Mustafa Kemal, “Speech to the Congress of the People’s Republican Party” (1927)


. . . Among the Ottoman rulers there were some who endeavored to form a gigantic empire by seizing Germany and Western Europe. One of these rulers hoped to unite the whole Islamic world in one body, to lead it and govern it. For this purpose he obtained control of Syria and Egypt and assumed the title of Caliph.[1] Another Sultan pursued the twofold aim, on the one hand of gaining the mastery over Europe, and on the other of subjecting the Islamic world to his authority and government. The continuous counterattacks from the West, the discontent and insurrections in the Muslim world, as well as the dissensions between the various elements which this policy had artificially brought together within certain limits, had the ultimate result of burying the Ottoman Empire, in the same way as many others, under the pall of history. ...

To unite different nations under one common name, to give these different elements equal rights, subject them to the same conditions and thus to found a mighty State is a brilliant and attractive political ideal; but it is a misleading one. It is an unrealizable aim to attempt to unite in one tribe the various races existing on the earth, thereby abolishing all boundaries. Herein lies a truth which the centuries that have gone by and the men who have lived during these centuries have clearly shown in dark and sanguinary events.

There is nothing in history to show how the policy of Panislamism[2] could have succeeded or how it could have found a basis for its realization on this earth. As regards the result of the ambition to organize a State which should be governed by the idea of world-supremacy and include the whole of humanity without distinction of race, history does not afford examples of this. For us, there can be no question of the lust of conquest. ...

In order that our nation should be able to live a happy, strenuous, and permanent life, it is necessary that the State should pursue an exclusively national policy and that this policy should be in perfect agreement with our internal organization and be based on it. When I speak of national policy, I mean it in this sense: To work within our national boundaries for the real happiness and welfare of the nation and the country by, above all, relying on our own strength in order to retain our existence. But not to lead the people to follow fictitious aims, of whatever nature, which could only bring them misfortune, and expect from the civilized world civilized human treatment, friendship based on mutuality. ...


I must call attention to the fact that Hodja Shukri, as well as the politicians who pushed for- ward his person and signature, had intended to substitute the sovereign bearing the title of Saltan or Padishah by a monarch with the title of Caliph.[3] The only difference was that, instead of speaking of a monarch of this or that country or nation, they now spoke of a monarch whose authority extended over a population of three hundred million souls belonging to manifold nations and dwelling in different continents of the world. Into the hands of this great monarch, whose authority was to extend over the whole of Islam, they placed as the only power that of the Turkish people, that is to say, only from 10 to 15 millions of these three hundred million subjects. The monarch designated under the title of Caliph was to guide the affairs of these Muslim peoples and to secure the execution of the religious prescriptions which would best correspond to their worldly interests. He was to defend the rights of all Muslims and concentrate all the affairs of the Muslim world in his hands with effective authority. ...

If the Caliph and Caliphate, as they main- tamed, were to be invested with a dignity embracing the whole of Islam, ought they not to have realized in all justice that a crushing burden would be imposed on Turkey, on her existence; her entire resources and all her forces would be placed at the disposal of the Caliph? . .

I made statements everywhere, that were necessary to dispel the uncertainty and anxiety of the people concerning this question of the Caliphate. . . . I gave the people to understand that neither Turkey nor the handful of men she possesses could be placed at the disposal of the Caliph so that he might fulfill the mission attributed to him, namely, to found a State comprising the whole of Islam. The Turkish nation is incapable of undertaking such an irrational mission.

For centuries our nation was guided under the influence of these erroneous ideas. But what has been the result of it? Everywhere they have lost millions of men. “Do you know,” I asked, “how many sons of Anatolia have perished in the scorching deserts of the Yemen? Do you know the losses we have suffered in holding Syria and Iraq and Egypt and in maintaining our position in Africa? And do you see what has come out of it? Do you know?...

“New Turkey, the people of New Turkey, have no reason to think of anything else but their. own existence and their own welfare. She has nothing more to give away to others.”...



As you know, it was at the time that the members of the opposition had founded a party under the name of “Republican Progressive Party” and published its program. ...


Under the mask of respect for religious ideas and dogmas the new Party addressed itself to the people in the following words:


“We want the re-establishment of the Caliphate; we do not want new laws; we are satisfied with the religious law; we shall protect the Medressas, the Tekkes, the pious institutions, the Softahs, the Sheikhs[4] and their disciples. Be on our side; the party of Mustafa Kemal, having abolished the Caliphate, is breaking Islam into ruins; they will make you into unbelievers….”


Read these sentences, Gentlemen, from a letter written by one of the adherents of this program:


. . . “They are attacking the very principles which perpetuate the existence of the Muslim world. . . . The assimilation with the Occident means the destruction of our history, our civilisation. . . .,‘ Gentlemen, facts and events have proved that the program of the Republican Progressive Party has been the work emanating from the brain of traitors. This Party became the refuge and the point of support for reactionary and rebellious elements. . .


The Government and the Committee found themselves forced to take extraordinary measures. They caused the law regarding the restoration of order to be proclaimed, and the Independence Courts to take action. For a considerable time they kept eight or nine divisions of the army at war strength for the suppression of disorders, and put an end to the injurious organisation which bore the name “Republican Progressive Party.”


The result was, of course, the success of the Republic. ...


Gentlemen, it was necessary to abolish the fez,[5] which sat on our heads as a sign of ignorance, of fanaticism, of hatred to progress and civilisation, and to adopt in its place the hat, the customary headdress of the whole civilised world, thus showing, among other things, that no difference existed in the manner of thought between the Turkish nation and the whole family of civilised mankind. We did that while the law for the Restoration of Order was still in force. If it had not been in force we should have done so all the same; but one can say with complete truth that the existence of this law made the thing much easier for us. As a matter of fact the application of the law for the Restoration of Order prevented the morale of the nation being poisoned to a great extent by reactionaries.


Gentlemen, while the law regarding the Restoration of Order was in force there took place also the closing of the Tekkes, of the convents, and of the mausoleums, as well as the abolition of all sects[6] and all kinds of titles such as Sheikh, Dervish, . . . Occultist, Magician, Mausoleum Guard, etc.[7]


One will be able to imagine how necessary the carrying through of these measures was, in order to prove that our nation as a whole was no primitive nation, filled with superstitions and prejudices.


Could a civilised nation tolerate a mass of people who let themselves be led by the nose by a herd of Sheikhs, Dedes, Seids, . . . Babas and Emirs,[8] who entrusted their destiny and their lives to chiromancers,[9] magicians, dice-throwers and amulet sellers? Ought one to conserve in the Turkish State, in the Turkish Republic, elements and institutions such as those which had for centunes given the nation the appearance of being other than it really was? Would one not therewith have committed the greatest, most irreparable error to the cause of progress and reawakening?


If we made use of the law for the Restoration of Order in this manner, it was in order to avoid such a historic error; to show the nation’s brow pure and luminous, as it is; to prove that our people think neither in a fanatical nor a reactionary manner.


Gentlemen, at the same time the new laws were worked out and decreed which promise the most fruitful results for the nation on the social and economic plane, and in general in all the forms of the expression of human activity . . . the Citizens’ Legal Code, which ensures the liberty of women and stabilises the existence of the family.


Accordingly we made use of all circumstances only from one point of view, which consisted therein: to raise the nation on to that step on which it is justified in standing in the civilised world, to stabilise the Turkish Republic more and more on steadfast foundations.. . and in addition to destroy the spirit of despotism for ever.

[1] ‘A reference to Selim I, who conquered Egypt and Syria in 1515—1516; it is doubtful that he actually considered himself caliph, that is, leader and protector of all Muslims.

[2] The program of uniting all Muslims under one government or ruler.

[3] ‘These events took place in January 1923. After Sultan Mehmed V was deposed on November 1, 1922, his cousin was designated caliph. Because of their long rule and vast territories, Ottoman sultans by the nineteenth century were viewed by many Muslims as caliphs, that is, “successors” of the prophet Muhammad, with jurisdiction over all of Islam. Shukri was a hodja (or hojja), a Turkish religious leader; he hoped that the new Turkish state would continue to support the caliphate even after the sultanate was abolished. In 1924, however, Kemal abolished the caliphate.

[4] A medressa is an advanced school of Islamic learning; a tekke is a small teaching mosque usually built over the tomb of a saint; a softah is a student in an Islamic school; a sheikh, or shaykh, is a master of a religious order of Sufis, who adopted a mystical approach to Islam.

[5] ‘The fez was a brimless hat popular among Turkish men during the nineteenth century; its lack of a brim allowed the wearer to touch his forehead to the ground while kneeling during prayer without removing the hat.

[6] Islamic religious orders.

[7] 7A dervish, or darvish, was a member of an Islamic sect famous for its whirling dances that symbolized the movement of the heavenly spheres; an occultist was a Sufi who achieved a state of withdrawal from the world; a mausoleum guard guarded the tomb of a saint or holy person.

[8] A dede was head of a Sufi order; seids, or sayyids, were descendants of the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima; baba was a popular surname among Sufi preachers; in this context emir is an honorary Turkish title.

[9] People who told the future by reading palms