Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Powerful Dose Of Atatürk

It's hard to live among Turks without getting a hefty overdose of Atatürk.

I'm betting that most foreigners living in Turkey feel the same: for just about every Turk I've met, Kemal Mustafa Atatürk is like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King all rolled into one. If you don't tire of running into Atatürk statues, hearing excerpts of his wisdom blaring over the radio and intercom, or sitting through long-winded and impassioned speeches extolling his great deeds and virtues (usually in Turkish), you're a lot more tolerant -- and less fidgety -- than I am.

Yes, I know that Atatürk, as the founder of modern Turkey, did many great things. I know that he reformed the Turkish language, made a clear separation between religion and government, and promoted the education of women -- for starters. And yet for some reason, even these great achievements of his failed to capture my admiration.

But the other day I happened upon this quote of Atatürk's, about the European troops he fought in Gallipoli, now carved in stone beside the monument that commemorates the battle:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... 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 lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

Now, I know that Atatürk was an astute politician and I am not unaware of the powerful political implications behind this speech. But even given that, these words of his move me to tears. My hat is off to the person who wrote them -- Atatürk himself -- and the translator who rendered them into eloquent English. This one quotation shows better than any other what incredible healing power carefully chosen words can have. I am in awe of the generosity of spirit, the shrewdness, and the foresight behind them.

Turks are right to venerate this man. From now on I will do my best not to squirm through the hour-long speeches.

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22 comments:

Carolie said...

Oh Mary...thank you for sharing that. It brought me to tears.

Kim Ayres said...

Powerful words indeed

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that is an amazing speech. YOu do have to admire a man who can see that far.

Kit said...

It's great to here about other countries' history - we get such a narrow slice of history in school and I'm constantly amazed to discover how much I still don't know about what went on elsewhere - I'd never even heard of him - shocking, I know!

Vijaya said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful quote, Mary.

Mary Witzl said...

Carolie -- When I first saw this, I thought to myself, "Oh no, not another article about Atatürk." And then I read it and I cried too.

Kim -- When he wrote those words, the war was still fresh in everyone's memory. I can't help but believe that his speech must have comforted many people who lost loved ones in Galipoli.

Charles -- I'm glad others see this -- that it's not just me feeling extra hormonal!

Kit -- Oh, I am the Queen of Ignorance! Almost everyone here wants to know what I think about Turkey joining the EU -- and what I think about Atatürk. Turks may not know much about American history, but they know a lot more than I did about Turkish history. I'm trying desperately to catch up...

Mary Witzl said...

Vijaya -- (Our posts crossed...) Thank you for reading it!

Eryl Shields said...

That is an amazing speech.

kara said...

i think everything quoted as said by someone was actually said by mark twain and they're all just plagurerurses.

angryparsnip said...

His words to everyone's ears and hearts

debra said...

Those are powerful words, Mary, and so true.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Fidel Castro's speeches last upwards of 11 hours, I am told. Not so much now, I'm thinking.

For me, the best speech I ever heard was penned on the back of an envelope by the "Rail Splitter" from Illinois, spoken to a small gathering in a town named Gettysburg.

Charlie said...

The last line of that quote is a killer . . .

Askme said...

The power of language crosses cultural lines.

Robin said...

That was a moving speech. And you know what they all said to him afterward? "Atta Turk!"

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- It is, isn't it? I've probably heard it half a dozen times in Turkish already, but it sailed right over my head until I saw the English text.

Kara -- Well, you never know. The Mark Twain Society were great admirers of Atatürk's. They gave him an award and made a little speech telling him he'd left a more glorious name in history than Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar or Napoleon, and made a profound difference in world history. Maybe they'd heard he was an admirer of Twain's...?

AP -- If only people could view each other as brothers and sisters BEFORE the actual war...

Debra -- For some reason, this speech made me think of Robert Southey's poem, 'The Battle of Bleinheim'. But these were just the right words...

Robert -- Good God, I'd forgotten that. To think I've been whining about having to sit for two hours in air-conditioned comfort while Cubans have been on their feet for up to twelve hours, hearing Fidel out under the hot sun...Jeez. Yet another reason I'd never have lasted in the cane fields.

Charlie -- It is, isn't it? That's the line that gets to me every time.

Askme -- It really does. I'll bet the person who translated this said to himself (it probably was a man), "This is what I learned English for."

Robin -- Really, with a name like that, what can you do? I've never pointed this amusing detail out to my students. I think I could probably be arrested for it.

Bish Denham said...

Beautiful, touching words. Like Gettysberg, where men of both sides, lie side by side.

Robin said...

It's like a giant softball daring you to hit it all day long. I admire your self restraint. :)

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- Both the Gettysburg Address and this speech are examples of great oratory.

It is so heartbreaking that whatever the reasons behind the war -- however justified it might have been -- it leaves behind so many wasted lives, of men who might have been friends in life, who have so much in common in death.

Robin -- Just think, for the past nine months I've been bearing the strain of holding that in -- some feat, isn't it?

JR's Thumbprints said...

When I think of Atatürk, when I say the name outloud, I immediately give my approval with one big loud "ATTABOY!"

Mary Witzl said...

When Atatürk was born, Turks had only their given names. He got the name Atatürk, meaning 'father of Turks' after he decreed that all Turks should have family names. If only they'd vetted this with English speakers first, eh? Still, I doubt they'd have changed it...

Anne Spollen said...

Mary, I was askme, and I have no idea why it came out as that. I logged in the same old way, and the same thing happened on Bish's blog. When I tried to leave this comment a few days ago, it kept disappearing.

I figure my computer is haunted.