Human Angle



The importance of National Sovereignty


by Prof. Dr. Özer Ozankaya



The Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) celebrates the 85th anniversary of its foundation this month. It was this Assembly which brought victory in the Turkish War of Independence and achieved the revolutions of Turkish democracy under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal. All of this was due to the principle that “Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the nation.”


In line with this principle, a social order based on freedom, national independence and peace was established. Today, however, the modern science and technology which is transforming our world into a “global village” has been placed in the service of the “Political West” rather than in the service of national sovereignty, and the benefits of national sovereignty in terms of independence, freedom, peace and social justice are under attack.


During this month’s celebrations, the Turkish Grand National Assembly needs to assert first and foremost the principle of national sovereignty which is the base of its legitimate existence, and not allow this principle to be distorted or emptied.


A national movement


The glorifying of Mustafa Kemal to the rank of “Atatürk” – as well as the international accolades accorded to him – are also closely related to his commitment to the true meaning and honest implementation of the principle of “national sovereignty”. The author of the words, “Freedom and independence is my character” had an early record of resisting oppression, supporting a constitutional order and separating military and political power. With the War of Independence his commitment to the national sovereignty became explicit.


In the Amasya Declaration, the first declaration he made to the nation and to the world, he said, “The future of the nation will be determined again by the decision of the nation. Whatever the decision of the nation, it will appear at the General Congress to be assembled in Sivas”. The War of Independence began at the congresses and was executed by the TGNA. And it was this strategy that made victory possible at Sakarya:


“War means two nations confronting and fighting with each other with their entire beings, with all their material and spiritual powers. Because of this I had to involve the Turkish nation in the war as much as the army at the front… Not only those facing the enemy but everyone - in his village, at home, in the field - would regard himself as being on duty … and give his entire being to the war. Nations which are slow to give their entire material and spiritual existence to the defence of the country cannot be considered really to have accepted the risk of war and conflict. However this is the only condition for the success of wars of independence.”


Consolidating victory


While accepting the duty of commander-in-chief conferred on him by the TGNA, Atatürk continued to insist that the war was the war of the nation. He insisted that his authority be limited to three months. He was to attribute the victory which he achieved to the power of “a thought accepted completely by a nation.”


After the victory, the next stage was the institutionalisation of the principle of national sovereignty, guaranteeing that the nation would never have to be “freed” again – in other words, that the administration will always be determined with the free vote of the nation. This process included the abolition of the sultanate and caliphate and of organisations of oppression such as sects and lodges, the secularisation of political and public life, the establishment of a secular and general order of education, the achievement of equality between men and women, the prohibition of titles, signs and forms of dress that confer social and political privilege in the public sphere (hat and clothing revolution) and the adoption of the national language as the language of law, administration, education and science (language and writing revolutions). All these reforms were indispensable conditions of the principle of national sovereignty. All were approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly.


Dictratorship of the majority?


Those whose traditional interests were threatened by these developments suggested that the Turkish people could not be governed without caliphate-sultanate. They even attempted to offer the position of sultan and caliph to Mustafa Kemal himself. As soon as they understood that this was not possible, they resorted to the deception (demagogy) that they were the ones upholding the will of the people. They assumed that the people, who had not yet acquired the culture of being free and equal citizens, would mostly vote for the rule of a caliphate-sultanate. But Mustafa Kemal again highlighted that the principle of “national sovereignty” does not mean random majority order.


It is a point which many democratic countries have come to realise and inscribe in their constitutions only after experiencing disasters of fascism, communism, religious oppression and two world wars.


In 1924, Mustafa Kemal asked all the army commanders including Chief of General Staff Marshal Fevzi Çakmak who also held parliamentary seats to relinquish them. Most withdrew, and what Atatürk termed a “conspiracy against the Republic” failed. Thus Mustafa Kemal established the necessary separation of the military from the political power struggle.


Subsequent anti-democratic movements such as the Izmir assassination attempt, the Þeyh Sait Revolt and the Menemen incident failed. These were supported by the “Political West”, which shows the importance of the principle of national sovereignty for both developing countries and for the West itself.


The balance sheet


Thanks to the principle of national sovereignty:

1) The concept of the Turkish nation had come to embrace all individuals tied to the Turkish Republic through citizenship. All were equipped with equal individual and citizenship rights without any distinction of race, gender, religion, sect or occupation. Thanks to this definition of the democratic Turkish nation, domestic and foreign imperialistic attempts to pave the way for ethnic conflicts in Turkey have failed.

2) The notion of the Turkish homeland was clarified and all kinds of expansionist and irredentist aims were excluded. Accordingly, war came to be seen as murder unless the life of the nation is in danger. The principle of “Peace at home peace in the world” was accepted. Turkish foreign policy came to be determined freely and in Ankara for the sake of legitimate national interests. The adaption of foreign policy to the aims of other states was over. The Turkish Republic obtained a respected and active place in the world of international relations.

3) Laicism achieved its clear and true definition: The authority to make laws to regularise relations between people was vested solely in the TGNA. Laws could not be introduced on behalf of religion. Every adult was free to choose his religion.

4) The human and citizenship rights and freedoms of women, who make up 50% of the public, were recognised and their free and effective participation in social life assured.

5) The ideas of freedom, independence and scientific thinking were induced in young people through the unification of education. Thus the principle that “Morality formed on intimidation, is neither a wise nor a reliable morality” was put into practice.

6) The economic system was based on permitting public enterprise for the purpose of assuring the production of goods and services in the public interest, preventing monopolisation and ensuring fair rewards for labour, while ensuring that private enterprise become the main source of economic activities.

7) The survival of the arts, philosophy, science and national language was ensured by making the legal, administrative and scientific language identical with the daily language of the public.


These were also the necessary requirements and the true assurances of political, military, judicial, educational, economic and cultural independence, referred to by Atatürk as “absolute independence”. The same principles are essential if modern science and technology is to be used with the aim of meeting the requirements of all nations for freedom, peace and welfare in the realm of international relations.




(DIPLOMAT – April 2005 – Ankara)