Bernard Lewis is dead. May the concept of “modern Turkey” that he popularised for so long in diplomatic world and public imagination follow him to the grave. Lewis’s 1961 book on Turkish history normalised the racist fascist dictatorship of Attaturk and made him a hero in the west.
The supremacist new Turkish ideology of Kemalism, which was a contemporary of and identical to those in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, survives to this day as an example of modernity. The phrase “modern Turkey” used to be as ubiquitous and annoying as its counterpart in the depiction of Kurds as “nomadic tribes”, a stock phrase straight out of the pages of old editions of Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Lewis’s apparently pro-Kurdish re-awakening during the regime change in Iraq in 2003 was too late and too transactional. If he uttered a single word to the benefit of Kurds in Turkey, that would go down well on his record, but alas! Turkey’s violent denial and oppression of democratic, cultural, ethnic, national, and territorial rights of 20 million Kurds was never an example of contemporary modernity since the defeat of supremacist ideologies in World War II, contrary to what Bernard Lewis had us believe.