Now we’ve returned to Blighty I feel safe enough to comment on a subject that is taboo in my former foster home, the cult of Atatürk. Mustapha Kemal was undoubtedly an inspirational military and political leader who saved the Ottoman heartlands from the territorial ambitions of the victorious powers following the Great War. The Italians, French, British and Greeks all wanted to pick over the bones of the moribund empire and punish the Sultan for backing the wrong horse. There were scores to settle. Atatürk saw off the pack of hyenas and established a secular Turkish Republic mostly shorn of its imperial lands within more defensible borders. His post war reforms dragged the country into the 20th Century. He was able to achieve all this because of the sheer strength of his towering personality and resolute single mindedness. Yes, he was a dictator, in the age of the great dictators (I mean ‘great’ in the powerful sense, obviously), but his rule was progressive and transformational. His avowed legacy was to establish a  just and secular society based on the rule of Law and gender equality. I wonder, therefore, what he would make of the personality cult that has developed around his memory following his death? I wonder if he would approve of the laws that ban even the mildest criticism of him and require his image to be prominently displayed everywhere? What would he make of monumental scale of his mausoleum and the thousands of grand statues that adorn every town square? I wonder?

18 thoughts on “The Cult of Atatürk

  1. I did not realize this had become such a cult. Where is it coming from – is the current political administration encouraging it and why? I am not sure he would approve of all the monuments…


  2. Oops, did that wrong. I’ll try again! 🙂 Yes, he apparently said, “I dictate democracy to my people.” An amazing man to be able to do what he did with the beginnings of the Republic of Turkey. We have large black and white images of him in Fethiye every 10 metres or so all along the harbour and many young people here have his signature tattooed on their wrists and shoulders or written on their cars. Interesting times in Turkey…


    1. Interesting and changing. I’ve heard that the AKP would like to loosen Ataturk’s grip on the Turkish psyche but not necessarily for the right reasons.


  3. The Mausoleum in Ankarra is well worth a visit though. I thought I would be bored but it is a fascinating look at history – and very well done. As for the cult of Atatürk – with a Turkish partner even I eventually gave in and have a small representation of him at home!!


  4. It is so rare to hear a non Turk talk so knowledgeably about this subject either you have done your homework or had a good teacher. The mysteries of Ataturk and his standing here in Turkey leave much to understand, unfortunately even the Turks are rather unsure about their own history. This government is at this moment are eroding all of the good Ataturk did and desperately trying to plunge the country backwards. However they are scoring huge points for improving the infrastructural, hospitals, roads and the like as well as cutting back on corruption, it is hard not to admire them if of course you don’t know their true intent. I think we in the west understand the building of monuments etc. as something akin to communism, as here it is the opposite he was the defender of people and so was the army, they where respected by the public, not feared, and so honoured them. Really it is just a different mind set and possible in my own personal, maybe rather naive view, a very commendable one and one which I would of liked to have seen replicated in other not so far off lands. However Ataturks only come round in this world very rarely, maybe once in every couple of 100 years do you get such a person rise to such power and so not so surprising there has not been many replicas.


    1. I’ve always be fascinated by Turkish history and knew quite a lot before we moved there. In my view, as long as the AKP continue to provide economic success, they will be continue to win at the ballot box. If the economy falters, they’ll be out. For all the talk of idealism, people generally vote with their pockets (this applies everywhere – not just Turkey). My problem with the status afforded to Ataturk is that his deification is holding the country back. He was human with very human characteristics – vices as well as virtues. To accept this takes nothing away. In fact, for me, it adds to his humanity and his considerable achievements..


  5. Good-subject.Every-single-educated-securalist-Turk-that-I-have-spoken-to-in-Izmir-and-around-Turkey-are-the-product-of-Atturturks-educational-reforms-and-every-single-one-of-them-have-told-me-that-their-childrens-education-was-less-open-than-their-own.I-often-wondered-why-the-Turks-didnt-move-on-from-him-but-came-to-the-conclusion-that-he-is-the-defining-essence-of-Turkishness-for-modern-day-Turks.(and-the-Turkish-people-as-a-whole)-I-totally-understand-when-they-cringe-with-embarrassment-at-what-represents-them-today,What-a-cruel-twist-of-fate-that-he-died-too-soon.I-feel-sure-if-he-was-alive-today-he-would-be-more-embarrassed-with-the-backwardness-that-is-taking-a-firm-grip-in-the-country-than-a-few-statues-and-he-would-be-educating-people,-not-putting-them-in-prison-for-daring-to-learn,think,and-speak-for-themselves.


  6. I’ve always admired Ataturk for his forward thinking about the equality of women. I’m sure he would be turning in his mausoleum if he could see the way some women and girls are still treated like second class citizens by some men in Turkey.


    1. I wish! Though I did sense very strong feelings of discontent by many of the Turks we knew in Bodrum. Interestingly, I’ve got a whole section on Turkish politics in the sequel which I first wrote a few months back which predicted trouble ahead. Strange but true!


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