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Challenges and Controversies Surrounding the Proclamation of the Turkish Republic

Turkey met the republican regime a hundred years ago. However, the proclamation of the republic coincided with a time when Mustafa Kemal Paşa’s comrades-in-arms, with whom he had shared a common destiny for years, were not in Ankara. This situation would lead to a great disappointment among them, and Paşa would gradually purge his former “opposition” comrades-in-arms from political life in the following years.

REPUBLICAN IDEA

While the word “republic” is defined in the Turkish Language Association (TDK) dictionary as “a form of government in which the sovereignty of the people is held in their own hands and exercised through elected representatives of the people for specified periods,” in Kubbealtı Dictionary, it is defined as “a form of state administration based on the sovereignty of the people and carried out by elected representatives of the people, including members of parliament and the president.”

The emergence of the “republic” idea in the Ottoman period can be traced back to the Tanzimat period. The statesmen of this period did not have democratic demands, and it would not be wrong to characterize them as “authoritarian.” Nevertheless, the principle of “equality” introduced with the Tanzimat also motivated the rulers of the time to understand the people better.

One of the prominent figures of the era, Sadık Rifat Paşa, said, “The reason states disappear is the atrocities and hostile practices they commit against the people… The existence of governments is to solve the affairs of their subjects and give them their rights.” During the same period, provincial councils were established, and both Muslims and non-Muslims were allowed to participate.

The Young Ottomans, who played a significant role in the proclamation of the First Constitutional Era, defended constitutionalism but remained loyal to the dynasty. In fact, Namık Kemal accused Mustafa Reşit Paşa of being a “republican” while opposing the domination of Babıali.

Namık Kemal and his friends argued that constitutionalism was not contrary to Islam, that constitutionalism advocated consultation, which was already a command of Islam. Namık Kemal even stated that a republic was not possible in the Ottoman State, while Ali Suavi, who gained fame as the “revolutionary with a turban,” openly advocated the idea of a republic and became the first Ottoman intellectual to do so.

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During the reign of Abdulhamid II, the Young Turks, who emerged as an opposition movement, discussed various forms of government and used the term “cumhuriyet” (republican rule) in the Ottoman press as early as 1898.

While the Young Turks generally compared “idare-i müstebit” (authoritarian rule) with republicanism, Ahmet Rıza Bey, one of the leaders of the Young Turks, wrote that the republican regime was not contrary to Islam and that Islam only recognized the leader chosen by the National Assembly.

Although the Young Turks published materials that damaged the reputation of Abdulhamid, they generally took a pro-dynasty stance. However, Abdullah Cevdet, in the Ictihad magazine, discussed the “method of caliphate” and argued that caliphate should not be determined by inheritance.

The Committee of Union and Progress, although it collaborated with Abdulhamid II and later with Mehmet V after the proclamation of constitutionalism, contented itself with limiting the sultan’s powers. Enver Bey (Pasha), in fact, became a member of the dynasty by marrying into it to benefit from its influence. During this period, due to the emphasis on popular sovereignty, debates on “republicanism” were occasionally held in the Meclis-i Mebusan (the Ottoman Parliament).

THE PROCLAMATION OF THE REPUBLIC

After the signing of the Armistice of Mudros, the concept of “national sovereignty” emerged during the organization process of the Defense of Rights societies, and consequently, the idea of a republic began to develop. In fact, the “Southwestern Caucasian Government of the Republic,” which included Kars, Ardahan, and Batumi, was declared. During the same period, the idea of a “Thrace Republic” was also discussed.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Turkish communities that gained autonomy, such as Azerbaijan, and other administrations like the Bashkir and Kyrgyz Republics were established. Arab communities under mandate rule also planned to establish a republican regime.

Decisions made at congresses, such as the “assertion of national will,” were the first steps towards the establishment of a republic. Even the British High Commissioner in Istanbul, Robeck, wrote that the Anatolian movement was rapidly spreading, and an Anatolian Republic could be declared.

In Istanbul, despite the emphasis on “saving the Sultan-Caliph,” there were concerns that a republic would be established in Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal. During this period, there is no recorded statement by Mustafa Kemal regarding a republican administration. Only Mazhar Müfit Kansu wrote in his work “From Erzurum to Death with Atatürk” that Mustafa Kemal mentioned the reforms he would carry out in the future during the Erzurum Congress days, and among these reforms was the “republic.”

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Ataturk with General Kazim Karabekir

The attitude of the Istanbul Government during the National Struggle, their issuance of fatwas, and their attempts to incite various uprisings against the Anatolian Movement paved the way for questioning the position of the Sultanate. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Allied powers invited the Istanbul Government to the Lausanne negotiations alongside the TBMM Government, which eventually resulted in the abolition of the Sultanate.

As is known, even though the Grand National Assembly was established in Ankara and the 1921 Constitution was enacted, there was no “head of state” for “this state.” Therefore, Mustafa Kemal, who was the speaker of the parliament, assumed this role until the proclamation of the republic. Another notable aspect of Mustafa Kemal’s role was that, on August 5, 1921, with the Commander-in-Chief Law, he gained the authority to exercise both legislative and executive powers of the TBMM.

After the Grand National Assembly abolished the monarchy on November 1, 1922, and Vahdettin, who held the position of caliph as well, sought refuge with the British and left the country, Abdülmecid Efendi was elected as the new caliph. However, this led to debates about “the state’s regime” and “the presidency of the state.” Some individuals even began to see Abdülmecid Efendi as the “head of state.”

Among these individuals were the comrades-in-arms of Mustafa Kemal, who had fought alongside him during the National Struggle. Mustafa Kemal, in line with his goals, would steer the government crisis that emerged with Fethi Bey’s resignation and declare the republic. One of the significant consequences of this was the separation of ways with the commanders of the National Struggle.

Beside Atatürk, there is Fevzi Çakmak on the immediate right. On the far right of the photo is İsmet İnönü. These are the new comrades-in-arms chosen by Atatürk with the proclamation of the republic…

A CROSSROADS

When Kemal Pasha landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919, Kazım Karabekir was the Commander of the XV Corps in Erzurum, A. Fuat Pasha was the Commander of the XX Corps in Ankara, and Mersinli Cemal Pasha was in Konya. Colonel Refet Bey (Bele) also arrived in Samsun with Pasha on the Bandırma steamer and later took over the command of the III Corps. This corps would later form the basis of the Western Front.

Rauf Bey, who last held the military rank of colonel, served as the Minister of Navy in the cabinet of A. İzzet Pasha and was the head of the delegation that signed the Mudros Armistice. Afterward, he resigned from the military and, in June, went to Anatolia to join the National Struggle.

Besides leading the National Struggle in Erzurum, Kemal Pasha took advantage of Kazım Karabekir’s views, and A. Fuat Pasha assumed various roles as both a military officer and a diplomat. After holding important positions during the congresses, Rauf Bey joined the Meclis-i Mebusan (Ottoman Parliament) and was later exiled by the British. Refet Pasha also fulfilled significant duties during the war.

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Among the comrades-in-arms, apart from Fevzi Pasha (Çakmak) and İsmet Bey (İnönü), the others were these individuals. After Mersinli Cemal Pasha went to Istanbul, this team continued their journey as a group of five. These commanders seemed to have accepted Mustafa Kemal’s leadership from the very beginning. However, İsmet Bey (İnönü) arrived in Ankara on April 9, 1920, and Fevzi Pasha (Çakmak) arrived on April 27, 1920.

During the National Struggle, although Kemal Pasha was in Erzurum, he benefited from Kazım Karabekir’s opinions, and A. Fuat Pasha held various positions as a military officer and a diplomat. Despite the statements made by Rauf Bey in later years, there was no difference of opinion during the abolition of the monarchy. However, the proclamation of the republic would be a turning point. The most significant feature of these individuals was their ability to challenge Mustafa Kemal when necessary, unlike İsmet and Fevzi Pashas, who joined the National Struggle later.

With the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923, Turkey’s independence was recognized by Western states, and it was time to clarify the state’s regime. Over time, the four commanders realized that they had been pushed into the background and were not part of the decision-making mechanisms. In their view, Pasha was surrounded by “a group of sycophants.” During the process that led to the proclamation of the republic, Mustafa Kemal, in a statement published in Neue Frei Presse on September 27, 1923, emphasized that the 1921 Constitution was based on popular sovereignty and that the name of this regime was the republic.

Subsequently, articles on the republic began to appear in the Turkish press through writers like Yunus Nadi. Meanwhile, on October 13, 1923, a significant blow was struck against those who still believed Istanbul should be the capital by making Ankara the capital.

In the second phase, a staged government crisis was created. After the opening of the Second Grand National Assembly, the government led by Ali Fethi Bey (Okyar) resigned on October 25, 1923, and a new government was not formed. Meanwhile, in the opposition Istanbul press, names like Rauf Bey and Ahmet Şükrü Bey were mentioned as candidates for the presidency of the state.

During this process, Mustafa Kemal was not a deputy in the assembly. It was obvious that the Grand National Assembly was waiting for Mustafa Kemal to come to Ankara and take over the government. On October 28, 1923, Mustafa Kemal Pasha arrived in Ankara and on October 29, 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, and Mustafa Kemal was elected as its first President. The opening speech of the republic was delivered by Mustafa Kemal. The establishment of the republic was the most concrete indication of the success of the National Struggle.

Turkey had thus resolved the issues of the state’s regime and the presidency of the state. However, during this historical process, the opinions of Rauf Bey, Refet, A. Fuat, and Karabekir Pashas were not consulted, and the proclamation of the republic coincided with a time when all four of them were not in Ankara. The process of purging the pashas began with the establishment of the new government by İsmet Pasha and the election of Fethi Bey as the Speaker of the Parliament.

Rauf Bey objected to the proclamation process, stating that it was rushed and should be explained why there was such haste. He argued that simply declaring a republic did not mean the regime was free, and the real issue lay between the republic and democracy. Rauf Bey believed that the process should have been more gradual, and he criticized the lack of consultation with the four commanders who had played a significant role in the National Struggle.

The concerns of the commanders during the process that began with the proclamation of the republic revolved around the fear that the regime would become a one-man rule under the name of the “republic.” Rauf Bey, for instance, said, “While I support the republic, I am completely against personal rule.” This sentiment paved the way for the joint action of Rauf Bey, Karabekir, A. Fuat, and Refet Pashas. In fact, A. Fuat Pasha stated that Rauf Bey was not against the republic.

Karabekir, in his memoirs, mentioned that he learned about the proclamation of the republic with a 101-gun salute while he was in Trabzon. Despite being both an army commander and a member of parliament, he was not informed of such an important development and felt both surprised and hurt. According to him, Mustafa Kemal had “dictated” the decision as a victorious commander and acted out of concern that his old friends could become his rivals.

Another significant stage in this divergence of paths was the prohibition of commanders from becoming members of parliament. In response, A. Fuat, Kazım Karabekir, and Refet Pashas, who chose politics, founded the Terakkiperver Fırka (Progressive Republican Party) along with Rauf Bey. Former comrades-in-arms were now engaged in politics on opposite sides.

The Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Fırkası (Progressive Republican Party) had a short life span, as it was closed due to the Şeyh Sait Rebellion. In 1926, the commanders were also tried in the assassination attempt case against Mustafa Kemal. Consequently, they were completely purged from political life.

Rauf Bey, who was the vice president of TCF, was in England during the Izmir assassination trial. He received a ten-year exile sentence, but after ten years, he returned to Turkey following persistent requests, and the verdict against him was annulled. During İnönü’s era, he became a member of parliament again and served as the Ambassador to London during World War II.

A. Fuat Pasha took on the role of “general secretary” in TCF but was not given any assignments until 1933 after the Izmir assassination trial. Upon the request of M. Kemal Pasha, his classmate from the Military Academy, A. Fuat Pasha was elected as an independent member of parliament in 1933. He later served as a minister twice and then as the Speaker of the Parliament. Afterward, he became a member of parliament for the Democrat Party.

Kazım Karabekir was continuously under surveillance, and the books he had printed in the press were burnt. He returned to politics after İsmet Pasha became the President of the Republic. He was elected as a member of parliament from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and served as the Speaker of the Parliament. Refet Pasha returned to political life after Mustafa Kemal’s death. During İnönü’s era, he served as a member of parliament for three terms. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, during the proclamation of the republic and beyond, not only defined the regime of Turkey but also chose his companions for the process of reforms. His main team during this period would be İsmet Pasha (İnönü) and Fevzi Pasha (Çakmak). He would carry out all the reforms with this team, and İsmet Pasha would remain as the Prime Minister until 1937. Fevzi Çakmak, even after handing over the army as a “Marshal,” would continue to serve as the Chief of General Staff even after Mustafa Kemal’s death.

Sources:

  • Yalçın, E. (2011), “Kurtuluş Savaşı Komutanları Ekseninde Cumhuriyet Rejimi Tartışmaları,” ÇTTAD, S. 22, s. 115-139.
  • Ünal, Serkan, (2017), “M. Kemal Paşa’nın Yol Arkadaşlarının Cumhuriyete Tepkilere,” ODÜ SOBİAD, S. 7(3), s. 665-675.
  • (2013), Yol Arkadaşlığından Cumhuriyete Amasya Askeri Örgütü, AÜ SBE Doktora tezi, Ankara.
  • Demirbaş, O. (2005), “Türkiye’de Cumhuriyet Fikrinin Oluşumu,” Yakın Dönem Türkiye Araştırmaları, S. 8, s. 31-60.
  • Soyak, A. R (2005), “Cumhuriyetin Kabulü ve İlanı,” Belgelerle Türk Tarihi Dergisi, S. 105, 106, 107, s. 41-47.
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DR.YUKSEL NIZAMOGLU
DR.YUKSEL NIZAMOGLU
Dr. Yüksel Nizamoğlu is an Historian focuses on Ottoman Balkans, Middle East Studies, and Military History. PhD. 2010. Istanbul University.
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