1924, a year after founding the Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country’s new leader, abolished the Ottoman Caliphate, which had been the last remaining Sunni Islamic Caliphate since 1517.
Having introduced a secular constitution and a Western-style civil and criminal legal code, Atatürk shut down the dervish lodges and religious schools, abolished polygamy, and introduced civil marriage and a national beauty contest.
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.
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.
There was a brief time when my father wore a mustache.There was a new dichotomy I had never heard of before: the “white Turks” (Westernized secular élites in Istanbul and Ankara) versus the “black Turks” (the pious Muslim middle and lower-middle classes of Anatolia).The black Turks were the underdogs, while the white Turks were the racists who despised them.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 Ottoman Arabic script was replaced by a Latin alphabet, and the language itself was “cleansed” of Arabic and Persian elements.