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A Horn-eye View of Ottoman and Tamil Nationalism:
Yusuf Aqçura (1876–1935) and Maraimalai Adigal (1876–1950), Draft 11.2

By Anthony K. Shin

[This essay aims at applying Horneyan theory to the analysis of the psychological motivations behind two leaders’ embrace of ethno-linguistic nationalism in the late 19th to early 20th century. Specifically, it examines the activities and writings of the Tatar-Ottoman publicist Aqçuraoğlu Yusuf (1876–1935) and the Tamil writer Maraimalai Adigal (1876–1950). The content and circumstances of a selection of Aqçura’s essays and lectures from 1910–1911 are examined in particular detail, interpreting these documents as revealing what he was moving toward, against, and away from in a quest for national glory that could accommodate him and his Tatar kin as well as the Ottoman Turks. Then it compares and contrasts the view thus obtained of Yusuf Aqçura’s promotion of unity on a Turko-Tatar basis with a similar analysis of Adigal’s promotion of unity on the basis of his concept of Saiva Siddhanta Hinduism. Scientific support is found for the use of Horneyan theory in the works in dream theory by J. Allan Hobson and his collaborators. - AKS]


On April 5, 1911, the Tatar-Ottoman publicist and newspaper editor Aqçuraoğlu Yusuf (hereafter, Aqçura) began delivering a lecture on the unity of Turks and Tatars, at the Fevziye Reading-Room in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. This lecture was given in response to pejorative comments, imputing “bloodthirstiness” to the Tatar ethnicity, which were printed several days earlier in the newspaper of a rival editor. In his speech, Aqçura depicted the Turkic-speaking Muslims of the Ottoman and Russian Empires as sharing a grandiose heritage by linkage to Genghis Khan.

It must be noted that Freudian and similarly diachronic psychoanalytic theories tend to reinforce the teleological and essentialist tendencies that historians generally and Ottoman historians more specifically have sought to avoid.1 Thomas and Georgeon avoid dealing with overtly psychological analysis of Aqçura, but the problem of how to characterize apparent shifts in Aqçura’s thinking over time, and the motivations behind these shifts, has lurked in the background of studies of nationalist movements in Turkic-speaking Muslim societies, most of which cite Aqçura’s influential role. This questione della psicologia is important not only to Ottoman studies, but also to history more generally, because investigating it will help us understand what the world looked and felt like to particular individuals such as Aqçura, and find out what was motivating them to make their particular decisions and take their particular courses of action. Aqçura’s writings and activities are ill suited to analysis by diachronic psychoanalytic theories, but they are highly amenable to being understood through the synchronic psychoanalytic theory of Karen Horney. Her theory has furthermore been fruitfully applied in literary criticism, and it finds validation in the latest findings from dream research and brain science. Seen from another perspective, this study contributes to psychology by presenting historical evidence that corroborates Horneyan theory. Moreover, it offers a realistic approach for identifying the psychological motivations of later writers, which gave shape, direction, and impetus to what they noticed and focused on in re-examining history. This calls to mind Croce’s insight that « Ogni vera storia è storia contemporanea » / “Every true history is contemporary history.”

Using Horneyan theory, I relate Aqçura’s 1911 lecture synchronically to the articles that he printed in Ṡıraṭ-ı Müstaqim. By examining these writings against background of knowledge about his life provided by Thomas and Georgeon, I argue that Aqçura shifted from initially seeing his “vision of possibilities, the perspective of infinitude” in populist and Islamist terms to later seeing these in his future-oriented, Genghis-centered vision of “Turko-Tatardom,” rooted in German “scientific” philology, and having connections to German economic, educational, and military strength. At the same time — synchronically — two other trends appear in his other writings from 1910–1911: he sought to take over the strengths that he associated with Islamism, redirecting them in service of Turko-Tatarism, and he did not take much account, at least in his writings, of the risks that came with advocating a brand of ethnic nationalism that crossed borders and smacked of irredentism. The inflammatory comments about Tatars from his rival in newspaper editing gave Aqçura the occasion to regard and portray himself as standing up in defense of a badly-maligned minority (the Tatars), while collaborating with and lending intellectual, rhetorical support to others who wished to fashion themselves into the new Staatsvolk (the Turks).

1An important strength of Freud’s theory is that he kept psychology, then in its infancy, grounded in social realities and historically attested trends of the day. Against the backdrop of world war and horrifying anti-Semitism, the preponderance of his data militated against any presumption of a benign human nature. He overgeneralized from the limited sample of his highly neurotic patients within Viennese society, but self-reinforcing neurotic tendencies clearly do show up in civilized societies worldwide, and such destructive patterns of thought and behavior do occur with “fatiguing regularity” under common circumstances. Moreover, it was not known in Freud’s time whether or how psychology (the study of the mind) could be kept in touch with knowledge from neurology (the study of the brain).