“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.