Remembering, honoring Ataturk

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
When you travel in Turkey you will see the photos in various sizes and exposures at stores, offices, even at small village coffee houses of a man. He is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stands as an historic figure who totally dedicated his life to his nation. Although he died 73 years ago, his ideals and principles still shine the paths of Turkey in becoming a westernized and modern country. His vision and his foresight enlightened not only Turkey, but also other countries struggling to gain independence.

When Mustafa Kemal started the war of independence, young and old, men and women, officers and civilian, everybody followed him as the country's savior. During his struggle, Ataturk saw people's education level was so low he made plans resolve this long before founding the republic. Until the beginning of the 20th century, several educational systems were prevailing in the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk observed that such systems dominant at Muslim theological schools did not meet the needs of the society. It was essential to establish a new educational system similar to western models.

In 1924, one year after the Republic was founded, the law on Unitary of Education was adopted, which allowed only modern education and prohibited religious schools. With the law, education would be given under governmental control in conformity with contemporary scientific and educational principles. In accordance with that law, new schools were opened all over the country. An educational campaign was started. As part of the educational campaign a very important reform was adopted: language reform.

Within the Ottoman Empire, before the Republic was founded, Turks were merely one of many linguistic and ethnic groups. Members of the civil, military and religious elite conversed and conducted their business in Ottoman Turkish, which was a mixture of Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Arabic remained the primary language of religion and religious law. Persian was the language of art, refined literature and diplomacy. So many words and expressions were imported into the language. Thus, pure Turkish survived primarily as the language of the illiterate and generally was not used in writing.

With the establishment of the Republic, Ataturk made language reform an important part of the modernization program. The goal was to produce a Turkish language more modern, practical, precise and less difficult to learn. The language reform, done in 1928, consisted of two basic elements - adoption of a new alphabet and vocabulary purification.

Numbers written in Arabic were changed with their western equivalents in May and new Latin alphabet was adopted on Nov. 24, 1928. Many scholars favored gradually introducing the new letters over a period up to five years. Ataturk, however, insisted that the transition last only a few months, and his opinion prevailed. With a chalk and a portable blackboard, he traveled the country giving writing lessons in schools, village squares and other public places. Programs to teach the new alphabet started all over Turkey.

As Ismet Inonu, Ataturk's comrade-in-arms during the War of Independence and the president of Turkey after Ataturk's death, said, "The whole country is now a big classroom, and the head teacher is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself."

Nov. 24 is celebrated as Teachers Day in Turkey, and Ataturk is given the title of the Headmaster of the Nation. The Headmaster educated and trained his nation in every subject to modernize and westernize the young Republic of Turkey. Ataturk believed in the Turkish youth so much that he addressed the Turkish youth as the defender and protector of the Republic.

With abiding faith in the vital importance of women in society, Ataturk launched many reforms to give Turkish women equal rights and opportunities.

Turkish women were very active during the Turkish War of Independence. As the war developed, they picked up the work of the men in the fields, trundled food and ammunition to the soldiers, and nursed the wounded. Some were soldiers.

The full emancipation of Turkish women took place after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The advancement of women was a central aim of Ataturk's social, religious and legal reforms. After hundreds of years, Turkish women realized their potential. Under the leadership of Ataturk, laws recognizing the principles of equal citizenship were passed.

In 1923, Ataturk said, "If our nation now needs sciences and knowledge, men and women must share them equally. Obviously society creates a division of labor, and in this division women should carry out their own duties, as well as contribute to the general effort to improve the happiness and well-being of our society."

The adoption of a new civil law in 1926 was the most important of Ataturk's reforms, which tremendously affected the status of Turkish women. Providing equality before the law, it also replaced religious marriage with civil marriage, made polygamy illegal, and gave women equal rights of inheritance, guardianship of children and divorce.

In 1934, the Election Law passed giving women the rights of election. In the next elections held in 1935, eighteen women deputies were elected to the Grand National Assembly.

He insisted on the full emancipation of women in Turkish state and society repeatedly said, "Our most urgent present task is to catch up with the modern world," and furthermore, that, "We shall not catch up with the modern world if we only modernize half the population."

Women could begin careers in law, medicine, and public services. With the gates opened under the leadership of Ataturk, we see women in every field. Turkey is the first country who had a female supreme court judge. The first female fighter aircraft pilot was also a Turkish woman, Ataturk's adopted daughter Sabiha Gokcen. Turkey had a female prime minister as head of the government between 1993 and 1995.

Ataturk's liberal idealism gave feminists the opportunity to air social topics and problems such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, general patriarchal oppression, love, abortion, violence against women, war and environmentalism.

Although he spent a major part of his life in battlefields, Ataturk was a man of peace. He said, "Unless the country's future is in danger, war is a murder."

The main principle of the foreign policy of Turkey is stated by his words, "Peace at home, peace in the world."

Ataturk completely reformed the country during his 15-year presidency, until his death Nov.10, 1938, at 57 years old. Today, Ataturk lives on in the minds and hearts of Turkish people, representing a brave history and future pride of Turkey.