Kemalism (Turkish: Kemalizm), also known as Atatürkism (Turkish: Atatürkçülük, Atatürkçü düşünce), or the Six Arrows (Turkish: Altı Ok), is the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey.[1] Kemalism, as it was implemented by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was defined by sweeping political, social, cultural and religious reforms designed to separate the new Turkish state from its Ottoman predecessor and embrace a modernized lifestyle,[2] including the establishment of democracy, secularism, state support of the sciences and free education, many of which were first introduced to Turkey during Atatürk's presidency in his reforms.[3]

Many of the root ideas of Kemalism began during the late Ottoman Empire under various reforms to avoid the imminent collapse of the Empire, beginning chiefly in the early 19th-century Tanzimat reforms.[4] The mid-century Young Ottomans attempted to create the ideology of Ottoman nationalism, or Ottomanism, to quell the rising ethnic nationalism in the Empire and introduce limited democracy for the first time while maintaining Islamist influences. In the early 20th century, Young Turks abandoned Ottoman nationalism in favor of early Turkish nationalism, while adopting a secular political outlook. After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, Atatürk, influenced by both the Young Ottomans and the Young Turks,[5] as well as by their successes and failures, led the declaration of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, borrowing from the earlier movements' ideas of secularism and Turkish nationalism, while bringing about, for the first time, free education[6] and other reforms that have been enshrined by later leaders into guidelines for governing Turkey.


Kemalism is a modernization philosophy which guided the transition between the multi-religious, multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire to the secular, unitary Republic of Turkey. Kemalism sets the boundaries of the social process in the Turkish Reformation. Atatürk is the founder of Kemalism, and his doctrine was implemented as state ideology even after his death.[7] Kemalism has also sometimes been called "Socialism peculiar to Turkey" or "Turkish socialism".


There are six fundamental pillars (ilke) of the ideology: Republicanism (Turkish: cumhuriyetçilik), Populism (Turkish: halkçılık), Nationalism (Turkish: milliyetçilik), Laicism (Turkish: laiklik), Statism (Turkish: devletçilik), and Reformism (Turkish: devrimcilik). Together they represent a kind of Jacobinism, defined by Atatürk himself as a method of utilizing political despotism in order to break down the social despotism prevalent among the traditionally minded Turkish-Muslim population, for which he blamed foremost the bigotry of the ulema.[8] The principles came to be recognized as unchangeable and sacrosanct.


Republicanism (Turkish: cumhuriyetçilik) in the Kemalist framework replaced the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman dynasty with the rule of law, popular sovereignty and civic virtue, including an emphasis on liberty practiced by citizens. Kemalist republicanism defines a type of constitutional republic, in which representatives of the people are elected, and must govern in accordance with existing constitutional law limiting governmental power over citizens. The head of state and other officials are chosen by election rather than inheriting their positions, and their decisions are subject to judicial review. In defending the change from the Ottoman State, Kemalism asserts that all laws of the Republic of Turkey should be inspired by actual needs here on Earth as a basic tenet of national life.[9] Kemalism advocates a republican system as the best representative of the wishes of the people.

Among the many types of republic, the Kemalist republic is a representative, parliamentary democracy with a Parliament chosen in general elections, a President as head of state elected by Parliament and serving for a limited term, a Prime Minister appointed by the President, and other Ministers appointed by Parliament. The Kemalist President does not have direct executive powers, but has limited veto powers, and the right to contest with referendum. The day-to-day operation of government is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers formed by the Prime Minister and the other Ministers. There is a separation of powers between the executive (President and Council of Ministers), the legislative (Parliament) and the judiciary, in which no one branch of government has authority over another–although parliament is charged with the supervision of the Council of Ministers, which can be compelled to resign by a vote of no-confidence.

The Kemalist republic is a unitary state in which three organs of state govern the nation as a single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. On some issues, the political power of government is transferred to lower levels, to local elected assemblies represented by mayors, but the central government retains the principal governing role.


Dimensions of Populism
"Sovereignty belongs, without any restrictions or conditions, to the nation" is embossed behind the speaker's seat at the GNA

Populism (Turkish: halkçılık) is defined as a social revolution aimed to transfer the political power to citizenship. Kemalist populism not only to establish popular sovereignty but also the transfer of the social-economic transformation to realize a true populist state. However, Kemalist reject class conflict and believe national unity is above all else. To Kemalist populism envision a sociality that emphasizes work and national unity. Populism in Turkey is to create a unifying force that brings a sense of the Turkish state and the power of the people to bring in that new unity.[10]

Kemalist populism is an extension of the Kemalist modernization movement, aiming to make Islam compatible with the modern nation-state. This included state supervision of religious schools and organizations. Mustafa Kemal himself said “everyone needs a place to learn religion and faith that place is a Mektep not a Madrasa". This was intended to combat the “corruption” of Islam by the Ulema. Kemal believed that during the Ottoman period, the Ulema had come to exploit the power of their office and manipulate religious practices to their own gain. It was also feared that were education not brought under state control, unsupervised Madrasas could exacerbate the rising problem of Tarikat insularity that threatened to undermine the unity of the Turkish state.[11]


Kemalist social content (populism) does not accept any adjectives placed before the definition of a nation [a nation of ...]; denies the types of national unity based on racial, religious, totalitarian and fascist ideologies. It strongly opposes any kind of authority, oppression, colonialism, imperialism, etc., against the sovereignty of the people. Sovereignty must belong solely to people without any term, condition, etc.:

Sovereignty belongs to the people/nation unrestrictedly and unconditionally.[12]

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


Kemalist social content (populism) was brought against the political domination of sheiks, tribal leaders, and Islamism (Islam as a political system) of the Ottoman Empire. Initially, the declaration of the republic was perceived as "Returning to the days of the first caliphs".[13] However, Kemalist nationalism aimed to shift the political legitimacy from autocracy (by the Ottoman dynasty), theocracy (based in the Ottoman Caliphate), and feudalism (tribal leaders) to the active participation of its citizenry, the Turks. Kemalist social content wanted to establish the value of Turkish citizenship. A sense of pride associated with this citizenship would give the needed psychological spur for people to work harder and achieve a sense of unity and national identity. Active participation, or the "will of the people", was established with the republican regime and Turkishness replacing the other forms of affiliations that were promoted in the Ottoman Empire (such as the allegiance to the different millets that eventually led to divisiveness in the Empire). The shift in affiliation was symbolized with:

Turkish: Ne mutlu Türküm diyene. (English: How happy is the one who calls themself a Turk.)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The motto "Ne mutlu Türküm diyene" was promoted against the "long live the Sultan," "long live the Sheikh", or "long live the Caliph."


The laicism (Turkish: laiklik) of Kemalist ideology aims to banish religious interference in government affairs, and vice versa. It differs from the passive Anglo-American concept of secularism,[14] but is similar to the concept of laïcité in France.

The roots of Kemalist secularism lie in the reform efforts in the late Ottoman Empire, especially the Tanzimat period and the later Second Constitutional Era. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state in which the head of the Ottoman state held the position of the Caliph. The social system was organized according to various systems, including the religiously-organized Millet system and Shari'ah law, allowing religious ideology to be incorporated into the Ottoman administrative, economic, and political system. This way of life is today defined as Islamism (political Islam): "the belief that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life".[15] In the Second Constitutional Era, the Ottoman Parliament pursued largely secular policies, although techniques of religious populism and attacks on other candidates' piety still occurred between Ottoman political parties during elections. These policies were stated as the reason for the countercoup of 1909 by Islamists and absolute monarchists. The secular policies of the Ottoman parliament also factored in the Arab Revolt during World War I.

When secularism was implemented in the fledgling Turkish state, it was initiated by the abolition of the centuries-old Caliphate in March 1924. The office of Shaykh al-Islām was replaced with the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Turkish: Diyanet). In 1926, the Mejelle and shari'ah law codes were abandoned in favor of an adapted Swiss Civil Code and a penal code modeled on the German and Italian codes. Other religious practices were done away with, including the dissolution of Sufi orders and the penalization of wearing a Fez, which was viewed by Atatürk as a tie to the Ottoman past.[2]

State and religion (Laïcité)

Atatürk was profoundly influenced by the triumph of laïcité in France.[16] Atatürk perceived the French model as the authentic form of secularism. Kemalism strove to control religion and transform it into a private affair rather than an institution interfering with politics, scientific and social progress.[16] "Sane reason," and "the liberty of [one's] fellow man," as Atatürk once put it.[17] It is more than merely creating a separation between state and religion. Atatürk has been described as working as if he were Leo the Isaurian, Martin Luther, the Baron d'Holbach, Ludwig Büchner, Émile Combes, and Jules Ferry rolled into one in creating Kemalist secularism.[16] Kemalist secularism does not imply nor advocate agnosticism or nihilism; it means freedom of thought and independence of the institutions of the state from the dominance of religious thought and religious institutions. The Kemalist principle of laicism is not against moderate and apolitical religion, but against religious forces opposed to and fighting modernization and democracy.

According to the Kemalist perception, the Turkish state is to stand at an equal distance from every religion, neither promoting nor condemning any set of religious beliefs. Kemalist, however, has called for not only separation of church and state but also a call for the state control of the Moslem religious establishment. For some Kemalists, this means that the state must be at the helm of religious affairs, and all religious activities be under the supervision of the state. This in turn drew criticism by the religious conservatives. Religious conservatives were vocal in rejecting this idea, saying that to have a secular state, the state can’t control the activities of religious institutions. Despite their protest, this policy was officially adopted by the 1961 constitution.[10]

Kemalism must stamp out the religious element within society. After the Turkish independence of the western powers all education was under the control of the state in both secular and religious schools. They centralized the education system with one curriculum in both religious and secular public school in hope this would eliminate or lessen the appeal of religious schools. The laws were meant to abolish the religious order called Tarikats. Titles like Shirk and dervish were abolished, and their activities banned by the government. The day of rest was changed by the government from Friday to Sunday. But the restrictions on personal choice extended to both religious duty and naming. Turks had to adopt a surname and are not allowed to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.[10][11]

Politics and religion (Secularism)

The Kemalist form of separation of state and religion sought the reform of a complete set of institutions, interest groups (such as political parties, unions, and lobbies), the relationships between those institutions, and the political norms and rules that governed their functions (constitution, election law). The biggest change in this perspective was the abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate on March 3, 1924, followed by the removal of its political mechanisms. The article stating that "the established religion of Turkey is Islam" was removed from the constitution on April 10, 1928.[18]

From a political perspective, Kemalism is anti-clerical in that it seeks to prevent religious influence on the democratic process, which was a problem even in the largely secular politics of the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire, when even non-religiously affiliated political parties like the Committee of Union and Progress and the Freedom and Accord Party feuded over matters such as the Islamic piety of their candidates in the Ottoman elections of 1912.[19] Thus, in the Kemalist political perspective, politicians cannot claim to be the protector of any religion or religious sect, and such claims constitute sufficient legal grounds for the permanent banning of political parties.


The Ottoman social system was based on religious affiliation. Religious insignia extended to every social function. Clothing identified citizens with their own particular religious grouping; headgear distinguished rank and profession. Turbans, fezes, bonnets, and head-dresses denoted the sex, rank, and profession — both civil and military — of the wearer. Religious insignia outside of worship areas was banned.

While Atatürk considered women's religious coverings as antithetical to progress and equality, he also recognized that headscarves were not such a danger to the separation of church and state to warrant an outright ban.[20] But the Constitution was amended in 1982, following the 1980 coup by the Kemalist-leaning military, to prohibit women's use of Islamic coverings such as headscarves at higher education institutions.[21] Joost Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament and chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee with Turkey, has publicly criticized these clothing restrictions for Muslim women,[22] whereas the European Court of Human Rights ruled in numerous cases that such restrictions in public buildings and educational institutions do not constitute a violation of human rights.[23][24]


Revolutionalism (Turkish: inkılâpçılık) is a principle which calls for the country to replace the traditional institutions and concepts with modern institutions and concepts. This principle advocated the need for fundamental social change through revolution as a strategy to achieve a modern society. The core of the revolution, in the Kemalist sense, was an accomplished fact.[25] In a Kemalist sense there is no possibility of return to the old systems because they were deemed backward.

The principle of revolutionism went beyond the recognition of the reforms made during Atatürk's lifetime. Atatürk's reforms in the social and political life are accepted as irreversible. Atatürk never entertained the possibility of a pause or transition phase during the course of the progressive unfolding or implementation of the revolution. The current understanding of this concept can be described that active modification.[25] Turkey and its society, taking over institutions from Western Europe, must add Turkish traits and patterns to them and adapt them to the Turkish culture, according to Kemalism.[25] The making of the Turkish traits and patterns of these reforms takes generations of cultural and social experience (which results in the collective memory of the Turkish nation).


Nationalism (Turkish: milliyetçilik): The Kemalist revolution aimed to create a nation state from the remnants of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. Kemalist nationalism originates from the social contract theories, especially from the principles advocated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract. The Kemalist perception of social contract was effected by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire which was perceived as a product of failure of the Ottoman "Millet" system and the ineffective Ottomanism. Kemalist nationalism, after experiencing the Ottoman Empire's breakdown into pieces, defined the social contract as its "highest ideal".

In the administration and defense of the Turkish Nation; national unity, national awareness and national culture are the highest ideals that we fix our eyes upon.[26]

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish Nation" (Turkish: Türk Ulusu) as a nation of Turkish People who always love and seek to exalt their family, country and nation, who know their duties and responsibilities towards the democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law, founded on human rights, and on the tenets laid down in the preamble to the constitution of the Republic of Turkey.[27] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk defines the Turkish Nation by saying

The folk which constitutes the Republic of Turkey is called the Turkish Nation.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


Kemalist criteria for national identity or simply being Turkish (Turkish: Türk) refers to a shared language, and/or shared values defined as a common history, and the will to share a future. Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish people" as:

Those who protect and promote the moral, spiritual, cultural and humanistic values of the Turkish Nation.[27]

Membership is usually gained through birth within the borders of the state and also the principle of jus sanguinis. Kemalist form of nationality is integrated to the Article 66 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Every citizen is recognized as a Turk, regardless of ethnicity, belief, and gender, etc. Turkish nationality law states that he or she can be deprived of his/her nationality only through an act of treason.[28]

In 2005, the Article 301 of the Turkish Penal code made it a crime to insult Turkishness (Turkish: türklük), but under pressure of the EU, this was changed in 2008 to protect the "Turkish nation" instead of Turkish ethnicity in 2008, an 'imagined' nationhood of people living within the National Pact (Turkish: Misak-ı Milli) borders.[29]


Kemalist nationalism believes in the principle that the Turkish state is an indivisible whole comprising its territory and people, which is defined as the "unity of the state". It is a concept of nationalism which respects the right to independence of all other nations.


Kemalism had not only displaced "Pan-Turkism" as the official state ideology; it also focused on the nation-state's narrower interests, renouncing the concern for the "Outside Turks".[30]

Pan-Turkism was an ethnocentric ideology [to unite all ethnically Turkic nations] while Kemalism is polycentric [united under a " common will"] in character.[30] Kemalism wants to have an equal footing among the mainstream world civilizations. Pan-Turkists have consistently emphasized the special attributes of the Turkic peoples, and wanted to unite all of the Turkic peoples. Kemalism wants an equal footing (based on respect) and does not aim to unite the people of Turkey with all the other Turkic nations. Most Kemalists were not interested in Pan-Turkism and from 1923 to 1950 (the single state period) reacted with particular firmness.[30]


Kemalism had not only displaced "Turanism" as the official state ideology; it also focused on the Turkish People, within the alive and historical cultures and peoples of Anatolia [an Anatolian-centered view].

Turanism centered the nation as the union of all Turanian peoples (Tungus, Hungarians, Finns, Mongols, Estonians and Koreans) stretching from the Altai Mountains in Eastern Asia to the Bosphorus.[31] Kemalism had a narrower definition of language which wanted to remove [purify] the Persian, Arabic, Greek, Latin, etc. words from the language used in Anatolia. Turanian leaders, such as Enver Pasha, wanted an evolving language common to all Turanian peoples, minimizing differences and maximizing similarities between them.


Regarding expansionism, Kemalist nationalism opposes imperialism and aims to promote "peace" in both the domestic and the international arenas. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk wrote in 1930:

Within the political and social unity of today's Turkish nation, there are citizens and co-nationals who have been incited to think of themselves as Kurds, Circassians, Laz or Bosnians. But these erroneous appellations - the product of past periods of tyranny - have brought nothing but sorrow to individual members of the nation, with the exception of a few brainless reactionaries, who became the enemy's instruments. This is because these individual members of the nation (Kurds, Circassians, Laz or Bosnians) share with the generality of Turkish society the same past, history, concept of morals and laws.[32]


Statism (Turkish: devletçilik): Kemal Atatürk made clear in his statements and policies that Turkey's complete modernization was very much dependent on economic and technological development. The principle of Kemalist Statism is generally interpreted to mean that the state was to regulate the country's general economic activities and engage in areas where private enterprises are not willing to do so. This was the result of post-revolutionary Turkey needing to redefine the relationship between societal and international capitalism. The revolution left Turkey in ruins as the Ottoman empire was focused on raw materials and was an open market in the international capitalist system. Post-revolutionary Turkey is largely defined by its agricultural society which includes many landlords and merchant. The control of people in the Turkish economy is quite evident from 1923 to 1930s but they still managed, through foreign joint investment, to establish a state economic enterprise. However, after the 1930s depression, there was a shift to more inward-looking development strategies during an era generally referred to as etatism. During this era, the state had an active involvement in both capital accumulation and investment as well as taking the interest of private businesses into consideration. The state often stepped into economic areas that the private sector did not cover, either due to not being strong enough or having failed to do so. These were often infrastructure projects and power stations but also iron and steel industries, while the masses shouldered the burden of the capital accumulation.[33]


Kemalism and Turkey's political parties

The Republican People's Party was established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on September 9, 1923, not long before the declaration of the Republic of Turkey on October 29. The Republican People's Party did not attempt to update or define the philosophical roots of it party Kemalism from the 1940s to the 1960s. However, since the 1960s, there has being a move to the left-of-center. The supporter of the left-of-center accepts the tented of the Kemalism also entrained the idea that structural changes brought forth by the government are necessary for modernization. Later in the 1970s, the RPP had to make fundamental changes to its party platform as the country Abandonment of Kemalism. The party thought several programs as being labeled the democratic left. Most still believe in the six principles of Kemalism while others seek to reduce the role of etatism in Turkish society.[34]

Kemalism and Turkey's constitutional law

The six principles were solidified on 5 February 1937, 14 years after establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

In the 1924 Constitutional Law Article 2, Clause 1:

Turkey is republican, nationalist, attached to the people, interventionist, secular, and revolutionary.

Both the military coup of 1960 and the military coup of 1980 were followed by fundamental revisions of the Turkish Constitution. The texts of the new constitutions was approved by popular referendum in each case.

In the 1961 Constitutional Law Article 1, Clause 1 states "The Turkish State is a Republic." Article 2, Clause 1:

The Turkish Republic is a nationalistic, democratic, secular and social state, governed by the rule of law, based on human rights and fundamental tenets set forth in the preamble.

In the 1982 Constitutional Law Article 1, Clause 1 states "The Turkish State is a Republic." Article 2, Clause 1:

The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law; bearing in mind the concepts of public peace, national solidarity and justice; respecting human rights; loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk, and based on the fundamental tenets set forth in the Preamble.

Only the principles of secularism, nationalism and democracy were maintained in each change to the constitution. The 1961 Constitution more strongly emphasized human rights, the rule of law, and the welfare state than the original 1924 constitution, while the 1982 constitution focused on the peace of the community and national solidarity, but also explicitly referenced some of Atatürk's principles and included them as well.

External interpretations of Kemalism

In the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey's domestic transformations and the evolution of the Kemalist system of ideological and political principles were closely observed in Germany, France, Britain, the USA, and beyond, including several nations farther East. In recent years, scholarly interest in the transnational history of Kemalism has expanded. Some scholars have focused on the interwar period in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Egypt to reveal how, as a practical tool, Kemalism was relocated as a global movement, whose influence is still felt today.[35] Some scholars have examined the impact of Atatürk’s reforms and his image on the Jewish community in British-ruled Palestine before the establishment of Israel,[36] some went farther East—to Persia, Afghanistan, China, India,[37] and other parts of the Muslim world—to assess the influence wielded by Mustafa Kemal and his modernization project. These works explore perceptions of Kemalism that are mostly positive in their respective countries providing few critical insights into Kemalism’s evolution and its reception as an ideological project. Against this background, one of the critical partners of Turkey in the interwar period – the Soviet Union, its leaders, Communist Party functionaries, journalists and scholars initially interpreted Kemalism as an ideological ally in the struggle against the West. Since the late 1920s until the 1950s, Kemalism was viewed negatively by the Communists. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet position returned to normalization. Views and analyses of Soviet leaders, diplomats, Communist party functionaries, and scholars helps us grasp the underlying dynamics behind these changing attitudes. Placing them in the larger context of republican history—delineating phases in the Kemalist paradigm of development and discerning its various rises and falls—will enrich our knowledge of the transnational history of Kemalism.[38]


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