The Revolution of 1908 in Turkey
by Aykut Kansu
Leiden: Brill, 1997. 341 pp. $68.75.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
In an ambitious attempt to rewrite the interpretation of twentieth-century Turkish history, Kansu argues that the key event was not what he disdainfully refers to as the "coup d'état of 1923" that brought Atatürk to power. Rather he considers the seminal event to be the revolution, "in the fullest sense of the term," that took place in 1908 when the Young Turks took power from the Ottoman monarch and his bureaucracy, giving it instead "to representatives of the citizens with a view to establish the political as well as the economic supremacy of a new class."
It's an interesting thesis, but it fails to withstand scrutiny. Kansu's massive pedantry (this book constitutes just one-fifth of his doctoral dissertation!) chronicles some aspects of 1908's events in new detail, without establishing his point about the significance of those events, much less the insignificance of 1923. His study presents a one-sided argument, and so resembles a lawyer's brief more than a balanced historical inquiry searching out the truth.
Kansu also displays the arrogance of the freshly-minted scholar who believes himself smarter than all his precursors. Their work he dismisses as "mistaken" and "unsatisfactory" and he even casts aspersions on their motives with accusations that they try to "maintain" fictions and "misrepresent facts of tremendous importance." In contrast, the author flatters his own conclusions with terms like "absolute certainty" and "painfully clear." Kansu's conceit is particularly galling when one realizes that he repeatedly mischaracterizes the work of his predecessors,1 and hasn't even bothered to use the most important recent study on his own subject.2
1 Historians and social scientists, he says, allege that "people were totally oblivious to the events of 1908." But two authorities, both cited by Kansu, say quite the reverse. Bernard Lewis begins his chapter on this subject with a quote about the "great hopes" aroused by the events of 1908 and cites a poem describing it as a "radiant morning." The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 206-07. Erik J. Zürcher writes of the "tremendous joy and relief" and the "expectation that somehow life would now change for the better." Turkey: A Modern History (London: I. B. Tauris, 1993), p. 97.
2 M. Sükrü Hanioglu, Young Turks in Opposition (New York: Oxford Univer1sity Press, 1995), deemed "weighty and original" by this reviewer (MEQ, June 1995, p. 94).
Related Topics: History, Turkey and Turks | Daniel Pipes | September 1997 MEQ
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