2568) Book Review : The Wrong Republic – 51 Questions and Ataturk and Kemalism by Sevan Nisanyan

Yanlis Cumhuriyet – Ataturk ve Kemalism Uzerine 51 Soru
Sevan Nisanyan, in Turkish by Kirmizi Publishing House, May 2008, Second Printing, July 2008

The author of this book has joined the long list of writers, mostly foreign, who have chosen to attack Ataturk and the Turkish Republic that he founded rather than to make suggestions as to how to understand his principles and improve on the accomplishments to .
date. A letter sent to a number of these foreign writers who have dared to criticize Ataturk is given at the end of the book review together with a commentary on Ataturk’s leadership.

Sevan Nisanyan

The author of this book is a small hotel owner in Sirince, a historical village high on the hills near Selcuk, a columnist at AGOS (a weekly newspaper published in Turkish and Armenian in Istanbul,) and also the author of several guide books on Turkey and a directory of small hotels in Turkey. He became famous recently when he threw a jar of his excrement over his wife’s head during an argument, who is suing him for 300,000 YTL and, and his wife of 17 years, Mujde Nisanyan, has filed for divorce.

The 438 page books opens with a chapter, “View from 2008” where the author states that he wrote the book 1993-1994 and for some reason did not publish it. He claims that most of the arguments presented are still valid today although some conclusions may not be, but the biggest obstacle in front of free thinking has not been cleared.

The Preface

The author states that his purpose in writing the book was to present unpopular views that have been lingering for over 70 years under three major headings. First, Nisanyan states that we all grew up believing that the last century of the Ottoman Empire was a period of decay. However, his journeys around the country have shown him that this was not the case and the last century had brought advancements to Anatolia. He also states that the architecture of that period and remnants of daily lives as told in the memoirs show that much had been accomplished and argues that, on the contrary, the first 38 years of the Republic did not bring anything other than break down of cultural and economic advances.

The second issue, according to Nisanyan, is the assault of those representing themselves as the protector of the laic regime against the increasing Islamic radicalism. Nisanyan states that he realized the unsoundness of this thinking which is concealed behind the Ataturk way of thinking.

As the third issue, the author believes that perhaps the answers that the Islamists tried to provide with the help of an ideology that has not renewed itself for centuries were not sufficient.

The questions are presented under eight sections followed by a “Finalword” and a List of references. Several of the 51 questions are presented in this review, to which the answers would be obvious but not given by the author. Being of Armenian descent and an advocate of Armenian thesis, I thought Nisanyan would devote a good portion of his book to the Armenian issue, perhaps referring one of the questions to Ataturk’ rejection of the false Armenian genocide claims. The only one question in the section on “War of Liberation”, asks ;

50. If there was no War of Liberation, would an Armenian state established in Anatolia (p 413-419).”

The author does not give an answer to this question but makes references to US President Woodrow Wilson as the supporter of Armenian issues and to US Ambassador Morgenthau’s untruthful book, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story”, stating that it was simply a propaganda material and that Wilson rejected a movie version, something mentioned by an Armenian for the first time.

Under the first section, Historical Perspectives, the author presents his first question:

1. Is Kemal Ataturk the representative of a political thinking like no other in the world?

2. Is the permanency of Kemalist regime the result of characteristics like none in the world.

The second section is “Democracy and the Republic” with 10 questions on various aspects of the final days of the Ottoman Empire.

3. Is the regime founded by Ataturk democratic.

13. Was the Caliphate a product of “Middle Age” mentality. Was its abolishment necessary for the Modern state.

The third section Worshipper Culture questions whether the Kemalist Regime helped the elimination of worshipper culture and the characteristics of worships towards individuals.

The fourth section Revolution questions the reforms that were started during Ataturk’s time, from change of alphabet to women’s rights.

The fifth section, Laicism, questions whether the Turkish republic is laic and the characteristics of the Ottoman Empire.

The sixth section, Natioanlsim, begins with a questions whether Turks were considered inferior to other nationalties and Ataturks’s nationalism.

In the seventh section, the author asks 8 questions on the war of Liberation and whether the Turks would have come under the American Mandate:

51. If there was no War of Liberation, would Turkey come under the American Mandate?

In the last section of the book, The Final word, the author admits that there are certain characteristics of Ataturk that can be praised despite the years of devotion, further stating that Ataturk had an undeniable charisma.

At the same time, the author dares to state that Ataturk’s culture was limited, basing this on lack of education outside of the military. This alone shows the author’s ignorance of the excellent curriculum followed in military schools and Ataturk’s extensive library of over 3.500 books, some of which he even read during the times of war and recommended to his commanders. Ataturk’s name appears on the creation of almost every establishment in Turkey, from the State Hydraulics Works to the Turkish Airlines to Universities. The author even dares to refer to extension of railway system during Ataturk time as a period of quagmire. How sad.

On p. 431, the author likens Ataturk to Mussolini and Franco and gives credit to Nelson Mandella for his rejection of Ataturk prize. How unrealistic and sad.

I showed the book to a German colleague working on a wind farm project in Antakya, Hatay, who had read about the Armenian issue and had told me that the Ottoman Turks were responsible for the mythical Armenian genocide. I presented to him a copy of a document ‘White Paper’’ which refutes the claims. He asked me why I was reading the book, since it was clearly anti-Turkish and anti-Ataturk. I told him that this was a cleverly written book by someone who has no love of his country and the creator of the Republic of Turkey, who criticizes but gives no solutions to problems in today’s Turkey.

Perhaps, reading the study of an American professor of all the leaders of the 20th century (which took him 17 years) where he picks Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as the greatest leader of the 20th century, summarized in the commentary below, may do a lot of good to Nisanyan and perhaps give a reason to thank Ataturk for all the worldly goods that he has accumulated over the years. I would also recommend Nısanyan to read a new book that just came out, ATATÜRK ALIVE In his Own Words, by Prof. Talat S. Halman. This is what the introduction states:

‘Destiny has endowed very few individuals WİTH ANY OF Ataturk’s achievements. Protagonist of his nation’s sovereignty. Undefeated commander. Pioneer of anti colonialism. Staunchest foe of imperialism at home and abroad. Creator of a republic. Transformer of the political, legal and socio-economic systems. Spellbinding orator. Cultural revolutionary. Secularist visionary. Humanist and international peacemaker. Model for the leaders of emancipation and of emerging nations. The hero of the 20th century renaissance.’

Yuksel Oktay
17 August 2008, Washington, NJ

July 28, 2007

Open Letter to the following writers in response to their articles noted below:

Harald Doornbos - Bye Bye to the Greatest Turk Ever
Sabrina Tavernise - Turkey: Kemalism on the ropes
Dinesh S’ouze - Turkey Ready to Bury Ataturk
David Warren - Longing for Ataturk, The Ottawa Citizen, July 25, 2007
Hillel Halkin - Ataturk’s Turkey Overturned, New York Sun, July 24, 2007

Those who write with limited knowledge of the Turkish history and the Turkish Republic should know that Ataturk will never be buried nor the Turks will ever say goodbye to the greatest leader of the twentieth century, who will live forever,. The commentary below written back in 2003 should be sufficient to remind Mr. Doornbos, Mr. Souza, Ms Tavernise and anyone else who may think like them that, Ataturk was the greatest leader of the twentieth century and will remain as the guiding principle for the Republic of Turkey. No one, as suggested by the new deputy of the ruling party Prof. Zafer Uskul, will dare to change the Introduction to the Turkish Constitution, which states that the constitution is based on the Ataturk’s nationalism and his peaceful revolution and principles, and Article 2, which also refers to the Ataturk nationalism.

Osman Gazi, the leader of a Turkish tribe from Central Asia established the Ottoman Empire in 1299 in a small town called Sogut, giving his name (known in the west as Othman) to one of the longest lasting states in the history of the world. After conquering lands all across Asia Minor, Europe and Asia and reaching its zenith during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, the empire fell prey to the games of the European states who created the Eastern Question in the nineteenth century in order to dismember the most tolerant empire in the world, which came to an end in 1922.

Mustafa Kemal Pasa and his newly established army fought against the imperialist forces of the west and Mustafa Kemal Pasa established the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. This took place following the liberation of the western part of Turkey and creating the Grand National Assembly in Ankara on April 23, 1920, while Vahdettin, the last Sultan of the Ottoman Dynasty was collaborating with the occupiers of the capital city Istanbul, who eventually fled the country on a British warship. The Parliament acknowledged the greatness of Mustafa Kemal and gave him the name ATATURK when everyone in Turkey took last names in 1924.

Yuksel Oktay
Washington, NJ, USA


In 2002, the New York Times reported that Prof. Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig of University of Kentucky placed Ataturk first in his list of 377 leaders of the world who changed the fate of their countries and the world. Reading books on the leaders of the 20th century from Rosewelt to Hitler, from Saddam to Bush, one can easily conclude that Ataturk comes out as the towering figure most devoted to his country and to his people and changed the course of history.

In his book ''On Leadership'', John W. Gardner lists fourteen attributes for effective leadership, including physical vitality and stamina, intelligence, willingness to accept responsibilities and, probably the most important one, adaptability and flexibility of approach. For the last attribute, Mr. Gardner presents Kemal Ataturk as the model and states:

''It was said of Kemal Ataturk, the greatest figure in modern Turkish history, that he could shift swiftly and without second thought from a failing tactic to another approach, and if that did not work, to still another. Whether the fields of action was war or diplomacy or domestic governance, he rarely clung to an approach that was not producing results. His goals were stable but his tactics flexible.''

In the same book, Mr. Gardner again gives the example of Kemal Ataturk for renewing a nation and writing history and states:

''In some systems that have gone too long without renewal, people understand that change is needed and restless. This was spectacularly true of Turkey when Kemal Ataturk, one of the great renewers of modern times, was a young officer. Long before World War I he had joined the Young Turks who sought a constitutional government for the decaying 600 year old Ottoman Empire . After the war, he drove out the various foreign powers threatening Turkey 's autonomy, created the Turkish republic, and then as President, launched an extraordinary series of reforms. He dis-established Islam as the state religion; abolished old codes subordinating women; substituted the Roman alphabet for the Arabic; instituted a new civil and penal code; abolished the traditional, mainly religious educational system, and established secular states''.

In Newsweek’s latest issue, George Will has told the Californians that they need someone like Ataturk to solve their budget problems who was probably the only leader in Turkey’s history with a balanced budget. Not long ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich had made a similar comment to the members of the US Congress to put their educational problems in order, just like Ataturk did after establishing the Republic of Turkey. The Governor of South Carolina, HE Mark Stanford in the US and others like him also made similar comments, praising Ataturk. The legendary publisher of Times Henry Luce knew the greatness of Mustafa Kemal Pasa and put his picture on the cover of its 3rd issue on March 24, 1923. From Nehru to Enver Sedat, many world leaders wrote in their memoirs that they were inspired by ATATURK in the reforms that they started in their own countries.

Ataturk wanted everyone living in Turkey to be a citizen of Turkey and made sure they had last names. Ataturk traveled around his beloved country extensively, even visiting Tunceli in 1937 for the opening of a bridge, despite being the center of a Kurdish revolt started by the instigation of the British. Lord Kinross wrote his famous biography of Ataturk and Andrew Mango presented Ataturk in every aspect in his book. Probably no other leader has been written about as much as Ataturk and many libraries in the US have some of the books. President Clinton in his opening statement at the Turkish Parliament in November of 1999 stated, ‘’We are here today because of Ataturk’’. Clinton knew who Ataturk was and what he had done for Turkey and the world.

Than there are the enemies of Ataturk and Turkey who will tell you all kinds of stories and invent mythical claims against a man adored by millions. The sad Armenian issue took place long before he came to power and those who do not know the truth twist the facts of history. But what is most saddening is the efforts of some people, including those pretending to be friends of Turkey, to diminish the importance of Ataturk and his role in shaping the 20th century. Even Graham Fuller from the United States, who was not allowed to speak at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara just last week, goes around making statements on Ataturk that misleads the people.

Mustafa Kemal Pasa was a victorious general who won battles against the invaders of his country with the support of his people. As the president of Turkey for 15 years, Ataturk was also a successful statesman who abolished the Sultanatte and declared to the world that the country he created, The Republic of Turkey, will follow his motto ‘’Peace at home Peace in the World’’, not afraid to state that ‘’war not in the defense of one’s country is murder’’.

Ataturk established friendship with all its neighbors by forming the seeds of alliances, from the Balkan Pact to Baghdad Pact, knowing its importance in the economic development of his poor country. These pacts were destroyed in later years for reasons that I don’t know and obstacles were created to block the development of friendship and trade between Turkey and its neighbors. Last year, Turkish government rejected the trip of Syrian president to Turkey for a silly reason, stating that the Syrian maps show Hatay as part of their country, while the former Secretary of State Christopher was visiting Syria continuously, never stopping in Turkey. Turkey is still being discouraged from opening its border gates between Armenia and eastern provinces, demanding that they change their constitution first and delete a statement on the so called Armenian genocide that no one in his right mind believes anyway. This is what Ataturk stated on the Armenian issue during his ınaugural speech of the 3rd Year of Session of the TGNA in 1922:

‘’The Armenian issue, which aims at meeting the economic interests of the capıitalist world rather than bearing in mind the veritable interests of the Armenians themselves, was best resolved with the Kars agreement. The friendly ties between two industrious people coexisting peacefully for centuries have been satisfactorily established anew.

Ataturk saved Turkey from external enemies and created the only democracy in the Middle East which will last forever. Now it is up to us to save Turkey from the enemies of Ataturk, both within the country and around the world, by teaching the principles and the lasting achievements of the greatest leader of the 20th century, MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK..

Yuksel Oktay,
Istanbul, 3 July 2003


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