“There are two Mustafa Kemals. One the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now stands before you and who will pass away. The other is you, all of you here who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation’s dreams, and my life’s work is to make them come true.”
-Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
When traveling in Turkey, you may be wondering who that man is, his image dotting the landscape in statues, whose picture is in almost every hotel, museum, and bank; prominent as the sun throughout the country. One cannot begin to understand Turkish culture without learning about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose ideas flow through the veins of Turkey’s past, present, and future.
Who Is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk?
Simply put, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is the founder of modern Turkey. Given the name “father of the Turks” (Ataturk) he led Turkey to victory in its War of Independence at the end of World War I against multiple armies. Outside of this impressive military feat however, he also made rapid and radical reforms to Turkish law and society. Among other changes, Ataturk created a strict secular republic, giving women equal rights, and going so far as to change the Turkish alphabet into Latin-script to increase the dismal literary rate at the time. Scientific advancement, religion, and education were all transformed in a matter of a few years.
Ataturk’s Status In Turkey
Both the man Mustafa Kemal and his ideas are widely revered in Turkey as well as protected by law, and travelers should not insult his name or image, even in passing conversation. The Turks feel indebted to Ataturk, who gave them a Turkey well on its way toward economic, social, and political importance on the world stage. Ataturk is as much a part of the Turkish people as he is of the landscape and his images are only a visible representation of that fact.
Where To Learn More About Ataturk
While traveling in Turkey there are several places where you can learn more about Ataturk’s life and legacy.
- Anitkabir (Ankara) – Ataturk’s Mausoleum, Anitkabir is is a giant complex where his tomb is located. Admission is free and in addition to monumental hall, there is a museum with several of his belongings as well as much of his personal library.
- Ataturk Museum (Thessaloniki, Greece) – Born here in 1881 when Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire, this house was given to the Turkish state by the Greeks in 1935 and converted into a museum. Admission here is also free.
- ANZAC Day Ceremonies and Battlefield – Tens of thousands of Turks, New Zealanders, and Australians visit these battlefields in Gelibolu each year to remember those who died in this important campaign during World War I, particularly on April 24th and 25th. There are several ANZAC memorials around the world, including Canberra, Australia.
- Dolmabahce Palace (Istanbul) – Ataturk’s residence when in Istanbul, he passed away here at 9:05am on November 10, 1938 and this room has been made a memorial. If you’re in Turkey on this day, at exactly that minute, all traffic will stop and people will get out of their cars to observe a moment of silence along with the rest of the nation.
- Ataturk Congress And Ethnographic Museum (Sivas) – The headquarters of the Sivas Congress, called for by Mustafa Kemal, during the Turkish war of independence.
You can also find many other residences of Ataturk preserved in many Turkish cities including his home in Izmir. Whether or not you go looking for him though, you’ll find it impossible to miss Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. Smiling on the banknotes, looking down from the walls of every public building, and in the hearts of it’s citizens, Ataturk is more a part of Turkey than his image can ever portray.
Found second maybe to only the Turkish flag?
True, there are more flags in Turkey than I think anywhere else in the world I’ve seen.
He was just a name to me until I read his story a couple of years back. What a visionary! He was so far ahead of his time it’s almost unbelievable. I just hope that extreme fundamentalism doesn’t undo all his progressive work.
The reforms he was able to pass for the time and in Turkey, coming out of the ruble of the Ottoman Empire is truly incredible. Without the full support of the nation and a stubborn and firm focus forward it wouldn’t have been possible.
He is highly respected in Australia too because of the close bond formed after the Gallipoli campaign in WW1. His great quote at the memorial in Gallipoli is read every ANZAC Day in Australia and which reads:
“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
I think it is a most moving and generous quote and descriptive of the fine man that he clearly was and is.
That strong bond between the nations and peoples after such a campaign is one very positive outcome of a very bloody chapter in human history.
Thanks for writing about Ataturk. Without his reforms Turkey could have fallen into dark ages. Today modern Turkey is unlike any other country in its region because Ataturk was a great leader. For anyone interested in learning more about Ataturk, I’ll suggest Professor Bernard Lewis’ and Andrew Mango’s books.
I think Mango’s is my favorite – just wish they had an ebook version!
Hi Anil, thanks to include a link to my post about the bathroom in his house in Izmir!
I didn’t know that there’s his museum in Thessaloniki, but maybe because when I was there, I didn’t know about Kemal Ataturk yet. I read about him a little bit, such a great man, inspirational and visionary. If you happen to visit his house in Izmir, there’s a big frame on a wall, containing many quotes from him. Very very inspirational quotes.
Your post came to mind when writing this one, it was my please to link to your picture from Izmir. The quotes and writings are one of my favorite parts of the Anitkabir museum as well, I think I’ve read every single one on more than a few visits there. I’ll definitely check out the one in Izmir, I’ll probably living near by there in a few weeks and it’ll be a close stop 🙂
Thanks for the information. When we go to Turkey, we will be sure to treat his name with respect. It sounds like he did some great things for Turkey.
Turkey is very fortunate to have had Ataturk, all these years later his impact is still felt across almost all aspects of Turkish life and culture.
Thanks for the Turkish history lesson. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk sounds like a great leader who had the best interests of his country’s people at heart.
My pleasure Donna, glad I could do the history some justice in this post.
Hi Anil, there is a lot to admire in modern Turkey but I can’t say I like the lèse majesté laws that protect the legacy of Ataturk and make it a jailable offense to insult ‘Turkishness’. Partly I don’t believe the astonishing achievements of Ataturk need such draconian protection but mostly these laws can be and are used by the political pygmies that came after him to oppress minorities and stunt freedom of speech.
True, and changes are happening, albeit slowly. There was a great article about just this very topic, centering around Ataturk and the Ottoman legacy but can’t quite remember where I saw it. Will keep searching, I think you’d find it an interesting read.
Was just going through some photos to post for tomorrow and came across this Ataturk quote which I snapped a picture of at his mausoleum. I found this rather poignant:
“Turkish press shall constitute a steel castle around the republic from which the actual voice and will of the nation will arise.”
There is no other leader of a country in the past that has implemented so much reforms within a given time like Ataturk has done. There is why Turks as a muslim country freed themselves from old ages and still going after changes towards the good. As other muslim countries are still stuck in middle ages, Turkey is trying to get out of it. They still have long way to go. Too bad there is only one of Ataturk. The world neds more like him.
Certainly true but at the same time guess that’s what makes him and people like him so remarkable. Hopefully the world will see more leaders like him in the future, with the outlook and determination to make the world a better place.
Seconding that hope
His photo is also found in many Turkish restaurants in Sydney. The man is revered!
What a reach, hadn’t thought about that!
Having just got back from Turkey where they couldn’t wait to pull down the statues of most of their previous leaders, it’s a testament to Ataturk that he is still so revered after his death.
Many Turks would tell you after Ataturk it’s been mostly downhill in terms of politicians.
Anitkabir is one of the places that I have wanted to see when I head to Turkey. Very informative thanks for the info
Interesting to hear that, I’m willing to bet not many travelers would say that before a trip to Turkey – Ankara isn’t even on the radar for most. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed though, one of my favorite memorials to visit.
I think that there are many great heros in the world that we need to remember and not everyone here also have the full story of who Atuturk was and did,and finally passed a way because of his Alkoholic habit, but he did some great changes on a difficult time.
Yes, I think with many great people, thinkers, etc. in the world, their ideas are much more important than the person behind them. Ataturk said as much in his last days.
All I saw while there was flags, flags, flags. Did I say flags? They were everywhere, strung from one side of the street to the other. what a celebration the Turks have!
Even more flags than usual 🙂
Just amazes me that we are not taught about him in the UK education syllabus. When friends come over and say, “Who’s the guy on all the photos,” it gets really tedious trying to explain because it’s impossible to try to convey his importance.
That’s a shame because he was one of history’s greatest reformers among so many other things.
Ataturk was a violent dictator. Turks don’t want to believe this.
He learned from the other dictatorships like the Soviet Union. Put your face everywhere. make yourself larger than life.
Dictators don’t create democracies and term limits, voluntarily abiding by them. Dictators don’t give women (and subsequently 100%) of their adult population the right to vote. Dictators don’t sign peace treaties with all of their neighboring countries nor change the alphabet to match a language’s phonetics – increasing the literacy rate over 80% within 15 years. He never commissioned any of his statues, that was done by the people because they understood what he did for Turkey and what he represents.
Dictators do none of those things and in the history of humanity, few leaders – elected or not – could accomplish what Ataturk did.
Ataturk was a socialist and a brutal dictator. While he made Turkey more western he did it at a price. http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-262560-was-ataturk-a-dictator-ask-him.html
An opinion column is just another opinion. History would disagree.