Citizen, speak Turkish!

The Citizen, speak Turkish! (Turkish: Vatandaş Türkçe konuş!) campaign was an initiative created by law students but sponsored by the Turkish government which aimed to put pressure on non-Turkish speakers to speak Turkish in public[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] in the 1930s. In some municipalities, fines were given to those speaking in any language other than Turkish.[4][8][9][10][11][12] The campaign has been considered by some authors as a significant contribution to Turkey's sociopolitical process of Turkification.[1][2][9]

Political background

During the Ottoman Empire in 1911, the Committee of Union and Progress decided to employ the Turkish language in all the schools of the Empire, with the aim to denationalize all the non-Turkish communities and instil patriotism among Turks.[13] The reformation of the state schooling system and of language by the compulsory use of demotic Turkish aimed for the linguistic homogenization of society.[14] The standardization of the Turkish language aimed to sever the link with the Ottoman language and past in order to create a new sense of Turkish nationhood.

When the Turkish Republic was founded, nationalism and secularism were two of the founding principals.[15] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the early years of the Republic, aimed to create a nation state (Turkish: ulus) from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish People" as "those who protect and promote the moral, spiritual, cultural and humanistic values of the Turkish Nation."[16] Kemalist criteria for national identity or simply being a Turk also refers to a shared language. In 1931 in a speech in Adana, Atatürk was quoted during a speech as saying:[17]

One of the most obvious, precious qualities of a nation is language. A person who says he belongs to the Turkish nation should in the first place and under all circumstances speak Turkish. It is not possible to believe a person's claims that he belongs to the Turkish nation and to Turkish culture if he does not speak Turkish.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Many Turkish politicians and intellectuals believed that in order to attain full rights as a Turkish citizen, one must learn and speak Turkish.[18] One such intellect, Hamdullah Suphi Tanrıöver, believed especially that minorities could not be accepted as citizens of Turkey if they did not speak Turkish or accepted Turkish culture.[10] Consequently, non-Turkish languages taught in minority schools were becoming less common, whereas in May 1923, the Turkish Ministry of Education made the teaching of the Turkish language, history, and geography compulsory in all non-Muslim schools.[19][20] These subjects had to be taught in Turkish by "pure Turks" appointed by the Ministry.[21] The "pure Turk" teachers received a salary set by the Ministry which was substantially higher than regular teachers, resulting in a heavy financial burden for minority schools.[21]

In 1935 Prime Minister Ismet Inonu was quoted during a speech at the Republican Party's fourth congress by saying, "We will not remain silent. All citizens who live with us must speak Turkish!"[22]

The campaign went beyond the measures of mere policy of speaking Turkish, to an outright prevention and prohibition of any other language.[1][2][9][10]

"Citizen, speak Turkish!" campaign

Cumhuriyet newspaper of Gönen dictrict of Balıkesir on May 21st of 1936

On January 13, 1928, the student union at the Darülfünun Law School in Istanbul started a campaign with the objective of preventing the use of languages other than Turkish to be used in public.[2][10][23] Signs were held by campaign organizers that proclaimed, "We cannot call Turk to those who do not speak Turkish".[9][10] Some campaigners also chanted, "Speak Turkish or leave the country!".[10] The campaigners placed posters in the major cities of the country with the slogan "Citizen, speak Turkish!" and the message further spread into the mass media, press, and political circles throughout the country.[10][24] Signs in theaters, restaurants, hotels, and ferries urged everyone to speak Turkish and many people were harassed in public or criminalized for using a language other than Turkish.[25]

Citizens found to be using a language other than Turkish may sometimes have been charged with violating Article 159 (now defunct) of the Turkish penal code for "insulting Turkishness" as a legal justification.[18]

In the 1960s, the movement saw its revival as posters and signs were placed and hung throughout the country.[26][27]

Government sponsorship

Prior to the launch of the "Citizen, speak Turkish!" campaign, many initiatives were already taken by the government of Turkey to make Turkish the sole language of the public. In 1924 during a session of the Turkish National Assembly, a law was proposed to make Turkish a compulsory language and refusing to speak it resulted in a fine.[9][10] Meanwhile, as the debates in the National Assembly were ongoing, the municipal government of Bursa took the first initiative and began to impose fines to those who spoke a non-Turkish language in public areas.[9][10] This was followed by the cities of Balikesir and Bergama in 1927.[9][10]

After the launch of the "Citizen, speak Turkish!" campaign of 1928, arrests were being made all throughout the country with full support of the government who encouraged provincial governors 'to incorporate Turks with foreign dialects into the Turkish community by making Turkish their mother tongue'.[4] In 1933, in the town of Mersin, British citizens, speaking French, were reportedly attacked in public. It was later reported that hundreds were being arrested for speaking languages other than Turkish in public.[22] In a specific case, a M. Chalfoun and a certain Jewish merchant were arrested for speaking Arabic and French to a merchant in town. The accused were released only after the mayor of Mersin pardoned them after visiting them in prison.[22]

New laws were being promulgated throughout the country. In 1936, the municipal governments of Tekirdağ, Lüleburgaz, and Edirne passed decrees to fine those who spoke non-Turkish languages in public.[22][23] Soon thereafter, cities and towns such as Diyarbakır, Adana, Ankara, and Kırklareli followed suit.[23]

See also

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 Kieser, Hans-Lukas, ed. (2006). Turkey beyond nationalism: towards post-nationalist identities ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). London [u.a.]: Tauris. p. 45. ISBN 9781845111410. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Ertürk, Nergis. Grammatology and literary modernity in Turkey. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199746682.
  3. Toktas, Sule (2005). "Citizenship and Minorities: A Historical Overview of Turkey's Jewish Minority". Journal of Historical Sociology. 18 (4). Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 Sofos, Umut Özkırımlı; Spyros A. (2008). Tormented by history: nationalism in Greece and Turkey. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 167. ISBN 9780231700528.
  5. Bozdoǧan, Sibel; Gülru Necipoğlu; Julia Bailey, managing editor, eds. (2007). Muqarnas : an annual on the visual culture of the Islamic world. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004163201.
  6. Aslan, Senem (April 2007). ""Citizen, Speak Turkish!": A Nation in the Making". Nationalism and Ethnic Politics. Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group. 13 (2): 245–272. doi:10.1080/13537110701293500.
  7. Goçek, Fatma Müge; Naimark, Norman M. Suny, Ronald Grigor, ed. A question of genocide : Armenians and Turks at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195393743.
  8. Soner, Çağaptay (2006). Otuzlarda Türk Milliyetçiliğinde Irk, Dil ve Etnisite (in Turkish). Istanbul. pp. 25–26.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Bali, Rifat N. (1999). Cumhuriyet yıllarında Türkiye Yahudileri bir türkleştirme serüveni ; (1923 - 1945) (in Turkish) (7 ed.). İstanbul: İletişim. pp. 137–147. ISBN 9789754707632.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 İnce, Başak (2012-06-15). Citizenship and identity in Turkey : from Atatürk's republic to the present day. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 61. ISBN 9781780760261. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  11. Clark, Bruce (2006). Twice a stranger : the mass expulsion that forged modern Greece and Turkey. Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674023680.
  12. Ferhad Ibrahim, ed. (2000). The Kurdish conflict in Turkey : obstacles and chances for peace and democracy. Münster: Lit [u.a.] ISBN 9780312236298.
  13. Gocek, Fatma Muge. 2002. ‘The decline of the Ottoman empire and the emergence of Greek Armenian, Turkish, and Arab nationalisms’ in F. M. Gocek (ed.), Social Constructions of Nationalism: in the Middle East. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 15–83.
  14. Göl, A. (2005). Imagining the Turkish nation through 'othering' Armenians. Nations and Nationalism. 11(1), pp.121-139
  15. Findley, Carter Vaughn (2010). Turkey, Islam, nationalism, and modernity : a history, 1789-2007. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300152609.
  16. Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of National Education. "Turkish National Education System". T.C. Government. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
  17. Kieser, Hans-Lukas, ed. (2006). Turkey beyond nationalism : towards post-nationalist identities ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). London [u.a.]: Tauris. p. 44. ISBN 9781845111410. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  18. 1 2 E. Fuat Keyman, ed. (2005). Citizenship in a global world : European questions and Turkish experiences (1st publ. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. p. 299. ISBN 9780415354561. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  19. Sezer, Ayten (1999). Atatürk döneminde yabancı okullar (1923 - 1938) (in Turkish). Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi. ISBN 9789751611024.
  20. Rodrigue, Aron (2003). Jews and Muslims: images of Sephardi and eastern Jewries in modern times. Seattle, WA [u.a.]: Univ. of Washington Press. ISBN 0295983140.
  21. 1 2 Paz, M. (2011). STATES AND NETWORKS IN THE FORMATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. American University International Law Review, 26(5), 1241-1313.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Cagaptay, Soner (2006). Islam, Secularism, and Nationalism in Modern Turkey : who is a Turk? ([Repr.]. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. ISBN 9780415384582.
  23. 1 2 3 "Türkiye'nin 'Öz Dil' Zorbalığı Serüveni". Haksoz Haber (in Turkish). Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  24. Galanti, A. (2000) Vatandaş Türkçe Konuş Yahut Türkçe'nin Ta'mimi Meselesi: Tarihi, İçtimai, Siyasi (Turkish)
  25. Ekmekcioglu, Lerna (2010). Improvising Turkishness: Being Armenian in post-Ottoman Istanbul (1918-1933). Ann Arbor. ISBN 9781124044422.
  26. Antonia Susan Byatt; Edouard Roditi; Murat Belge; Işık Şimşek, Association Méditerranéens. Istanbul, many worlds. L'Association Méditerranéens, 1997.
  27. Peroomian, Rubina (2008). And those who continued living in Turkey after 1915 : the metamorphosis of the post-genocide Armenian identity as reflected in artistic literature. Yerevan: Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. ISBN 9789994196326.
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