Before Atatürk was a lawmaker, he was a military commander, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence; and, from a military perspective, all those people and nations were anti-Turkish (as were the Arabs, who supported Britain in the First World War).My parents always dreamed of a post-nationalist world; as a small child, my mother prayed to Allah every night that the United Nations would be formed and there would be no more countries or wars.Instead, she went to boarding school, wrote a thesis on Balzac, and became a teacher.I felt grateful to Atatürk that my parents were so well educated, that they weren’t held back by superstition or religion, that they were true scientists, who taught me how to read when I was three and never doubted that I could become a writer.I knew that, even at the start of the twenty-first century, there still weren’t enough checks on the military, and that women who wore head scarves were subject to discrimination, barred from certain jobs and universities.Furthermore, when I thought about my own family, something about White’s critique of Kemalism felt familiar: the sense of embattlement and paranoia.He granted women the right to vote, to hold property, to become supreme-court justices, and to run for office. A notorious 1925 “Hat Law” outlawed the fez and turban; the only acceptable male headgear was a Western-style hat with a brim.
The black Turks were the underdogs, while the white Turks were the racists who despised them.For a long time, I thought there was an immutable link between coolness and positivism. Then came identity politics and, in Turkey, the rise of the Justice and Development Party (A. I could see that every slight to Kemalism was a knife in my parents’ hearts. I also knew that, in order for the Turkish Republic to succeed, millions of people had been obliged to change their language, their clothes, and their way of life, all at once, because Atatürk said so.I knew that people who had been perceived as threats to the state—religious leaders, Marxists, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians—were deported, exiled, imprisoned, tortured, or killed.Kemalism, not unlike Zionism, drew much of its energy from the fact that there could easily have been no Turkish state.At the end of the First World War, the victorious Allied powers assumed control over nearly all Anatolia; they divided some of it up into British and French mandates, and parcelled much of the rest out to the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Kurds.