Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: The Rise Of Ataturk

Susan Smith Columnist
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There’s a lot out there that is horrifying to conservatives, from watching the evening ‘news,’ every channel now, to reading morning and/or afternoon newspapers, just about all of them, and just lately the most recent renewed sightings of the dreaded Voice From Chappaqua, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  One of the most horrifying sites recently available to all Americans was the televised reaction of the Turkish officials accompanying the current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he was confronted by peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

What Americans witnessed was stunning, and awful, and gratuitously violent, enough to put paid to multiculturalism once and for all; all cultures are clearly not the same.  A relatively small group of people, both men and women who were mostly Kurdish nationals, stood peaceably outside the Turkish embassy grounds, not on embassy soil, to voice certain objections to the leadership of President Erdogan.  A number of President Erdogan’s “security forces”: then approached the assembled group and proceeded to physically attack a number of them.  The handsomely suited and booted Turkish bodyguards beat the Kurdish protestors to the ground, and while they were there, the distinguished looking bodyguards of the Turkish leader proceeded, along with the standard beating, to kick them in the face and head, viciously.  The recipients of this particular brand of Turkish welcome to the U.S. Capital were both men and women.

One wonders what the great leader who basically brought the medieval nation of Turkey kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, the great Ataturk, would have thought of what was witnessed outside the Turkish Embassy last week.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born in Salonica, in what is now Greece but was then a part of the Ottoman Empire, in 1881, of middle class, Muslim, parents, both of whom claimed to be of Turkish ancestry.  Their son, Mustafa, however, belied this by having fair hair, very light skin and blue eyes; therefore it is assumed that he was at least partly of Balkan, i.e., Slavic, origins.  The gifted young scholar attended various schools in different regions of the Ottoman Empire, but his preference, and where he excelled, was for a military education.

After joining the Turkish military forces in time to serve in World War I, where the Ottoman Empire had allied itself to the Axis powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Mustafa, at this point known as Mustafa Kemal (the latter name meaning “perfect,” which emanated from his performance as a student), distinguished himself at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915.  Eventually promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, the young Turk went on to fight for what was by now the crumbling Ottoman Empire in eastern Turkey, Syria and Palestine, among other outposts.

As a result of the punitive postwar treaty signed in August, 1920, the Ottoman Empire was left with only a semblance of its former territory and significance, with the Allied powers either occupying or freeing many different parts of the former empire.  Mustafa Kemal strenuously objected this partitioning of his once proud homeland, and “organized an independence movement based in Ankara, the goal of which was to end foreign occupation of the Turkish speaking areas and to stop them from being partitioned.”

The government at that time was still headed by the last Islamic leader of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century, Sultan Mehmet VI Vahdettin, who as a result of this action by Mustafa Kemal, first ordered his arrest, then condemned him to death in absentia.  Nonetheless, the brilliant young revolutionary continued to garnish both military and popular support, and with the “help of money and weapons from Soviet Russia,…crushed the Armenians in the east and forced the French and Italians to withdraw from the south.”  Kemal, at the head of his newly formed Turkish troops, then “launched an offensive that broke the Greek lines and sent them into a full scale retreat all the way back to Smyrna on the Mediterranean Sea..(claiming) the lives of thousands of Greek and Armenian residents.”  It was estimated that “roughly 200,000 additional Greeks and Armenians were forced to evacuate on nearly Allied warships, never to return.”  Thus were the lifelong enemies of the Turkish people dealt with at this pivotal time in their history.

The Caliphate’s time in power, having lasted for numerous centuries, came to an end when the newly assembled Grand National Assembly in Ankara, put together by Mustafa Kemal, declared the Sultan’s rule ended, which prompted the former fearless leader to scarper out of the country by hiding in a British ambulance.  An independent Turkish state was declared in July, 1923, and in October of that year, the Grand National Assembly “proclaimed the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first President.”

At this time, and in this configuration, Turkey was “almost homogeneously Muslim,” but still Mustafa Kemal, in his determination to bring his homeland into the modern world, arranged to depose the caliph, “the theoretical successor to the prophet Mohammad and spiritual leader of the worldwide Muslim community.”  Kemal didn’t stop there, he also:

“Closed all religious courts and schools, prohibited the wearing the headscarves among public sector employees, abolished the ministry of canon law and pious foundations, lifted the ban on alcohol, adopted the Gregorian calendar in place of the Islamic calendar, made Sunday a day of rest instead of Friday, changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic letters to Roman ones, mandated the call to prayer to be in Turkish rather than Arabic and even forbade the wearing of fez hats.”

In so doing, he said “The civilized world is far ahead of us, we have no choice but to catch up.”  At the same time he was secularizing his homeland, he was taking government actions espousing industrialization and adopted new law codes based on European models.  He was the impetus behind Turkey joining the League of Nations, improving literacy rates, abolishing sharia courts, making primary education free and compulsory and giving women the right to vote, which actually predated many European nations in doing so.  It was said that of “the many great things Ataturk did for his country, many of them (were) marvelous to the point of miraculous.”

One thing that cannot be denied, however, is that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, (the name he was later given meaning ‘Father of the Turks’), in attempting to achieve a modern, democratic state for his countrymen, did so totally bereft of democratic means.  His Turkey was a one-party state and system, with “a small elite (setting) the agenda of the state, economy and society – without so much as checks, much less balance.”  This did not lessen the extraordinary accomplishment of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as his success in modernizing and secularizing his country was:

“A victory against the world’s most powerful countries, which had grown accustomed to treating the Ottoman Empire in a quasi-colonial fashion.  Ataturk won a war that seemed unwinnable, and for the rest of his life could draw on this, his national and political mandate.  What Ataturk’s reformist frenzy did, however, was provide a precedent for radical and yes, undemocratic modernization.” 

And while Mustafa Kemal Pasha (another name he acquired along the way) Ataturk was the object of significant opposition to his efforts, including a serious assassination attempt, the great man was quoted as having said: “My mortal body can turn into dust, but the Republic of Turkey will last forever.”

For Ataturk’s successor, Erdogan, and his representatives and bodyguards, this may not be the case if they continue to try to stomp your unarmed and defenseless countrymen near to death in foreign capitals.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.

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Susan Smith