19.03.2013 - 19.03.2013 18 °C
I know what some of you might be saying. “Enough with this Atatürk already!” If you are a Turk, it seems like you can’t get enough Atatürk and we are starting to understand why. Modern Turkey and Atatürk are truly synonymous.
Our main reason for visiting Anakara was to visit the Anıtkabir (literally, "memorial tomb"), the of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. This monument to Atatürk took nearly ten years to complete and occupies a massive piece of real estate in Ankara. The whole monument is all about size and heft and a less about opulence. The architecture contains some characteristics of fascist and communist era monuments in regards to its expansiveness and reliance on hard clean lines. Somehow the whole complex just barely escapes some of the worst in propogandaesque architecture that typified German, Italian and Soviet architecture between 1920 and 1940. This is mainly due to its use of a warm reddish brown stone and the employment of mosaic work and painting patterns that herald from the ancient Hittites. The complex consists of a wide and long promenade lined with 24 lions that leads into a gigantic courtyard that can accommodate 15,000 people. The perimeter of this parade ground consists of open arcades which front buildings that have display space containing artifacts from the life and times of Atatürk. The huge square fronts a mausoleum of exaggerated height which contrasts with the rest of the complex which is excessively wide and flat. Although the memorial tomb has very simple lines it still makes loud statement about the esteem this nation holds for the person whose body it houses.
The display space surrounding the main courtyard contains some of Atatrurk’s personal and presidential possessions. There are cars and boats he used in his official capacity as head of government; there are numerous gifts he received from heads of state (most often daggers, swords and cigarette cases); and personal effects such as his clothing as well as his 4000 volume personal library. Interspersed with all these artifacts are a great number of life size photographs of him. The simple and tasteful displays do give more than an aura of reverence for the man. The reverence moves to near cult-like worship when you sit in the small movie theatre that shares the story of his life and how he delivered Turkey from the brink of annihilation. Despite this, it is hard to overstate how important he truly was in the birth of this nation.
Here is a list of just a few of Atatürk’s accomplishments. He played a key role in the defeat of Anzac and British forces in the battle or Gallipoli. He later took this same military prowess and fought against the partition of what we know as modern day Turkey into several subsections controlled by Italian, French, British, Soviet and Greek governments. After accomplishing this he became the president of Turkey. He instituted a new Latin alphabet to replace the Arabic one and took the nation from a ten percent literacy rate to a seventy percent literacy rate in two years. He put in place free and mandatory primary education and had its curriculum based on the most modern methods of the era. He even wrote two textbooks for use in these schools; one about Turkish and the other about Geometry. He had the prayers of Islam translated from Arabic into Turkish so people could worship in their own language. He gave equal rights to women and freed them from the veil and scarf. He instituted a system of surnames, where none had existed before. He instituted a secular legal system and created a modern system of finance and banking. These are just a few of many initiatives. He had a few more quirky ones, such as a hat law which outlawed the Ottoman style Fez and required civilized Turks to sport European style headgear. He did not go as far as legislating western clothing for women. He had more confidence in their wisdom in exercising their newfound freedom to dress as they chose rather than be forced to be veiled.
The legacy of one of his important legislative acts is his own name, which translates as “Father of the Turks.” In championing the need for last names to clear of confusion about people’s identities he was given the last name Atatürk by the parliament. Parliament also made it illegal for any other person ever to use that last name, including Atatürk’s descendants. A few decades later (well after Atatürk’s death) the Turkish parliament would also create a law forbidding the criticism of Atatürk and his legacy which has led to some stick situations between Turkey and the European Union and websites such as Google and YouTube.
Below the Mausoleum is a Museum that outlines the history of the battle for Turkish independence and and Atatürk’s central role. The Museum then documents all his political, social, cultural, industrial and economic accomplishments after the establishment of the Turkish republic. This is where everything goes over the top with patriotic songs being piped into all the exhibits and the heroism and genius of Atatürk is heralded at a fever pitch. It can make one feel uncomfortable and a little concerned about the problems Turkey may face when they inevitably will need to take a sober second look at their history and examine it for possible mistakes and missteps from which they can only profit. For now, it seems a strong sense of identity and clear rallying point is what keeps Turkey together and provides some of the confidence that is helping spurn its strong growth, bucking the trend of its European neighbours. We are glad we visited the Anıtkabir. I definitely will be picking up a biography of this man.
Our visit to the Mausoleum pretty much exhausted our sightseeing capacity. We headed back to our apartment neighbourhood to seek out a fairly late lunch. Abby has been craving a cheeseburger for quite a while, so I humoured her and accompanied her to Burger King. This US chain seems to have a fairly large presence in Turkey. Muriel and Hannah meantime had better sense and went to eat somewhere more appropriately Turkish. We both discovered that English was not readily spoken in Ankara which added some interesting wrinkles in ordering. It was to be taken to a new level of frustration in the evening when Muriel and girls went to order North American style pizza.
The pizza was a long-ago promised treat for Abby. We said we would get some the next time we came across it in our travel. As luck would have it, we discovered an North American pizza place the same day Abby also got an American style cheeseburger. A Little Caesar Pizza place is located quite close to our apartment. Late in the evening Muriel and Hannah accompanied a pretty eager Abby to get two take-out pizzas. Unfortunately, the pizza toppings were not readily distinguishable by their Turkish names and no English help was to be found. The solution was to point at pictures of some of the pizza toppings and then visually convey the size of pizza desired. The result was two pizzas that were smaller than what were ordered with one bearing little resemblance to the ingredients identified. I think the lesson learned for Abby is that if you have a craving for something from North America you should just leave it as a craving since you are more than likely to be disappointed by the overseas facsimile.