The legacy of Ataturk, father of modern Turkey

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
There are two Mustafa Kemals. One is the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now stands before you and who will pass away.

The other is you, all of you who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation's dreams and my life's work is to make them come true.

When you travel in Turkey you will see photos of a blond, handsome, charismatic man in various sizes and exposures at stores, offices, even at small village coffee houses. He is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who dedicated their lives totally to their nation.

Although he died 68 years ago, his ideals, his principles still shine helping Turkey become a westernized and modern country. His vision and his foresight enlightened not only Turkey, but also other countries that were struggling for independence.

When Ataturk started the war of independence, young and old, men and women, officers and civilian, followed him as the only savior of the country.

During his struggle, Ataturk saw that the education level of the people was so low that he made plans to raise that level 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 in Moslem theological schools did not meet the needs of the society. It was essential to establish a new educational system similar to the 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 to reform the language.

Within the Ottoman Empire, before the republic was founded, the 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.

A language should unite rather than divide the people. With the establishment of the Republic, Ataturk made language reform an important part of the modernization program. The goal was to produce a language more Turkish, modern, practical, and precise, and less difficult to learn than the old language. The language reform consisted of two basic elements - adoption of a new alphabet and purification of the vocabulary.

The language reform was completed in 1928. Numbers written in Arabic were changed with their Western equivalents in May and a new Latin alphabet was adopted November, 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 throughout 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."

November 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.

Ataturk's address to the Turkish youth
Turkish youth! Your first duty is forever to preserve and defend the Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic.

This is the very foundation of your future. This foundation is your most precious treasure. In the future, too, there may be malevolent people at home and abroad who will wish to deprive you of this treasure. If some day you are compelled to defend your independence and your Republic, you must not tarry to weigh the possibilities and circumstances of the situation before taking up your duty. These possibilities and circumstances may turn out to be extremely unfavorable. The enemies conspiring against your independence and your Republic, may have behind them a victory unprecedented in the annals of the world. It may be that, by violence and ruse, all the fortresses of your beloved fatherland may be captured, all its shipyards occupied, all its armies dispersed and every part of the country invaded. And sadder and graver than all these circumstances, those who hold power within the country may be in error, misguided and may even be traitors. Furthermore, they may identify their personal interests with the political designs of the invaders. The country may be impoverished, ruined, and exhausted.

Youth of Turkey's future, even in such circumstances it is your duty to save the Turkish Independence and Republic. The strength you need is already imbedded in your noble blood.