clearly as I see daybreak, I have the vision of the rise of the
oppressed nations to their independence.”
- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1881-1938
on a wall in the back of a village grocery store in Central Turkey
above plumbing pipes and shelves of wheat, flour and sugar, is a
black and white portrait of the country’s charismatic founder
and military conqueror, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
His likeness, framed in dusty gold and hanging askew, reminds people
that their country is no longer an antiquated Ottoman dynasty but
a liberated democracy where the will of the Turkish people is represented
in the government.
In some ways, Ataturk is Turkey’s John F. Kennedy. His notorious
love for liquor and women, including his affair with Za Za Gabor,
endeared him to the Turkish people and the world. The League of
Nations paid tribute to him at his death as “a genius international
peacemaker.” He died of cirrhosis of the liver on November
In other ways, Ataturk is Turkey’s Martin Luther King. His
dream was to modernize Turkish life, and he did.
By separating religion from government, unveiling women, leveling
education for all, replacing the fez, the Islamic calendar and the
Arabic alphabet, he led his country out of the crumbling past into
a brave new future.
Turkey is the world’s first Moslem Republic, NATO’s
only Moslem member and one of the most watched Moslem democracies
in the world.
During his 15-year presidency, Ataturk turned Turkey’s face
from East to West. But modern Turkey shakes it head back and forth
between the two as if to say, “No.”
With current religious conservatism taking charge in Turkish parliament,
Islamic tradition is once again beginning to veil the progress Ataturk
devoted his life to secure.
His image is displayed in every Turkish business and there are strict
laws protecting it. You can be put in prison if you dishonor his
image or name in any way.
That’s why I was surprised when I came upon a Turkish street
artist painting a portrait of Ataturk with a tear coming down his
cheek. I asked, “Why is Ataturk crying?” To which he
replied, “His dream is dying.”