200 DSC05186You'll see him here, you'll see him there, you'll see him just about everywhere. Those busts and statues gracing the main square in every town and village are all reminders of Turkey's national hero, Mustafa Kemal, later named Atatürk (1881-1938).

Every Turkish schoolchild learns Atatürk's life story off by heart, and on 10 November every year the whole country grinds to a standstill on the stroke of 9.05 am for a minute's silence to commemorate his death.

Atatürk's life and death

Mustafa Kemal was born in 1881, the son of Ali Riza Efendi and Zübeyde Hanım. His birthplace was Salonica (the modern Thessaloniki) in Greece, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and visitors to that town can visit the three-storey house where he grew up on production of their passport. To make things easier for those who don’t want to travel all the way to Greece, there are also two replicas of the house in Turkey. The first of them is in the Atatürk Forest Farm (Orman Çiftliği) in Ankara, the second in Kutlukent, seven kilometers east of Samsun on the Black Sea.

He first rose to prominence as a military leader in the Gallipoli campaign near Çanakkale during World War I. It was at Gallipoli that Atatürk helped repulse the ANZAC troops as they came ashore in what is now Anzac Cove in 1915, giving his men the famous command: “I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”

Later during the same campaign, he was fortunate to escape death when his pocket watch deflected a bullet at Conkbayırı (Chunuk Bair) where he had established his command post. Today, visitors to the battlefields can read his moving words to the mothers of the fallen ANZACS: “To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets...”

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Mustafa Kemal and a band of friends started to make preparations to free Turkey from the foreign troops that were occupying it. IzmitAtaturk

On May 19, 1919 Mustafa Kemal and his friends arrived by boat in Samsun to launch the War of Independence. Today visitors to the town can walk along a boardwalk called the Kurtuluş Yolu (Liberation Way) running down to the sea that serves as a reminder of this momentous event and visit a replica of the steamship Bandırma on which the men arrived in Samsun. 

From Samsun, Mustafa Kemal headed for the lovely inland town of Amasya to hold the first of a series of planning meetings. In Sivas, the building where the rebels gathered on Sept. 4 now houses the Ataturk Congress Museum with their photos resting on the old-fashioned wooden school desks that were used during the meeting. 

In October 1938, Atatürk was dining in İstanbul with friends on the presidential yacht, Savarona, when he was taken ill. He was conveyed to the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace, where he eventually died, on Nov. 10. Since then, every clock in the palace has been stopped at 9:05, the precise moment of his death, as recorded rather movingly in pencil on the desk diary of Celal Bayar, later the country’s third president, which is on display in the Second Congress Building in Ankara. Every tour of Dolmabahçe Palace now includes a visit to the room in which Atatürk died and where his unexpectedly narrow bed is draped with the Turkish flag.

Atatürk's main reforms

1923 - Proclamation of Turkish Republic to replace Ottoman Empire. Capital moved to Ankara.

1924 - New constitution adopted.

1925 - Polygamy and fez-wearing abolished.

1926 - Introduction of Western-style legal code. Civil marriage replaced religious version.

1928 - Islam ceased to be state religion. Latin alphabet replaced Arabic one.

1930 - Constantinople officially became İstanbul. Other town names Turkified.

1934 - Women won right to vote and sit in parliament. 

1935 - All Turks required to adopt a surname.

Atatürk today

As the years roll by, so Atatürk becomes even more of a hero as the Kemalist establishment (supporters of a secular way of life) fight to keep the flame alive. There are even laws against insulting Atatürk. Inevitably the most fervently religious Turks can get heartily sick of him. 

Atatürk was a great orator and many of his speeches and pithy sayings still adorn public buildings. Look out in particular for Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene (How Happy is He who Can Call Himself a Turk) which goes down like a lead balloon in Kurdish parts of the country.

Other favourites include Türk, Oğun, Çalış, Güven (Turk, Be Proud, Work Hard and Be Confident) and Yurtta Sulh, Cihanda Sulh (Peace at Home, Peace in the World in Old Turkish).

Now follow the Atatürk trail round Turkey: http://www.sundayszaman.com/sunday/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=200143AtaflagSamsun

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