The Individual, the Family, and Gender Relations
Prior to the establishment of the republic, matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance, were regulated by Islamic law and influenced by cultural customs that had evolved during several centuries of Ottoman rule. Atatürk and his associates regarded both religious rules and traditional cultural practices as hindrances to the creation of their shared vision of a modern society. In fact, their societal ideal for Turkey was the pattern of personal and family relations that prevailed among the educated upper classes of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. Consequently, many policies enacted during the early republican period were designed explicitly to remold Turkish society according to an urban European model. One of the most significant measures on behalf of this goal was the abolition of Islamic law. In 1926 a new civil code derived from Swiss civil laws replaced the religious legal system. The disestablishment of Islam as the state religion and other measures aimed at religion reduced the influence of Islam in life-cycle rituals.
The social changes induced by state policies after 1923 failed to create a new Turkish culture. Instead, at least two distinct cultures had emerged in Turkey by the 1950s. One was an elite culture characterized by secular values and patterns of family and gender relationships similar to those found in much of urban, middle-class Europe. The majority popular culture, in contrast, was influenced by a mélange of secular ideas learned in the compulsory state education system (through middle school), religious values learned within the family and from community organizations such as the mosques, and traditional views about the appropriate public role of the sexes.
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