Mehmet Ziya Gökalp

Mehmet Ziya Gökalp (c. 1875-1924) was a Turkish publicist and pioneer sociologist. He was influenced by modern western European, especially French and German, thought and elaborated an ideology of Turkish nationalism which was largely implemented, after his death, by Kemal Atatürk.

Ziya Gökalp (this last name, Old Turkish "Sky hero," was originally a pen name;) was born in Diyarbakir in southeastern Anatolia either on an unknown date in 1875 or on March 23, 1876. After attending a local secondary school, he arrived in the capital, Constantinople (Istanbul), in 1896. He had already imbibed the liberal and reformist ideas which were associated with what became the Committee of Union and Progress, and his attitudes soon attracted the attention of the despotic Sultan Abdul-Hamid II's secret police, leading to Gökalp's imprisonment for a year.

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 enabled Gökalp to openly advocate his views and to act as a cultural and educational adviser to the government. In 1915 he became the first professor of sociology at Istanbul University. In 1919 his identification with the party which had led Turkey into World War I resulted in his being exiled to Malta for 2 years, but he subsequently returned and spent the last part of his life in endeavoring to provide an intellectual basis for the new regime of Mustapha Kemal (Kemal Atatürk). Gökalp died in Constantinople on Oct. 25, 1924.

Gökalp was primarily exercised by the problems of how far Turkey should adopt Western culture and how far the traditional Islamic civilization should accordingly change in the direction of a European-type nation-state. He rejected the religious and political conservatism of the pan-Islamists, regarding traditional Islam as a brake on the nation's progress. He was for a while attracted by Ottomanism, the ideal of a multinationalism made up of the separate nationalities within the Ottoman Empire; but as political and military events demonstrated the impossibility of this, he evolved his idea of "Turkism," the realization of the Turkish national spirit and culture, to be achieved through a revival of Turkish popular culture and literature and a purification of the language by ridding it of extraneous elements.

Gökalp flirted only briefly with pan-Turanianism, the union of all Turkic peoples in Asia. His views on the social ideals which should mold a nation he derived above all from the French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Thus, while he was neither a very original nor a very clear thinker, Gökalp's teachings came after his death to have a profound influence on the evolution of Turkey under Atatürk.

Further Reading on Mehmet Ziya Gökalp

Much of Gökalp's work appeared as essays and articles in journals; there is no complete edition of his work. A good general survey of the man and his significance is in Uriel Heyd, Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gökalp (1950).

Additional Biography Sources

Heyd, Uriel, Foundations of Turkish nationalism: the life and teachings of Ziya Gökalp, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979.