HomeTop Stories On TurkeyDiscourse, Symbolism and Practice of Turkey’s Neo-Nationalist: Umit Ozdag

Discourse, Symbolism and Practice of Turkey’s Neo-Nationalist: Umit Ozdag

Our article Umit Ozdag and Neo Nationalism appeared on Politurco in May 2022, was quickly picked up and viewed thousands of times, and we are proud to mention that Politurco was one of the first online websites to bring it to attention and it is now generated as the first piece on Google search. Weeks later, a more extensive article written in Foreign Affairs under the title of “Turkey’s Far Right Has Already Won” by Idil Kirsit discusses the right-wing and nationalism trend in Turkey. 

In this article, I will elaborate on some points that the abovementioned articles missed, and since then there are new developments recurring in Turkey. It is better to dive deep to analyze the ideological tokens behind the new nationalism wave trending in Turkey in the case of Prof. Umit Ozdag, Victory Party, a newly established political party. Therefore, this article aims to find out some of the nationalist discourses, sources, and figures that motivate and shape Ozdag’s nationalism, we already know that Ozdag nationalism denotes nativistic that dovetail with anti-immigration sentiments and existing socio-economic problems but it may not be an accurate assumption to make. Where does Ozdag’s nationalism come from? That’s the main question this article will try to answer.

Umit Ozdag’s Nationalism has roots, Institutions, and ideational discourse.  It is not being made or gave birth over the night, nor it is a patchwork or a temporary chauvinism to the AKP indolence. Well, to me, it has 80 years of history of reaction, response and activism which dates back to nation-state establishment that was constructed in a way of inclusion and exclusion. It is homegrown nationalism inevitably formed and influenced by European wing right nationalism.

umit ozdag
Umit Ozdag, the leader of a new nationalist movement, visits Anitkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, on the Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day in Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Photo by: Altan Gocher/GocherImagery/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

With that in mind, I set out to review Ozdag’s book and an interview at Cumhuriyet newspaper. His book bases his nationalism ideology, nationalism discourse, ideas and planning in the book under the title of “Yeniden Turk Milliyetciği” which translates into English as “once again, Turkish Nationalism” The book was published in 2004 with 4 editions so far. This review is based on the 4th edition that was released in 2016 with 176 pages in the Turkish Language.

Ozdag describes his book to contribute to the “Revivalism Turkish nationalism ideology and to open it to discussion”. At the very beginning, he quotes Mustafa Kemal underlining Turkish nationalism. The image of the book carries Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Alparslan Turkes with other nationalistic figures on the Turkish flag, which best fits the title and content it covers.

In the preface, Ozdag mentions several nationalistic figures that contributed to Turkish nationalism among them there are writers, Intellectuals and politicians. One of them is his father he mentions his father among the nationalists who protected Turkish nationalism, who was a military staff captain, Muzaffer Ozdag who was in the military commission (National Unity) who tried Adnan Menderes, the 9th prime minister and several cabinet members of Turkey in court and hanged under the Junta regime after 1960 military coup.

Ozdag writes that Ziya Gokalp, characterized as the “father of Turkish Nationalism”, of ethnic Tatar Origin, Ismail Gasparali (known as Gasprinsky), ethnic Tatar Origin Yusuf Akcura , and Azerbaijani origin Ahmet Agaoglu were Turkish ideologue, politicians, intellectual who advocated Pan-Turkism, Turanism in early 19th century Turkish nationalism theorists. They founded Turk Ocaklari (Turkish Hearths) at the end of the Ottoman collapse. (Interview, 2020, Cumhuriyet)

Ozdag highlights that these leading figures were theorists to establish the foundation of Turkish nationalism but Mustafa Kemal is the unique one who into practice and institution brought the theories into practice and materialized it. (p. 41).  Through the “once again Turkish Nationalism” book, we can see that the most significant role model for Ozdag is no doubt Mustafa Kemal. in the following pages, Ozdag laments that political parties in Turkish political history failed to preserve Turkish nationalism. He holds modern political parties responsible for eroding the Turkish nationalism projected by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. On the question of, what do you make out of the Ataturk nationalism? He replies that he is not Ataturk Nationalist person, he is the man of nationalism that Ataturk institutionalized (Interview, 2020 Cumhuriyet).

He defines his nationalism model as follows “from state nationalism to democratic-economic nationalism” (p 161) and around “peace, justice and solidarity” one to implement (p. 165).  He gives institutional and structural principles to evolve the new nationalism. He pinpoints criteria and projections on what needs to be done to transfer the today’s passive nationalism to active one. His main ideas encircle around variety of topics from foreign policy to terrorism, ideology to the economy. The main critical approach is to Erdogan’s AKP, as he believes that Erdogan is the man of the West.

For example, Ozdag supports the dominant ethnic and cultural identity which is Turkish. Ozdag’s anti-immigration discourses is not only shaped by mass refugee to Turkey from Syria starting 2011 but he strongly believes that Turkish nationalism is fading away, irresponsive to the 21st century volatile geopolitical issues.

He concludes in his following lines in his book and interview why nationalism is solution, “today, Turkish Nationalism, politically, ideologically, morally and culturally is in depression” (p. 43).  While neoliberalism and globalization, which made up the ideological axis of the unipolar world order, are coming to an end, neoliberalism is quickly losing its position as the dominant global ideology. Neoliberalism is getting harsh criticism not only from developing countries but also from the United States and Europe. Neoliberalism was falling apart at the same time that nationalism was making great political and intellectual gains. The other internationalist ideology, neoliberalism, which replaces nationality with the self-interested individual and says “there is no society, there is an individual,” is being wiped out by nationalism right now. (interview, 2020, Cumhuriyet).  Ozdag sees renationalizing Turkey is the only way out from the gridlock that Turkey face and going back to the Turkish Nationalism in the 1920s and to reindoctrinate the theoretical methodology of nationalism of founding fathers of nationalism are the only and last resort remedies of external and internal problems.

Civil War in Turkey – Turkish Karbala

According to Ozdag. There will be a civil war in the future.  This civil war will cause Turkey to lose its unitary status and turn Turkey into ethnic-based federal country. He backs up this assumption with geopolitical issues encapsulating Turkey that Turkish incumbent government failed to effectively respond. Ozdag believes that after 9/11 United States tried to transform the political system in the world in its geopolitical objective and AKP is the product of that set to divide Turkey unitary into ethnic federalism. “Turkey is pushed to have a civil war, “Turkish Kerbela”, at the end of the war. It aimed to end Turkey’s unitary, national and republic and to establish a country based on the ethnic centric federal country in future.” (p. 45). Ozdag claims this in several pages that external and internal powers has been working since 1970 to reach this goal in Turkey. While he justifies his claims, he talks about the PKK as an internal proxy of external power who are the United States and Europe. Ozdag reiterates that “Turkish Nationalism has been surrendered” (p. 47). Ozdag repeats that at the end day Turkey will showcase a “Turkish Kerbala” referring to an ethnic-based civil war between Turkish and Kurdish citizens. The ethnic retaliation is triggered by AKP a party disguised under Islamic, conservative and democrat political objective. AKP elites are in the identity crisis led to the national identity crisis. (p. 107).  Ozdag denies the Kurds as a separate ethnic, he lists Kurds among “Muslim brothers” (p.100).

 Ozdag repeatedly states that they will turn Turkey into ethnic-based federalism and he brought examples from well-known regional analysts, below quote from the book sets a summary of the whole book in term of his justification.

“Both the EU and the US want to turn Turkey into a federation of different ethnic groups. The struggle will be very hard because people who are true to their beliefs, the beliefs that made Turkey what it is today, will fight back. The process of the USA and EU making Turkey a federal state seems to be starting to come to the fore. In particular, more Graham Fuller said in 1993, “Turkey has given cultural autonomy to its Kurds. It may also feel the need to set up a federal system that will provide Frenk Perez, who writes for the magazine Terrorism, said, “To the Kurds, giving them their political and cultural rights is the only way to make things easier. the fix is if he doesn’t spend his time. The ambassador, Morton Abramowitz, said, “The Turkish government can let Kurds be both Turkish and Kurdish. On the other hand, depending on how things go, more extreme solutions, like serious federalism, may be needed.” (p.41).

Renationalization of Turkey

Under the subchapter of “what can be done” he advises to protect Turkish nationalism publications, publishing houses, such as ötüken publishing, yeniçağ newspaper, Turk Yurdu Journal and to raise awareness among the nationalist youngsters and intellectuals (p. 69).  As we claimed that Ozdag nationalism mind programming started a long time ago, he underlines that “while Nationalism is a trend in many countries, we are so silent on this subject in Turkey” (p. 89). Ozdag lays out a plan of “re-nationalizing Turkey” program, in this program, Turkey must reconsider its relationship with NATO, USA, EU and neighbor countries based on the geo-political strategy and economy. Turkey must be powerful to implement. Ozdag says “renationalization” is a prerequisite to materialize. (p. 117). Ozdag suggests to create “Turkic League” (p 153).  To adapt policies to pursue national economy that is free from external influence, to revoke IMF economic agreement (p. 161), to create European strategical and free market economy, not a membership-based aspiration.

Consequently, since then, Ozdag campaigned to lure and galvanize more followers, especially among the grieved young ones who has a nativistic approach and perspective to the social and economic problems. New nationalists think they are left out.  Many of them see the migration from Syria and immigration policy by AKP are the main block and reasons for the economic problems and brain drain. Ozdag nationalism is similar to, timing and conjectural to nationalism that has potential to emerge in Europe, especially from French.  It found that, Ozdag nationalism is a political party agenda and his book is guidebook that he has been expecting to transfer to action. However, Ozdag is slightly different from Marine Le Pen (National Rally) nationalist stance anti regional institutions. One thing they agree, both are against immigration. Le Pen propagates “Grand Replacement”[1], Le Pen justified this theory to garner votes from urban area while Ozdag targets the academia minds, young generation, targeting old nationalism. He is against Syrian refugees as disruptive of Turkish social harmony. He rarely refers to Russia as a rival. He criticizes the United States as a geopolitical disruptive to “the United States continues its campaign of encircling Russia. For this reason, Ukraine’s relations with Russia are worsening; Moldova is endeavoring to join the western axis; and Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus is waning. but positions Turkey in Eurasia more than western allied country” (p.25).

He is not all against NATO and EUROPE but demands equal representative status of Turkey such as free travel. Regime, full membership, and independent foreign policy but not bandwagoning one.  He rejects IMF but supports interdependent economy with EU. Bottomline, he sees that there is a huge tendency from Turkish society to revitalize the Mustafa Kemal type of nationalism in act. This type of the nationalism never dies out, it evolves into some new paths and finds its way in societal vein and grip the minds for long time.

Sources

Ozdag, U (2016).  Yeniden Türk Milliyetçiliği. Kripto Basin Yayin

Ozdag, U (2020). “Milliyetçilik Nereye-2: Milliyetçi Hareketin Siyasal Kronolojisi” Interviewed by Mustafa Balbay, Selda Güneysu.  Cumhuriyet Newspapter, 17 September. Accessed 8.9.2022 https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/milliyetcilik-nereye-2-milliyetci-hareketin-siyasal-kronolojisi-1766564

Cite this article

A.Alkan (2022) “ Umit Ozdag, Nationalism Discourse, Symbolism and Practice” Politurco.com 


[1] The ethnic French and white European populations as a whole are being replaced by non-white people, especially from Muslim-majority countries, in terms of both numbers and culture. This is happening because of mass migration, population growth, and a drop in the birth rate of white Europeans.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.
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