a press statement by the Grand Sheikh, repudiating Mustafa Keal's action in its entirety. Other telegrams of criticism were sent to Kemal by Abdul Hamid, a member of the Hizb el Watani in Egypt, and by Shaukat Ali of India; but Kemal replied that this was an internal issue for the Turks. British consul C.A. Creig reported from Sarajevo on 11th March that the expulsion of the Caliph apparently awakened among the local "Ulema" and educated Muslim classes a feeling of despondent bewilderment mingled within dignition towards Mustafa Kemal and the Ankara Assembly, whose drastic action, they feared, would weaken and isolate the one state on whose revival hopes were set. Similar protests and telegrams of support came from all over the Muslim world; e.g. British Cosul J.H. Monahan (Tripoli) reported on 22nd April that, although the Ulema of Tripoli protested to Mustafa Kemal against t he abolition of the Caliphate; the educated Muslims there had much symphaty for him as one ready to defy European ascendancy. On the other hand, British Consul Crosy reported on 2nd June from Batavia that the abolition of the Caliphate had created little excitement among the natives of the country, or among the Arab community some of whom professed to see in this a wise move on Kemal's part, having for its object definite separation of religion and state. They even applauded Kemal's policy on the ground that the princess of the House of Osman had been corrupted by British gold, and that they had for that reason merited the decree of expulsion passed against them.
Source : "Atatürk-The Founder of Modern Turkey" by Salahi R.Sonyel, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1989
"In order to raise our new Turkey to the level that she is worthy of, we must, under all circumstances, attach the highest importance to the national economy."
When the Turkish Republic came into being in 1923, it lacked capital, industry, and know-how. Successive wars had decimated manpower, agricultural production stood at a low level, and the huge foreign debts of the defunct Ottoman state confronted the new Republic.
President Atatürk swiftly moved to initiate a dynamic program of economic development. " Our nation," he stated, " has crushed the enemy forces. But to achieve independence we must observe the following rule: National sovereignty should be supported by financial independence. The only power that will propel us to this goal is the economy. No matter how mighty they are, political and military victories cannot endure unless they are crowned by economic triumphs."
With determination and vigor, Atatürk's Turkey undertook agricultural expansion, industrial growth, and technological advancement. In mining, transportation, manufacturing, banking, exports, social services, housing, communications, energy, mechanization, and other vital areas, many strides were taken. Within the decade, the gross national product increased five-fold.
Turkey's economic development during Atatürk's Presidency was impressive in absolute figures and in comparison to other countries. The synthesis that evolved at that time -state enterprises and private initiative active in both industrial and agricultural growth- serves as the basis of the economic structure not only for Turkey but also in dozen countries.
"We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and legal institutions from the bonds which hold a tight grip on us although they are incompatible with the needs of our century."
Between 1926 and 1930, the Turkish Republic achieved a legal transformation which might have required decades in most other countries. Religious laws were abolished, and a secular system of jurisprudence introduced. The concepts, the texts and contexts of the laws were made harmonious with the progressive thrust of Atatürk's Turkey. " The nation", Atatürk said, " has placed its faith in the precept that all laws should be inspired by actual needs here on earth as a basic fact of national life."
Among the far-reaching changes were the new Civil Code, Penal Code, and Business Law, based on the Swiss, Italian and German models respectively.
The new legal system made all citizens - men and women, rich and poor - equal before the law. It gave Turkey a firm foundation for a society of justice and equal rights.
The ancient Islamic Law, based on the Word of the Prophet, was the most serious obstacle encountered by Turkey's social progress. It had varied little, since the Turkish people had adopted Islam and Arab customs, and begun to govern themselves by the Koranic Law, both in the constitution of their state and in their social regulations.
The foundations of the Islamic Law are the dogmas and moral precepts comprised in the Koran, the word of Mohammed, which is the only fountain of wisdom. In addition to the Holy Book, the preparation and development of the Law had taken into consideration the Hadith, which contains information on Mohammed's way of conduct, and completes and interprets the meaning of the precepts of the Koran. In the time of the first Califs, whenever the Koran left any points not explicitly resolved, when its when its precepts to be put into practice, groups of wise men and theologians would gather and find solutions for the difficulties, taking it upon themselves to interpret the hidden wishes of the Prophet.
Moslem law was therefore rudimentary in its beginnings, which became clear when the Arabs conquered a great Empire in the seventh century and found themselves obliged to govern different peoples with differing customs. To meet the needs arising from this situation, the Arab jurisconsults set to perfect Islamic Law, which they did without going beyond the limits and spirit of its original sources, the Koran and the Hadith.
The Law was divided into three parts. The first part was not very different from the principles of the present-day European Law. The section on marriage was the one which showed the greatest difference from its European equivalent, allowing polygamy; the system of repudiation, by which the husband had the right to expel his wife from the home, kept women in a state of inferiority. The third part of the Law dealt with punishment, and was inspired by the Lex Talionis, which is based on the Law of Moses.
The Ottoman Empire took the foundations of its code of laws entirely from the ancient Islamic Law, ad justice functiouned in the following way: first there came the Calif, Suprimi Judge and Head of State; in his name, the "kadis", who were judges graduated from the medreses, administered justice. A characteristic of the Law was its recognition of a judge without assessors. Apart from the kadis there were "muftis" or higher jurisconsults, to whom those who did not agree with the kadi's decisions could appeal.
The reforming Sultans had the idea of modernising the law, but prevailing interests opposed this. It would have been necessary to make a total change in the constitution of the theocratic state, and separate civil from religious affairs, which no Sultan could have dared to attempt. Since Ottoman history was full of examples of the danger brought by progress, nothing more than half-measures were taken.
The decline of the "Sick Man" , which became more marked in the middle of the nineteenth century, aroused the ambitions of the Great Powers in his respect, and he understood the need to reach the cultural level of his opponents, or die. In the field of law, it was necessary to codify the laws, creating a system which agreed with the social development of the times; this was done, but imperfectly.
The Civil Code was ready in 1868 under the name of "Compilation of Juridical Provisions"; the Penal Code was adopted 11 years later. The whole code was called the "Mecelle", and was based on the civil provisions of Arab and Islamic Law. From the legal reforms of that time there arose, in order to apply them, two kinds of courts instead of what had been before; there were the civil courts called the "Nizamiye", and the religious courts, or those of the "Seriat". The latter continued to function in their accustomed way; however, their competence was limited to disputes concerning the right of families and the pious foundations. Appeal courts were set above the civil courts.
It was impossible to make any reform in family law, and the Turks continued to obey the laws which had served the Arab community many centuries before.
Apart from this double legal system there existed the various courts of the minorities, which were competent in all matters concerning the rights of families and persons belonging to them. Thanks to the capitulation regime, the foreigners had the right of being judged in their respective consulates.
This was the scene as it was found by the Young Turks' revolution in 1908. There were many plans made to give the Empire a modern code and system of justice, but very little was accomplished.
When the Treaty of Lausanne had been concluded, opening a period of freedom for Turkey , Kemal began to work actively, with a view to suggesting the form in which the legal revolution should operate. Even before that propitious Treaty had been signed, he had announced his revolutionary intentions on the subject, making use of an axiom which appears in the "Mecelle", and which was based on the Holy Law : "The Laws change as things change with time". According to the Gazi, this was the fundamental principle of the legal policy which the new Turkey should follow.
When the secularisation of the state had been decided, the first material step towards legal reforms was the abolition of the religious courts and the Ministry of Religious Affairs; the double legal authority was contrary to modern logic, since there were frequent disputes about respective competences, and the "Seyhülislamat" or Ministry of Religious Affairs got into conflict with the Ministry of Justice, since there was no relationship between the judges of one side with those of the other.
In his speech on the 1st of March 1924, the Gazi spoke thus about the legal reform, which was a subject on which, he said, faith in mythology was a system preventing the awakening of peoples : "The most important thing is to liberate our conception of justice, and our legal institutions and laws from the bonds which hold us under their influence, consciously or unconsciously, and which are incompatible with the needs of the century."
On the occasion of the opening of the Law School in Ankara in November 1925, the Gazi recalled that the negative force which had been the cause of the decay of the Empire was the Law which had controlled it. Thus the Empire which had been strong enough to control great areas of Europe had been unable to overcome the lawyers, who had resisted the introduction of printing, perfected by Gutenberg in 1436, for three centuries. "The nation believes," he said, "that the rule which says that all laws should be inspired by needs here on the earth, is a condition of its existence."
From September 1924 there were meetings of the leading Turkish lawyers to discuss the new legislation. The parties appeared; one advised the laws should be created in accordance with modern social life, while the other proposed to adopt the European codes of laws which most suited the country. Kemal took the latter side, since studies and discussions would have lost time which was difficult to estimate.
The Swiss Civil Code, which was the most modern and suited to the latest advances of legal law, was adopted and as a whole, except for the part concerning trade. With the adoption of that legal corpus, there were effectively abolished the provisions of the old Religious Law, and also the customs which had been enormously supposed to be based on religion. Polygamy, repudiation of wives, and everything which placed women in an inferior social position were swept away.
The opinions of the Congress of The Hague in 1907 served as basis for the Commercial Law adopted by Turkey; the Law of Judicial Procedures was taken from that of Neu chatel in Switzerland, and at second remove from French and German codes; the Swiss examples served for the Laws of Execution and Bankruptcy, and the Maritime Law was copied from the German Code. The Italian Penal Law was adopted as being the most modern of its kind, while the Law of Procedure for the Penal Courts took the example of those used in Germany.
This task of adaptation was naturally not completed in the year 1926, like the Civil Code, but was finished after 4 years of work.
The organisation of justice received all the attention due to it; the number of Magistrates' Courts was raised to the required number, and they were presided over by judges without assessors; Courts of First Instance were controlled by three judges, while the Criminal Courts which tried cases carrying serious penalties were presided over by five. The Appeal Courts continue to operate, and there is no jurisdiction higher then theirs. No defendant can be questioned without the presence o his defending lawyer, provided that he has asked for this. The Assembly has the right of pardon.
Special laws and regulations were made to place strict qualifications on the professions of lawyer and judge, whose control had hitherto been extremely lax; during tha Monarch, there had been many members of the Bar who had never been to school.
After the acceptance of the Civil Code, the non-Moslem minorities, to whom article 48 of the Treaty of Lausanne had recognised legal autonomy in family and personal matters, decided to give up that prerogative, since the ancient Moslem religious legislation had disappeared, and the new laws offered the fullest guarantees.
Source : "Atatürk" by Jorge Blanco Villalta, translated from Spanish by William Campbell, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1991
Adaption of the Latin Alphabet
"The governments most creative and significant duty is education."
A new measure of undeniable importance, which was intended to get rid of the obstacles which hindered the communication of the Turks with the civilised countries, was that concerned with numerals. Turkey was using the Arabic numerals which had been used in Arabia before being introduced Europe in the tenth century. Europe adopted the system in place of the rather awkward Roman characters; however, the numbers suffered changes that made them unrecognisable at first sight, to such an extent that it was necessary to make a special study to be able to identify the Arabic numerals now in international use, with the old style, still used in Turkey. The new figures adopted by the Republic began to be used officially from June 1928.
During the whole of the autumn and winter of 1927, the Gazi concentrated his constructive powers on the preparation of the reform of writing, to which he gave a basic and essential place in the people's efforts to rebuild and progress intellectually; this was Kemal's passion as an administrator.
The Turks had adopted Arabic alphabet at the same time as their conversion to Islam, about a thousand years before. Under Moslem influence, they abandoned their old form of writing, in which a number of inscriptions have been found in Northern Mongolia, on the banks of the river Selenga, tributary of lake Baikal, and which are known as the Orhon inscriptions.
The Arabic Alphabet is not convenient or adaptable to the sounds of the Turkish language, which is rich in vowels. Apart from this, there arose another great difficulty; to learn the Arabic script, which was excessively complicated and uncertain, one needed long years of study, which naturally favoured illiteracy, and made knowledge the privilege of the rich classes. Kemal's philosophy could in no way admit this, since he belived that education must be accessible to the whole people. He therefore accused the monarchical regime of having left its people illiterate and ignorant, during centuries of great universal progress.
The Arabic writing was strangling Turkey's desire for international cooperation in intellectual affairs, and hindered her cultural progress. The Gazi had taken upon himself the task of getting rid of the alphabet then in use, and replacing it by one which would not only be easy to teach, but which would also be very similar to the Latin alphabet, used internationally. He therefore got down to work; he called in linguists, historians, grammarians, and intellectuals generally, and after explaining his plans for reforming the alphabet in general lines, he asked their opinion and discussed with them the system which would be most advantageous to introduce. He gave careful study to the various adoptions of the Latin alphabet which were in use for different languages, and the phonetic values given to its signs; then he began to adapt them to Turkish, after a conscientious analysis of the grammar, phonetics and peculiarities of the Turkish language.
The studies presented by the specialists were discussed at special meetings, until the road of reform was gradually marked out. As the work proceeded, Kemal returned again to Istanbul and took up residence in Dolmabahçe Palace, which was transformed into a real academy. The sessions presided over by the reformer were dutifully attended by professors and linguists, Ministers and Members of Parliament.
As one can well imagine, there were some who were doubtful about the proposed reform. Would it not make it necessary to reprint all the books in the Turkish bibliography, dictionaries, and school and university texts ? This task, which would certainly take years, together with the learning of the new alphabet which would not take less than that, would mean a serious hold up in the development of public education. People who had already finished school could not return there to learn to write all over again.
The final version of the alphabet was ready in August 1928. The greater part of the success achieved was due to the reformer itself, since it was he who found by tenacity and logic the letters which most exactly represented the sounds of the Turkish language. This latin-based alphabet, which is called the Turkish alphabet, as opposed to the Arabic, is not only the most modern known, but is essentially phonetic; there is no letter or sign which is unnecessary, nor are there double letters or any of the hindrances which other languages, such as French and English especially, have preserved through tradition, and which make it difficult to learn them and make confusion easy. The new Turkish alphabet is easy to learn; a foreigner who learns the phonetic value of its letters can read Turkish perfectly in a very few days.
On the night of the 9th of August, a great crowd had gathered in the park at Sarayburnu, formerly the playground of the Sultan, and where the first statue of the Gazi had been erected. The people had been invited to go there by the People's Party, to listen to the speech which the Gazi was going to make, and in which he was going to reveal another of his national secrets. At the announced time the speaker mounted the platform, and explained the necessity of freeing themselves from the Arabic alphabet, which they had never been able to understand properly, and which had for ages been a kind of prison for the Turkish spirit. He assured them that the new alphabet could be learnt in a short time, and even those who had never learnt to read would be able to do this. He issued a call for general mobilisation against illiteracy, which reached the figure of about 90 % of the population.
The mobilisation for the new alphabet had the desired success. The conscript teachers were set before their blackboards; in towns and villages, in the countryside, and in all places one could see those already initiated into the Turkish alphabet surrounded by those who wanted to learn it. The Members of Parliament went back to their respective constituencies to direct the intensive teaching of reading and writing, but no one equalled the Gazi in his educational activity.
He appeared every day in different places, carrying a portable blackboard in his car, and there he carefully explained the value of the orthographic signs; then like a schoolmaster in class he brought forward one of his pupils, examined him, and made him write some word, such as his name, for example. He checked the level of advance in the improvised schools. People called him the "Teacher in Chief", and he was never seen as happy and satisfied as on that campaign.
He began a journey along the shore of the Black Sea and through Central Anatolia, in order to teach and activate the teaching of the new alphabet, which he believed was a decisive step towards progress. In Tekirdag, he expressed his pleasure to the people for the enthusiasm in which they had set about learning the new characters, and the speed at which they had familiarized themselves with them.
"When I shut my eyes" he added, "and see how lofty and brilliant will be the degree of strength and universal esteem which Turkey's intellectual development will reach thanks to the new alphabet, the sight fill me with ecstasy."
When he was proposing to the Assembly that the Law of the New Alphabet should be accepted, he said : "I am filled with emotion with this success, such an emotion that no happiness brought by any victory can ever be compared with it. I am filled with the moral satisfaction given by the simple duty of a teacher who will free our fellow citizens from ignorance. Dear comrades, thanks to this immortal measure we have taken, the Turkish nation will enter into a new world of light."
The campaign for education became more organised, and evening classes were opened for workers and people of both sexes who had passed school age. Improvised classes were found in a great many places, and attended by children and elderly people. The new writing was being taught in the mosques and even in the cafes, and it was as if the whole nation had gone back to school. The reforming President went on teaching the humble people with his blackboard.
On the basis of various precedents and opinions, it had been said that it would take about 20 years before this reform could be completely adopted. They talked about the capacity of the people to learn, the evolution which must take place, and other reasons, but none of this convinced the Gazi. There was no reason whatever, that something which an uneducated person could learn in four or six months should take 20 years to be learnt by a people which was after all composed of men. What was necessary was an intensive campaign for public education, so as to bring the benefits to the largest possible number of citizens.
To print anything in the old Arabic alphabet, the press needed no less than 612 different characters, which made it very difficult to edit a work; this was the reason for the small advance made by printing in Turkey. The Turkish alphabet, based on the Latin, needed only 70, including the numbers, capitals and signs. It was thus possible to give a great encouragement to the book industry and all kinds of publications, which resulted in a noticeable rise in the country's culture.
After the barrier of the Arabic alphabet had been overcome, a new barrier was encountered : this was the excessive number of Arabic and Persian words which had entered the language during the course of eight centuries under the literary influence of those languages; this had given birth to two Turkish languages; the palace language, full of Arabic and Persian words, which was spoken by the upper classes, and the popular language, or the more pure Turkish, which was despised by the erudite. At the Gazi's instructions, the Republican Government decided to take measures to bring back its ancient beauty and originality to the mutilated national language. As a first measure, from September 1929, the teaching of Arabic and Persian was forbidden in the Lises, which were the last places in which these lessons had remained.
Source : "Atatürk", by Jorge Blanco Villalta, translated from Spanish by William Campbell,
Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1991
Hat Reform and The Revolution in Dress
Although the rebellion in the East had been crushed, the Law for the Maintenance of Order still contributed in operation, to prevent if possible new disturbances. The Gazi was going to make use of this to put into practice the social reforms on which he had long meditated.
The people said that the Gazi was keeping the Emergency Law, really Martial Law, in order to use it as an instrument of despotism, but he only used it to ensure the stability of the Republic, expect also to destroy the people's false beliefs and oblige them to adopt Western dress and customs.
On the 24th of August the Gazi began a journey to the coast of the Black Sea. He left at such an early hour, that only those accompanying him noticed the original manner in which His Excellency the President was planing to travel: instead of the famous astrakhan cap of the Nationalists, he was wearing a panama hat. When he arrived at the city of Kastamonu, the multitude who had come to welcome him were left dumb with amazement when they saw the Liberator salute them with a "hat", and receive their delegations with his head uncovered.
The surprise of the inhabitants of Kastamonu was fully justified, since until that day the hat, as used in Europe, was the distinctive sign of foreigners, of the "Gavur," infidels. The Turks wore the fez, and during the War of Independence, the kalpak began to be worn amongst the Nationalists, but this custom was still very much in the minority in 1925.
The fez, which in Turkey represented the traditionalist and religious spirit, was not of Turkish but of African origin, and bore the name of the city of Fez, where there were the best factories of this kind of headgear. It consists of a cylindrical cap of scarlet or purple felt, ornamented with a tassel of long black cord. Having no peak, it was a great nuisance on sunny days, and since it had to be worn on all occasions, even in closed places, during meals, and in offices, the colour and lower part were deformed by perspiration.
The fez became generally worn amongst the Greeks on the islands and the Anatolian coast of the Aegean. It had been instituted by the Sultan Mahmut II, the reformer who wished to Westernize the Empire but who lacked the moral strength of the Gazi, who was to achieve this later on. The Padisah wanted to make his subjects adopt a uniform headgear, since until that time they had been using the most varied turbans, caps and coiffures. The different parts of the Army and Navy, as also the Imperial Guards and Janissaries, distinguished themselves by their headgear, which was in some cases so large and complicated that it was sometimes a real impediment. Civil servants and administrators showed their rank by the shape and colour of their turbans, as was also the case with the different categories of clergy and dervish sects. It was easy to distinguish a man by his headgear.
At a time when the Empire was still large, and the Padisah had numerous non-Moslem subjects, and while the Great Powers were exercising pressure in favour of non-Moslem's rights, Mahmut's policy of eliminating as far as possible the signs which separated them from the Faithful was an intelligent one. Mahmut tried not only to standardise headgear with the fez, but also to Westernize the from of dress. He himself wore a simple frock coat buttoned up to the neck, and trousers, with a European style cloak over all, capped and sumptuous clothing of the time of Selim III, Mustafa IV and Abdülhamit I.
When Mahmut began his fez campaign in 1829 he believed that it would be accepted by the people without much protest, because of its convenience and because it suited the rules of Moslem ritual, which demand that player is made with the head covered, and that the forehead is touched to the ground as a sign of humility. It was in every way a delicate subject. The Sultan wished before all else to attract support from the higher class of what can be called the Moslem clergy, the ulemas, that is the Doctors of Theology and senior priests. He knew that if they accepted the fez, the people would do likewise. However the mosques trembled at the first attempt. What! A hoca, an imam, wearing a fez? The Seyhülislam, Minister for Religion, categorically refused to obey the Imperial ruling, although he was a liberal man who had often supported the Sultan's reforming ideas; this new proposal, however, went beyond all limits. He declared: "The Sultan can cause the head of his slave to fall, but he must not profane it". The affair reached such dimensions that Mahmut feared revolution, and decided not to insist upon it.
Little by little the fez came into general use, and with the exception of men of religion and those who pretended to be such, who went on using the turban, the country adopted it, so that it came to represent the spirit of the nation and the religion, the opposite of what it ad been originally considered, a symbol of anti-Islamic reforms.
In 1903, the Red Sultan tried to have the cavalry troops adopt the kalpak, which was of Turkoman origin, but the Seyhülislam and his counsellors declared that the sacred fez could not be replaced by the kalpak.
When Kemal began his campaign in 1925 in favour of the the hats used in civilized countries, those who defended the fez used the same arguments as had been used in 1829 by those who favoured the turban. The fez, which at that time had meant progress, was now the emblem of reaction.
The Gazi conversed with the inhabitants of Kastamonu and made speeches in favour of the adoption of the hat. He declared that it was necessary for the Turks to reach the level of the civilized peoples from every point of view, and that they must completely change their old mentality. "Look at the Turkish and Moslem world" he said, "and think about the misfortunes that have happened to us. If we have saved ourselves with the space of a few years, it had been thanks to the transformation of our mentality. We must not stop; we must always go forward. The nation must know that civilization has a strength which destroys everything which remains indifferent to it."
The Gazi tirelessly tried to convert the people to this ideas; he talked to the tailors, and asked them to make cloth caps, since the demand would soon be so great that it would be wise for them to start working right away. The news of the Gazi's promotion of the use of hats flew through the telegraph wires. Thus his speeches were not confined to his hearers in Kastamonu but reached the whole nation. A gasp of horror passed through the mosques and dervish convents. The last warning made to the people by the men of religion had been: "They will even make you wear hats," and this was seen to have happened.
From Kastamonu the reforming President moved on to the port of Inebolu, where he took his reforms of dress a stage further. The costume used by the Turks could not be called national, since it was an amalgam of heterogeneous garments: tunics, wide coloured sashes, the "salvar" or trousers gathered in half way down the leg, and with an enormous fullness in the upper part, woolen stocking with many-coloured patterns, and shoes of skin with the wool still wrapped in the "çarsaf" and their face covered with the "peçe." "Comrades" said Kemal, "the international and civilized method of dress in suitable for our nation, and we shall adopt it. We shall shoes and boots on our feet; we shall wear trousers, waistcoat, tie, shirt and jacket and naturally to complete this method of dress, I will say frankly, a hat. There are some people who oppose the adoption of a hat; I call them fools and ignorant people. By the side of the power of civilisation, which illuminates, studies and examines, those nations who insists on going ahead with a medieval mentality and with primitive superstitions are condemned to disappear, or at the every least to liven in slavery."
The Turks had good examples to support the Gazi's claims, in the ruin of the Ottoman Empire and the Moslem pepoles who had been enslaved or humiliated by the Europeans. Kemal also spoke of women, and the place which must be accorded to them in the home and the life of the nation; he spoke of the religious orders, and said that it was advisable to close the convents, dissolve the sects and establish rules for the way in which the clergy should dress.
When the reforming President returned to the capital on the 1st of September, a multitude of heads could be seen wearing hats; from then on, the intellectuals and the majority of the populations of the large towns adopted the hat without any law being passed; however news reached Ankara that in the Eastern provinces and generally in the less civilized parts of the country the inhabitants, like a large part to the inhabitants of the large cities, were continuing to use the fez and turban, and roundly refusing to wear the sign of the infidel upon their heads. It was surprising that part of the population should have become so angry over a matter of lesser importance like this, compared to the abolition of the Califate or the proclamation of the Republic.
When the Assembly met again, a bill was passed making the wearing of hats compulsory, on the 25th of November. When attempts were made to put the law into practice, disorders of only moderate importance happened; however, there were demonstrations in several places, led by men bearing the green flags of the prophet, carried from the mosque. Since the movement was daily reaching larger proportions, and like the Kurdish revolt against the reforms from Ankara had already cost a lot of blood and sacrifices, the government decided to put it down with energy. For this it sufficed that the Independence Tribunals began their work, and several dozen instigators were hanged at a time at the doors of mosques.
The Gazi said: "We had to throw off the fez, which sat upon our head as an emblem of ignorance, fanaticism, and hatred of progress and civiliation."
Source : "Atatürk", by Jorge Blanco Villalta, translated from Spanish by William Campbell, Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayinevi, 1991