1924, a year after founding the Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country’s new leader, abolished the Ottoman Caliphate, which had been the last remaining Sunni Islamic Caliphate since 1517.
His father owned a store that sold textile dye to shepherds.
There was a brief time when my father wore a mustache.
Kemalism, not unlike Zionism, drew much of its energy from the fact that there could easily have been no Turkish state.
At the end of the First World War, the victorious Allied powers assumed control over nearly all Anatolia; they divided some of it up into British and French mandates, and parcelled much of the rest out to the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Kurds.
Her parents told her that God was more merciful than she thought, and that people who did good would go to Heaven on the Day of Judgment, regardless of what they believed. The Western view of Erdoğan eventually soured, especially after the Gezi protests of 2013; he was criticized for alleged corruption and for increasingly authoritarian tactics toward journalists and opposition parties.
I have always known my mother as an agnostic, less certain than my father that the universe hadn’t been created by some great intelligence. Suddenly, it was the secularists who seemed stodgy: racist, authoritarian, élitist, and slavishly pro-Western. But for a number of years all my American liberal friends who had any opinion at all on Turkey were pro-Erdoğan.
There was a new dichotomy I had never heard of before: the “white Turks” (Westernized secular élites in Istanbul and Ankara) versus the “black Turks” (the pious Muslim middle and lower-middle classes of Anatolia).
The black Turks were the underdogs, while the white Turks were the racists who despised them.
For a long time, I thought there was an immutable link between coolness and positivism. Then came identity politics and, in Turkey, the rise of the Justice and Development Party (A. I could see that every slight to Kemalism was a knife in my parents’ hearts. I also knew that, in order for the Turkish Republic to succeed, millions of people had been obliged to change their language, their clothes, and their way of life, all at once, because Atatürk said so.
I knew that people who had been perceived as threats to the state—religious leaders, Marxists, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians—were deported, exiled, imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
My mother’s family—fair-skinned Ankara professionals who once had a chauffeur and a gardener—clearly fit the “white” profile.