The nation commemorated the 70th anniversary of the passing of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic yesterday. Ceremonies were held throughout the country, cars honked and civil defense sirens blared for two minutes from 9:05 a.m., the hour Atatürk passed away 70 years ago at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul.
To symbolize the continued grief of the nation over the loss of Atatürk, flags around the country were lowered to half-mast between 9:05 a.m. and sundown. At ceremonies at Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Atatürk, and elsewhere in the country, the president and leading politicians delivered lofty speeches vowing allegiance to the memory of the founder and the principles on which he erected the Turkish Republic.
Among those delivering commemorative speeches, applauding and cheering so loudly they lost their voices to make sure everyone heard how good a Kemalist he is, were those who could not understand the message of "nationalism" of the great leader in his famous, "Happy is he who says I am a Turk," quote, or the, "From Diyarbakır, Van, Erzurum, Trabzon, Thrace or Macedonia, they are all sons of the same nation; veins of the same gem... " line.
There were other people who could not understand why secularism was introduced to the country. Atatürk was not against Islam or any other religion. On the contrary, he said: "Religion is a necessary institution. The continuation of a nation that does not have a religion is impossible. However, I must stress that the exploitation of religion definitely, must not be allowed. Those exploiting religion for the benefit of some, are disgusting people."
Furthermore, to understand Atatürk, one has to grasp the true meaning of his words. "Liberty and independence are my character," he had said. More? "This nation has not lived without her independence. She will not and cannot live without it. Liberty or death!" This was the firm belief that carried the Turkish nation to victory and liberty in the War of Liberation, despite the poverty, lack of resources and a poorly armed military.
Independence is the sole condition for existence, according to Atatürk and the other founding fathers of the modern republic. "The Turkish Nation consists of the valiant descendants of a people who lived independently and considered independence the sole condition of existence. This nation has never lived without freedom, cannot and never will... We Turks are a people who, throughout our history, have been the very embodiment of freedom and independence... Our nation has succeeded, owing to the unshakable unity it has shown in its actions and endeavors."
These statements reveal how important being independent was for Atatürk and for the Turkish nation. As he said, "One day my mortal body will turn to dust, but the Turkish Republic will stand forever.."
As they have come, so they will go
There are those who are busy nowadays, for the sake of making a small fortune and perhaps winning supporters in high places of the state administration, hiding behind a lofty "I am presenting the individual Mustafa" shield while eroding the image of the founding father of the Turkish Republic.
However, anyone willing to learn about the individual Mustafa may perhaps find the best answer at Gallipoli, inscribed on a marble monument: "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives (during the Gallipoli campaigns) ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lay side by side here in this country of ours ...
You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now living in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well." These were the remarks of Atatürk, the commander who ordered Turkish troops at the Gallipoli to sacrifice their lives for defense of the country by saying, "I am not ordering you to attack; I am ordering you to die..."
And a last word, while there are people in this country who are still looking for Atatürk in the busts, photographs or pins on their lapels, Atatürk said, "To see me does not necessarily mean to see my face. To understand my thoughts is to have seen me."