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Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques

Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft - Revue de la Société Suisse-Asie

Editor-in-Chief: Suter, Rafael

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Beyond ‘Black Turks’ and ‘White Turks’ – The Turkish Elites’ Ongoing Mission to Civilize a Colourful Society

Christoph Ramm
  • Corresponding author
  • Institut für Islamwissenschaft und Neuere Orientalische Philologie, Universität Bern, Lerchenweg 36, Bern 3012, Switzerland
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Published Online: 2017-02-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2016-0035

Abstract

This article undertakes a conceptual enquiry into the history of the Ottoman/Turkish concept of civilization. It shows how the concept of civilization became one of the key elements of political and intellectual thought in the late Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. Beginning with the adaption of the idea of civilization in the nineteenth century, the desire to be recognized as civilized has moulded the thinking of Ottoman and Turkish elites regardless of their political orientation. From the early Ottoman modernizers to the present-day AKP government the pursuit of medeniyet (Turkish for ‘civilization’) has united radical reformers and religious conservatives. The article analyses how these succeeding imperial and republican elites understood the concept of civilization, how they transformed it into a specific Ottoman and Turkish civilizing mission, and how they approached those groups of the population who were regarded as ‘backward’ and ‘uncivilized’. Thereby medeniyet has maintained its dominance until today, making ‘civilization’ the most influential ideological concept of modern Turkish history besides the idea of the nation.

Keywords: AKP; civilization; civilizing mission; Ottoman Empire; Turkey

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About the article

Published Online: 2017-02-07

Published in Print: 2016-12-01


Citation Information: Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques, Volume 70, Issue 4, Pages 1355–1385, ISSN (Online) 2235-5871, ISSN (Print) 0004-4717, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2016-0035.

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