Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death anniversary was not a mourning day for Turks this year. According to official tallies, 920,000 people visited Anıtkabir, his mausoleum, on Nov. 10. There are several reasons behind this outpour of sympathy and determinism that our European and American friends should try to understand.
Since the early years of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments, Atatürk’s ideology, its secular values and founding principles, were considered as “shackles” by our Western allies. In every EU progress report there were pages of “religious freedoms in danger” paragraphs. Largely stemming from Christian minorities in Turkey, but not limited to them, barrier to every kind of worship was considered a legacy of “Atatürk’s revolutions.” Year after year, U.S. State Department’s religious freedom reports also slammed Turkey for not giving enough freedom to pious Muslims. The headscarf ban and the closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki seminary were considered “equally harmful” and the result of secular state policies.
Now, after 15 years, our European and American friends may be seeing the ugly truth that the AK Party never had the genuine intention to open the Halki seminary or provide true freedoms and equal representation to religious minorities, apart from restoring churches and Ottoman-era foundation buildings.
“Visit a small town in Anatolia and go to a barber shop,” I told to a western journalist years ago. “If you do not see Atatürk’s picture on the wall of a barbershop, a taxi stand or a small grocery, come and find me.”
Atatürk has a special place in people’s hearts, and AK Party’s allies in the West had trouble understanding this. A European diplomat once said republic celebrations and Atatürk’s pictures resembled North Korea. AK Party trolls and devoted columnists embraced this ideology in the past five years. Gülenists became the sounding board of anti-Atatürk propaganda and they did get lucrative deals, lots of money and power in return. But in the end, everyone - and anyone - who did not get Atatürk’s point lost.
But Elon Musk won.
Tesla’s founder’s visit to Anıtkabir last week for a business trip and his words on Instagram about Atatürk became a wake-up call for secular citizens of Turkey as well as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The president finally understood that Atatürk is the only bridge that connects him and his political career to the West. The AK Party government could have given Musk a multi-million dollar deal (which they did) but would never be able to advertise his presence in Turkey without his posts on social media.
“While political Islam, as a state establishment and ideology in Turkey, is crumbling, Atatürk’s ideas, his figure and his presence is going through a civilian renaissance,” Ruşen Çakır, the founder of independent new media platform Medyascope TV, said on his program on Nov. 13.
“Islamism as a state ideology is going bankrupt in Turkey. To survive, Erdoğan felt the need to embrace Atatürk. But I am not sure it will pay off,” he added.
Once again, the world around us is proving Atatürk right, because as Musk wrote, “I left the flowers. Three broken ribs, a pierced lung, and still he fought, for peace at home, peace in the world.”