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The Sheikh Sait Rebellion in Turkey (1925): A Study in the Consolidation of a Developed

Uninstitutionalized Nationalism and the Rise of Incipient (Kurdish) Nationalism

Author(s): Robert W. Olson and William F. Tucker
Source: Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Vol. 18, Issue 3/4 (1978), pp. 195-211
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1570466
Accessed: 12-02-2018 11:19 UTC

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Die Welt des Islams, XVIII, 3-4


A Study in the Consolidation of a Developed Uninstitutionalized

Nationalism and the Rise of Incipient (Kurdish) Nationalism*



On February 13, 1925 a rebellion broke out in the Kurdish

of southeastern Turkey. Thousands of Kurds, under the lead
a Naqshbandi dervish and tribal leader known as Sheikh
arms against the recently established Ankara government o
Kemal (Atatiirk). The outbreak soon enveloped almost t
area occupied by Kurds in Turkey.' This article attempts to
the causes of the rebellion and its consequences with special
on its role in further consolidating Turkish nationalism
Kemal's bases of power, and the development of the new

* Modern Turkish orthography will be used in the text with the excep
familar English sheikh.
The Times of London, March 3, 1925 records the date of the outbreak of the
rebellion as February 13. Kemal Karpat, Turkey's Politics: The Transition to a Multi-
Party System (Princeton, 1959), 46 states February 11 as the date of the rebellion.
Because of the contemporaneity of The Times' account it will be accepted. The best
concise survey of the Naqshbandi Brotherhood (Tarikat) is Hamid Algar, "The Naqsh-
bandi Order: A Preliminary Survey of its History and Significance", Studia Islamica,
XLIV (1977), 124-152. The Naqshbandi order began to expand in Kurdistan under
the guidance of Maulana Khalid Baghdadi (d. 1827) who was born in the Shahizur
district of Kurdistan in 1776 and taught in a medrese or religious school in Sulaymaniya
until 1805 returning to that city in 1811 after travel, study and teaching in Mecca,
Iran and India. Algar states Kurdish adherents of the order have displayed great
militancy and cites the revolt of Sheikh Sait as being an example, but with the caveat
that Kurdish nationalist motivations should not be attributed to the Sheikh Sait
rebellion or similar rebellions; Algar, 151. The authors, in disagreement with A
will attempt to demonstrate that Kurdish nationalist motivations were a factor
rebellions of 1929, 1930 and especially in the 1938-1939 uprisings. For examp
ismail Besikci, Dogu Anadolu'nun Diizeni: Sosyo-Ekonomik ve Etnik Temelle
Social Structure of Eastern Anatolia: Socio-economic and Ethnic Foundations (An
E. Yayinlarl, 1969), 313 states that Naqshbandi sheikhs were leaders of the Ku
Rebellion in ;emdinli during 1928-1930. Besikci is of the opinion that, unlike Sh
Sait's rebellion, the $emdinli rebellions had nationalist motivations.

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of Turkey. The rebellion also acted as a catalyst in the in

growth of Kurdish nationalism. Both of these developments
buted to estrangement, which is still manifest, of Turk and
the subsequent years.
Sheikh Sait was the son of Sheikh Ali Efendi of Palu and was the
hereditary head of the Naqshbandi order, which was extremely powe
ful in the Kurdish districts. Sheikh Sait's influence was great not onl
because he was the hereditary head or sheikh of an influential religio
order but also because by virtue of that position he was simultaneous
the leader of the tribes in the area. He consolidated these two positio
by establishing medreses or religious schools in the areas where his
authority was accepted. In as much as he was a tribal leader, Sheikh
Sait was also a government official: tribal leaders having been design
ated as the representatives of the Sultan's Istanbul government as w
as official representatives to various nationalist organizations esta-
blished by Mustafa Kemal during 1919-1923. It was his service
these three capacities that allowed Sheikh Sait to become such
influential figure and thereby a real threat to the Ankara governme
when he agreed to head a rebellion.2
Professor Be5ikci stresses the significance of holding the three pos
tions mentioned above for any would-be leader of rebellion. H
emphasizes that in the early 1920s, tribal leaders and/or sheikh
cooperated with the government. It was the commitment of the Ankara
government to a series of secular reforms which would have reduced
the traditional governmental power of the sheikhs and/or tribal leaders
which set off the rebellion.

Sources disagree on the causes of the rebellion. One argument

consistently advanced by Turks and some Kurdish historians is British
agitation among the Kurds.3 One of the main facts to support this
charge is that during the first days of the rebellion Sheikh Sait
received a variety of arms catalogs from munitions makers in London.4

2 Besikci, 311-312.
3 Besikci, 308.
4 Besikci, 308. But he gives no evidence to support this charge. Following the
San Remo Conference in 1920 in which the problem of Kurdistan was left unsolved,
one of the possibilities offered by the Foreign Office was to leave Kurdistan to Turkey
and perhaps to incite the Kurds against the Turks. This suggestion appears never to
have been taken seriously. See Briton Cooper Busch, Mudros to Lausanne. Britain's
Frontier in West Asia, 1918-1923 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1976),

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While the British had maintained extensive intelligen

in Eastern Anatolia ever since the Treaty of Berlin in
several agents active in the area during and immediatel
War I, there is no evidence that the British instigated
rebellion. This argument seems to have originated
Kemal. Kemal maintained that the British, seeking th
of Mosul, had roused anti-Turkish feeling among the
to use this as a means of pressuring Turkey into relinq
Sait cooperated with the British, according to a simila
because he hoped they would gain control of all the Ku
If the British were to become the masters of the area,
felt they would be less oppressive than Ankara. Sa
privileges of the Kurdish chiefs and religious sheikhs
own, would be retained.6
These arguments leave something to be desired. In
dispute over Mosul, it is natural that Kemal blamed B
trouble in an area so near the contested province. Deno
also was good public relations which could help solidif
some of Kemal's reforms, especially in view of the gr
of hostility for the British because of their activities
partition of Turkey and their support of the Greek in
tolia. Kemal was reluctant to admit that the main causes of the
rebellion stemmed, in fact, from Ankara's Turkification and wes
ization measures. The abolition of the religious schools with the
pulation that henceforward the language of instruction would be Turk
was especially resented. There is little evidence to support the c
that Sait encouraged British rule in the region. The British n
advanced a claim to the land above Diyarbekir, the area where S
resided and held sway. Taking advantage of their dispute over Mo
Sait may have sought to play the British off against Turkey
may have had contact with the British, but there is no proof of

5 Harold Armstrong, Grey Wolf (New York: Minton & Balch, Co., 1933),
There is a vast bibliography on the Mosul question. Two good recent survey
Paul Helmreich, From Paris to Sevres: The Partition of the Ottoman Empire
Peace Conference of 1919-1920 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press,
Briton Cooper Busch, Mudros to Lausanne, 376-392.
6 Kurt Ziemke, Die Neue Tiirkei (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1930), 29
7 At least nothing has appeared in published accounts and the authors hav
had an opportunity to investigate relevant files in the British Public Record Off

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a tactic nor any evidence of contact between the British

prior to or during the insurrection.7
The correspondent for The Times (London) in an art
April 28, 1925 presented four major reasons for the revolt. K
owing to its geographical position, was an ideal refuge for
These elements had played an important part in starting and
the trouble. Another reason cited was the discontent of those Kurdish
sheikhs who had sat in the first Grand National Assembly but had
not been elected to the second. This reporter also felt that the revolt
was a movement for Kurdish independence. The final reason advanced
was the anger of some local notables at the removal of the tithe, the
collecting, and pocketing, of which had been most profitable fo
them.8 The role of the outlaws is difficult to assess, but it was
probably of minor importance. Also secondary, it would seem, was
the discontent of those sheikhs not elected to the Second Grand
Assembly, although this may possibly have played some p
regards the desire for independence, this was undoubtedly a f
with some Kurds but it is debatable how widespread this feeli
in view of the fact that a number of chieftains refused to jo
rebellion.9 As mentioned earlier, many of the tribal chiefs w
religious sheikhs and hence were able to benefit still from
governmental positions. Also, as one authority points out,
Kurds were really intent upon independence, 1922 would have
the ideal time to revolt, since the Ankara government was th
the point of extinction.10 The Kurds in 1925 would have willi
accepted autonomy, even unofficial autonomy, questions of in
dence aside. Their major concern was for the preservation of
traditional way of life. Since the sheikhs and chiefs considered
selves the guardians of tradition, as government officials they
the government to give them a free hand "to govern". But
was not Abdulhamit II (1878-1908). The Kurdish sheikhs'/t
leaders' sense of nationalism was not articulate or defined, alt
a consciousness of community certainly existed.
Kurdish historians have asked the same question as Paul Gen
Why did not the Kurds rebel in 1922 when Ankara's collapse ap

8 The Times, April 28.

9 Ibid., March 2.
10 P. Gentizon, "L'Insurrection Kurde", La Revue de Paris (October, 1925

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imminent? Why, in fact, did the Kurdish leaders sup

during the War of Independence and the first days of t
And why did not they rebel more frequently, or successf
early years after the declaration of the Republic, and even
The answer to the first question is that until 1923-1924
sheikhs and chiefs had not yet felt the centralizing reform
and were, indeed, still secure in the belief that they were
to be the effective arm of Ankara in the eastern Kurdish areas. The
answer to the second question is that Ankara used the army to
suppress the Sheikh Sait rebellion. This made the Kurds cautious
about engaging in rebellion. The use of the army against Sheikh
Sait is of great importance. The Turkish army has been employed
actively only four times since the conclusion of the War of Inde-
pendence in 1923. One time was in Hatay in 1938-39 when Turkey
was able to annex that province under the favorable conditions created
by the imminence of World War II. Turkish forces were also sent to
Cyprus in 1974 and still occupy the northern section of that island.
While the armed forces were mobilized in the Mosul crisis, up to
1974, they were not actively or formally engaged in combat. The
army, however, was used against the Kurds on two occasions. First
against Sheikh Sait in 1925 and again in 1930 during the Zeylan,
Agr, $emdinli rebellions."1
The Kurds were pleased with the provision for an independent
state included in the Treaty of Sevres, but were disappointed when
the allies failed to enforce the Treaty. This may have been a factor
in creating the uprising.'2 It is the view of the authors that the
majority of Kurdish leaders who participated in Sait's rebellion did
not seek independence for its own sake.
The real reasons for the rebellion seem to have been the opposition
of the majority of Kurds in Turkey to the centralization and Turki-
fication policies of Ankara. The major factor was the resentment
of the tribal chiefs/sheikhs who feared, rightfully so, the centralizing,
westernizing reforms as a distinct threat to their traditional priviledges

1 Besikci, 309; also Ilter Turan, Cumhuriyet Tarihimiz: Temeller, KuruluS, Milli
Devrimler/Our Republican History: Foundations, Establishment, National Reforms
(Istanbul: Caglayan Kitabevi, 1969), 113.
12 Donald E. Webster, The Turkey of Atatiirk (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The
American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 1939), 107.

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and jurisdictions.13 The Kurds resented the conscription an

of the government, as well as the fact that they were no l
recognized as a separate people, but were referred to incre
'mountain Turks'.14 Professor Be$ikci suggests that the fab
this theory, like the sun language theory and the theory of
of Turkish history, occurred for nationalistic purposes. The
main instruments that the Turkish bureaucracy used to imp
nationalistic slogan 'The Nation [Turk] is Judge' (hakim ul
further states that since the government was unable or u
attack or subvert the economic bases of Kurdish sheikhs, t
attacked the Kurdish language and Kurdish culture. The
the Turkish approach to the Kurds is evident in the actions of
Mustafa Kemal [Atatiirk]. During the course of the War of Inde-
pendence (1919-1922), he loudly and frequently proclaimed the bother-
hood of Turk and Kurd. But when giving a speech in heavily Kurdish
Diyarbekir in 1937, the site where Sheikh Sait was hanged twelve
years earlier, he did not even mention Kurds!'1
The increasingly centralized administration undermined the author-
ity of the chiefs and/or sheikhs whose functions were regularized
or given to persons appointed by the central government.16 The
most hated feature of the new Turkey was the disestablishment of
Islam, which supplied the sheikhs/chiefs with the bases of their power,
especially tax-gathering privileges. Sheikhs and/or chiefs were out-
raged by this attack upon their time-honored privileges. In addition,
they undoubtedly felt, as did many other people, that the government,
by the abolition of the Caliphate and the abrogation of the 3eriat
(arabic Shari'a), was attempting to destroy religion. It is no surprise
that when the rebellion emerged, the objective most often referred
to was the restoration of the Caliphate and hence of established
Islam. 7

Prior to its abolition in 1924, the Caliphate played an important

13 Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of International Affairs, 1925 (London: Oxford

University Press, 1927), 508; Gentizon, 841; Harold Armstrong, Turkey and Syria
Reborn (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head Limited, 1930), 186.
14 Philips Price, A History of Turkey from Empire to Republic (London: George
Allen & Unwin Ltd; 1956, 132.
5 Be?ikci, 301-302.
16 Gentizon, 842.
17 Toynbee, 71.

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role in binding together the diverse ethnic groups in the

Empire. Kemal himself paid his respects to its influence
first years of the War of Independence. Furthermore, the
1925 were the peak years of the Khilafat movement, orig
India, which strove to maintain the Caliphate and then, a
abolished it, to resurrect it. For several years the Khilafat
was a source of concern to the Indian Government and to London.
Indian Muslims and Gandhi himself attempted to use it as an addi-
tional weapon in their struggle for independence. But the repercussio
of the Khilafat movement reverberated throughout Muslim lands,
Kurdistan included.18
Perhaps a greater grievance than the government's actions, was
the efficiency with which they were undertaken. Under the Ottomans,
obnoxious measures had often been tempered by the laxity or inability
of the government to forcefully implement its will. This was not the
case in the new Turkey; Ankara spared no effort to implement its
programs. Such efficiency alienated many inhabitants of Turkey. The
Kurds, under Sheikh Sait, decided to translate their discontent into
What triggered the revolt is not certain. One account has it that
the revolt came about in the following manner. Some Nestorians in
the areas near Mosul, having fought the Turks during the World
War, had sought refuge in Iraq after cessation of hostilities. Some-
time early in 1925, they sought to return to their home territory in
the Hakkari region of southeastern Turkey and came into conflict
with the Ankara government, which did not want them back. Turkish
troops were soon sent against them.'9 Several Kurdish officers of
the Turkish contingent joined the rebels and succeeded in persuading
some of the soldiers to follow suit. Subsequently one of these officers,
Colonel Halit Bey, was captured and placed under arrest. Several
local Kurdish chiefs freed the colonel, and all took refuge with

18 A.C. Niemeijer, The Khilafct Movement in India, 1919-1924 (The Hague: Mar-
tinus Nijhoff, 1972); Briton Cooper Busch, Mudros to Lausanne, 215-22, 310-92.
19 Nestorian refers to a branch of the Assyrians who themselves are a branch of
Eastern Christianity. For a definition of the terms Assyrian and Nestorian see John
Joseph, The Nestorians and Their Muslim Neighbors (Princeton, 1961), 2-21. For a
recent account of the Assyrians' expulsion from Turkey and their fate in Iraq see
Khaldun S. Husry, "The Assyrian Affair of 1933", International Journal of Middle East
Studies (1) vol. 5, no. 2 (1974), 161-176; (2) no. 3 (1974), 344-377.

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Sheikh Sait. Sait was known to be extremely hostile to th

Government, thus he appeared to be a potential ally. On Fe
1925, two members of Sait's retinue, accused of some misd
were declared under arrest. When Sait refused to hand them over to
the authorities, a fight broke out, and several policemen were wounded.
This incident was the signal for the revolt.20
Another version states that Sait was working with a remnant o
the Kurdish League, formed in 1912 to propagate Kurdish cult
and national feeling. This League had been dispersed by Kemal
1923, but a branch had continued to exist in Erzurum. A Kurdish
revolt in 1924 near the Iraqi border at Nasturi led the Turkis
Government to seek to put an end to this organization. The membe
of the League were arrested, and Sait was summoned to testify agai
them. Sait, in the village of Kinis at the time, refused to appear.
chose instead to go on a pilgrimage to Palu, his home. A numb
of people joined him during the course of the journey. When t
entourage reached the town of Piran, several of the group we
arrested for some minor reason. Sait's men retaliated by killi
several policemen. The rebellion began in his fashion, the da
according to this source, being March 7.21
It is difficult to ascertain the authenticity of these accounts. T
authors give no indication of the evidence upon which their d
cussions rest. None of the other sources consulted in the preparat
of this article contain mention of such occurrences. The latter of the
two arguments is suspect because of the date, March 7, given for
the outbreak of the rebellion. It is certain, in the event, that the revolt
actually began on February 13. An error of some three weeks casts
doubt upon the authenticity of the rest of the account. Whatever the
case as to the immediate cause, the rebellion did erupt on February 13.22
The disturbance began to spread rapidly. By February 23, the
rebellion, which began in Piran, had spread to the areas of Diyar-
bekir, Genc, and Mamuretulaziz. Events indicated that the revolt
would soon extend to other areas.23 The rebellion thoroughly alarmed

20 Gentizon, 838-839.
21 Dana Adams Schmidt, Journey Among Brave Men (Boston: Little Brown and
Company, 1964), 55-56.
22 See footnote 1.
23 The Times, February 25.

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the Turkish Government. Although the area of the rev

fairly small, it was feared that all the dissident el
country would rally to the standard of religion and tra
ed by the rebels.24 On February 23, martial law was p
one month, and subsequently extended, in the areas o
Argana, Dersim, Diyarbekir, Mardin, Urfa, Siverek, Sii
Hakkari, and part of Erzurum.25
The rebel successes were frequent at first. The co
stirred up by religious leaders, joined Sait in significa
Kurdish soldiers, even some officers, deserted from th
and fought with the rebels.26 The rebels took Harp
gained full control of the district of Mamuretiilaziz. Th
Dersim, Argana, (abakqur, and Lice, and these wer
some time.27
The Government, meanwhile, had changed, and a
toward the rebellion was inaugurated. At a meeting o
Party, held in the first several days of March, Fethi
the Prime Minister, was accused of a lack of forceful
with the rebellion. An argument took place between t
the Prime Minister and the more militant wing of the
Kemal intervened on the side of the latter, and Fethi
on March 3.28 On March 4, a new cabinet came to
by Ismet Papa [In6nii]. This transition of power produc
military policy that imposed rigorous controls on the
lation. Ismet quickly introduced into the Assembly the
to Maintain Public Order (Takriri Siikun) which qui
March 4.29 This law gave the government the right t
organization, publication, or institution which might e
or agitation against itself. The implementation of the
left to the reconstituted Independence Tribunals, t
which would replace the military courts and would
to carry out the martial law-decrees. There was to

24 "Turkish Facts and Fantasies", Foreign Affairs, III (July, 1925

25 The Times, February 25.
26 Irfan and Margarete Orga, Ataturk (London: Michael Joseph
27 Toynbee, Turkey, 267.
28 Mikusch, Kemal, 363.
29 Karpat, 47.

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tribunal in Ankara with jurisdiction over the entire co

measures were to be subject to the Assembly's approval
The government lost no time in applying this new law
operative segments of the press. Soon after the passage
five of the leading papers of Istanbul were closed. With
of weeks, only six of the fourteen papers of the city re
and these lost much of their circulation, since they we
able to publish accurate news accounts or to criticize the
After the suppression of the Progressive Party, which w
later, a number of journalists were arrested and some w
far as Elazlg and Diyarbekir for trial. The government
it was to acquaint them with the conditions in the rem
Anatolia, did make certain they were well treated by the
The cases against the journalists were eventually dismis
were allowed to return to Istanbul.31
The turning point of the revolt came on March 7 and 8. On the
night of Saturday, March 7, Sait's forces advanced in three columns
on Diyarbekir. The capture of this city was vital to the rebels, since
it dominated the southeastern frontier of Turkey and was an important
junction for caravans coming from the south and east. Fighting
raged until the next morning, Sunday, March 8, but the rebels failed
to capture the town.32 This engagement was the crucial moment of
the rebellion. After this, the heavy rebel losses and the steadily grow-
ing number of Turkish troops (approximately 16,000) sent to the
affected areas prevented a rebel victory.33
The major Turkish offensive began in the last of March. In spite
of the rugged terrain and poor climatic conditions, the government
troops made steady gains. On April 8, the main rebel force was
defeated in the (apak9ur district.34 Some time in the second week
of April, Sheikh Sait and his fiercest followers were captured in the
village of Carinnur, located between Varto and Mu$.35 Shortly after-
wards the rebellion collapsed and the rebels began to surrender in

30 Lord Kinross, Atatiirk (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1965),
31 Ibid., 458.
32 The Times, March 11.
33 Toynbee, Turkey, 267.
34 Toynbee, Survey, 508-509.
35 The Times, April 16.

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large numbers.36 Sait and his followers were brou

Independence Tribunal in Diyarbekir toward the en
maintained during the trial that he had rebelled becaus
reestablish the religious practices of former times
admit that he had done any wrong, and when the
entered a plea of not guilty.37 On June 29, he and fo
adherents were sentenced to death and were hanged t
One of the most important consequences of the r
unification of the Turkish population for the defense
The Turks saw the country for which they had just en
hardships treatened by yet another hostile force. As
when the Greeks had menaced the Republic, they
support of the Government. Ironically, the rebellion
thened the Nationalist Turkish government against wh
One of the important results of the rebellion was th
it afforded Kemal to carry out his reforms at a more
He was able to do this because the rebellion served
suppression of dissident elements. The curbing of the p
been discussed. A more serious threat, as indicated by
was the reactionary agitation of the religious leaders,
dervishes. With the suppression of the rebellion accom
government did not hesitate to act against these g
tember 2, 1925, three decrees were issued. All religiou
their lodgings were closed by the first of these measu
decree classified all those belonging to the religiou
regulated their dress, and forbade those not specifica
as religious officials to wear religious garb. According
decree all civil servants were to wear western clothes
fez being outlawed due to its connection with religion
were designed to remove major psychological and cult
to modernization.

36 Ibid., April 17.

37 Kinross, Atatirk, 456.
38 Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University
Press, 1961), 201.
39 Toynbee, Turkey, 268.
40 Hans Froembgen, Kemal Atatiirk (New York: Hillman Curl, Inc., 1937), 235.
41 Henry E. Allen, The Turkish Transformation (Chicago: University of Chica
Press, 1935).

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Another result of the rebellion was Turkish continuation of the

Ottoman practice of exiling many of the rebel leaders to We
Anatolia. But many of the exiles were able or allowed to return
their homes in a matter of months or a few years. In nume
instances, according to Professor Beqikci, they were able to assu
their old positions, since the government in Ankara had not fil
them. Because of their role in the rebellion and successful return
they were even more highly esteemed than before exile. In fact, sev
exiled leaders took seats in parliament where, collaborating
the Turkish bureaucracy, they were able to defend their own eco
interests much to the detriment of the development of eastern Turk
In return for the protection of their economic interests, the Ku
leaders were willing to cooperate with the Turkish Nationalist A
bly's assault on Kurdish language and culture.42 Moreover
Professor BeSikci, in order to protect their economic interests
Kurdish leadership collaborated with the economic and busi
interests of more developed western Anatolia. Much of the ear
savings and deposits of the East were used to facilitate develop
of the West.43 These developments contributed to an incre
economic inequality between eastern and western Turkey an
situation in which the Kurds were increasingly willing to b
Ankara and hence Turks for all of their problems. These new arr
ments imbued Turkish-Kurdish relationships with ethnic (Ir
overtones. The forceful implementation of the nationalist Turk
slogans and symbols completed the alienation which Ankara's atte
at assimilation could not prevent. Subsequently, only arguments
sented along communistic, Marxist or ideological class lines see
to be able to bridge the gap between Kurd and Turk.44
One of the most significant consequences of the rebellion
the suppression of the first opposition party to be formed
Turkish Republic-the Progressive Party (Terakkiperver Cumhu
Firkasl). The Progressive Party had been founded on November

42 Be$ikci, 314-315.
43 Ibid., 315-316.
44 This is true up to the present day. Kurds are recognized as Kurds only b
leftist parties. Whether this recognition will spread to the wider Turkish polity r
to be seen. It is quite possible that it will pose some problems. See Robert W. O
"Al-Fatah in Turkey: Its Influence on the March 12 Coup" [1971], Middle E
Studies, vol. 9, no. 2 (1973), 197-205.

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1924 by Refet [Bele] Papa, Hiiseyin Rauf [Orbay], A

[Cebesoy], Adnan [Adlvar], Ismail Canbulat and Kazim Ka
These men had been among the original adherents to the
cause and had played important roles in the creation of t
They had come into conflict with Kemal, however, so
founding of the Republic when it had become clear that
to rule the country by himself. The creation and dem
Progressive Party is an example of the frequent clashes a
personalities, which characterized this period of Turkish
Aside from this, the Progressive leaders had objected to
nature of Kemal's reforms, especially regarding religion.
Professor Kemal Karpat, whatever the professed liber
Progressive Party, one of the articles of its constitution s
for religion and it "aimed specially at protecting religio
interference of the government where secular views wer
manifest".47 Progressives felt lasting reforms could only
about gradually and in response to the demands of the p
From the very beginning the Progressive Party aimed o
the power of Mustafa Kemal. There was no thought
him with another government leader. In fact, at first t
not even intend to choose its own candidates for vaca
sought independent candidates.49 It did, however, set up
in Istanbul and several provincial cities, in anticipation o
offering candidates.
The Progressive Party, unlike the People's Party, ha
program and party constitution which stated that the Pa
to guard against autocracy and restriction of individual
mentioned earlier, one complete article was devoted to r
protection for religious beliefs. Other aspects of the

45 The best account of the Progressive Party in historical context is Ka

Politics and Walter Weiker, Political Tutelage and Democracy. The
its Aftermath (Brill, 1973); Halide Edib, Conflict of East and West in
Sheikh Muhammad Ashraf, 1935), 186 gives a contemporary view o
Edib was the wife of Adnan Adlvar, one of the founding fathers of t
Party; also see Kinross, 445-450.
46 Ibid.
47 Karpat, 46.
48 Kinross, 445.
49 The following paragraphs are based on Karpat, 45-50, Weiker, 5
ross, 445-450.

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program differed materially from the People's Party. Foremo

the demand that the President should disengage himself from p
parties upon being elected. Only a mandate from the peopl
legitimize modification of the constitution. Direct elections sho
held in order to bring democracy nearer the people. Judges w
be irremovable and the law was to be the basis upon which dec
would be made. Other goals cited on the program were freedo
the press and administrative decentralization.
The reasons for the creation of the Progressive Party are
much involved with Mustafa Kemal's desire for a 'controlled' o
sition which he hoped would inject more vitality and substanc
the political processes of the Grand National Assembly. As
of the People's Party, however, he felt obligated to criticize the
gressives and their leaders. While Kemal's criticism was bal
that of the People's Party leadership was harsh. Despite harang
from the latter, the Progressives managed to get their principal ene
Ismet Papa [In6nii], replaced by Ali Fethi Bey [Okyar], a fri
Mustafa Kemal's childhood, but a liberal with an independent m
This was the situation when Sheikh Sait led his followers into
rebellion. When news of the rebellion reached Ankara the position
of the Progressives became untenable. Mustafa Kemal did not hesita
to blame the Progressives, especially the party founders, for the
surrection.51 According to Professor Walter Weiker, there is a stor
told that when Sait's rebellion broke out, an event attributed direct
to the existence of the new conservative Progressive Party and its
growing popularity both in the Istanbul press and generally amon
anti-Kemalist elements, Kemal sent Ali Fethi Bey to see the Pr
gressive leaders and to persuade them to disband their party.52 Wh
Sait proclaimed the establishment of an independent Kurdistan an
restoration of the Caliphate as his main aim, the rebellion was also
a reaction to the government's intention to break the hold of t

50 One of the obscure elements surrounding the controversy regarding Must

Kemal's toleration of the creation of the Progressive Party and five years later of
Free (Serbest) Party which neither Karpat or Weiker makes clear is Kemal's attitud
toward Ismet Pasa (innii). ismet's position seems to have been much more tenu
than most historians state. One of the reasons Kemal favored the creation of
two parties could also have been to increase criticism of Ismet and hence to ass
that there would be no encroachment on Atatiirk's position from any direction.
51 H. E. Wortham, Mustafa Kemal of Turkey (Boston: Little, Brown and Compan
1931), 186.
52 Weiker, 75.

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feudal lords (agas or derebeys) by extending its auth

rural areas of the East.53 The Progressive leaders
rebellion and announced full support for governmen
included sending 16,000 troops against the rebels.54 Y
of the deputies in the Assembly pressed for measu
against the Progressive Party, whose very existence, they
program, contributed directly to the rebellion.
Kemal called Ismet Pasa to the premiership on March
a strong anti-sedition law, or Law to Maintain Public
Siikun), was adopted by a large majority.55 Martial l
This vote sealed the fate of the Progressive Party
Tribunals, the courts established in 1920 during th
pendence and invested with supreme authority to try
and all activity against the regime, were reactivated.5
The rebellion was soon suppressed; the rebels and th
or alleged supporters, including some newspapers, w
severely. The government, via the Independence Tribun
against the Progressive Party members, who were cha
sion with Sheikh Sait. The charge was largely based o
ship Kazim Karabekir had with the Kurds when he
support for Kemal in the eastern provinces during t
War of Independence.s7 Weiker states, without evide
doubtedly some lesser members of the party sympat
encouraged the Kurds, though this has never been pr
Orga mentions the same accusation.59 In the sourc
this article there is no mention of such a connecti
formation in the sources referring to collusion is
on hearsay.
The destruction of the Progressive Party ended Kemal's 'experiment'
in having a controlled internal opposition, which had, ironically,
encouraged external opposition. Turkey again, without pretense, be-
came a rigid, one-party state. Subsequently it was more difficult for
Kemal to portray his regime or his intentions as democratic.

53 Karpat, 47.
54 Weiker, 75.
55 Kinross, 452-455.
56 Karpat, 47.
57 Ibid., 47, fn. 47.
58 Weiker, 50.
59 Orga, 257.

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Another important result of the rebellion was that

Grand National Assembly declared that military perso
duty were forbidden to occupy seats in the Assembly.
marked the beginning of an unsuccessful policy of attemp
the role of the military in politics.61
Another significant offspring of the rebellion was th
tain Public Order which can be considered, in the word
Karpat, as "the beginning of a new phase in the h
Republic".62 Henceforward, the government dealt fro
of strength with the real possibility of using the mi
to eradicate what is ascertained to be internal threats
such as that of Sheikh Sait, having possible external r
The government pursued this policy in spite of its at
the military's political role. The Kemalist government
of the Kurdish Chieftain Mahmut's rebellion in No
1923-24,63 and the activities of the Kurdish rebel, Si
Kurdistan in 1920-21.64 The liquidation of the Progre
measures indicated in the Law to Maintain Public Ord
the trend of squelching political opposition, as expres
parties, by military force. This development nullified
of any meaningful dialogue regarding the proper e
for Turkey: whether government controlled industry
the word 'etatism', or an economy allowing greate
private section. The demise of the Progressive Part
most of whose members favored a larger: private sect
that effective economic dialogue ended. When Kemal b
experiment in controlled opposition with the creat
(Serbest) Party in 1930, his main objective was to stir
cially economic, to guide government economic policy
The government actions mentioned above meant tha
political developments in Turkey took place along str

60 Karpat, 48.
61 The Military interventions of 1960 and 1973 are the best examples. The most
recent article on this topic is Roger P. Nye, "Civil-Military Confrontation in Turkey:
The 1973 Presidential Election", International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 8,
No. 2 (1977), 209-228.
62 Karpat, 48.
63 Briton Cooper Busch, Mudros, 370-376.
64 Ibid.
65 Weiker, 1-50.

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lines, which heightened the political tension. While one ce

not say that the consequences of the 1925 rebellion c
directly to the subsequent political instability in Turk
to have played a definitive role in precipitating measures
creased ideological tensions. Here we have a classic exam
the reaction of an uninstitutionalized (in terms of the nasc
Republic and in regard to Kemal's reforms of 1923-1925)
nationalism to an incipient nationalism produced negative
the political institutions of the former, notwithstanding t
post-1925 reforms were carried further than the basic r
1923-24. Insofar as Sheikh Sait's rebellion was the catal
acceleration of reforms, one can say that the rebellion gre
dated the Kemalist reforms and hence Turkish nationalism. But it
also forced the opposition to identify with the reforms to a much
larger degree than they perhaps wanted. If one did not do so, o
could be branded a traitor in the sense that the word implies involv
ment with a group not identified as part of the nationalist sector.
Heightened Turkish nationalism forced meaningful political dialog
into ideological channels which, at first dormant, subsequently creat
more instability in Turkish political structures than perhaps would
have otherwise occurred. The suppression of the rebellion help
articulate incipient Kurdish nationalism, increase Kurdish disconte
and Kurdish opposition to the Turkish government. The use of the
Turkish army in large numbers seems to have reinforced Kurdi
separatist feeling. This is especially evident in the Kurdish rebellio
in $emdinli in 1928-1930, which was a result of the oppressive mea
sures of the Turkish government during and following Sheikh Sait
rebellion.66 In the Zeylan (1930) and Agrn (1926-1932) risings, nati
nalist Kurdish slogans were extensively used.67
The failure of the Ankara government to take meaningful steps
to redress, if not to remove, the causes of unrest-especially econom
and political-assured the continued existence of a dangerous opp
sition to the Republic. To secure law and order the Turkish govern
ment cooperated with those very feudal Kurdish leaders, similar to
Sheikh Sait, which in turn assured the underdevelopment of t
eastern areas and ironically increased the estrangement between th
two nationalities.

66 Beqikci, 313.
67 Ibid.

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