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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Father of the Nation, Builder of the Capital
March 7, 2000

A: Ankara is a city named after the soft hair of Angora goats. Angora....Ankara. Have you ever felt an Angora sweater or scarf? I haven't, but I hear it's really fuzzy. The story of Ankara's modern beginnings as a city isn't fuzzy though. That story intertwines with the story of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the proud and strong-willed "father" of modern Turkey.

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He doesn't look soft and fuzzy!

T: Turkey's modern capital city of three million started out as a small town of 30,000 on a railroad junction. Atatürk, Father of the Nation, was born in 1881, the son of a customs official in Salonica. At the time, Salonica was part of the Ottoman Empire, but today you can now check it on any map of Greece: it's called Thessaloniki.

A: Academy was where Mustafa trained his mind. Kind of like school, where you guys are at perhaps right now. He found inspiration, not at the district religious school (he had a big argument at an early age with the mullah there) but at the military academy. Math was his big subject, and he became so good at it that his teacher nicknamed him Kemal, meaning "excellence," or "the complete one." He read Rousseau and Voltaire and thought about the place of the military in the government (he thought the military should be separated from politics, which was a new idea at the time).

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Symbol of a proud new nation

T: Türkiye, or the "Land of the Turks," was Mustafa Kemal's dream. He followed his dream by volunteering for duty in Libya against the Italians in 1911, then fighting in the Balkan Wars for Edirne, the second capital city in the Ottoman Empire. (the first was Bursa, which Kavitha visited). But, wait that's not all, he heroically lead the Turkish front on the Gallipoli peninsula 1915-1916, even while suffering from malaria, like our teammate Kevin, and then was promoted to general. Whew, now those are some serious accomplishments. He was the only undefeated general in Turkey at the time, and his ideas of nationalism were getting stronger.


intertwined - Joined together
mullah- - A male religious teacher or leader
nationalist - Devotion to your culture or country

Ü Under the agreements after World War I, the final blow struck. In the Greek "Megalo Idea," different territorities were to be restored to Greece, so Greek troops landed at Smyrna, a port on the Aegean coast, to reclaim it for Greece. That date was May 15, 1919. Within four days, Mustafa Kemal started to organize nationalist forces that disagreed with this Greek invasion. Within a year, Mustafa Kemal called together the Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920, in Ankara, the small town in central Anatolia. The Assembly resisted the idea of foreign powers in Anatolia.

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Standing guard at the mausoleum

R: Refusing to submit, Mustafa Kemal devoted all his energy to the 2-year War of Independence. His troops fought off the Greeks, as well as French soldiers, Armenian and Georgian forces, and the Italians, all of whom withdrew. British troops pulled out after a huge fire in Smyrna. Finally, Kemal, his advisor Ismet Inönü and their supporters announced the new Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923: it was time to build the nation.

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Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara
K: Kemal's base was to be Ankara. From 1919 to 1927, he didn't even visit the old imperial capital of Istanbul. Instead, he developed Ankara into a planned city. It is a center of government, kind of like Washington, D.C. in the United States. There are ministries, embassies and universities, and it is arranged into long boulevards with neighborhoods like Çankaya, markets like Ulus, and the Atakule tower. After being elected Turkey's first president and leading many new reforms,Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died of liver cirrhosis on November 10, 1938. He's now buried at the huge park of Anit Kabir (Monumental Tomb) on a hill in central Ankara.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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Legendary Origin of the Flag
A legend of the flag's design, as told to Abeja: A pool of blood, perfectly still, remains sticky in the street after a terrible battle. Soldiers lie dead around it, and people are weeping and moaning at the horror. High above, the crescent moon shines white in the night sky. This moon and its only companion --a single, bright star-- are reflected into the pool of blood below. From this image comes the modern-day Turkish flag.

Andrew and I visited the Anit Kabir with friends from Ankara. We were AMAZED at how large it is. The mausoleum is at the top of a hill, and as our group walked up, we saw two boys wrestling in the new-fallen snow. A Turkish flag flew high above us. As we entered the park we could see soldiers rigidly at guard.

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Andrew takes a look
I climbed the steps up to the mausoleum, and saw the golden letters of Atatürk's speeches written on the sides. As I entered the long hallway, I hushed up and felt a great amount of respect. It's quiet inside. Just a few pigeons roosting in the windows, and when they fly around, their shadows flit in and out of the bright sunshine filtering in.

Atatürk's tomb is directly below a huge, huge square of marble at the end of a long hallway, guarded by another soldier standing strictly at attention. As I walked up to it, I noticed a bright wreath of flowers laid at the foot of the marble, and remembered one of Atatürk's quotations: "Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!"* Atatürk, with all his strengths and weaknesses, will always be remembered as the Turkish 'Father of the Nation.'

* It means, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk!"


Reader Comments: Check them out and share your own!

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Brian - For His Eyes Only: The Adventures of Secret Agent 006.5
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Abeja - London, Paris, New York, Istanbul
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