Nationalism and the Construction of Modern Education in Iran and Turkey: A Comparative Study

Document Type: Original Article


1 Associate Professor/ Dp. of Eucation / Humanities and social Science/ University of Mazandaran

2 M. A in Sociology, University of Tehran



Nationalism, a modern sociopolitical phenomenon, bears a close connection with the rise of modern educational institutions. Additionally, modern educational institutions, in line with the ideology of nationalism, take upon themselves to consolidate ethnic and cultural diversities and transform them into a solid national identity in order to constitute the nation as a political unit. This article aims to survey the role of modern educational institutions in constructing a shared national identity. The present article, employing a comparative-historical analysis, will shed light on how modern nation-states were constituted in Iran and Turkey. Ultimately, based on theory of nationalism by Ernest Gellner (1925-1995) the results of the study indicated that both in Iran and Turkey, the notion of nation was fabricated via the nationalist ideology. Thus, in both countries, the educational institutions, which were in charge of political forces, did their best to help the state in order to build a homogenous nation.




Main Subjects

Article Title [Persian]

مطالعه تطبیقی ناسیونالیسم و ساخت نظام آموزشی مدرن در ایران و ترکیه

Authors [Persian]

  • حجت صفارحیدری 1
  • سعید صفارحیدری 2
1 دانشیار گروه علوم تربیتی/ دانشکده علوم انسانی و اجتماعی/ دانشگاه مازندران
2 کارشناس ارشد جامعه شناسی ، دانشگاه تهران ,
Abstract [Persian]

ناسیونالیسم به عنوان پدیده ای سیاسی-اجتماعی متعلق به دوران مدرن با برآمدن نهادهای آمورشی مدرن نسبتی نزدیک دارد. نهادهای آموزشی مدرن، هم پیمان با ایدئولوژی ناسیونالیسم، وظیفه خود می دانند تا تنوعات قومی و فرهنگی را درهم آمیزند و بدین ترتیب  آنها را به قواره یک هویت ملی و با نیت تاسیس ملت - به مثابه یک واحد سیاسی- دگرگون کنند. این مقاله برآن است تا نقش نهادهای آموزشی را در ساخت هویت ملی واحد مورد بررسی قرار دهد. پژوهشگران حاضر از طریق به کارگیری روش تاریخی تطبیقی، به این پرسش پاسخ خواهند داد که چگونه دولت- ملت های مدرن در ایران و ترکیه ساخته شدند. هم چنین برپایه نظریه  ناسیونالیسم مردم شناس اجتماعی بریتانیایی، ارنست گلنر( 1925-1995)، یافته های تحقیق  نشان می دهد که در هر دو کشور ، مفهوم ملت از طریق ایدئولوژی ناسیونالیسم ساخته و پرداخته شده است. بنابراین، هم در ایران و هم درترکیه، نهادهای آموزشی که در خدمت نیروهای سیاسی بودند به بهترین نحو توانستند به دولت مدرن در ساختن ملتی واحد یاری رسانند.

Keywords [Persian]

  • ناسیونالیسم
  • ایران
  • ترکیه
  • آموزش و پرورش
  • دولت - ملت
  1. 1.      Introduction

As a cultural dimension of the discourse of modernity, the ideology of nationalism plays a crucial role in industrial modernization. Iran and Turkey, in a geographical adjacency, have passed numerous cultural, political, and military encounters in different historical periods. According to Savory (2007) the battle of Chaldiran (1514) was the first historic confrontation between Iran and Turkey, which took place during the reign Shah Ismail Safavid (1501-1524). Nevertheless, according to historians, the second confrontation with Turkey happened during Pahlavid dynasty.  Under the influence of Kemal Ataturk’s modernization project in Turkey, Reza Shah embarked on his industrial and cultural modernization in Iran, providing national reforms in language and costume, to name but two. (Nassaji, 2013)

There are some similarities regarding the historical origins of nationalism in the two countries. Among them, one can mention Iran’s fatal defeat in the wars with Russia and England and consequently Iran’s subjugation following the imposition harmful treaties by Russia and Britain. Likewise, Turkey has passed a similar historical experience, a humiliating defeat in the war with Russia and the subsequent treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774). Hence, nationalism can be interpreted as a reaction to such humiliating experiences (Entekhabi, 2016). Another resemblance lies in the inefficiency of the shahs of Qajar and subsequent increasing public demands of Iranian intellectuals with the intention of modernizing the country. Meanwhile, in Turkey, a nationalist reaction against steadfast Islamist politics of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, occurred, culminating in the construction of Turkey Republic.

Modernization in both countries started with military reform, extending to other social, political, and economic dimensions. According to Martin (2013), the educational reform in Iran, much similar to the Ottoman Empire, began with an urgent need for military reform in order to defend the national borders against foreign threats. In addition, the first schools in Iran were military schools, which were launched by Safavid and Qajar dynasties and culminated in the construction of Dar ul-Funun (1851). Moreover, the need for reform in the educational system was not restricted to a military domain, but soon took a further step and led to the construction of a modern nation, enjoying unique values, amalgamating all ethnic diversities in a unique national system. Modern educational institutions take upon themselves to spread such national values, resulting in the legitimization of the modern state.  Therefore, a proper investigation into the modern construction of nation-state is impossible without considering both sides of the term. Modern states do their best to strengthen the national spirit so that they can build modern nations, which solely became possible via modern educational institutions.

Hence, this paper aims to discuss the historical correlations between the construction of modern educational institutions and the following rise of the spirit of the nationalist ideology in Iran and Turkey. Based upon Ernest Gellner’s theory of nationalism, the following questions will be addressed:

1-      How did the spirit of nationalism in Iran and Turkey facilitate the evolution of modern nations?

2-      How did the spirit of nationalism and modern educational institutions assist each other in order to build national cultures and values in Iran and Turkey?

This study employs historical-comparative methodology, which has a long and deep-rooted tradition in social sciences. Most of the classic thinkers of sociology, including Alexis De-Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, known as the founding fathers of modern sociology, used historical-comparative methodology in their studies. Later in 1960s and 1970s, the method was widely employed by the sociologists who came to understand that the application of historical-comparative methodology in works of their predecessors had not been an accident at all, since it provided the researcher with an opportunity to sample collective and individual behaviors during different historical periods (Mahoney and Rueschehemeyer, 2008).

1.1.    Theoretical frameworks There is no broad consensus in defining nationalism. Anthony D. Smith (1998) divides nationalist theories in the following categories: 1. Theories which recognized nationalism through industrial culture. 2. Theories, sympathetic with Marxism, which found the social, economic, and political process of capitalism as the most crucial factor. 3. Theories which interpret nationalism as a result of nation-state construction. 4. Theories which take millenarianist and theological dimensions of nationalism into account. 5. Theories which are sensitive toward the inventory and constructivist aspects of modern nationalism.

 Delanty and O’Mahony (2002) suggested a typology for different forms of modern nationalism:  “state patriotism, liberal nationalism, reconstructive nationalism, integral nationalism, irredentist nationalism, secessionist nationalism, cultural nationalism, religious nationalism, transnationalism, and the new radical nationalisms” (ibid: 120). The Cultural origins of the nationalist movement, with which this paper is concerned, can be traced back to German romanticism and idealism and then to republican nationalist movements.  Hence, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is more likely to be the most acclaimed theoretician of cultural nationalism during the nineteen century. According to Pinkard (2002), Herder formulates a theory of nationalism by taking the relevance of culture and language into account and consequently, claims that meaning is a question relevant to cultural norms. After Herder, in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Addresses to the German nation (1808), a cultural and romantic interpretation of nationalism was presented and substantiated.

 Ernest Gellner’s (1925-1995) theory of nationalism has been utilized in this study. The sociologist interpretation of nationalism, for his thorough reading of this modern phenomenon, has been assumed as one of the key theories in the field.  Gellner’s central intellectual preoccupation is to understand why nationalism in modern times has transformed into a legitimizing political principle (Gellner, 1964:147-174). In all his writings including Thought and Change (1964), Nations and Nationalism (1983), Encounters with Nationalism (1994), and Culture, Identity, and Politics (1987), Gellner has tried to modify and render his theory more convincing. Thought and Change (1964) is his first authentic reading of modern nationalism, in which he believes both Marxism and liberalism misunderstood nationalism (O`Leary, 1997: 2). With a critical perspective, Gellner in this book insists that modern nationalism is a contingent phenomenon, substantiating Kedourie’s claim in Nationalism (1960). Yet and more importantly, he distinguishes between structure and culture, claiming in primitive, pre-industrial, and pre-modern societies, structure possesses a centrality, while in modern and industrial societies, citizen is a the one who enjoys  cultural legitimacy. However, how do modern citizens gain cultural legitimacy? Gellner holds that nationalism offers that.

 According to the British thinker, nationalism produces nation, and not vice-versa. As he states, “The minimal requirement for full citizenship, for effective moral membership of a modern community, is literacy. This is the minimum: a certain level of technological competence is probably also required” (ibid: 168). Needless to say that for Gellner, literacy is just the basic competence in order to be taken as a citizen:

Only a nation-size educational system can produce such full citizens: only it has the resources to make men of the raw biological material available, resources large enough to keep in being a sufficient number of specialists, of the second order teachers and intellectuals necessary to produce the ground level teachers. For this reason, something roughly of the size of a ' nation ' is the minimal political unit in the modern world (i.e. one in which universal literacy is recognized to be the valid norm). (ibid: 168)

 Therefore, culture and competency in reading and writing are going to be substituted for ancestors, ethnicities, and traditional connections in pre-modern societies. Gellner contends that industrialization and the rise of modernity bear a close correlation with nationalism and the spread of written culture, revealing itself through a formal and national language.

 High-culture is a key concept for Gellner. He contends that the spread of a public educational system, which has a global capacity, necessarily leads to a valuation of high-culture. Gellner repetitively uses the term of cleric, asserting in pre-agricultural and agricultural societies, clerics are the only members of society who had enough legitimacy to become competent in reading or writing and then to transmit every-day culture. Nevertheless, through modern educational system, 

Modern society resolves this conundrum by turning everyone into a cleric, by turning this potentially universal class into an effectively universal one, by ensuring that everyone without (exception is taught by it, that exo-education becomes the universal j norm, and that no-one culturally speaking, shaves himself. Modern II society is one in which no sub-community, below the size of one; capable of sustaining an independent educational system, can any 1 longer reproduce itself. (Gellner, 1983: 32; emphasis original)

 Modern high-culture, according to Gellner, brings about the possibility of organizing all ethnic and cultural diversities in a unique community, facilitated solely by a common modern educational system. Therefore, public education assists exo-socialization of modern citizens, allowing them to communicate through their national values with other members of society. In addition, a modern industrial society, in contrast with an agriculture-based society one, produces social mobility for its members. As he states,

Exo-socialization, education proper, is now the virtually universal norm, Men acquire the skills and sensibilities which make them acceptable to their fellows, which fit them to assume places in society, and which make them 'what they are', by being handed over by their kin groups (normally nowadays, of course, their nuclear family) to an educational machine which alone is capable of providing the wide range of training required for the generic cultural base. (ibid, 37)

Alongside public education which is a fruit of nationalism in industrial societies, Gellner distinguishes between wild and garden cultures, assuming the latter as an outcome of modern public education. Wild culture, as its name reveals, belongs to pre-modern era, through which “the savage kinds are produced and reproduce themselves spontaneously, as parts of the life of men. No community is without some shared system of communication and norms, and the wild systems of this kind (in other words, cultures) reproduce themselves from generation to generation without conscious design, supervision, surveillance or special nutrition” (ibid: 50) . On the other hand, Gellner stipulates unlike wild culture, modern cultivated culture requires constant surveillance, fulfilled via modern educational institutions; otherwise, the cultivated or garden culture is going to fade away soon.

To be more precise, Gellner argues nationalism gives birth to nations. He shows modern societies need a public shared education, which, either directly or indirectly, aid states in their political legitimacy. Consequently, if an inevitable milestone for industrial development and modernization lies in the supremacy of a unionist state, it solely takes place by constructing a just and shared modern education system. Hence, he holds the birth of modern educational system is an indispensable event in order to build a given nation. Gellner, considering the relevance of nationalism and modern education system, offers four main types of nationalism:  Satisfied, Classical liberal, Ethnic, and Diaspora.

1.2. Nationalism and making modern nations in Iran and Turkey

1.2.1. The archeology of nationalism in Iran

The first seeds of nationalism in Iran was disseminated during Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), commencing with military defeats and then followed by military reforms. The nineteenth century is a critical point for the countries which were under western sovereignty, since they started a protest against imperialist plans all around the world. The first Iranian confrontation with western civilization took place during two wars with Russia and the subsequent Iran’s defeat. According to Zia-Ebrahimi (2018), from 1804 to 1813, the first phase of confrontation happened when Iran was in war with Russia, while Fath-Ali Shah (1798-1834) was determined to save his royal authority over Caucasia, but at the same time, Alexander I (1801-1825) had some reasons to extend his empire southward. The war began in 1813 and Russia conquered Iran’s army, thanks to their modern military and technological facilities. Shah was obliged to indemnify and signed the treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) unbearable pressure. The first war, which had been even more agonizing than the second, wounded Iran with the treaty of Gulistan (1813). While the Qajar shah did his best to use religious authority in order to alleviate Russia pressures, he came to the conclusion that the only solution was to modernize military facilities (Kazemi-Mousavi: 2017). Therefore, military modernization started when Fath-Ali Shah was in power and it continued under by Abbas-Mirza’s surveillance. The discourse of military modernization continued until the reign of Pahlavi I, culminating in establishment of the first national army. According to Cronin (2008), military reforms in Iran during Qajar dynasty was a response to what Ottoman Empire was doing to repair its army. Iranian xenophobia towards the west deepened when Britain entered the military and political equation along with Russia. Mohammad Shah (1808-1848) in 1837 and Naser-Al-Din Shah (1848-1896) in 1856 began wars against Britain to take back Herat, which was abortive and unavailing

Iran’s defeat against Tzar’s army and the subsequent humiliating treaty was targeted Shah’s national pride and that of his prince, Abbas-Mirza. They came to understand that it was imperative to educate their army and equip them with new modern military facilities. Under the influence of successful reforms of Sultan Selim III in the Ottoman Empire, called as Nazme-Jadid, Abbas-Mirza endeavored to follow and imitate their neighbor’s path in its military reforms. General Gordon, a representative of Napoleon was sent to Iran and concluded the Treaty of Finckenstein (1807). As a result, France promised Iran to help construct new artillery. Moreover, Iran was committed to publicly announce its opposition to Russia and Britain politics in the region. Nevertheless, Abbas-Mirza‘s ambitious plans turned out to be futile soon. (Nafisi, 2005)

The second spark of military reform, after Abbas-Mirza’s futile efforts, was lighted when Naser-Al-Din Shah was in power (1848-1896). Amir-Kabir reforms during the reign of Naser-Al-Din Shah was not solely restricted to its military dimension. Apart from military reforms, Amir-Kabir decided to ignite large political, cultural and social reforms. He, too, organized Vaghaye-Etefahyie newspaper, established Dar Ul-funun, and translated canonical western books. Instead of France or Britain, Amir-Kabir sought help from Prussian and Austrian governments in order to develop new modern artillery, as he was well aware of Abbas-Mirza previous negative experiences after he called on France to help. However, military reforms in a short time led to educational reforms, providing Iranian students with the gift of educating in army. Therefore, Darul-Al-funun was built to fulfil such a need (Ferastakhah, 2009).

The two years premiership of Mirza Hussein-khan Sepahsalar (entitled as Mushir-al-dole and then as Sepah-salar) during Naseri Period was the next phase of military modernization in Iran. The interesting point about the thought and life of Sepahsalar is his infatuation with Ottoman’s Turkey. Adamiyat (2006) in The Thought of Modernization reminds his readers about the feeling of necessity that was in the air during the Qajar period in Iran, the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and Meiji (1868-1912) period in Japan to incorporate a military modernizing plan into regimes’ macro-politics.

Military and educational reforms strengthened nationalism in Pahlavi Iran (Atabaki, 2007). After Qajars were dethroned and the Pahlavi dynasty succeeded, Reza Shah embarked on a revolutionary reform, providing necessary structural requirements to build a modern nation-state. As Abrahamian explains, bureaucracy and artillery were two main pillars upon which Reza Shah built his new government. He established the first national army and then allocated special rewards to its members. According to Katouzian (2000), after the Constitutional Revolution, particularly from 1918 to1921, Iran was experiencing one of most chaotic moments of its history and it was even subject to the threat of disintegration. Therefore, Reza shah’s admission into Iran’s political scene was a felicitous event for the Iranian elites and as a result, he had enough political legitimacy to implement and boost authoritative modernization. As Ansari (2007) states: “The reformist intelligentsia rallied behind Reza Khan, perceiving him as a stabilizing, nationalist force. As Reza Khan brought a succession of rebels and provincial autocrats to heel, the sympathetic views of many of the intelligentsia melded into eulogy – all of which served to magnify the importance of Reza Khan to the nationalist programme of revitalisation” (2007:38). State nationalism became a prevalent ideology for Reza Shah’s regime, since disappointing events around and after the Constitutional Revolution and subsequent Britain coup-d’état in 1921 had made Iranian elites and people pessimistic, and even xenophobic, towards western powers.


1.2.2. The Archeology of Nationalism in Turkey

The first movements of modernization in the Ottoman Empire began when Sultan Ahmed (1703-1730) was in power. According to Entekhabi (2016), after signing the treaty of Passarowitz (1718) agreement and the subsequent loss of Belgrade, Sultan Ahmed realized that the Ottoman Empire is no longer supreme in military power; therefore, he tried to avoid getting into fight with western powers and instead, made an effort to repair financial, bureaucratic, and military systems. Due to constant cultural exchanges between Turkey and France, the last twelve years of Sultan Ahmed reign is now regarded as the Tulip age.  One of the vital cultural achievements of this historical period happened when Chalepi Muhammad, in his return to Turkey, brought a printing-machine from France. After Ahmed, Sultan Mahmud I (1730-1754) sporadically followed some reforms such as building a geometry house (1734), or founding an engineering artillery school, where some books on war engineering were translated into Turkish.

Sultan Salim (1789-1809) and Sultan Mahmud (1808-1839) spurred new tendencies to boost the pace of Ottoman’s reformation. Entitled as Nezame-Jadid (New Order), Sultan Salim organized a military reformation plan. Additionally, Salim’s succession was synchronous with the Ottomans’ war against Austria and Russia (1787-1792). Thanks to his cleverness, he surreptitiously began a negotiation with France in order to trigger military reformation. After the end of war, he continued the establishment of Nezame-Jadid, constructed an engineering artillery school (1795), and adamantly subscribed to such a military reformation spirit; he did some fundamental amendments in powder-making, naval forces, artillery units, and infantry. Sultan Salim’s reformation in military costumes, an imitation from western ones, took place in 1794, but his “misfortune was in having to make this turn without adequate external or internal support. France revolution was extremely destabilizing for an empire that regarded France as its closest European ally. France’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 was only bad turn in a series of reversal in Ottoman-French relationship” (Vaughn Findley, 2010: 34). Sultan Salim did his best to soothe the discontents of Janissaries, yet it was a futile effort. He was dethroned in 1807.

After the dethronement of Salim, he was imprisoned by the command of the next Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Mustafa. Ultimately, Salim was executed, because his proponents had formed a secret committee to restore him to power. Mustafa’s reign lasted fourteen months. After him, Mahmud became the next Ottoman’s sultan. Having the bitter destiny of Salim and his reformation plan in mind, Mahmud revived Salim’s policies in a more subtle way. Making a new bureaucrat class, Mahmud’s innovation was to enervate conservative and religious pressures, proclaiming that the sole reason of Ottomans’ defeats in war against Greece (1820-1822) and Abbas Mirza’s army was conservatives who impeded the military reforms. As Feroz states,

“ The most significant outcome of these changes was the creation of a new bureaucratic class. This class, though loyal to the sultan and the Ottoman dynasty, possessed a higher sense of loyalty to the state which its members no longer saw as being manifested only in the person of the sultan. These new officials, who launched a new programme of reform and reorganization known in Turkish as the Tanzimat, were steeped in Western ideas and looked to Europe as their model and inspiration.” (Feroz, 1993: 25)

After the death of Mahmud (1839), his son Abdul-hamid (1839-1862), acceded to power while he was only sixteen. During this period which is known as Tanzimat age, the reformation movement in the Ottoman Empire witnessed its heyday.

The World War I shifted the direction of the Ottoman Empire’s destiny. Mustafa Kamal, enjoying his victory in Turkey’s independence wars, turned into a leading figure in the history twentieth century Turkey. He founded the Republic of Turkey and abolished Ottoman dynasty. According to Pirmoraddian and Fateminejad (2017), Kemal and his fellows launched laic republic of Turkey in three phases: the separation of caliphate from empire (1922), the proclamation of the republic, and the abolition of caliphate (1924). Additionally, the most glorious achievement of Kamal Ataturk lies in constituting a nation-state and thus, constructing a unique national identity. While the collapse of the Ottoman Empire warned Turkish politicians and elites that Pan-Turkism, Pan-Islamism, or Ottomanism are no longer solely able to provide a solution to the country’s problems, Ataturk, by publicizing a westernized and populist nationalism, succeeded in forming a nation-state regime. Although he was still overwhelmed by the ideology of Young-Turks and felt by heart a close attachment to them, Ataturk preferred to relinquish his ambitious and passionate Pan-Turkist preoccupations and instead, followed a unionist nationalist politics in order to foster imperative modernizations.  

Making a nation-state in Turkey was not as complex and enigmatic as in Iran. Among Ataturk’s deeds during from 1924 to 1928, one can enumerate the demolition of religious jurisprudence, the prohibition of religious dressing except in very few cases, new orders for dressing in a westernized fashion, purging Turkish language of Persian and Arabic words, changing Turkish alphabet and substituting them with a Latin one as the national written language, and altering traditional calendar system and replacing it with a Gregorian calendar system as the national calendar. According to Atabaki (2003), Ataturk’s nationalism had two dimensions which were intertwined: an authoritative government was needed to resist western threats and on the other hand, the political independence of the country must be guaranteed in the face with European powers. The first rendered uniformity and the latter provided Europeanization.

1.3. Nationalism and the constitution of modern educational system in Iran and Turkey

1.3.1. Nationalism and the constitution of modern education in Pahlavi period

If the modern state in Iran was established through the development of bureaucracy and modern army, it was modern educational institutions which gave rise to nation. Needless to say, the constitution of the nation is multidimensional and procedural. That is to say, as Tavakoli-Targhi (2017) notes, modernization in Iran was not a simple imitation or reaction in the face with a western historical experience, but it involved a long local and authentic procedure, which permeated into everyday life, discourses and mind-sets. However, as mentioned above, nation was born where nationalism has gained deep roots and thus modern educational institutions take upon themselves to publicize and legitimize a unique national identity. Therefore, national identity, institutionalized via modern curriculums, is in itself an imaginary construction, resulting in the construction of nation.

Benedict Anderson (1983) paid heed to the congruency between the spread of a written culture (as it rises in harmony with printing culture) and the dissemination of nationalist ideology. He noted that the correlation between the growth of capitalism and printing technology leads to a rise in imaginary communities which legitimize and provide prerequisites of modern nations construction. Likewise, Gellner (1983) suggests that the growth of nationalism is analogous to a collective will to gain a high-culture via modern educational institutions. Therefore, an important consequence of the growth of printing culture is a collective sensitivity to constitute a national language. Prior to Reza Shah’s formal pledge to foster a nationalist political and cultural plan, elites, thanks to the creation of journalism as a profession, were fortunate enough to spread their writings in a national scope. Meanwhile, Martin recognizes a close relationship between the educational reformations, stemming from the newspapers’ endeavors to persuade the shah to activate an educational reformation. What will be explained hereunder are four leading avant-garde magazines, which after Constitutional Revolution, try in a systematic way to deal with the requirement of a national and cultural reformation: Kaveh magazine (1916-1924), Iranshahr (1922-1927), Ayandeh (1922-1927), and Name-ye-Farhangestan (1924-1925) ( Table 1).

              Before Reza Shah took office, these four leading magazines in the post-Constitutional era gave special credit and priority to a fundamental reformation of the educational system as the certain solution to all Iran’s cultural and political problems. Additionally, they are all well aware of the point that without injecting a unionist and nationalist spirit, it was impossible to make a powerful modern educational system. Even though many private schools were established during the Qajar period, particularly during Muzaff ad-Din-shah’s reign, one cannot interpret this as an indicator of the constitution of modern education in Iran (Vejdani, 2007: 37-40). Hence, modern education is inevitably realized when public education, which is free for members of all social classes, becomes available in a national scope.

     Hobsbawm (1983) recognizes a necessary relationship between the promulgation of the nationalist ideology and the state’s apparatus, inventing parallel traditions to legitimize nationalism and construct nation. In this regard, as Ansari notes,

 It was a subtle shift in the doctrine of nationalism which placed the dynasty on a par with if not superior to the nation. Far from being the first servant of the state, Reza Shah was becoming a prerequisite for its continued existence. The inherent contradiction implicit in the juxtaposition of a traditional monarchy with the institutions of the modern state, and the desire to implement a legal–rational model of government, would be resolved through loyalty to the dynasty and the development of a dynastic nationalism which would incorporate these diverse trends. (Ansari, 2007:51)

Table 1: Political, cultural, educational, and national stands of post-constitutional magazines




Editorship: Hassan Taghizade



Editorship: Hossein Kazemzade



Editorship: Mahmud Afshar-Yazdi



Editorship: Moshfegh Kazemi and Others

Mode of Nationalism



Unionist and pan-Iranist


Modes of Encounters with western

Positivist and critical

Islamist protestant

Positivist and critical


Modes of


Fundamental reformation in education’ system and the improvement of civil society.

Educational reforms and public education with a modern approach,  religion reformation

Constituting a authoritative state, military reformation, constituting modern educational institutions, the reform in Farsi written language,

Ethic’s reformation, strengthening national spirit, publicizing modern modes of education. A free and obligatory education, reformation in women condition

Cultural values

Saving national Persian alphabets, Iran’s independence, Women’s freedom and rescuing useful old traditions, and national integrity.



The priority of a revolution in thoughts over political revolutions, making scientific and literary associations


) National integrity, publicizing Persian language, unifying costumes.

(Khadrizade and Danesh-Shakib: 2011)

Authoritative modernization, national integrity and homogeneity, against empiricism, against capitalization, supporter of oil’s nationalizing

(Abbasi 2009)



The table below addresses Reza Shah’s case in modernizing Iran’s educational system

Table2. Reza Shah`s efforts to modernize Iran`s education system

Efforts to modernization

Description and explanation of the efforts

Foundation of new schools

New schools were created with the intention of dissemination of unified national values as well as derogation of traditional schools which were overpowered by the clergymen. In 1304 seventy-four new high schools were established .

Foundation of institutions

By the year 1304 fewer than 600 students had enrolled in the six already existing institutions (of Iran) which were law literature politicical science medicine agriculture and teachers training (Abrahamian, 2013: 158)

Foundation of the university of Tehran

By merging the six institutions, the university of Tehran was founded and by the end of 1910s, it had established six new colleges for dentistry students’ pharmacy, veterinary fine arts theology and science and technology.

Foundation of literacy classes for adults

In 1920, the ministries trained about 3,200 staff in the conservatories, and the Ministry of Culture trained 17,390 of their staff in literacy classes for adults." (Abrahamian, 2006: 133)

Modification of education content

There are many expressions of Iranianism and irredentism that can be found here with modifications to the education content, historical lessons, the social sciences of nationalism, and pre-Islamic Iran










.Table 3: Expansion of public education in the years of the first Pahlavi government

Number of students in schools



Number Kindergarten Students




Number of primary schools



Number of primary school students




The number of high schools




Number of high school students



Source: Abrahamian (2013)  

Table 4: The first Pahlavi government`s other cultural efforts to Strengthen Nationalism in Iran

Efforts on state nationalism during the first Pahlavi era


Description and explanation of the efforts


Clothing Reforms and the prohibition of the Veil


On January 4, 1307, the first clothing regulations were passed the Seventh parliament of Iran, and local press reported that those who did not strive for uniformity could not claim patriotism. Likewise, the law of veil prohibition was announced in January 1914.


Establishment of Iranian Academy

The Academy of Art was founded in 1914 with the aim of clearing the Persian language of foreign words, especially Arabic ones.

Source: Atabaki, 2017: p. 19


1.3.2. Nationalism and the constitution of modern education in Turkey

     Generally speaking, one can categorize Turkey’s educational reform into two main historical periods: Tanzimat period (1839-1876) and Kemal Ataturks’ period. The table hereunder shows Tanzimat period’s contribution to educational reform. 


Table 5: Attempts to establish a modern education system in Turkey during the years 1870-1830



The position of the training institution during and in result of the Tanzimat period


In 1838, Mahmoud II was frustrated by the educational reforms under the control of the religious scholars and instituted a Western-style school named Roshdiyeh to get rid of the clergies’ cavils (VanDuinkerken,1989: 49)




After the death of the Mahmoud the second the Provisional Educational Council (1845) was formed with the aim of achieving the most effective methods to reform public education.

During the period of adjustment, the Ministry of Education formed and established elementary schools (Sabian, Rushdieh), middle schools (secondary), high schools (high schools) and high schools (Harbiyeh), and a number of higher schools such as Dar al-Mulla'im (1848), Dar al-Mulla'at (1870), Malikiyah (1859), Tayebee (1877), Royal School of Law (1878), Nafiseh Industries (1879), etc. There was a kind of duality in the Ottoman education system. "(Entekhabi, 1395: 85)


In 1858 the first girls' school was built


Adoption of the Law on Public Education


Opening of Dar ul-Funun (the first Ottoman university) in 1870 with three departments of literature and philosophy, law, mathematics and science.


     Despite a great deal of effort made during Tanzimat period in order to improve social, educational and political situation the reformation died young, due to the numerous crises which the Ottoman empire was dealing with. A traditionalist and anti-western king, Sultan Abdul-Hamid dissolved the parliament. It was closed for almost thirty years and consequently, a will to restore legality to the country was the main impetus which gave rise to the Young Turks. The reformists of Tanzimat era, synchronous with the pandemonium of French revolution, fell strongly under the influence of French social and educational systems and reformation was carried out in a French fashion during this period. To make reforms in Ottomans’ educational system, Ali and Foad Pasha invited Jean Victor Douruy, the French minister of education, to Istanbul. After negotiations, a diplomat traveled to Turkey to help Ottomans renovate their educational system in 1876. Therefore, a large number of new schools, Christian schools, and modern libraries were established all around the country. The law of public education was ratified in 1869. According to Nurhayat and Tezer, “Regulation for Public Education also defined the basic rules in education, such as the age of the children who had to be enrolled to schools, the management of all levels of schools, the duration of each level of schools, the curriculum of all levels of schools, the general responsibilities of teachers, the responsibilities of the departments within the ministry, and so it laid the foundations for modern day educational institutions” (2015:3-5). Consequently, the military renovation began in the Ottoman Empire, extending soon to the educational reform during Tanzimat period.

     During Abdul-Hamid’s period (1876-1909), although he was a dogmatic, traditionalist and conservative leader towards the westernized reformation, he did his best to substitute the westernized plan with a pan-Arabist and anti-nationalist policy. However, Sultan Abdul-Hamid was not successful enough to decrease the pace of educational and military reformation. The table 6 shows the educational reformation happened during Hamidiye period (1890-1908).

       The transformation in the structure of social classes, the growth of a bureaucrat class, and the increasing influence of educational reformation during Abdul-Hamid period led to the creation of a youth culture, which along with educational certifications and familiarity with European languages, were predisposed to initiate cultural changes. As the number of educated youths increased in Istanbul, they found more chance to turn into a resistance power against Sultan Abdul-Hamid’s regime.  As Feroze Ahmed (2004) writes, “The Young Ottomans were also the products of the Tanzimat era. They emerged out of the influence of the press and education of those years, which permitted the growth of an intelligentsia” (2004: 37). Likewise, Zurcher (2010) states, “At the same time disenchantment with the regime was growing among the students in the colleges, given increasing repression after 1882 on the part of the regime and the regime’s responsibility for the murder of the ‘father’ of the Ottoman constitution, Mithat Pasha, in 1885. The British occupation of Cyprus in 1878 and of Egypt in 1882 was also laid at the door of Abdülhamit’s regime” (2010: 97).

Table 6: Some Educational Reforms during the Hamidiye Period


Countless increase in the number of schools and students: By this time the number of schools in the country reaches 10,000


Schools are established in the provinces, and especially high schools. When Abdul Hamid came to power, there were four colleges, four boys' teacher schools, 253 secondary schools, 1849 primary schools and one private school in Ottoman Turkey, but by the end of his reign, the number of secondary schools was 619, secondary schools. There will be 109 and 32 teacher training schools for boys.


The school curriculum plays a political role in conveying the official Ottoman ideology.


In the first year of government, secular educational policy is adopted, but as time passes, religious policies are replaced by secular Western policies. Therefore, the religious and ethical lessons and the principles of the caliphate and the sultan are replaced.


The anti-west and pan-Arabist policies lead to the centralization of central government through schools.


     The French sociological tradition including Fredrick Loplay, Aguste Comte, and Emile Durkheim exerted a powerful influence on the ideology of Young-Turks. Getting familiar with French sociology led to the theoretical configuration of the nation’s constitution. For instance, noting Loplay’s differentiation between collective and individual, Young-Turks came to understand that instead of putting emphasis on the necessity of the state reformation, they must insist on the necessity of the constitution of nation.  Ziya Gukalp, the founding father of sociology in Turkey, borrowed the concept of solidarity from Durkheim so that he can publicize a spirit of nationalism and pan-Turkism (Landau and Tavakol). Ultimately, Sultan Abdul-Hamid passed the law of constitution; in doing so, the army played an important role as well (Levy-Aksu, 2016: 4).

     Therefore, the interval between the constitution made by Young-Turks (1908) and the rise of Kemal Ataturk can be assumed as the crucial historical period which rendered the transformation from the Ottomans’ Ummat (ummah) to Turkey’s Mellat (nation) (Cagaptay, 2006). During 1920s, the central political plan of Ataturk and his fellows was to constitute an authoritarian modern state, which defined itself as the Republic of Turkey. On the other hand, during 1930s, Ataturk set an agenda for social and cultural reformations (Szyliowicz, 1973: 227-228). In the meantime, as Kim (2001) contends, “Ministers of Education during the 1930s could find the momentum to continue educational reform according to the goals outlined in CHP’s program for education, after the great congregation of CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi: Republican Populist Party) on May 17, 1931. As clarified in the program, the politics ofeducation are based on nationalism, laicism, populism and pragmatism” (2001:5). The principles pointed out in CHP in relation with national education have been enumerated hereunder:

Table 7: National Programs and Policies in Ataturk's Educational Reforms


Gaining knowledge is the only possible way to build a high civilization and eliminate ignorance


At every level of education, the most fundamental mission of education is to produce nationalist, republican, and secular citizens, otherwise the Turkish government will be extremely sensitive


Strengthening physical abilities along with strengthening mental abilities is what is right in Turkish national history


The goal of education is to create the tools for the citizens prosperity


The only criterion of value for Turkey's modern educational institution is nationalist and patriotic values.


Any kind of knowledge of Turkish history is vital for citizens. Historical knowledge of the Turkish national identity results in the elimination of any plan in order to destroy national values


  1. Conclusion

                  The main aim behind the present study, based on the theory of Ernest Gellner on nationalism, was to assess the relationship between the constitution of modern education and the ideology of nationalism. Gellner’s main idea is that nationalism is the fundamental impetus beyond the rise of modern educational institutions. As mentioned earlier, Gellner contends that the spirit of nationalism, by getting assistance from the modern education, provides a garden culture (1983: 50-51). Additionally, as he notes, modern educational institutions use all historical, cultural, and social resources in order to constitute a given national identity. Therefore, he suggests modern education take a leading role as a political legitimizer, and nationalism thus becomes necessary when modern states intend to constitute congruent and homogenous nations. Gellner argues that the sole responsibility of nationalism is to impose unity and integrity on modern industrial societies.

Without taking religion into account, any investigation about the construction of modern education in Iran and Turkey is not desired. Unlike Iran, a bureaucrat class was formed in Turkey. The members of this new bureaucrat class saw themselves as the devotees of the Ottoman caliph, and consequently were oblivious to any conservative or religious forces. The inchoate class motivated social and educational reforms, strengthening reformation faculties through obliterating all religious forces in a systematic way. Nevertheless, there exists a huge difference between Iran and Turkey in this regard. To be more precise, no avant-garde middle class developed in Iran, and thus, there was no social mediator to intensify the reformation movement. Hence, unlike Turkey, the thought of social reformation spread in a very unsystematic and sporadic way in Iran. That is, there was no organized plan as reformation.

As discussed above, nationalism provides integrity and therefore, boosts social solidarity. Nationalism, through modern educational institutions, reduces ethnic and cultural diversities as much as possible and makes an effort to advance a national culture all around the society. Hence, nationalism plays a role as a political legitimizer. Before Ataturk’s coming to power, Ottoman caliphs had attempted to spread the Ottoman ideology. They had understood that the sole way to resist foreign threat lied in constituting an independent Ottoman identity, and thus, they had done their best to promulgate a Pan-Turkist and Ottomanist ideology. Consequently, educational reformation in Turkey, in one way or another, was supported and facilitated by the Ottoman kings. In contrast with Turkey, the modern ideas regarding education in Iran, was mostly distributed by the religious and ethnic minorities and Qajar kings, who not only had no sympathetic feeling toward educational reformation, but also had a tendency to suppress any innovation the field of education. This was because the reform plan was publicized by the minorities and thus was considered a harsh threat to conservative and religious forces.

The Ottoman Empire lasted for almost six centuries. The upheavals during the last decades of its life, especially political and social events during Sultan Abdul-Hamid’s reign and the subsequent rise of Young-Turks, had provided the reasons to protest against Ottoman policies, laying the foundation of resistance against any forms of Ottoman-Islamic traditions. Hence, the atmosphere was already prepared to initiate an educational reformation. In Turkey, the army succeeded in destroying deep-seated Ottoman Empire so that they could construct a new national identity. In Iran, however, Reza Shah’s succession to throne was synchronous with a coup-d’état, not permitting him to introduce himself as a national king for the masses. Ultimately, the thought of constituting a nation-state and nationalism was introduced, or even imposed, by the shah and elites to masses, lacking any appropriate social ground.

Before Ataturk, even the most conservative sultans were convinced and had enough reasons to accelerate educational reforms. Needless to say that when Ataturk became the Turkey Republic’s leader, no detriment was felt to educational reformation, since Turkey had a long history of educational reformation beforehand. Whereas in Iran, before Reza Shah, no collective will was available to construct an independent national identity to legitimize through educational institutions and curriculums. Therefore, when Reza Shah intended to create an Iranian national identity, he had no choice but to impose it. Additionally, the national identity which was promoted by Ataturk and his fellows defined itself solely in subverting Ottoman-Islamic traditions. In other words, there existed a thesis and antithesis in order to render a new synthesis. Nonetheless, Reza Shah’s policy was not successful in providing convincing reasons to ruin conservative and traditional classes, who were assumed as the most staunch enemy of any social reformation.

From the Tanzimat era to Ataturk’s succession, Turkey’s elites had been effectively successful to initiate a constructive negotiation over the question of Turkey’s national identity and as a result, the issue had become a central topic in academic spheres. Therefore, the Turkish identity turned to an academic issue, invoking different domains of humanities to participate in the discussion. However, from the establishment of Dar ul-Funun to the construction of the University of Tehran, the spirit of reformation continued as a military enterprise, rather than transforming into cultural spheres. Although educational institutions found the chance of proliferation, the priority was already for such fields as engineering and medical sciences, and thus, humanities lived a parasitic life. The institutional weakness of humanities in Iranian universities led to an absence of collective and national discussion over the Iranian national identity. In such a situation, Iranian universities kept a life as the servant of industry, instead of delving into the epistemological and ontological questions of the Iranian national identity.

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