Submitted by global publisher on Mon, 04/20/2015 - 13:07
By Vahram Ter-Matevosyan
Until recently there has been little interest in analyzing the Armenian Genocide from the point of view of global ideological movements. In this sense, the Turkish experience with totalitarian currents, particularly with fascism, has long been neglected. The commonly agreed approach has been that Turkey did not possess a specific compound that could translate into fascism. The latter was also treated mainly as a European phenomenon, unsuitable for non-European contexts. However, literature has emerged that offers an alternative framework to the study of fascism outside of Europe, known as “Global fascism.” This approach provides for an alternative context for the study of the Armenian Genocide.
The history of fascism as a mindset began in late 19th century with the intellectual revolution and with the entry of masses into politics. This approach is different from the one that seeks to place the origins of fascism in the interwar era. Even though this claim is made for the European context, many of its features are applicable to the Turkish context as well. Active members of the Young Turk émigré centers in Europe, like the ones in Switzerland and France, played a key role in outlining the main ideological features of the empire. In addition, the leaders of the Young Turks were affected by the increasing tide of European radical nationalism, models of nation-building and racial theories. The writings of the popular thinkers of the period (Georges Sorel, Emile Boutmy, Gustave Le Bon, Ernst Renan, H. G. Wells, Georges Montandon, Eugene Pittard and others) influenced the leaders and intellectuals of the Young Turk movement, headquartered in Paris, and the Kemalists. Popular writings on social and political engineering, on the role and psychology of the masses, on race and the need for masses to be led by an elite (otherwise they could be ruled to irrational behavior), shaped convictions the Young Turk intellectual elite held deeply. In addition, the majority of Young Turks believed in a guided transformation/revolution bestowed from above as opposed to popular unrests and upheavals coming from below.
Once in power, the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) had the chance to experiment with some of the constitutive elements of fascist ideology, although the actual word came into existence later. The political and social implications of the Balkan Wars and most importantly World War I served as historical opportunities to implement some of the ideological and political objectives that were proposed by different political and intellectual circles of the time. It would be inaccurate to claim that political leaders of the CUP acted as if they were representing fascist forms of government; however, the way some political objectives were implemented was no different from the developments that took place in Europe decades later.
Moreover, theories were put into practice so quickly that many features of the new policy were applied spontaneously. Studies aptly claim that constitutive elements of fascist ideology, elaborated prior to August 1914, reappeared in almost identical form in the 1920s and 1930s in Italy and elsewhere. It may reasonably be supposed that all three levels of the fascist phenomenon (ideology, political movement and form of government) were exemplified in Turkey between the 1910s and the 1930s and 1940s.
With regard to executing some of the policy objectives that were later included in the fascist checklist, both the Young Turks and the Kemalists could be considered “undisputed forerunners.” Their list of fascist policies, which some believe exemplify proto-fascism, included (but was not limited to) ultra-nationalism, expulsion, deportation, mass violence, mass mobilization, concentration camps, irredentism, social engineering, terror, discourse on eugenics, ethnic cleansing, assimilation, conversion and forced marriage, expropriation, confiscation, plunder and, certainly, genocide.
In Turkey, distinctive features of radical nationalism, assimilation and homogenization (Turkification) were implemented long before fascist regimes came to power in Europe and elsewhere, and long after they had perished in World War II. It started with the Armenian Genocide but continued with the deportations of Kurds and massacres of the Greeks, Assyrians and Chaldeans. This policy of annihilation was followed by assimilation of non-Turkish speaking Muslim immigrants through settlement policies between 1923 and 1939, the pogroms against Jews in 1934 in Thrace, the atrocities in Dersim in 1935 to 1938, the Wealth Tax (Varlik Vergisi) in 1942 and so on.
Thus different movements, ideologies and ideas originating in Europe were modified and adapted outside Europe with regional variations. Certainly fascism, like other ideologies existing hitherto, didn’t appear in exactly the same form in all contexts. The formation, ascendance and application of fascism in Turkey were different from other cases, but the most important question is how consistent or different the Young Turks’ and Kemalists’ ideological convictions were from those held by Italian Fascists, German Nazis and other fascists elsewhere.
Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Turkish Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences and International Affairs of the American University of Armenia. Vahram Ter-Matevosyan has a number of publications on Kemalism, political Islam and domestic political developments in Turkey.