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Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, the first political party in the Republic of Turkey

Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, the first political party in the Republic of Turkey

With the election of a new chairman in Turkey's oldest political party, which is still in continuous operation and was founded by Mustafa Kemal himself, we would like to introduce you to the incredibly interesting history of its formation.

Let's move first to the time of the War of Independence, more precisely to the 6th of December 1922 (i.e., even before the proclamation of the republic), when, for the first time, the Commander-in-Chief Mustafa Kemal shared with the world his desire to establish a political party. On that day, Kemal utters the legendary words:

"...To be worthy of the trust shown to me by all classes of people of the nation, even from the farthest corners of the Islamic world, of which I will be eternally proud, I intend to found a political party based on the principle of populism and call it the People's Party, to devote my life to the good of the fatherland to the end, as the most humble member of the nation." [1]

His decision was mainly motivated by his fear of the collapse of the state (he already had the plan to proclaim a republic) and the leveling of backwardness. Another factor was the desire to create a modern society that actively participates in politics. He believed that to meet certain criteria, it is necessary to create a party that is inspired by Turkish society and that draws its strength for action precisely from its people.

On 9 September 1923, the President of the newly formed Republic of Turkey addressed an order to the Ministry of Interior to announce the formation of the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi). Turkey, at that moment, became a republic with a one-party system.  The first political party developed from the Association for the Defence of Rights in Anatolia and Rumeli. This association was formed in 1919 during the Sivas Congress and was established to lead the national struggle during the War of Independence. It also preached the idea of equality and representation of all social classes. An important date is 8 April 1923, when Mustafa Kemal published an electoral bulletin known as the 9 Principles. This bulletin later became the party's draft program. The next step was to create a constitution for the new party, none other than Mustafa Kemal was responsible for this, together with parliamentarians who were enthusiastic about the idea. This constitution contains, among other things, the ideas of republicanism, populism, nationalism, the rule of law, reform, and national sovereignty. 

After the sultanate's overthrow and the republic's proclamation, Mustafa Kemal uttered key words regarding the social classes in Turkey. He believed that Turkish social classes complement and inspire each other, and therefore, the party is to uphold the rights, development, and welfare of all classes. This statement, in a way, foreshadows the party's role in the newly formed republic, which would seek to create a confident society. The class will no longer be a barrier, making switching between classes possible. He entrusted the formation of the party to the citizens, the stratum of the intelligentsia and, to the greatest extent, to the military, counting on their similar commitment as during the War of Independence.

Through the activities of the Association for the Defence of Rights in Anatolia and Rumeli, the newly formed Republican People's Party (CHP) already had its own committees across the country, which had changed their names from associations to the name of the party. The party owed its phenomenon primarily to its founder, an extremely charismatic winner of the War of Independence. It uses the slogan above: 'a cohesive society without classes and privileges', through which it wishes to represent all social strata. Interestingly, the 1927 census showed that, among occupational groups, 7 percent were traders, those engaged in industry, services, and free trade, and over 90 percent of the population were farmers and the unemployed. The farmers previously mentioned made up the party's membership, although they were not prominent.  Since the party would have a national function, the factor of balance between classes would be its main priority.

The Republican People's Party, with Kemal at its head, was to make changes that completely re-evaluate previous traditions and the character of the whole society. The main changes included the abolition of the sultanate, the caliphate, Sharia law changes to the civil code, and the adoption of the Latin alphabet. The appearance of the citizens of the young republic was also changed by replacing the traditional fez with a hat worn in Western countries. The reform was carried out by the Ministry of Education under the watchful eye of the so-called architect of university reform, Reşit Galip, who believed that a rapid and thorough reform of the education system was necessary, together with the creation of a new law to the existing conventional laws. On this basis, community houses, the Turkish Historical Society, the Turkish Language Association, the Rural Teachers' Organisation, and the Rural Institutes began to be established. The CHP's greatest desire was to achieve Western statehood and become an important player on the international stage. In the 1930s, banners were created saying: "In one year, we fitted a century."

Ideologically, the party is based on six pillars: republicanism, nationalism, populism, secularism, statism and reformism. The party's political ideology would soon become known as Kemalism, representing Turkish nationalism. In 1938, on the occasion of the party's fifteenth anniversary, the '15th Anniversary Book' was published, which, among other things, defined the concept of newborn Turkish nationalism. This political program was created for the whole nation in the name of cooperation of all Turkish citizens who, working together, would contribute to the development of the homeland. The party's flag refers to exactly these pillars, represented by white arrows on a red background, and was put in use in 1933.

According to Kemalism, the Turkish people are a great, honored part of the great family of humanity. Being Turkish is about a personal sense of Turkishness characterized by knowledge of the Turkish language or the cultivation of Turkish traditions. If one adheres to the above principles, one's origin and religion do not matter in the least.

There is also the view that the Turkish people love all mankind and do not bear hostility or preach hostility towards other nations as long as it does not interfere with their national interests. "Kemalism" became official by adopting the CHP Party Programme at the Fourth Grand Convention in May 1935.

For the Kemalists, statism, their newly adopted strategy after the collapse of economic liberalism, was important. On its basis, the state was to play a central role in the economy to reverse the adverse effects of the economic crisis that mainly affected the capitalist West. In its publication, the CHP presented statism as the establishment, construction, and regulation by the state's own hands, with control of work left to the private sector. It also stresses the validity of the choice of statism for the sake of ensuring a stable future for Turkey, which had been exploited by other states for centuries. The policy chosen was to protect Turkey from potential losses, including, for example, the sale of domestic raw materials at a bargain price and the purchase of foreign products at an inflated price. Factories began to be set up at the time, mainly financed by imposing additional customs duties and limiting and regulating the amount of imported goods.

The overthrow of the caliphate was associated with the introduction of secularism and the country's secularization. The 15th-anniversary book proclaims that the republic is a state mechanism inspired by life itself and its positive needs and demands, not by religions and religious verses. From this point onwards, religion would not influence the state's and its citizens' functioning. Religious courts were abolished and replaced by the civil code, and religious schools were abolished to unify the education system. With secularization, freedom of conscience - one of the most important public rights - is ensured. There is a separation of the faith of individuals from the functioning of the state and the community. The question of atheism, which, according to the Book, cannot be considered both a vice and a virtue regarding national and social duties, is also addressed. Henceforth, faith becomes the intimate sphere of each citizen, where no one can impose or interfere with the religious life of another citizen.

The principle of republicanism demonstrates that the Republic of Turkey is based on a unity of principles and ideals. The power source is the law, representing equality and integrity for all citizens. Citizenship and a space of rights for all are common elements.  The CHP understands populism as ascribing political legitimacy to citizens and economic and political constraints. This means representing the interests of citizens and finding different kinds of solutions. Reformism, on the other hand, ensures moving with the times, being innovative, and making decisions related to the future interests of the state. Based on its interpretation, the CHP pursues reformism with the people, drawing power and authority from them while respecting the democratic rule of law and peaceful methods.

It is important to emphasize here that the ideas implemented by the party along with the modernization process were mainly visible in the cities, while the rural areas, as they were, did not experience the changes initiated by the CHP. This phenomenon led the republic to split into two Turks, which differed significantly from each other, with the large cities developing and secularism and modernity playing a key role there, while the so-called periphery remained traditional and religious. Limiting the influence of religion on the functioning of the state led to the emergence of an informal religious opposition, which developed its own education system. Their action was popular mainly with the marginalized majority of society, who were, excluded from the top-down transformation.

The year 1938 brought many changes to the CHP, including the death of Mustafa Kemal on November 10, 1938. The party's presidency is succeeded by İsmet İnönü, the then Prime Minister of Turkey. İnönü was a distinguished commander during the War of Independence. İsmet İnönü halted the advance of Greek forces in Anatolia in January and April 1921 in the battles of İnönü, which later earned him his name. He was the second most important person in the state right after Musta, and he implemented the president's ideas in governing the state. The period in which he took power heralded the coming of the Second World War, which threatened the state's security. With the outbreak of war, İnönü condemned the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and Italian expansionism (fearing the proximity of danger, if only in the Dodecanese islands, which belonged to Italy at the time). This sense of danger led to the signing of a mutual agreement with Great Britain and France in 1939. At the same time, the new Prime Minister would ensure good relations with the Soviet Union, which would inform as soon as the London agreement was signed that the pact did not threaten Joseph Stalin's actions. Turkey would maintain neutrality during the Second World War. This approach would stem from the awareness of İnönü, who knew that Turkey was not ready for active participation in the conflict. Another factor that influenced Turkey's neutrality was the fear of potential German occupation or 'liberation' at the hands of the Soviet Union.

The end of part I.


  1. Official website of the Republican People's Party; 
  2. OLSON, R. W., INCE, N., & Ince, N. (1977). TURKIC FOREIGN POLICY FROM 1923 - 1960: KEMALISM AND ITS LEGACY, A REVIEW AND A CRITIQUE. Oriente Moderno, 57(5/6), 227-241.;
  3. Rabasa, A., & Larrabee, F. S. (2008). The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey. In The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey (1st ed., pp. 31-50). RAND Corporation.;
  4. Official website of the President of the Republic of Turkey;

[1] Excerpt from Mustafa Kemal's speech of 6 December 1922 available on the official CHP website

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