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Comparison of Ataturk's and Pahlavis' Reforms: a Case of Success and Failure

Comparison of Ataturks and Pahlavis Reforms a Case of Success and Failure

In the early 20th century several states were looking forward to modernization. There were several reasons to that. Firstly the reign of empires and colonies was slowly coming to an end after the WWI. The second reason, being more natural, was the wish to reform and deal with the weak points of the state and 'catch up' with the developments in the West. For the sake of this paper, two interesting cases will be chosen: the successful modernization of Turkey during Mustapha Kemal Ataturk and failed attempt of modernization in Iran under the Pahlavi dynasty. To an unarmed eye, it might seem that the only reason why one country succeeded, while the second one failed, was sheer effect of luck. Although, those two cases might seem similar (together with policies), there were some serious differences and several key factors that have brought different outcome. To answer this question, the paper will focus on several factors such as pre-reform situation in each state; actual process of reform; challenges/opposition reformers faced; different application of same core ideas; role of religion; and outcomes.

First of all, it should be noted that while modernization does look similar to westernization, they differ in the process of reforms. It could be said that westernization is one of the forms of modernization, which essentially means (as the name suggests) to follow steps of the western countries and adopt their political/economical/social development principals. However, there could be other ways of modernization without following the western model, which encompasses conducting reforms but not viewing western success cases as blueprints for the local success; or using the western experience as a main guide but 'translating' many elements into the local country's reality and applying into format that would fit the country and not make it lose its cultural identity as a state. From that, it could be argued that what both Ataturk and Mohammed Reza Pahlavi were seeking was modernization 'fit' for their countries' reality. Theoretically approaches were supposed to be similar, though in practice the results were not the same. To see the differences, one has to look into the historical context.

Years before the reforms would take place, specifically the end of the WWI, can be considered as a root for changes. During WWI the only Empire that wasn't even partially considered European and one of the main 'pillars' of the Islamic world, was the Ottoman Empire. It was the only power in Middle Eastern region that was able to pursue its foreign policy, while not being dictated by the European states. In fact, it was the only country from the region that was involved in war. As a result of war, Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and lost several territories in both Asia and Balkans. Iran, however retained its monarchy, even though being unable to act independently, as the country was constantly under the British or Russian influence. As such there was considerably more dissatisfaction from the public in Ottoman Turkey, compared to Iran. Therefore losing the Great War served as a base for Ataturk's actions and transformation of the state into a republic. While both Ataturk and Reza Shah (father) used to serve in the military, the way they seized the government was quite different. In 1921 Iran, Reza Khan, being head of the Persian Cossack brigade, overthrew the last Shah from the Qajar dynasty and became the new Shah of Iran. Mustapha Kemal was also serving in the military, however he did not come into power through coup, but through more peaceful means. After signing the treaty of Sevres in 1920, the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed VI, was exiled and the leader of the Turkish National Movement, the man who would later become known as Ataturk, proclaimed the formation of the Turkish Republic. From here alone, we can see the obvious difference. While Reza Shah came into power through coup and merely swapped one dynasty's rule with his own, therefore retaining the system; Mustapha Kemal decided to use far more legitimate means (Sevres treaty) to formally abolish the institute of Sultan and start the transformation of the remaining parts of empire into a republic, which meant modernizing it. As one could guess, Ataturk would be far less 'constraint' in conducting the reforms as he was not bound by the norms and regulations that have applied to Sultan, while Reza Shah would have to respect the institution as he became the part of the old system.

The second aspect to take into consideration is the proposed reforms and their possible symbolic weight. Starting with reform conducted by Ataturk, both practical and symbolical aspects can be seen. One of the first things he did, was to remove religion from the state affairs and remove its status as the state religion. This was followed by moving calendar from Islamic to Gregorian, as a result making Sunday a public holiday, similar to how it is in Europe. Secondly, he proposed changes that impacted everyday life of citizens. Firstly was the 'clothes reform'. Turkish fez was considered as a symbol identifying every male person living in Ottoman Empire, after it was introduced by Sultan Mahmud II to remove several cultural boundaries between people of different roots living in the empire. Ataturk, however, viewed it as a symbol of past, dating back to empire and thus proposed the law that abolished the fez practice. At the same time, the population of Turkey (in rural regions as well) were slowly introduced to and encouraged (not forced) to wear European style of clothes. This also links with the removal of veil from the women's attire and granting them rights to education, work and vote. Once again none of the old practices were forced to have been abolished, they were slowly discouraged. From here it can be judged that Mustapha Kemal was pursuing active westernization steps to transform his country not only on government level, but also touching small but significant symbolic elements of everyday Turkish citizens. Adding the fact that the majority of reforms were not forced on people (unlike in Pahlavi Iran), created considerably less opposition from the population. Though, it was not quite westernization. Together with above-mentioned steps, Mustapha Kemal adopted practice of surnames; introduced Latin alphabet for the language (with specific variation); changed the language of prayers and Kuran from Arabic to Turkish; and reformed judicial system (based on European model); and removed several social practices that were occurring in Ottoman Empire such as polygamy and inability of divorce. From here, it becomes more evident that what Kemal Ataturk was pursuing was more modernization of the country, than Westernization. The alphabet was indeed Latin but several characteristics made it applicable to the Turkish language. As for changing the religious language from Arabic into Turkish indicate his wish for modernism and could be compared to some extent to the Protestant reforms of translating Bible into languages other than Latin (which primarily practiced by clergy and not by vast population of European Kingdoms). The biggest element here is the fact that, despite being a dictator, Ataturk was conducting the reforms "from above", aka implementing and applying them first to himself and then to the people. Change of attire, removal of Fez, writing in Latin-based Turkish alphabet, adoption of surname were all used by Ataturk (the very surname he adopted, meaning "father of Turks" ) himself. By following this strategy, people would feel less 'alienated' by the state, then if those regulations and reforms were only applicable to regular population and not to the "elites". This was a bit different in the Iranian reality.

First, of all one must notice a significant role of the religious elite in Iran, compared to Ottoman Empire. While the Sunni Islam is embodied in the leading government and can be intervened by Sultan himself (since once appointed Sultan would be the chief figure in both religious and political sphere), the Shia Islam in Iran was an independent branch, headed by the Grand Ayatollah, which has a significant authority in the state rule. The second factor is the fact that the ulema (religious authority in Islamic system) were not usually united, therefore Ataturk did not face a united coalition that could have been a threat. The religious sect is united in Iran though posed a significant opposition to the Pahlavi monarch.

Reza Shah, while conducting reforms, used similar theoretical approach as Ataturk did in Turkey, though they were different is practical factors. One of the first actions towards modernization was the law that was passed in 1935 to abolish the usage of veil for women. Different to Mustapha Kemal's approach the Pahlavi's forced the removal of veil upon the population, going as far as actually using the force. The same year, university education became available to women as well, making the education of men and women joint. However, they did not took care of some key factors. For example, despite this progress, the royals did not allow women equal rights that was given to them in Turkey. Women in Iran still did not have the right to vote. Only the upper classes had the right to vote and because of the fact that the Sharia law was not separated from the state affairs, this problem continued to exist. Moreover, the issue of polygamy and divorce, which was resolved in Turkish Republic, was still remaining as a problem in Iranian societies. As such the local population that was welcoming reforms, saw this as an insult to its population, not to mention the fact that forced removal of women's veil, before granting them equal legal rights as men, was viewed as an insult.

As a parallel reform, the government of Reza Shah seriously boosted education. It established the Ministry in 1910, together with attempting to overhaul the whole system by applying the European teaching methods and courses.  This was a significant move, as the literacy rates in Iran weren't high. Therefore providing affordable tuition and making education compulsory was viewed as a serious step and a main key factor towards modernization. The problem here was, however, that while religious education was no longer mandatory in Turkey, it was not removed completely in case of Iran. Therefore two different educational systems and methods, naturally would result in inefficiency of the system. Not only that but instead of more people opting form Westernized education model, the number of students enrolling in religious education systems was increasing.

To create the united Iranian nationalistic soul, Reza Shah attempted to impose the practice of same attire to all people of Iran , similar to what Turkish Sultan Mahmud II tried and managed with the introduction of fez. This however did not work in Iran because of the diversion among minorities. Additionally, he decided to outlaw usage of any foreign language elements (such as Arabic and Turkish words in language) in order to strengthen the Persian language. While Ataturk's goal was exactly the same (expressed in Translating Kuran into Turkish), he did not ban usage of foreign words, but encouraged more the usage of the Turkish language, not making this such a sharp move that Reza Shah did.

Touching the judicial reforms, in 1936 the Shah decided to enact all state judges not from the Ulema layer, but rather from the group of people that had a degree from the Tehran University Faculty of Law or from a foreign university. The Ulama did not agree with this decision, and moreover had their own different method of education, based on Islamic principles that were already mentioned.

The last important factor to consider was economy. During the Pahlavi reforms (Reza Shah and Mohammed Reza), the nationalization and privatization of resources took place. By getting rid of foreign interests (such as British) on resources such as oil and tobacco, the Shahs could have strengthen the economy. The problem was however, that neither British, nor the USSR, were willing to abandon their interests in the region. As such Iranians sought the support of European powers with whom they had less troubled history, such as Germany and Italy. The problem, of course, was that those two became the main forces of the Fascist bloc during the WWII. Because they were enemies of both British and the Soviets, the two countries decided not to let their enemies close to Iran and as such, invaded the country in 1942. Reza Shah's reign came to an end. He was exiled, while both occupying forces appointed Shah's son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to take the throne. Those two countries would control Iranian government until the joint agreement of 1942 was signed that entitled the removal of Soviet and British troops from Iran. After WWII new Shah of Iran decided to follow his father's footsteps and combat issues such as illiteracy and tried to modernize country. His methods of eliminating political opponents were far drastic than father Shah's. This made the religious layers of Iran more hostile towards him. By openly becoming the ally of West, and actively opposing religious elements, Mohammed Reza created serious enemies in his own state. One of the elements that increased his infamy amongst the Iranian clergy was change of Islamic calendar to the Imperial one. Unlike Turkish example, the calendar was based on the foundation of the Iranian monarchy, which basically was viewed as a sign of monarchy's superiority. Already by mid-70s his political infamy was reaching peak amongst the local population (not only religious groups). While being viewed as an ally of the West, his actions were all but democratic. He was not following ideas of political tolerance or liberal principles, ruthlessly suppressing his political opponents.  It does not help that several socio-economic reforms proposed by him, increased the gap between the local population and ruling elites in Iran. As a result it was all culminated with revolts of 1978-79 which were ideologically fuelled by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, whose followers eventually succeeded the Iranian government, therefore burying the monarchy forever.

After looking into theoretically similar, yet in practice different policies and reforms conducted by Ataturk in Turkey and Pahlavis in Iran, the differences become evident. One could argue that one of the reasons of different outcomes was the role of the religious authority in both systems. After proper examination, it became clear that there was also significant difference in systems that were existing in those two states during the period of reforms. Not only that but also the vital role was played by how exactly the changes were introduced. While Ataturk tried to more encourage people to follow the new rules, both father and son Pahlavis opted for stark changes which would leave no alternative for the local people. Together with that, Ataturk's modernization of Turkey seemed to have provided local people with important key benefits and resulted in him building a sovereign state based on power given from the constitution. The reforms of Pahlavis, though were less thorough and at the very end seemed to have been more oriented towards accumulation of personal political power in state, rather than proper strengthening of state.

Bibliography

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Chehabi, Houchang E. Iranian politics and religious modernism: The liberation movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. IB Tauris, 1990.

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Göle, Nilüfer. "Secularism and Islamism in Turkey: The making of elites and counter-elites." The Middle East Journal (1997): 46-58.

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Spencer, Robert F. "Culture process and intellectual current: Durkheim and Atatürk." American Anthropologist 60, no. 4 (1958): 640-657.

Summitt, April R. "For a white revolution: John F. Kennedy and the Shah of Iran." The Middle East Journal 58, no. 4 (2004): 560-575.

Ünsal, Artun. "Atatürk's Reforms: Realization of an Utopia by a Realist." Turkish Yearbook 19 (1979): 27-57.

White, Jenny B. "State feminism, modernization, and the Turkish republican woman." NWSA Journal 15, no. 3 (2003): 145-159.

 

Ali. D. Arslan, "The evaluation of parliamentary democracy in Turkey and Turkish political elites," Historia Actual Online 6 (2010): 131-141.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Ali. D. Arslan, "The evaluation of parliamentary democracy in Turkey and Turkish political elites," Historia Actual Online 6 (2010): 131-141.

Ibid.,

Ali. D. Arslan, "The evaluation of parliamentary democracy in Turkey and Turkish political elites," Historia Actual Online 6 (2010): 131-141.

Ibid.,

Ibid.,

Marika Sardar, "The Later Ottomans and the Impact of Europe", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004. Accessed May 22, 2018.

Ali. D. Arslan, "The evaluation of parliamentary democracy in Turkey and Turkish political elites," Historia Actual Online 6 (2010): 131-141.

Robert F. Spencer, "Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk," American Anthropologist 60, no. 4 (1958): 640-657.

Ibid.,

Ibid.,

Robert F. Spencer, "Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk," American Anthropologist 60, no. 4 (1958): 640-657.

Ibid.,

Ibid.,

Robert F. Spencer, "Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk," American Anthropologist 60, no. 4 (1958): 640-657.

Ibid.,

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Ibid.,

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Robert F. Spencer, "Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk," American Anthropologist 60, no. 4 (1958): 640-657.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Ibid.,

James A. Bill, "Modernization and reform from above: The case of Iran," The journal of politics 32, no, 1 (1970): 19-40.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Afshin Matin-Asgari, "The Pahlavi Era Iranian modernity in global context," The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Studies, Oxford and New York (2012): 346-64.

Ibid.,

Ibid.,

Houchang E. Chehabi, Iranian politics and religious modernism: The liberation movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini, IB Tauris, 1990.

Ibid.,

Shapour Ghasemi, "History of Iran: Pahlavi Dynasty," Iran Chamber Society, May 22, 2018, Accessed May 22, 2018. http://www.iranchamber.com/history/pahlavi/pahlavi.php.

Ibid.,

April R. Summitt, "For a white revolution: John F. Kennedy and the Shah of Iran," The Middle East Journal 58, no. 4 (2004): 560-575.

Ibid.,

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