Turkey, The Inevitability of Kemal Atatürk

Kemal Atatürk

“His name is affixed to bridges, airports and highways too many to mention. And seemingly every house where he spent a night from southern Aegean to the Black Sea is now a museum.”  –  Lonely Planet

There was a perfect blue sky when I was woken quite early by an invasion of sunlight bulldozing its way into the room through the gaps in the curtains and I lay still for awhile contemplating being in a new country and I began to think of the most obvious things that I associated with Turkey – Turkish Delight, Turkish Baths, Turkish Tea, Turkish Wrestling, Istanbul, Magic Carpets, Kebabs and Belly Dancers and when my mind was quite cluttered up with all of these thoughts I got up and opened the balcony door and was greeted with a powerful aroma drifting in from an adjacent apartment that reminded me of one more thing – Turkish Coffee!

Now that it was morning we could make out east from west and our location seemed much less confusing so after breakfast we consulted the map and headed off towards the sea front and the centre of the town.

First we walked along the promenade squeezed in between the caramel coloured beach with its sun loungers and colourful umbrellas on one side and the strip of fake produce bazaars, glitzy bars and English breakfast restaurants on the other and then we turned away from the sea and the main arterial road of the town, the Kemal Atatürk Boulevard and about halfway distance north to south we came to an open square and a massive statue dominating the centre.

It is not unusual to find a street named after Kemal Atatürk in any major town and city in Turkey because he is the great hero of the Turks, a sort of Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle all rolled into one.  Atatürk was a military officer during World War I and following the defeat and post war dismantling of the Ottoman Empire he led the National Movement in the Turkish War of Independence. He defeated the Allied forces and humiliated the Greek invaders and led the Nation to complete victory and a fresh new modern start.

Kemal Ataturk Postcard

He became the first President of modern Turkey in 1923 and embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state.

Under his leadership the capital was moved east from Istanbul to Ankara, Islam ceased to be the official State religion and in a reform programme called Turkification, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, the wearing of the Fez was banned (because he considered it to be a symbol of the old Ottoman  Empire) and women were given equal civil and political rights

His image is everywhere in Turkey – on street banners, shop window posters and flags.  It is difficult for us to imagine how a single man can be revered in such a way.  In 1934 he was honoured with the name Atatürk (Father of the Turks) by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and his other titles include Great Leader (Ulu Önder), Eternal Commander (Ebedî Başkomutan), Head Teacher (Baş Öğretmen), and Eternal Chief (Ebedî Şef).  He is buried in a massive marble mausoleum in Ankara called the Anıtkabir (literally the Monumental Tomb) which continues to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

You can read a good account of a visit to the Mausoleum in a post by fellow blogger Uncle Spike.

Turkish people worship Atatürk like a god.  In the late 1990s Time Magazine ran an international voting competition to find the Person of the Century.  Very quickly Atatürk established a surprising lead but eventually Time Magazine withdrew his name from the list of nominations because of multiple voting (cheating) by the Turks which in my book sort of makes them look like hypocrites for complaining about the Eurovision Song Contest!

All of this cult worship means that there are statues of Atatürk in every town, city and village in Turkey and it is said that there is a bust of him at every school in the country.  A few posts ago I speculated on the question of which secular figure in history might have the most statues and likenesses erected in their memory and honour.  I considered Atatürk as a serious contender but was quick to dismiss his claim and concluded that it must surely be Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian Unification, but after visiting Turkey I think I might have to make a reassessment.

As well as statues and monuments right across Turkey there are statues dedicated to Atatürk in Canberra in Australia, Wellington in New Zealand, Kushimoto in Japan and Bucharest in Romania;   He also pops up in South America in Santiago, Caracas  and in Mexico City.  There are streets and parks named after him in New Delhi, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Islamabad, Pakistan; Larkana, Pakistan; Baku, Azerbaijan, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Israel, Amsterdam, Northern Cyprus and Kabul in Afghanistan.

In 2013 a monument was erected to him in Washington DC and although there isn’t a statue to Atatürk in the United Kingdom there is a likeness of him in Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum in London.

Yes, I have to concede that Atatürk seriously challenges Garibaldi for the title of most statues erected in his memory.

We spent a few moments admiring the statue and then continued with our walk to the old town of Didim (a sister city incidentally with Gibraltar*) where we were looking specifically for the Mosque.

Ataturk Waxwork

* No one else will twin with Gibraltar!  The troublesome rock offered a twinning arrangement with London but was turned down and offered Goole in Humberside instead.  Goole is a dreadful place and Gibraltar was insulted and turned the offer down.  I think they were lucky to be offered Goole, I would have given them Jaywick in Essex which is generally reckoned to be the worst place possible to live in England.

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12 responses to “Turkey, The Inevitability of Kemal Atatürk

  1. Totally agree with the statues of Ataturk found everywhere in Turkey. I do not know it was a world wide concept.

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  2. Nice one sir. Although much of this is slowly being removed by the current residents of power.

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  3. To have such a god-like importance is mind-boggling. 🙂

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  4. Reminds me of another ‘Father of the Nation’ – Mahatma Gandhi. Monuments to his name probably far outnumber Garibaldi but he’s not quite revered here in India the way I saw Ataturk is in Turkey.

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  5. You are harsh sometimes! I’ve never been to Jaywick so I’m reserving judgement. And you have to admit that that is a formidable list of accomplishments by Ataturk. 🙂

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