News regarding the global economic crisis and political developments in Turkey has been filled with doom and gloom, a dark cloud hanging over Turkey and the region which has been plagued by terrorism, war, unemployment, and malaise.
Surprisingly, my October-November trip to Turkey was an uplifting one, with the spirit and hope of the Turkish people piercing the fog of melancholy hanging over the world.
My visit coincided with two of the most significant dates in the history of the Turkish Republic; October 29, the date the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in 1923, ending the theocratic rule of the Ottoman Empire; and November 10, the fateful day in 1938 when Kemal Atatürk, the first President and cherished leader of the modern secular republic physically left his beloved people and country, but remained a presence.
Members of Atatürk Society joined me and walked on Bagdad Boulevard (one of Istanbul’s main arteries), despite suggestions by the Islamic-based AKP government not to spend money celebrating because of the global economic crisis. Instead of heads hanging low in despair and disappointment, we held our heads held high in pride and hope, which gave me a great sense of satisfaction. Proudly, I held up a sign screaming “WE HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN YOU AND WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.”
On November 29 hundreds of thousands of Turks from all walks of life poured into the streets of Istanbul and other cities around the country, young, old, students, parents hoping to teach their children, holding up pictures of Atatürk and slogans in support of his ideals.
On November 10, I visited Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara, and again, carrying ASA’s sign with the slogan “WE CAN NEVER GIVE UP ON YOU OR YOUR PHILOSOPHY”, I noticed how individual were hopeful. Their ties to Atatürk were stronger, not weakened, and realized that despite the background of the current government in Ankara, Atatürk’s principles, basis remained strong. The public was ecstatic. Despite what any government says or does, no one can erase the lasting impact of Atatürk’s legacy, and for that I am grateful.
In my many years advocating Atatürk’s philosophy, I always participated in October 29 and November 10 events, but this years’ crowds, enthusiasm, and energy were far superior to any I witnessed in previous years. I asked myself, “Which world leader is revered and missed more than 70 years after his death?” Which world leader dedicated two nation holidays to children and the youth; Every year April 23, the date in 1920 when Atatürk formed a democratic Parliament is commemorated as Children’s Day and May 19 in 1919, when Atatürk landed in Samsun and launched the War of Independence, is known as Youth and Sports day, an indication of the importance Atatürk attached to future generations.
U.S. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx on April 23, 2007 submitted a statement in the Congressional Record titled “National Sovereignty and Children’s Day in Turkey,” while another Member, Jean Schmidt of Ohio submitted a statement on May 22 which ends with “May 19 is a very important day when it all began. On this day a great leader began his journey, a vision became reality and a great nation was born. We should all learn a lesson from this man’s life. A leader with a vision coupled with determination can lay the roots for a great future. Turkey’s neighbors who today wrestle with their own beginnings should take note.”
These two statements created a positive impact on U.S.-Turkish relations.
One of the most surprising aspects of my trip to Turkey was how many Turks in Turkey were aware of a recent event Atatürk Society of America (ASA) event held in Washington on May 19, 2008 with Professor Arnold Ludwig who, after years of study, ranked Atatürk ranks number one among world leaders.
For eighteen years Professor Arnold Ludwig studied 1,941 rulers from 199 countries who led from January 1, 1900 through December 31, 2000 to learn why rulers want to rule and what distinguishes them from other kinds of people. Based on his analysis, he identified Atatürk as excelling in many areas such as liberator, visionary, defiant against traditional religious beliefs, and discarding social customs. At the end, Atatürk emerged as King of the Mountain, the title of his book.
ASA profoundly thanks Dr. Arnold Ludwig, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Kentucky for his insightful research. He is now known and revered in Turkey for his work.
I didn’t earlier realize what an impact this May 19 event in Washington had on the optimism of Turks. Everywhere I went, people with tears in their eyes, from 7 to 70 years old, showered me with hugs and appreciation for raising awareness of this issue which made the front page of every major newspaper, TV, and publication in with headlines such as “ATATURK, THE GREATEST LEADER,” and “ATATURK NUMBER ONE.” I am ecstatic for the role ASA played in shining light on a leader which led the way out of the wilderness for a country caught at the crossroads between east and west, agrarianism and modernization.
As ASA Founding Chairman, I visited art exhibitions in several schools. One painting by a ten year old girl at Ulu Gazi middle school in Izmit, Turkey will receive an ASA award for its design and creativity. It depicts a tree with children sitting on it; its roots have the picture of Atatürk.
Unfortunately, our member retired Professor Necdet Haluk Goze has left us, but his memory will remain forever. His books were donated to Kocaeli University, and ASA will undertake that responsibility.
For the first time in Turkey, an Alevi village in Tokat called Kizilkoy will receive a piano provided by ASA for elementary and middle school children. A teacher will also be provided. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a piano has been donated to a village to the best of my knowledge.
In closing, my dear fellow ASA members, we have much work to do in spreading the philosophy of Kemal Atatürk and a peaceful world, but we have a lot to be hopeful for. I am encouraged by our progress, and thank our members for their tireless efforts.