Fall 2010, Issue#24
-BROCHURE (inside)
Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s Alphabet Change in 1928

"The cornerstone of education is an easy system of reading and writing.
The key to this is the new Turkish alphabet based on the Latin script."
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Prof. Arnold Reisman is presenting his speech during the
2.nd Annual Ataturk Symposium titled,"Ataturk of a Nation"
at the United Nations, NYC, Dec.7, 2010.
Photos: Sirin CENGIZALP,

by Prof. Arnold REISMAN*

One very important aspect of Turkey’s quest for modernization was the change from Arabic script to a Latin based alphabet. According to the New York Times “some tests have shown that a child can learn the Latin alphabet four to ten times faster then the Arabic script.” Due to the difficulty of learning the Arabic script and its unsuitability to the structure of the Turkish language, the percentage of people who could read and write as of 1923 was only 9%. In 1928, when Ataturk decided that the Arabic script, which had been used by the Turks for a thousand years, should be replaced with the Latin alphabet. He asked the experts: ” How long would it take ?” Most of them replied: “At least five years.” ” We shall do it,” Ataturk said,” within five months.”

The new alphabet was ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on Nov. 1, 1928 and it was made a patriotic duty for every one to become literate and of course know this alphabet. According to Firdevs Karahan, during the first years of the Turkish Republic, public schools and courses were open to intensively teach the standardized Turkish alphabet to the public. “As a result, 597,010 illiterate adults learnt to read and write in the standardized Turkish in 1928-29 academic year.”

The New York Times November 27, 1938

Since the Arabic alphabet was part of the language of the Holy Koran one idea behind its change was the creation of a secularist nation. Ataturk wanted to abrogate the old legacy of religious culture and re-create a new generation unsoiled by the old tradition. He regarded education as the force that would galvanize the nation into social and economic development. He once said that, after the War of Independence, he would have like to serve as Minister of Education. As President of the Republic, he spared no effort to stimulate and expand education at all levels and for all segments of the society. Turkey initiated a most ambitious program of schooling children and adults. From grade school to graduate school, education became free, secular, and co-educational. Primary education was declared compulsory. Literacy which had been less than 9 percent in 1923 rose to over 30 percent by 1945. Moreover, women’s education was very close to Ataturk’s heart. In 1922, even before proclaiming the Republic, he vowed: ” We shall emphasize putting our women’s secondary and higher education on an equal footing with men.” Even the armed forces heralded by Ataturk as “the Army of Enlightenment.” implemented an extensive program of literacy. Census data show that the new alphabet combined with Turkey’s national will to attain higher literacy levels has, over the ensuing years, exceeded literacy rates that can be found in many other countries only today.

ataturk_alphabet turkey_famine
By 1955 Turkish literacy had already surpassed what is today’s literacy level in Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

By 1985 Turkey’s literacy was higher than it is now in 12 peer nations

Table 1, combines Turkish population census literacy time-series data starting with the first census which took place in 1935, and the current (mostly circa 2004) literacy rates for selected countries as provided by the CIA World Fact Book. It clearly shows that by 1955 Turkish literacy had already surpassed what is today’s literacy level in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. By 1965, this was also true for Pakistan, Yemen, and Morocco. By 1985 Turkey’s literacy was higher than it is now in 12 peer nations, and by 1990 it surpassed the current average of the world at large. These accomplishments could not have taken place except for the change in alphabet as part of a national policy of modernizing Turkish society that was vigorously pursued by Ataturk and his colleagues.

Table 1.
Literacy rate attained in Turkey (by year) compared to the current literacy in selected countries.
Census Year for Turkey Literacy in Turkey as of Year Shown Current Literacy in Selected Peer States Current Literacy in Selected “Francophonie” Member States Current Literacy in Arabic Alphabet Using States
1935 19.2   Burkina Faso 21.8  
1940 24.5   Niger 28.7
Guinea 29.5
Niger 28.7
1945 30.2      
1950 32.5   Benin 34.7
Senegal 39.3
Somalia 37.8
1955 41.0 Afghanistan 43.1 Bangladesh 43.1 Guinea-Bissau 42.4 Afghanistan 43.1
Bangladesh 43.1
1960 39.5   Mali 46.4
Chad 47.5
Chad 47.5
1965 48.8 Pakistan 49.9 Yemen 50.2 Morocco 52.3 Cote d’Ivoire 50.9 Central African Republic 51.0 Mauritania 51.2 Morocco 52.3
Haiti 52.9
Pakistan 49.9
Yemen 50.2
Mauritania 51.2
Morocco 52.3
1970 56.2 India 61.0 Burundi 59.3 Comoros 56.5
Togo 60.9
Gabon 63.2
Congo Dem Republic 65.5
Comoros 56.5
Eritrea 58.6
India 61.0
Sudan 61.1
1975 63.7   Cameroon 67.9 Djibouti 67.9
Laos 68.7 Madagascar 68.9
Djibouti 67.9
Algeria 69.6
1980 67.5 Egypt 71.4 Iraq 74.1 Tunisia 74.3 Iran 77.0 Rwanda 70.4
Egypt 71.4 Cambodia 73.6 Vanuatu 74.0 Tunisia 74.3
Cape Verde 76.6
Egypt 71.4
Iraq 74.1
Iran 77.0
1985 77.4 UA E 77.9 Syria 79.6   UAE 77.9
Syria 79.6
1990 80.5 Oman 81.4 World at large 82.0 Libya 82.6 Bahrain 86.5 Equatorial Guinea 85.7
Mauritius 84.4
Sao Tome and Principe 84.9
Oman 81.4
Libya 82.6
2000 87.3   Lebanon 87.4 Bahrain 86.5
Lebanon 87.4

Figure 1,
Number of selected Arabic alphabet using countries whose current literacy was exceeded by Turkey in the year shown

Figure 1 tells us that by 1980 Turkey surpassed the currently found literacy of eight countries still using the Arabic script as its alphabet, by 1990 that number rose to no fewer than 19 and as of 2000 it stood at 23 sovereign nations.

1. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk - The New Language, HYPERLINK "" \t "_top"
2. Apr. 30, 1928
3. Firdevs Karahan, Bilingualism in Turkey, Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, edited by James Cohen, Kara T. cAlister, Kellie Rolstad, and Jeff MacSwan, HYPERLINK "" and
4. Moore Gates “New Turkey Keeps To Her Course” The New York Times Nov. 27, 1938
5. Turkish literacy time series is from:.Okur Yazarlýk ve Örgün Eðitim / Literacy & Formal Education
6. Current literacy data for selected countries are from: The World Factbook, CIA,
Turkish literacy time series is from:.Okur Yazarlýk ve Örgün Eðitim / Literacy & Formal Education
7. None of the former Soviet republics including the two bordering Turkey e.g., Azerbaijan, and Armenia were included in this set for a number of reasons. One of these is the fact that the Soviet regime implemented a literacy campaign soon after the October 1918 revolution. Thus literacy was vigorous pursued there at least a decade before Turkey’s alphabet change. Both are very literate nations. However of note is the fact that in 2001, Azerbaijan replaced its Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin based one used in Turkey. See “Azerbaijan adopts Latin alphabet” United Press International 8/2/2001.

More on the Lightmillennium.Org by Prof. Arnold REISMAN
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s Alphabet Change in 1928
- Some Current Ramifications of Turkey’s invoking English as the second language
- TRANSFER OF WESTERN KNOWLEDGE TO TURKEY: Institutionalized Policy of Translaiton and Library Building
byFuat Andic ANDIÇ & Arnold REISMAN
- Are Kurdish and Turkmen minorities more literate in Turkey than in other countries?

* * * * *

(*) Arnold Reisman, a Fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), resides in Shaker Heights OH, and is the author of TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk 's Vision. New Academia Publishers, Washington, DC. 2006.
And the following titles are from BookSurge Publishing of Charleston, SC in 2009 and 2010:
SHOAH: Turkey, The US and the UK
Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical Music and Opera. 
Refugees and reform: Turkey’s republican
Arts in Turkey: How ancient became contemporary
The Transformation of Istanbul: Art galleries reviving decaying spaces.
PERFIDY: Britannia and her all-Jewish army units
(in preparation)
Ambassador and a Mentsch: The story of a Turkish Diplomat in Vichy France  

He has also published articles on modern Turkey in several prestigious academic journals.

- . -

This speech was presented by Prof. Arnold Reisman during the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium entitled, "ATATURK: LEADER OF A NATION" (1/4) at the United Nations, New York City on December 7, 2010. We would like to thank to Prof. Arnold Reisman for sharing his speech with The Light Millennium. We also thank to the Istanbul University Alumni Association of U.S.A., and Young Turks Cultural Aid Society, and also sponsors of the Second Annual Ataturk Symposium. B.U.

"Fostering Global Connectivity","Promoting 'Freedom of Expression' from all walks of life in every corner of the world," "Removing prejudices," and "Working towards to cultural globalization and global peace."

"The Light Millennium is <> a 501 (c) (3) Tax Exempt and Public Benefit Organization & has become associated with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations effective on December 12, 2005. Formed in 2001, based in Queens, New York - On the Web since August 1999... YOU ARE THE SOUL OF THIS GLOBAL PLATFORM. & WE ARE FOR THE GREATNESS IN HUMANITY."

-Join The Light Millennium with $1 as member and partner through NYCharities.Org.

LIGHTMILLENNIUM.ORG, Issue#24, Fall 2010....
EVERYTHING SHOULD BE UNDER THE SUN: YES to the Global Peace Movement, YES to Loving & Caring Each Other, YES to Greatness in Humanity, YES to Saving Our Unique Mother Earth, YES to Great Dreams For Better Tomorrows, YES to Emerging Positive Global Energy, YES to National and Global Transparency, and YES to Lighting Our Souls & Minds.
We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go? NO to New Nuclear Weapons - NO to Star Wars - NO to New Nuclear Targets...NO to Weapons In Space -
NO to New Pretexts For Nuclear War - NO to Nuclear Testing - NO to All Types Of Weapons & War & War Culture...

This e-platform is under the umbrella of The Light Millennium, which is A Charitable, Under 501 (c) (3) Status, Not-For-Profit organization based in New York. Introduced in August 1999; Established in January 2000; and Founded by Bircan Ünver on July 17, 2001, and associated with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations effective on December 12, 2005.

This site is copyright© 1999-2010 trademarks ™ of their respective owners & Lightmillennium.Org. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in whole or part without the expressed or written permission of creators. All material contained here in is protected under all applicable international copyright laws. All rights reserved. Created, developed and designed by Bircan Ünver ©2010, Lightmillennium.Org, 10th Anniversary with the first multi-participatory e-publication and LMTV Programs since January 2000. Issue#24, Fall 2010, New York.


This site is copyright© 1999-2000-2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009 & 2010 trademarks ™ of