IR & Politics

Nation-building process in Turkey and Modernisation (Kemalist Reforms)

Although it is said that a new state was established with the declaration of the Republic and that it left the Ottoman State in many ways, social and political system in Turkey, mostly inherited from the Ottoman Empire (Çevik, 2007: 51). The Turkish public administration system, which took its basic form in the 1930s, is a similar and continuation of the 19th century Ottoman administration system in terms of formal aspects (Yalçındağ, 1970: 20).

The Republic did not inherit only the formal aspects of the administrative system from the last period of the Ottoman State; some basic traditions related to public administration, such as centralism, positive negative attitudes, behaviours and values created by the Ottoman bureaucracy continued to exist in the new period. On the other hand, bureaucracy-citizen opposition, which became more evident in the last period of the Ottoman State, is among the Ottoman legacies that the Republic found ready (Yalçındağ, 1970: 55).

In this study, general public administration in the Early Republican period will be examined. As to content, it includes that organization prior to the Republic of Turkey in the continuation of the Ottoman Empire, institutions and constitutional processes in public administration considering the institutionalization circuit structure, located bureaucracy and government reform efforts. In this context, firstly, the political and administrative structure was examined within the framework of the basic principles laid down by the 1921 Constitution. After the declaration of the Republic, which made a radical change in the regime of the state, was briefly discussed, and the Constitution of 1924 was included with a similar method.

Secondly, public administration structure will be processed according to the basic principles set by the 1924 Constitution. Central government organization, executive body and provincial organization will be examined, as well as the auxiliary institutions of the central administration of the period. The bureaucratic tradition of administration, which was formed with Tanzimat and inherited from the Ottoman State to the Republic, the bureaucracy of the Early Republican period and the position and function of the Single Party in the system are briefly discussed.

It is possible to take the concept of restructuring in public administration as old as the history of public administration.Undoubtedly, with the emergence of public administration, restructuring efforts were carried out simultaneously due to emerging problems and changing needs. From this point of view, today we can express the concept of restructuring in public administration that enabling public institutions to comply with internal and external environmental conditions and to provide better, higher quality, quicker and cheaper public services to citizens, the procedures and principles of doing business as well as a radical review and restructuring of processes.

Restructuring requires a change approach that includes the existing political structure beyond the public administration system. For this reason, it envisages radical changes in the duties and functions of political and administrative institutions, their purpose of service and organisational structures. In restructuring works; considering institutionalised infrastructures, organisational structures, political processes and cultural features with non-bureaucratic values, and taking these values into consideration in these applications is essential for the success of the restructuring efforts. To put it briefly; restructuring works have a wide perspective that cannot be limited to public administration.

In the fourth and final part of the study, the reform practices in the early years of the Republic will be tried to be addressed with the restructuring of the public administration in Turkey. Although public administration reform implementation in Turkey on the agenda of almost every period, reviewing the literature on the subject; it is seen that restructuring efforts are handled as before and after 1960, before the planned period, after the planned period and after 1980. In terms of the limitation of the study, it will be handled before the planned period, that is, between 1923 and 1960, and efforts to restructure the public administration will be attempted.

  1. Constitutional System

The constitution is the main source that determines the general principles, structure and functioning of public administration, which we can define as the whole of the institutions and organizations that are responsible for carrying out public services, at the command of the state’s executive body.

We see that the Constitutional arrangements regarding public administration have been included in the Turkish Constitutions since the 1876 Law. For example, in the 108th article of the 1876 Law, the provision of the provincial administration will be made on the basis of the power of authority and separation of duties (Gözübüyük, 1995: 24), in the 11th article of the 1921 Constitution, the provincial locality has the spiritual personality and the mandate of the central government. issues were regulated (Gözübüyük, 1995: 45).

In the article 90 of the 1924 Constitution adopted after the declaration of the Republic, the provinces and cities, towns and villages have legal personality, and Article 91 adopts the principle of provinces to be governed on the basis of authority and division of duties (Gözübüyük, 1995: 77).

1.1 The Proclamation of the Republic

With the approval of the Lausanne Treaty in the State Council, Turkey internationally recognized and entered a new period. The state restructuring process of Turkey which replaced the Ottoman Empire; it became clear by making Ankara the “centre of the Turkish State Government” and the proclamation of the Republic (Ahmad, 2006: 69-70). The new form of the state has been determined and the presidency has been established as the head of state with the Law No. 364 dated 29 October 1923 on the “The Law on Amendment of Some Deposits of the Organization to the Main Law”. Thus, the Republican regime was accepted as a form of government and will be managed by the State of the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed administration (Afet İnan, 1998: 129-131).

The President, who will be elected by the Assembly and among her own members, would elect the Prime Minister among the members of the Assembly, who is the head of the executive body, and assign the government to form. And the Prime Minister would also form the Board of Deputies among the members of the Assembly and present it to the President, and the President would present it to the Assembly’s approval. Thus, it has moved away from the system of “Parliamentary Government” and approached to the parliamentary system (Gözübüyük, 1995: 43).

1.2 The Constitution of 1924

The Constitution of 1924 was adopted by the Second Assembly at its meeting on 20 April 1924. Although the 1924 Constitution had undergone some changes, it remained in force until the 1961 Constitution came out. It is seen that the 1924 Constitution was not prepared on the basis of a certain country constitution. Considering the proclamation of the republic and the constitutions of the governments governed by the republic at that time, it is seen that a constitution that will meet the national needs is prepared.Meanwhile, it is stated that there are rules taken from the French Constitution of 1875 and the Polish Constitution (Gözübüyük and Sezgin, 1957: 33).

Although the 1921 Constitution is a transitional constitution, the 1924 Constitution is the constitution of a new regime and a new state organized on this basis. According to the basic provisions of the 1924 Constitution, the basic quality of the state is the republic. Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the nation. Turkey Grand National Assembly uses this sovereignty on behalf of the national representatives.

Legislative and executive powers are gathered in the Assembly. However, the Assembly uses its executive power through the President elected by her and the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers appointed by her. While adhering to the principle of the unity of powers and the parliamentary government system, one more step has been taken towards the separation of powers and the parliamentary government system.

The tendency to adopt the legislative and executive powers as a separate function, which will bring some flexibility to the principle of the unity of powers, has been adopted. However, in the regulation, the “Supremacy Principle of the Assembly” has been preserved, and the institutional executive body has been subordinated to legislation (1924 Constitution, Articles 5-7).

It is striking that in the second parliament, significant changes were made in the administrative structure inherited from the Ottoman Empire and the tendency to centralise was reversed, as opposed to the structure determined by the 1921 Constitution (Çakan, 2006: 52). As a matter of fact, it is seen that planned practices have been put into practice in order to centralize and bureaucratise politics and government in the period and afterwards (Heper, 2006: 94).

The basis of the existing management structure and bureaucratic organization of the Republic of Turkey, was laid by the Tanzimat reforms. Along with the formal aspect of the Ottoman bureaucracy, administrative traditions and political culture have been passed to the Republican administration. The most important legacy of the Ottoman administrative culture is the strict centralized public administration, which will protect the regime against the distrust of the people and the dangers that may come from the people.

As a reflection of this understanding, it is possible to say that the bureaucratic elites of the Republican era undertook two basic missions, such as continuing the reforms that started in the last period of the Ottoman Empire and ensuring the leadership of the public bureaucracy in economic development. The steps taken in this context are thought to contribute to the centralization and bureaucratization of politics and government (Pustu, 2007: 203-206).

  1. Public Administration Structure

During the early Republican Turkey’s administration structure is divided into two main groups, namely the central government and local governments. In this section, first of all, central administration will be examined within the framework of the 1924 Constitution’s public administration structure; in this context, besides the capital and provincial organizations, the institutions established at that time in order to assist the government in their duties, to express their opinions on certain issues or to control them will be discussed. After that, local government structuring will be emphasized.

  1. Central Administration

Presidency (1924 Constitution, Articles 31-43), the council of ministers and ministries (1924 Constitution, Articles 44-52) and subsidiary institutions in the centre are included under the central administration title.

  1. Bureaucracy

93% of the officers of the Ottoman army and 85% of public servants were taken over to form Turkey’s military and civilian bureaucracy. Although these cadres did not constitute unity among themselves, they represented the “bureaucratic tradition of administration”, and ideas about the state’s role and relationship with the citizens of the state in society, shaping the political and administrative institutions of the Republic of Turkey and has created important element in the study (Rustow, 1959: 527).

The bureaucracy’s method of solving social problems from above and with laws emerged together with Tanzimat, and strengthening the central authority by modernizing and focusing on centralization were among the main factors affecting the structure and functions of the Republic bureaucracy (Eryilmaz, 1998: 155). In the early Republican and Single Party periods, it is seen that the standardisation, spreading and practice of the bureaucratic management system has become widespread (Turan, 2003: 128- 133).

The bureaucratic administration approach, dating back to the Tanzimat period, lived its golden years from the proclamation of the Republic to the 1950s when the Democrat Party came to power (Heper, 1974: 89). The Republic of Turkey has inherited the legacy of a strong state and a weak civil society from the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, as in the Ottoman period, in the Republican period, the government saw the state as a compulsory entity to hold together the bureaucratic elite society (Heper, 1985: 50).

The Republic, which was established after the Ottoman State, has bureaucratic heritage as well as many other fields. 11 Ministry in the Ottoman cabinet, took place just in the first government of the Republic of Turkey, it has continued without changes to the structure and functioning of the organization of public institutions (Tortop et al., 2007: 385). Policies implemented in the economy after 1930 and expressed with the principle of “statism” have enabled bureaucracy to intervene directly and effectively in economic life (Şaylan, 1983: 300). Bureaucrats wanted to be policy makers rather than policy practitioners due to their increasing power and prestige (Heper, 1985: 72).

Since it is believed that the Republican revolutions can only be realized with bureaucratic cadres attached to the principles of the republic, a new bureaucratic structure that adopted the basic principles of the Republic was needed in order to realize new political and cultural aims in the early years of the Republic and an intense effort was made to create this bureaucratic structure (Göküş, 2000: 24).

It is accepted that the bureaucracy of the Republican era had two main missions. Accordingly, the bureaucracy has been given the task of developing and continuing reforms and leading the bureaucracy in economic development (Eryilmaz, 2010b: 137).

In addition, the mission of accepting revolutions to the public was given to the bureaucracy (Göküş, 2000: 24). For these reasons, wide opportunities and legal guarantees have been given to bureaucracy. Applied statism policy also caused the bureaucracy to intervene to a great extent in economic life (Eryilmaz, 2010a: 243).

  1. Reform Practices

In the first years of the Republican period, the process of legalization and rationalization was experienced, efforts to eliminate the legal and administrative bilateralism, correct the existing system, create new institutions, briefly transform the system, and the process of transforming and re-establishing the system was tried to be carried out with a series of laws passed between 1923-1930 (Tutum, 1994: 66-67). It is possible to state that the public administration of the Republican period was carried out in the form of reorganization of the system taken over from the Ottoman Empire according to the current conditions.

The political, social and economic changes that emerged in this period made it necessary to make changes in the administrative structure and in this context, the issue of restructuring in public administration was addressed (Toprak, 2005: 108).

5.1 The Abolition of the Caliphate and the Expulsion of the Ottoman Dynasty (3 March 1924)

After the Egyptian victory of Yavuz Sultan Selim, the caliphate that passed from the Mamluk dynasty to the Ottoman dynasty was the spiritual authority of the Islamic world and represented the proxy of the Prophet. It seemed from time to time that the apparently only religious authority could be a unifying and gathering element on the Islamic world, but was not achieved.

The caliphate policy carried out by Sultan Abdulhamid with his own methods was completely incompetent with the fatwa of the “Jihad-Akbar” published in the First World War. When Sultanate removed, national sovereignty gathered in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on behalf of the nation, but the caliphate was left as an independent entity and at the end of the election, Abdülmecid Efendi, the son of Sultan Aziz, was brought to this position with an absolute majority. Gazi, who opened the National Assembly in March 1924, addressed the issue of caliphate. The People’s Party group, which convened on March 2, 1924, decided the Law on Tawhid-Tedrisat (Unification of Education) with the law for the abolition of the “Şeriye ve Evkâf Vekâletleri”. According to this; schools were connected to the Ministry of National Education. With these decisions, the caliphate was already deprived of their institutions. Thus, the caliphate was abolished by a law enacted on March 3, 1924 and the Ottoman dynasty was deported. After the caliphate was removed, madrasahs and neighbourhood schools were closed.

There would be uniform education in the country, and this would be secular education. There were a limited number of Theology high schools and the Faculty of Theology in Istanbul to train clergymen. Again, another law enacted on the same date (March 3, 1924) was closing down and General Staff Courts. From now on, the Presidency of Religious Affairs was established instead of the General Staff Courts, and the General Staff was attached to the Ministry of Defence. With this law, it was aimed to prevent the clergy and soldiers from having a say in the government, so that the first step was taken for the secular republic (Aksin, 1987:186)

5.2 Hat Wear Law (Hat Revolution) (23 August 1925)

Atatürk took a trip to the country on August 23, 1925 and came to Kastamonu with a hat on his head. On November 25, the law known as the Hat Law was passed. The officers would wear hats, fez was forbidden. After that date, the fez disappeared, the citizens started to wear hats and the villagers started to wear caps. What was important with this law was to bring contemporary institutions to society and modern mentality to people. The Hat Revolution is an icon that states that the real revolution must be in the minds on the way to modernization.

5.3 Establishment of Universities (1 August 1933)

In accordance with the French cultural system, which was preferred in the last half century of the Ottoman period, between 1909-1916 higher education institutions were gathered under the roof of Darü’lfünûn (House of Sciences). However, these organizations were also called madrasahs, which are the continuation of the education and training in the country, such as; Medical madrasa, Law madrasa.

Experts from various Western communities within the boundaries of the West, such as Switzerland and Belgium, and even those who studied in different languages in higher education institutions were brought and examined.

As a result of these, on August 1, 1933, the Ottoman Darü’lfünûn was replaced by Istanbul University. Instead of the “müderris” title of university faculty members, professors and levels were adopted, instead of madrasah, it was called a faculty. Action was taken to ensure that Ankara, the state centre, has a full university with its faculties and departments as soon as possible. Language and History-Geography Faculty was established. Until those days, primary education was possible in foreign and minority schools. With a law accepted on 23 March 1931, it was decided that Turkish children should do their primary education in Turkish schools. Turkish lessons were given to minority schools and the integrity of the culture was ensured in the country.

5.4 The Surname Law (21 June 1934)

Most of the titles and nicknames that continued in the family structure from the feudal order to the Republic were the expression of the positions and authorities left from the sultanate. Their stay was incompatible with the principles of equality. In addition, problems were encountered in keeping and maintaining government records.

For this, the surname law was first enacted. According to this law, each family would receive a surname. The law was adopted on June 21, 1934. It entered into force on 24 June 1934. A one-year period was also granted for its application. On November 24, 1934, Gazi Mustafa Kemal, his personality and nation were given the surname of Atatürk as the most favourable invention.

5.5 Granting Women the Right to Vote and to be elected (5 December 1934)

In the last month of 1934, on 5 December 1934, Turkish women were given the right to choose and be elected. Giving this right, which has not been recognized in many Western countries of the world, was undoubtedly the biggest event in the period of Atatürk and would have broad results if properly understood.

The right to choose and be elected for women was characteristic due to the upcoming parliamentary elections. The elite Turkish women who have registered their labour in various fields, even though the woman is not trained in every service field as it is today, were on the top as candidates of the Republican People’s Party. 18 Turkish women were elected MPs in 18 provinces and joined the Parliament.

  1. Conclusion

In the early Republican period, it is seen that the political centre wanted to tie the local area to a tight control both in the general administration of the provinces and in the field of special administrations. The structure of the heritage inherited from the Ottoman Empire, which strengthens the provincial organizations and special provincial administrations, has been regulated by the new regulations and the new management approach (Çakan, 2006: 69-70). Since it is believed that the Republican revolutions can only be realized with bureaucratic cadres attached to the principles of the republic, a new bureaucratic structure that adopted the basic principles of the Republic was needed in order to realize new political and cultural aims in the early years of the Republic and an intense effort was made to create this bureaucratic structure (Göküş, 2000). : 24).

The strong central government model inherited from the Ottoman Empire was also adopted during the Republican period, and the government was monopolized in the capital during the One-Party regime that lasted until 1950. Undoubtedly, the national integrity and the motive to protect the basic principles of the Republic stands out as the main factor in this case. Economic reasons and the absence of qualified personnel also fuelled centralism. The hierarchical administrative structure of the Ottoman Empire in the last period constituted the framework of central government-local government relations during the Republican period. As another matter, the absence of opposition parties in the early years of the Republic prevented the development of an autonomous understanding of local government (Bilgiç, 2007: 102-103).

The first years of the Republic can be described as the period in which a systematic and comprehensive radical change process is experienced politically, legally and socio-economically. Undoubtedly, it is natural to put forward a different theoretical, institutional and functional structure in economic and social issues, especially political and legal regulations, during the establishment of a new state.

Since there will be a public administration device in this structure; in addition to the political, legal and socio-economic transformation, we can talk about the necessity of trying to establish a new understanding in the structure, organ, functioning and rules of public administration.

In this context, the first years of the Republic can be defined as the period when a new state system was put into practice, and as a part of this, the issue of restructuring in public administration was on the agenda. Compared with the period after 1960, we see that restructuring efforts between 1923-1945 were not within a certain systematic, but independent and mostly foreign experts’ studies and reports on economic and sometimes administrative issues. However, given the fact that the period in question was the period when the political, legal, economic and social foundations of the new state were laid; we can conclude that it is not possible to consider the issue of restructuring in public administration systematic and comprehensive as a shortcoming. In addition, especially considering that the issue gained importance and studies in this area increased worldwide after the Second World War; within the framework of today’s conditions, it can be thought that the systematic and incomprehensive restructuring efforts in the early years of the Republic were successful in general.


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Erhan Aygün

Erhan Aygun is PhD candidate at National University of Public Service in Budapest. His main research fields concern on migration, public administration, security studies, international theories and political science. He studied international relations in his master at Pécs University and bachelor degree at Çağ University.
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