Turkey is one of the countries talked about most due to its strategic location at almost at the center of the word. The creator and the first President of the Turkish Republic was Mustafa kemal Ataturk. He was born in 1881 in Selanico, once part of the Ottoman Empire and now a city in modern Greece. This year marks his 130th birthday anniversary on May 19, 2011. He died at the age of 57 on November 10, 1938, leaving behind him a legacy of a great reformer, soldier and a statesman.
In 2002, the New York Times reported on a study by Prof. Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig of University of Kentucky who placed Ataturk first in his list of 377 leaders of the world who changed the fate of their countries and the world. Reading books on the leaders of the 20th century from Rosewelt to Hitler, from Saddam to Bush, one can easily conclude that Ataturk comes out as the towering figure most devoted to his country and to his people and changed the course of history.
In his book ”On Leadership”, John W. Gardner lists fourteen attributes for effective leadership, including physical vitality and stamina, intelligence, willingness to accept responsibilities and, probably the most important one, adaptability and flexibility of approach. For the last attribute, Mr. Gardner presents Kemal Ataturk as the model and states:
”It was said of Kemal Ataturk, the greatest figure in modern Turkish history, that he could shift swiftly and without second thought from a failing tactic to another approach, and if that did not work, to still another. Whether the fields of action was war or diplomacy or domestic governance, he rarely clung to an approach that was not producing results. His goals were stable but his tactics flexible.”
In the same book, Mr. Gardner again gives the example of Kemal Ataturk for renewing a nation and writing history and states:
”In some systems that have gone too long without renewal, people understand that change is needed and restless. This was spectacularly true of Turkey when Kemal Ataturk, one of the great renewers of modern times, was a young officer. Long before World War I he had joined the Young Turks who sought a constitutional government for the decaying 600 year old Ottoman Empire . After the war, he drove out the various foreign powers threatening Turkey ‘s autonomy, created the Turkish republic, and then as President, launched an extraordinary series of reforms. He dis-established Islam as the state religion; abolished old codes subordinating women; substituted the Roman alphabet for the Arabic; instituted a new civil and penal code; abolished the traditional, mainly religious educational system, and established secular states”.
In an article in Newsweek’s 2003 issue, George Will told the Californians that they need someone like Ataturk to solve their budget problems who was probably the only leader in Turkey’s history with a balanced budget. Not long ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich had made a similiar comment to the members of the US Congress to put their educational problems in order, just like Ataturk did after establishing the Republic of Turkey. The Governor of South Carolina, HE Mark Stanford in the US and others like him also made similar comments, praising Ataturk. The legendary publisher of Times Henry Luce knew the greatness of Mustafa Kemal Pasa and put his picture on the cover of its 3rd issue on March 24, 1923. From Nehru to Enver Sedat, many world leaders wrote in their memoirs that they were inspired by ATATURK in the reforms that they started in their own countries.Ataturk wanted everyone living in Turkey to be a citizen of Turkey and made sure they had last names. In 1996 haiti’s President said his wish was to have the following written on his gravestone: “I died happy because my entire life I understood and followeed turkey’s leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.”
Ataturk traveled around his beloved country extensively, even visiting Tunceli in 1937 for the opening of a bridge, despite being the center of a Kurdish revolt started by the instigations of the British. Lord Kinross wrote his famous biography of Ataturk and Andrew Mango presented Ataturk in every aspect in his book. Probably no other leader has been written about as much as Ataturk and many libraries in the US have some of the books. President Clinton in his opening statement at the Turkish Parliament in November of 1999 stated, “We are here today because of Ataturk” Clinton knew who Ataturk was and what he had done for Turkey and the world.
Then there are unfortunately the enemies of Ataturk and Turkey who will tell you all kinds of stories and invent mythical claims against a man adored by millions. The sad Armenian issue took place long before he came to power and those who do not know the truth twist the facts of history. But what is most saddening is the efforts of some people, including those pretending to be friends of Turkey, to diminish the importance of Ataturk and his role in shaping the 20th century. Even Graham Fuller from the United States, who was not allowed to speak at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara just last week, goes around making statements on Ataturk that misleads the people.
Mustafa Kemal Pasa was a victorious general who won battles against the invaders of his country with the support of his people. As the president of Turkey for 15 years, Ataturk was also a successful statesman who abolished the Sultanatte and declared to the world that the country he created, The Republic of Turkey, will follow his motto “Peace at home Peace in the World”, not afraid to state that “a war not in the defense of one’s country is murder.”
Ataturk established friendship with all its neighbors by forming the seeds of alliances, from the Balkan Pact to the Baghdat Pact, knowing its importance in the economic development of his poor country. These pacts were destroyed in later years for reasons that I don’t know and obstacles were created to block the development of friendship and trade between Turkey and its neighbors. In 2002, Turkish government rejected the trip of Syrian president to Turkey for a silly reason, stating that the Syrian maps show Hatay as part of their country, while the former Us Secretary of State Christopher was visiting Syria continuously, never stopping in Turkey. Turkey is still being discouraged from opening its border gates between Armenia and eastern provinces, demanding that they change their constitution first and delete a statement on the so called Armenian genocide that no one in his right mind believes anyway. This is what Ataturk stated on the Armenian issue during his inaugural speech of the 3rd Year of Session of the TGNA in 1922:
The Armenian issue, which aims at meeting the economic interests of the capÃ½italist worl rayther than bearing in mind the veritable interests of the Armenians themselves, was best resolved with the Kars agreement. The friendly ties between two industrious people coexisting peacefully for centuries have been satisfactorily established anew.
Ataturk saved Turkey from external enemies and created the only democracy in the Middle East which will last forever. Now it is up to us to continue with Ataturk’s reforms, by teaching the principles and the lasting achivements of one of the greatest leader of the 20th century, MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK..