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Friday, November 10, 2006

In Memoriam

Part One

Peace; come away: the song of woe
Is after all earthly song.
Peace; come away: we do him wrong
To sing so wildly: let us go.

In Memoriam A.H.H., Lord Tennyson [57, lines 1-4, p. 239]

As Turkey woke on the morning of November 10, 1938, the life of Turkish soldier and statesman Mustafa Kemal came to an end. At age 57, in the early hours of a new dawn he left the world he had helped to shape with the last words of ".. and peace be upon you.."

Today, Turkey marks the anniversary of his passing.

Known as Atatürk, and taking the surname thereafter, for continuing generations of Turks he embodies a symbol of identity that gave birth to the face of the modern Turk. In that sense - probably more than any other founder father of a state - he truly is an "Ata-Türk", a father of the Turks.

Yet, his ideals and legacy for the secular republic that he created have been allowed to be abused ever since he closed his eyes to the world over half a century ago. That much is obvious when you research international opinion, funded by Armenian and Greek lobbyists in America and Western Europe - the losers and victims of the wars Atatürk won to save his own people and make them a home.

Keep the legacy alive, not the image

The Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote a long eulogy to his friend Arthur Hallam, in which he suggested that the living had to leave the dead behind and go on. And as the Roman soldier Mark Antony said carrying the dead body of his ruler, in Shakespeare's political play Julius Caesar, "I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him" (Act III, Scene II, Line 80) - I ask the Turkish public to consider doing both for Atatürk, in order to save his name.

If Turkish politics had truly understood what Atatürk meant when he commented, "To see me does not necessarily mean to see my face. To understand my thoughts is to have seen me," then they would have put aside the politics of simply pasting his pictorial image across the nation, and gone on with furthering his legacy and his wishes for Turkey.

Regressive political thinking, spear-headed by one of the largest standing militaries in the world, believed that Atatürk's legacy was simply confined to the physical fact of Turkey. So instead of actually furthering reforms, after his death Turkish politics restricted itself to protecting the sovereignty of the borders of the Turkish Republic and to safeguard some misguided sense of "Turkishness" and secularism - foreign concepts initially borrowed from the West as a 1920s drive to save the remnants of the dead Ottoman Empire being looted with the aid of the victors of World War I.

Arguably, with the recent Greek and Greek Cypriot territorial push in the European Union, those World War victors are preparing to confront Turkey again, resulting in the predominantly Muslim country continuing to cool towards Europe and become increasingly nationalistic.

What was Atatürk's legacy?

Many commentators who have studied Atatürk's life suggest that his single defining legacy is the Turkish Republic, too.

I disagree. On the contrary his legacy is not the country itself, but what the country should stand for.

For a country to survive it has to represent more than just one person that is no longer alive, but stand for a set of morals that will never die. And I'll argue anywhere, on any platform that - agree or disagree with his actions - Atatürk's morals are a good example for any country to be based on.

Not on the man himself, but what he stood for. This is an important distinction. More than a country, he gave the Turks a universal code of values necessary to survive in the new world order that he sensed was coming.

This was the Turkish leader's greatest legacy; a talented soldier who abhorred war, and a man with devoutly religious parents that wished for science to be the main drive of a country and not religion. A huge fan of classical Turkish music, but who began the drive for the introduction of classical Western music; a conservative man with machismo values that gave women the right to vote without them even asking for it.

He was a man who could separate his own moral beliefs from what was necessary for the common good, for the survival of the Turkish people.

<< Read more on Turkey and the EU

End of part one | Part two | Part three

Main Index | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

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