Is Kemalism losing its former strength?
Today is Nov. 10, 2012. It has been 74 years since Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, died.
At 9:05 this morning, if you were awake or if you were in your car driving somewhere, when you heard the sirens most probably you joined the others in one minute’s silence. Some of you were standing with genuine enthusiasm, some others just not drawing any reaction. No other leader in the world would ever be commemorated in such a widespread manner 74 years after his death. However, the strangeness is that we all have a different Atatürk. We have not yet agreed upon a joint concept of Atatürk.
For some of us, he is Kemal.
These people would protect and follow Kemalism and its reforms in an authoritarian way. They are ultra-nationalists. They like neither Europe nor the United States. The principle of secularism, for them, should be maintained in its strictest form. This country should not be left to theists. Whatever they say should be implemented; other thoughts should not be listened to. Their Turkey is a reserved, arid country in a vacuum.
For some others, he is Atatürk. He is a democrat, humanist, a drinker, a person who can fall in love and a politician who wants to make Turkey an indispensable part of the West. He is a leader who is not religious, who believes that religion should be restricted within the relationship between the individual and God.
The biggest harm inflicted upon Atatürk over the years belongs to the Kemalists.
In the name of social engineering, with their condescending attitudes and oppressive mentality, they were unable to force people to like Atatürk. They did more harm than good. Nowadays, they are losing their power and persuasion. Despite this, Atatürk’s followers are becoming more widespread. Those who want to know Atatürk as a person are increasing. In the 74th commemoration year, I welcome this development.
I like today’s Turkey where we all - the religious, the Atatürk followers and the Kurds - live together, not the Turkey that the Kemalists tried, but failed, to formulate.
We were afraid of him
Our generation’s childhoods experienced diverse feelings about Atatürk. Our fathers, mothers and teachers had tremendous admiration for him. Those who had any would speak of their memories or those that they heard from others. For them, the Gazi was a person remembered with enormous love. They owed their lifestyles to him. They were reborn from the ashes of a collapsed empire thanks to him. I remember how my mother’s eyes would water when Atatürk was mentioned.
They were the children of the Republic; however, they were not able to raise us very well. They were not able to pass on the same feelings to us. It was our duty to love Ata. We grew up listening to “difficult to understand” speeches at school.
He was a person not to be discussed; he was an ideal leader. More precisely, our generation was indoctrinated by these clichés. Discussing him and - God forbid - questioning him, were out of the question. Indeed, when raised in such a cold atmosphere for years, Atatürk became a frowning statesman for us.
We could not understand those who cried during the ceremonies on Nov. 10.
Whenever Atatürk was mentioned, we would immediately remember the army. It was how he was portrayed to us. The hard look of the soldier, the discipline of the army and Atatürk were all put together.
We started learning about his human side much later in life. If we had not been raised with such an incorrect approach for so many years, I’m sure today the Gazi would have been in a different place for us.
If our society is still arguing over Atatürk, the responsibility for this does not fall on us, but on those generations who were not able to raise us properly.