Professor Atilla Yayla, a professor of something called “political thought” at Ankara’s Gazi University is reportedly under investigation by the government for uttering what his defenders call “heresy.” The professor, a self-styled Galileo, claimed at an Izmir conference that the Ataturk era was regressive not progressive. Regressive? Compared to what? He also insulted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk by referring to him as “this man,” thus omitting the usual laudatory adjectives, like “esteemed,” and “exalted.” Actually, such adjectives seem more fittingly applied to a sultan. The surname Ataturk, “the father of the Turks,” seems to say everything about this particular man.
The professor also worries that Turkey’s European Union hopes might be dashed due to the ever-present respect paid to Ataturk through photographs and statuary. “Europeans will ask us why this man’s photos and statues are everywhere,” publicly pondered Professor Yayla. Perhaps the professor is yet another fame-seeking Turkish intellectual acting as a self-serving agent provocateur? Perhaps not. Besides, what does it matter? Is the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk so feeble that it needs legal protection?
Indeed why are the photos and statues of “this man” so widely displayed?
Here are some possible reasons.
Has there ever been such a man as this man, a man of early and extensive military background, who transcended that intensely formative experience to become such a revolutionary figure, educational leader, politician, and humanist? Has such a man as this man ever arisen in Europe?
A military hero and tactical genius in a losing cause (World War I), a military hero and strategic genius in a winning one (the Turkish War of Revolution), soon after a political genius who rescued the remnants of his war-devastated nation from the suffocating, repressive grip of almost 500 years of religious rule? Has there ever been such a man?Has such a man as this man ever arisen in Europe?
Has there ever been such a man of unquestioned honesty, integrity of character, nobility of purpose, a warrior, a statesman, an intellectual, a visionary political thinker and doer? Has such a man as this man ever arisen in Europe?
Has there ever been such a man to lead a nation, a man who experienced such torment from the pains of human experience, that is, the suffering of the battlefield, the pain of exile, the fear of being hunted by the occupying powers and the collaborationist sultan, the anxiety engendered by the slow implementation of political reforms, the suppression of personal and family life due to the preoccupation with the health and security of his country? Has such a man as this man ever arisen in Europe?
Has there ever been such a man to rally a defeated nation with such force and effectiveness, to turn to the west, to Europe if necessary, but to the west in terms of enlightened thinking? A man who led by such powerful example, in terms of language and alphabet reforms, in personal dress and public behavior and discourse, and in the treatment and emancipation of women? Has such a man as this man ever arisen in Europe?
Or anywhere in this world?
Falih Atay, an intimate, wrote of this man, Ataturk:
“There was never a man like Ataturk. He was a mighty torrent that flowed over barren soil and was lost.”
Professor Yayla might use the above to begin an answer to curious Europeans who wonder so naively about representations of this man, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.