Intersecting Asymmetries: The Internationalization of Turkey in the 1920s and the Limits of the Postcolonial Approach


  • Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş Kiel University


Previous studies of Turkey’s relations with the League of Nations suggest that in the 1920s, the relationship was marked by Turkey’s exclusion from the League and disputes over territories and sovereignty. Only at the end of the decade did Turkey begin to join the international community, culminating in its becoming a member of the League in 1932. This article proposes a fresh reading of Turkey’s internationalization (i.e., its participation in international organizations) in the 1920s. Not only do we begin to see Turkish membership in a considerable number of smaller international organizations, but the government also developed ties with the League Secretariat and the International Labour Office, even though it formally remained a non-member of the League. These more subtle forms of cooperation, this article argues, were part of a balanced strategy of internationalization that reflected the (semi)colonial underpinnings of many international organizations and the Ottoman experience with them. This internationalization strategy was grounded in the Kemalists’ ideological conceptualization of the global order as profoundly shaped by European hegemony. In so arguing, this article adopts a postcolonial perspective. However, it also points out the limits of such a perspective, stressing that power asymmetries on the international level were connected with internal asymmetries within Turkey itself.

Keywords: Turkey; international organizations; League of Nations; International Labour Organization; nation building; post-colonialism

DOI: 10.14712/23363231.2019.15

© 2019 The Authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.