AN OVERNIGHT REPUBLIC!
On November 1, 1922, the Ottoman monarchy was abolished, and a republic administration with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its president of the assembly was effectively established. Meanwhile, some of his friends who observed his growing sole authority and were dissatisfied with the situation began searching for an alternative. They wanted him to be a non-partisan president.
However, he was a more shrewd politician than them. He knew that being non-partisan meant not meddling in political affairs. Moreover, the one who makes someone a sultan today could bring them down tomorrow. If one lacks a strong political base, cannot control the parliament and the army, the outcome becomes uncertain. A true political aspirant could not accept this formula.
This time, he entered into a political game against them. He asked his friends who held both military and parliamentary positions to resign from their duties, stating that he found the combination of the two roles problematic. However, he himself did not see any issue with maintaining his military status until 1927.
Some of them gave up their military positions. However, Mustafa Kemal was led to suspect a military conspiracy against himself when Kazım Karabekir, Ali Fuad Cebesoy, and Cevat Çobanlı Pashas chose to remain in command of the army.
Later, when these individuals resigned from their military positions and returned to parliamentary roles, Mustafa Kemal concluded that a political conspiracy had been formed. Until that time, in the parliament where candidates proposed by Mustafa Kemal always became ministers, this time his candidates had lost. Especially, the victory of Rauf and Sabit Bey from the opposition disappointed him.
After experiencing a crisis similar to the dismissal from the military in 1919, Mustafa Kemal was worried. The opposition was gaining strength. In 1923, elections were held; the opposition in the first parliament was eliminated, and Mustafa Kemal gathered loyal members of parliament. The parliament was republican; however, dissenting voices were still emerging. The visit of Rauf Orbay, Refet Bele, and Adnan Adıvar to the caliph on October 19 was the last straw.
In Nutuk (The Speech), Mustafa Kemal, expressing considerable concern about this incident, revealed that he planned a crisis to establish a government that would work in harmony with him. First, he obtained the resignations of Prime Minister Fethi Bey, who had been considerably worn out, and the ministers excluding Fevzi Pasha.
On the night of October 28, with the prominent opposition figures out of the city, Mustafa Kemal gathered with seven loyal individuals at Çankaya. He instructed them to make speeches the next day to prevent the formation of the government. When everyone dispersed, İsmet Pasha remained. Mustafa Kemal had him draft the bill for the proclamation of the republic.
On the morning of October 29, the assembly convened unaware of the events. However, a government list that could garner majority support could not be prepared. Those approached refused because they had been forewarned. (At that time, ministers were chosen by the assembly.)
As a last resort, the assembly turned to Mustafa Kemal. He presented the bill to the assembly. According to this, the name of the regime was set as the republic; the authority to elect the prime minister was given to the president, and the authority to choose the deputies (ministers) was given to the prime minister.
The assembly passed the bill with a narrow vote during the night. Out of 328 deputies, 158 voted in favor. The provision requiring a two-thirds majority for constitutional amendments was not applied here either. According to Yakub Kadri, the concern of the deputies was not the republic but authoritarianism.
Mustafa Kemal, in Nutuk, mentions that there was no need to seek the opinion of the opposing parliament members. Yılmaz Öztuna recounts: "Those likely to oppose the transition to the republic (according to him, this number was 129) were sent a message not to attend the session, and beyond that, police were stationed in front of their homes to prevent them from coming to the assembly." (How was Atatürk elected? 22.08.2007 Türkiye Gazetesi)
The adventure of the republic, often described in textbooks as if it happened overnight, is actually older. The Ankara government had, in fact, been a republic since April 23, 1920.
In 1923, there was no more sultan. However, everyone thought of the caliph as the head of the state. Opposition to Mustafa Kemal had been increasing due to the perception that he was becoming more authoritarian.
With the declaration of the republic, it was proclaimed that the head of the state was Mustafa Kemal, not the Caliph, and he was granted extensive powers to suppress his opponents. In essence, the proclamation of the republic was the declaration of Mustafa Kemal's (in the words of Şevket Süreyya) sole leadership.
Bygones Are Bygones
It is claimed that the idea of the republic had long been in Atatürk's mind. Being among the Young Turks since his youth and reading the works of positivists, it is natural that he had an established republican idea.
There was a general admiration among the Young Turks for the French Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and established the republic. Ideologues of the Young Turks like Namık Kemal and Ziya Pasha, while praising the republic, did not find it suitable for Turkey.
Ali Suavi and Abdullah Cevdet, on the other hand, used to say that the republic was an Islamic regime. Abdullah Cevdet played a significant role in the formation of Atatürk's ideology.
Death to Kings!
If history had unfolded differently, if Mustafa Kemal's efforts in 1919 had succeeded, meaning if he had become the Minister of War or if Sultan Mehmed VI Vahideddin had allowed his daughter to marry him, or even if he had become the caliph, as suggested at some point, it is unknown whether he would still have held republican ideas. The greatest characteristic of Atatürk, as also stated by İsmet İnönü, was not idealism but pragmatism. He had always acted according to circumstances and possibilities.
During the era of the French Revolution, those who fought for the republic, and even those who voted for the king's execution, such as Napoléon Bonaparte, became the Emperor of France; Jean Baptiste Bernadotte ascended to the Swedish throne. It is said that in his youth, Bernadotte had a tattoo on his arm that read "Mort aux rois" (Death to kings!), and for this reason, after becoming king, he never showed that arm to doctors.
If there had been no Mustafa Kemal, whether there would have been a republic is a matter of speculation. Although those around him later claimed to be no less republican than him, none of them were as radical as he was. If Mustafa Kemal had not been there, and Rauf, the backup leader of the Kemalist movement, had taken the lead, would the republic have been declared? Even if the Young Turks had won the war, would they have abolished the monarchy? These are all speculative questions.
I Am Not Ungrateful!
Everyone around him considered opposing the sultan as ingratitude. Mustafa Kemal Pasha recounts: "I asked Rauf Bey about his opinions and views on the sultanate and caliphate. In his response, he made the following observations: 'I am, he said, conscientiously and emotionally attached to the office of the sultanate and caliphate. Because my father has grown up with the grace of the sultan and has risen to the ranks of the dignitaries of the Ottoman State. The remnants of that grace are also in my blood. I am not ungrateful and cannot be. I have a duty of faithful loyalty to the sultan. My obedience to the caliph is due to my upbringing. Besides these, I also have a general opinion. Maintaining control over our country as a whole is difficult. This can only be achieved by securing a position that is perceived as exceptionally high and beyond everyone's reach. That position is the office of the sultanate and caliphate. Abolishing this office and attempting to replace it with another form of existence is disastrous and futile. It can never be permissible.'"
When asked about this, Refet Bey stated that he thought the same as Rauf Bey. Ali Fuad Pasha, however, did not express an opinion. (Nutuk, II/684-685)
Reasons for Distress
The Ottoman Empire used the Arabic word "cumhur" (people, public) for Venice. The expression "cümbür cemaat" (all together) originates from this. According to historian Naima’s description of the Edirne Incident, where Sultan Mustafa II was dethroned, the Chief Janissary Çalık Ahmed Agha, with the army behind him, proposed to overthrow the monarchy and establish a government similar to the states in North Africa, a “tajammu (public) state” and as a military dictatorship. This is the first usage of the term "cumhuriyet" (republic).
After the revolution, the French military specialists who came to Istanbul also brought the idea of the republic with them. While Cevdet Pasha criticized the revolutionaries, he also drew attention to the dangers of the republic system for humanity. He portrayed it as one of the reasons for the distress in France.
Henceforth, the republic took on the form of a feared bogeyman. Said Pasha, who was the Serasker (a vizier who commanded an army) and an adversary of Reşid Pasha, went to Sultan Abdulmejid and said, "Reşid Pasha will declare the republic; your reign is slipping away. Why are you still waiting?" Nevertheless, this was not without reason. Şinasi praised Reşid Pasha as the "president of the people".
Chronicler Asım Efendi was disturbed by the republic propaganda made by the French. He described the republic, which he saw as consisting of abandoning religion and equalizing the rich and poor (by taking from the rich and giving to the poor), as nauseating.
In contrast, Basiretçi Ali Efendi (1838-1912) wrote in his newspaper in 1870 that as schools increase, the republic comes, and he was warned by the government for this statement. However, he turned out to be right.
Mehmet Emin Bey (1843-1874), the son of the Minister of Posts Sağır Ahmet Pasha, was known for his republican views. As early as 1870, he wrote that even the caliph should ascend to power through elections, and he was not even warned. His life became the subject of Hıfzı Topuz's novel "Meyyale."
Who Has the Sovereignty?
The enthusiasm for the republic among the Young Turks was not because they were well acquainted with this regime, but rather because it was suitable for satisfying their power ambitions. They must have admired Cromwell in 17th-century England since it is said that Midhat Pasha aimed to abolish the monarchy, establish a republic under the leadership of the Sharif of Mecca but under his dictatorship.
In the culture of the Young Turks, the republic had been occasionally mentioned. Ahmed Rıza Bey was one of them, but he did not find this regime suitable for Türkiye. Right after the Constitutional Monarchy, instead of Sultan Hamid Recep Pasha, Ahmed Rıza Bey recommended Rıza Pasha as the Minister of War to Kamil Pasha. Some attributed this to the Sultan's anxiety that Recep Pasha would be made president.
In the culture of the Young Turks, the republic had been occasionally mentioned. Ahmed Rıza was one of them, but he did not find this regime suitable for Türkiye. Right after the Constitutional Monarchy, instead of Sultan Hamid Recep Pasha, Ahmed Rıza recommended Rıza Pasha as the Minister of War to Kamil Pasha. Some attributed this to the Sultan's anxiety that Recep Pasha would be made president.
In 1910, when the limitation of the sultan's powers was discussed in the parliament, Yorgiyadis Efendi, the only senator who opposed the dethronement of Sultan Abdulhamid II in the past, objected, saying, "You say sovereignty belongs to the nation. On the contrary, sovereignty belongs to the sultan. It happens in the republics you mention." Abdurrahman Şeref Efendi immediately closed the subject by saying, "We don't have a republic. Such a thing never crosses our minds."
For this reason, it is prevalent that the Young Turks did not find the republic suitable for Türkiye. However, Celal Nuri, on November 6, 1918, referred to the administration of the trio Enver, Talat, and Cemal as an "Oligarchic Republic."
They Will Make a Republic
In October 1917, when army commander Mustafa Kemal Pasha asked the logistics chief Topal İsmail Pasha, "Where will this matter end up?" he received the answer "Republic." When he asked, "Then who will take the lead?" İsmail Pasha replied, "You, me, and for example, Enver." Mustafa Kemal Pasha, thinking that he was being tested, replied, "This is not the right time, and we don't have the capability to implement it." (Şükrü Tezer, Atatürk'ün Hatıra Defteri [Atatürk's Memoir Notebook], TTK, Ankara 1972, p. 132)
During the Armistice period, the government councils established in cities like Oltu and Kars, under Soviet inspiration, were republics, but their lifespans were short.
According to Karabekir, it was said that Mustafa Kemal Pasha was a republican even when he was still in Istanbul. (İstiklal Harbimiz [Our Independence War], II/354-355) Mustafa Kemal also sarcastically recounts in his Nutuk that Ali Rıza Pasha told Ahmed İzzet Pasha about them, "They will make a republic, a republic!"
British High Commissioner Robeck reported to Lord Curzon on September 17, 1919, that the Kemalist movement was increasingly heading towards an Anatolian Republic. British Colonel Rawlinson was working to establish a republic in Anatolia even before the occupation of Istanbul. (Karabekir, II/366)
Republic and Infidelity
Mazhar Müfid, one of the pioneers of the Anatolian Revolution, in his memoirs published a few months before his death in 1948, says that Mustafa Kemal informed him one by one about the republic and reforms in 1919. According to Şevket Süreyya, he told the same thing to Yakub Kadri and Halide Edib in the middle of 1921.
Could someone as cautious as Mustafa Kemal, who was careful not to reveal secrets even when under the influence of alcohol, have uttered such words? Especially during those risky days when the future was uncertain... Certainly, years later, Mazhar Müfid might have wanted to contribute to the Kemalist ideology in his own way by suggesting that the idea had always been in Atatürk's mind.
Memoir writers generally try to portray themselves as having foreseen events and having a special position in the eyes of historical figures, in addition to concerns about justifying themselves. However, even if it was in Mustafa Kemal's mind, the republic had always been a secret. Since it was necessary to benefit from the charisma of the sultan, he never mentioned the republic to anyone anywhere at any time. On the contrary, he always vehemently rejected the accusation of republicanism and declared his loyalty to the sultanate.
The republic was not among the principles declared by the People's Party in April 1923. According to Falih Rıfkı, almost everyone was against the republic at that time. Some were in favor of preserving the constitutional monarchy to get rid of Mustafa Kemal.
"In old Türkiye, the word republic was as bad and frightening as the word hat (since wearing a hat is a blasphemous act in Islam). Its meaning in the bigoted language was akin to being an infidel. There was never a political movement called republicanism in old Türkiye. It was impossible for it to exist. Calling someone in the Ottoman Empire a republican was like calling them an infidel at that time, akin to calling them a communist today." (Çankaya)
Similar to its counterparts, the republic in Türkiye was not the outcome of a popular movement. There was no intellectual or even popular debate surrounding it, and it was not subjected to a popular vote; instead, it was accepted by fiat. Does this imply that it was solely the product of one person's idea? No, it was a necessity born out of the prevailing circumstances. Atatürk could not have retained power or implemented his reforms in any other manner.
Why Did Mustafa Kemal Not Become Sultan?
In the political tradition of Turk-Islam, it is customary for a new dynasty to emerge when one comes to an end. So, why didn't it happen in 1922? Since the established system until then was a monarchy, why didn't Mustafa Kemal Pasha declare himself as a sultan? This cannot be explained solely by stating that Pasha had always been a republican. Because his political ideology and lifestyle were not fundamentally different from that of an Eastern monarch.
First of all, the influences coming from Europe, which had been the society's role model, were now different. The fashion of the 20th century was the republic. France had been like this for 50 years. In Russia, Germany, and Austria, centuries-old monarchies had collapsed. At that time, the world was dominated by England, which tolerated monarchy in the Middle Eastern countries established and controlled by itself, except for Türkiye.
The second reason is that Atatürk was not certain of his political power to declare himself as a sultan. Even in 1923, there was a strong opposition against him. When the caliphate was abolished in 1924, the concern behind sending members of the dynasty, from the cradle-bound baby to the elderly with a cane, into exile, whether male or female, can be traced back to this uncertainty.
In Albania, Prime Minister Ahmed Zogu, and in Iran, army officer Reza Pahlavi declared themselves rulers, but monarchy did not endure in these places. Dynasties are built on centuries-old and glorious traditions of heroism.
The third and significant reason is that Atatürk did not have any children. Monarchy implies family and heir. One recalls the futile struggle of Corsican General Napoleon to establish a monarchy and dynasty in France. Atatürk, on the other hand, was a realist and content with what he could achieve.
Therefore, the republic was considered the most suitable system at that time by the so-called heroes of Ankara who were raised with the Young Turk ideology. The government, which held legislative, executive, and judicial powers, gained authority that would make sultans envious.
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