A Visit to Anıtkabir
This is an experience, not to be missed; this complex was created for the sole purpose of commemorating the life and times of a most extraordinary man --- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Here’s a synopsis of his career, brief and shallow though it might be, the man was bigger than life and dedicated to a people who loved him. Traveling through Turkey today we see his photograph prominently displayed everywhere (businesses and family residences alike). His statues adorn village squares and school yards across this great nation.
Ataturk was born ‘Mustafa’ in Salonika, Greece in 1881. I perceive his childhood as short; his father died when he was seven, but still he had a profound influence on his life’s role. When just a toddler, his father hung his sword over Mustafa’s cradle, dedicating the boy to military service. Against his mother’s wishes, as a young teenager Mustafa enrolled in a military secondary school. While attending the secondary school, a math professor nicknamed him ‘Kemal’ that translates to, ‘the perfect one’. From then on he was known as Mustafa Kemal.
Turkey was not yet a country by name; it was still the Ottoman Empire and was in the waning years of its reign. The Ottomans supported the Germans in WWI until it was too late and this further contributed to the downfall of the empire. The Brits, the French and the Italians marched troops into Istanbul to begin dismantling the Ottoman Empire, which they determined should be divided up as spoils of war.
The War of Independence pushed out from central Turkey in all directions; it pushed the French from the south and southeast, the Italians from the south, the Armenians from the east and northeast, the Brits from the northwest and finally the Greeks from the south and southwest. Mustafa Kemal had established a provincial government, ‘a parliament’, called the Grand National Assembly; they met in Ankara on April 23, 1920 becoming ‘the government’ of the new land and directed the war effort from there.
All of the allied forces were driven out early on except Greece and they fought hard and long to remain but they too were finally driven into the sea at Izmir. That ended the allied occupation and the War for Independence; the new republic was proclaimed Turkey, a new nation on October 29, 1923. On that same day, Mustafa Kemal was elected by the assembly to be President of the new republic.
In 1934 the Grand National Assembly gave Mustafa Kemal his new name, Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”). At the same time they decreed the name Ataturk would NEVER to be taken by anyone else in the country. Also, that same year all citizens of the new republic were required to take last names --- many simply took the occupation of their father as a last name. Always a heavy drinker, Ataturk began to decline in health; his illness, cirrhosis of the liver. Unfortunately for the country it was diagnosed far too late. He lived in great pain the last few months of his life but sustained great character and dignity through it all, On Nov. 10, 1938, he lost his fight for life and died at 9:05 a.m. in Dolmabahce Palas on the Bosporus in Istanbul.
With that extremely brief overview of an extraordinary life let’s walk to the main entrance to the mausoleum. We’re going to enter from the backside of the complex. We ascend a flight of steps and we’re standing at the foot of the flag pole. This flagpole was made in the United States and was a donation from an American of Turkish origin (the gentleman was a flag pole manufacture). Four meters of this majestic pole are below the surface; and it rises some 30 meters into the sky.
We’re back on the ceremonial square now and we will go directly up the 42 steps to the Mausoleum and the Hall of Honor. This is the center piece of this magnificent memorial complex. The hall is surrounded by 44 columns nearly 15 meters high, 8 on each end and 14 along each side. At the entry on either side there are words of inspiration from Ataturk and Inonu. The message from Inonu proclaims the sorrow of the nation toward the death of its founder. At the center rear of the hall is the symbolic sarcophagus of Ataturk --- this is a massive piece of marble weighting 40 tons! This is the ceremonial hall of international respect; world leaders will lay a wreath at the foot of this sarcophagus upon their visits to this site. Standing in this hallowed hall knowing the contributions of this extraordinary man to this country is truly humbling for me. Ataturk’s actual internment is well below our feet in a ceremonial room covered by surveillance cameras. Surrounding his burial tomb are brass vases containing the soil of every province of the nation plus northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan. I find this last entry interesting; I can’t find anything to address why Azerbaijan gets this special recognition.
Beyond this room we’re introduced to a man’s life at home; his rowing machine, several sets of his formal and casual clothing are in display cases and central to the room is a huge glass case holding a life size wax figure of Ataturk standing in his formal attire. He stands and looks as though he could step out at any moment and greet the masses. Do notice his piercing blue eyes; in this diorama they are especially striking. As we continue, we come to the dioramas of the great independence war; the sights and sounds within these halls bring my readings of the war years vividly to life. The first section is the Canakkale War (1915). I can’t begin to fathom the carnage that was hosted upon these people as they struggled for the nation’s very birth. Next on the tour is the Sakarya Pitch Battle (1921). Then were confronted by the Great Attack (August 26, 1922). Between sets of war dioramas is an art gallery containing massive (maybe 8 X 10 feet in some cases) painting of war scenes, both of tireless effort and victorious entries into captured villages and cities. Interspersed among these war scenes are large paintings of leading figures in the war years, parliamentarians, generals, civilians of special note and, of course, Ataturk.
Leaving this area and moving down the corridor we begin a journey through Ataturk’s reforms, from the establishment of the republic through the industrialization of the country. Each reform has its own kiosk and background information with photographs and period artifacts. At one point we stop before the entry to the grave room; just behind this door is the actual resting place of a man larger than life. We watch the monitor as it scans the interior of the room and there we see the brass vases and the crypt of Ataturk.
Our next glass case display is even more powerful than those that have already come; here’s another life size wax figure of Ataturk sitting at his desk deep in thought about his work and its impact on his people. I imagine this thought pattern only because I feel I know the man behind this façade; Ataturk was a man deeply dedicated to making Turkey a nation of strong and proud people. At the end now just before we reach the gift shop we’re immersed in books; Ataturk’s personal library, hundreds of volumes in French, German and Arabic Script. Ataturk was well read and driven to higher learning every day.
From entry into the museum until we emerge in the gift shop we’ve spent over an hour immersed in one of the most moving environments I can describe; I’ve read nearly every book published in English about this great man and stand in awe of his remarkable accomplishments. As I consume this entire exhibit, I hearken back to the founding of the country and Ataturk’s striking foreign policy, “Peace at home, peace in the world” -- his paramount principle.
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