10 November 2006

1225) The Great Ataturk : Observations Of a Young Turkish Student In 1938

On November 10, 1938, some 68 years ago, the world was saddened by the passing of Ataturk from the Turkish scene. This military genius, liberator of his people, founder of the Republic, reformer, teacher, giver of secular and laical laws to his countrymen, exceptional human being and, the father of all of us, Turks was no longer with us. . . . .

After only 15 short years of his charismatic leadership existence, he was gone. Getting used to his absence was hard to do. But, equipped with his strong moral guidance, we survived. We still get our inspiration from him.

His irreplaceable visionary plans, and his incomparable thoughts are still alive today. In fact, the principles he left behind have been governing all Turkish citizens up to our day, and will do so for untold future generations to come, irrespective of any ethnic origin. I believe fervently that his legacy has been dwelling on a solid foundation. His ideas have always represented the goodness of humanity.



Ataturk had created such a strong society that when I was growing up at home, and later on in school, I had never been subjected to racial discrimination. Including my parents, my relatives, my teachers, no one had ever used, knowingly, a disparaging word in describing another human being. Nobody knew what ethnicity meant. In Ataturk's new agenda, there always existed enough room for everyone. The new nation he fashioned from the crumbling remains of the Ottoman Empire thrived on racial harmony seldom found anywhere else. It never mattered whether you were 100% a Turk, Kurd, Laz, Boshnak, Pomak, Ermeni, Rum, Cerkez, Yoruk , Azeri, Turkmen, Gurcu, Acem, Suryani, Shii, Suni, Alevi, Hanefi, or Musevi.

In his new republic, Ataturk proved to the world that the Turkish democratic ideals of centuries ago, were no passing fancy, no political gimmick. He made sure that in this new nation he called Turkiye, every citizen could only be called a Turk.Today's suggestion of being not a Turk but a Turkiyeli would have been too painful to him to even think about.

Those of us old enough to have had the opportunity and the privilege to be living in Turkey when he was alive, always remember him with respect and elation. Others, who were more blessed, who had seen him up close or had the chance to talk to him, consider their lives embellished forever.

Because of these reasons and for many more, it was hard to accept that the author of such countless, priceless reforms, and the subject of endless pride and admiration, had to leave us one day. That he did. He bade his farewells to his beloved Turks and closed his deep-ocean-blue eyes for the last time on that sad November morning, more than six decades ago. It was in the comfortable, red velvet-draped, sunlit room of the Palace of Dolmabahce he liked so much, which overlooked the Bosphorus he adored dearly, that he spent his last few moments on this earth. He was only 57years of age. The whole nation of Turks, and I among them, as a young freshman in Galatasaray High School in Istanbul, experienced for the first time, the true meaning of the word 'grieving, for a loved-one, who had departed so suddenly.

On the morning when his casket was being transported to Ankara, I was there. They were taking his body to the Ethnographical Museum in the capital he founded. It was going to be housed there temporarily, until an appropriate mausoleum would be built later on to receive his remains permanently.-Today we know it as Anitkabir-. The schools, all official establishments, and stores were closed. The radio was playing only martial music. The whole country was in deep mourning.

On that terribly depressing cloudy day, I remember vividly, being in the streets, scurrying block after block, just to be able to catch one more glimpse of his funeral procession. The news we heard the day before was unbelievable. I'm sure my mind was in a state of shock.

Nevertheless, I found myself running erratically that morning, while the military bands played endlessly Chopin's funeral dirge. The red and white Turkish flag-draped casket approached slowly the port, where his body would leave the procession and be placed on the battleship Yavuz.

I still see it today, clearly, in front of my very eyes, this grand old dreadnought, relic of the First World War, pulling anchor. Yavuz was a coal-burning colossus, which was once called "Goben" by the German navy, and given to their allies, the Turks, during the defense of the Dardanelles. It was, at the time, the most powerful and revered naval piece in the Turkish armada. Songs had been composed for her:

[Yavuz Geliyor,Yavuz, Sulari Yara,Yara] stories written about her heroic exploits in Turkish hands.

This veteran of several winning battles of "Canakkale" was now being bestowed the privilege of carrying the sacred body of a fallen soldier, not just any soldier, however, but the legendary Commander in Chief, the victorious leader of the Turkish Armed Forces. 'Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha'--four very meaningful words, distilled into one beautiful name: ATATURK.

Yavuz was now making way slowly, billowing dark, black smoke into the crisp autumn air of Istanbul. She was approaching steadily the promontory where the railroad terminal was built at Haydarpasa, on the Anatolian shore of this historical city. At the time, I wasn't even aware of the fact that I had been witnessing this momentous event from an altogether different continent, Europe, to be exact since Istanbul stradles the two continents, Europe and Asia.

But, for all I knew, I might as well have been in an other world. I felt like a fallen leaf, at the mercy of ill winds, carrying me from here to there, my eyes full of tears, tumbling in a world of stupor and daze. Yet, I was quite conscious. When I walked, my feet were on solid ground, touching the soil under me. I had come all the way to this place known as 'The Park of Sarayburnu' where the Byzantine fortresses and ancient fortifications came to an end. I was, by now, out of breath, but still draging my weary frame on a narrow path alongside the sea wall, with my eyes glued on the battleship. I stopped for a moment to rest, and gazed in the direction where the ship's huge propellers were churning the waters at her underbelly, with deep thumping vibrations, that I seemed to feel reaching my body.

My only wish was to contemplate a bit longer the precious cargo placed on Yavuz, and stay a bit more around its ever-fleeting closeness. But, I knew there had to be a limit where there would exist no more ground I could tread on. My pilgrimage was coming to an end. Still, I ran until I reached the edge of the narrow path and the remains of a broken, chain link fence. One more step would have taken me to my death, hundreds of feet below, to the railroad tracks. So, when I got there, I slid to a stop, clinging with my arms around the trunk of a slender tree. I watched, with a queasy stomach, the pieces of rocks sliding from under my feet, hitting the rails below, like in an unexpected small avalanche.

When I composed myself, I realized that there were a few other young people, my age, around me. We remained there, motionless, staring in total silence, as the old veteran warship 'Yavuz' slowly disappeared in the misty horizon. She was now behind an even thicker cloud of black smoke, almost shrouding her and her fateful cargo.

'What a befitting somber color for the occasion,' I caught myself mumbling, as I started to find my way out of the park. Thus came to an end my last encounter with my idol, my ' prophet,' I used to call him.

This expression, when uttered in front of my mother, made her cringe with disdain. Nonetheless, I'm convinced to this day, that as a God-fearing, devout, but also highly educated Moslem woman, she represented a progressive sector of her gender.and age group. She was a truly liberated school teacher, and she admired Ataturk almost as much as I did.

Ataturk definitely had a grip on us and on the whole nation. The exception was a few ignorant religious zealots, like the murderers of the Turkish Army Lieutenant Kubilay.in the city of Menemen. Apart from them, every one loved him, some even some to the point of worshipping

him. Today, more than six decades after that notable sad event, I still cannot help but re-live those unforgetable moments indelibly etched into my youthful memory.


"Ataturk's famous speech, over 700 pages, delivered in 1927 to the

Grand National Assembly was of unconventional length, giving a comprehensive account of a unique revolution of the transition from a collapsed Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey. It contained the revelation by one of the greatest statesmen in all history, how he felt when called upon, to take the leadership of Turkey into his own hands and create a new nation out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire."

Those words belonged to a fellow educator, and a famous physicist the late Dr.Behram Kursunoglu who had met Albert Einstein and even challenged one of his theories. Behram was saying that Turkey of today was facing an internal menace to its secular, multi-party democracy, and he was of the opinion that even though he had full confidence in the unshakable foundations of secularism in Turkey, he believed that the Turkish Constitution ought to contain two golden eternal amendments:

(1) all religion-based political parties be declared unconstitutional, and therefore should be banned as an entity to exist.

(2) all political parties must have their allegiance to the complete preservation of the Ataturk revolution.

On a positive note, Dr. Kursunoglu added "Turkey is the first secular democracy among the Islamic countries and enjoys a free enterprise economy based on Ataturk?s secularist legacy with its emphasis on national unity, women's equality, and his credo PEACE AT HOME, PEACE IN THE WORLD."

Turkey is a European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Republic. She enjoys cultural, linguistic, and religious affinities with many of her neighbors. Turkey is also a respected member of NATO, the Council of Europe, the Islamic Conference, the UN, and its many international agencies.

One can certainly see the optimistic side of these views, and derive from them the conclusion that the foundation built by Ataturk so many decades ago, may still be standing erect, and that the Turkish nation still owes a great deal to him.

Nowadays, when some misguided people like the Islamic-leaning administrators such as R.T. Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul may be taking advantage of the newly-found freedom of democracy, freedom of speech and by doing so, are trying to undermine and obliterate the incredible achievements of Ataturk, it certainly behooves us to think that there are some things worth remembering and repeating, like this column, if not for ourselves, at least for the younger generations, to teach them about this great man.

Over the years there have been world leaders, claiming that they had tried to emulate the great Turkish leader, albeit unsuccessfully. An article by Mr. Ertugrul Perim,of the Turkish literary magazine Defne dealt with a previously unknown anecdote relating to the passing of Ataturk. In this interesting revelation, Mr. Perim wrote:

"When Ataturk died, among the hundreds of mourners of world dignitaries, who conveyed their sympathies to Ankara, one political leader of his day stood out as being the most intriguing. This person, a notorious political figure, not only of his day, but also of all the days to come in world history was none other than the Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler.

On the 11 th of November, 1938, a lengthy cablegram had reached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in the capital of the Turkish Republic in Ankara. It was dispatched by the Fuhrer as he liked to be known. His message expressed his deep regrets to the Turkish Government and the people concerning the death of Ataturk, and started with the following line: 'The death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is a great loss for humanity'

However, alongside his solemn utterances of deep sentiments, Hitler had included also the next passage, 'Ataturk today has several disciples, and among these Il Duce, Benito Mussolini of Italy should come first.'

Mr. Perim, the author of the article, continues, "It is ironic that Hitler never attempted to deny the fact that he, too, was among many, who revered him as a role model. However, we now know that this feeling of admiration was never reciprocated for him by the great Turkish leader.

"When Ataturk passed away in 1938, World War II was about to begin. Ataturk had prophesied on earlier occasions, that those two, tin-horn dictators would one day bring the world to the brink of catastrophe and would cause the outbreak of another war, and the aftermath of their actions would help the USSR to emerge as the unquestionable winner of that struggle."

The two dictators, Mussolini and Hitler, and others to follow them in later years, all had claimed that it was Ataturk's ideas which had afforded them to break the political and imperialistic chains in their country and come to power.

Even though Hitler and Mussolini may have indicated they had chosen Ataturk as their role model, they had missed their chances to understand the inner workings of his brilliant mind. Any in-depth study of the man

will confirm that his was a mind imbued with democratic ideals and peaceful precepts. Had he lived longer, he could have put into practice every long-term plan he had envisioned for the Turkish nation.

The shortcomings in the case of the dictators, in assessing Ataturk's ideals, or simply misinterpreting them, proved to be fatal, not only for them individually, but also for their people, collectively as well.

Ataturk's magnificent adage PEACE AT HOME.PEACE IN THE WORLD had not reached its proper targets in time, unfortunately. It was this lack of insight in their interpretation of Ataturk's quintessential principles that eventually failed them. As the result of this, the world at large had to pay dearly for their colossal misjudgments.

Mahmut Esat Ozan
meozan@turkishforum.com
Chairman-Editorial Board
The Turkish Forum

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