Biography30 Apr 2010 01:11 pm
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Atatürk” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
“One day my mortal body will turn to dust, but the Turkish Republic will stand forever.”
- Mustafa Kemal Pasha Atatürk.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha Atatürk (1881-1938) was a Turkish army officer, revolutionary statesman, writer, and both the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. A man of superhuman energy and ambition, Atatürk embarked upon a sweeping program of political, economic, and cultural reforms during his presidency. Radically secular in his philosophy, Atatürk relentlessly sought to transform Turkey into a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state, and was remarkably successful considering what he was up against.
In 1927, Atatürk delivered the speech to end all speeches to the Congress of the Cumhuriyet Halk Firkasi (Republican People’s Party). Referred to simply as “Nutuk” (“The Speech”) in Turkey, this was not your everyday, run-of-the-mill political speech. Epic in scope and content, “Nutuk” it was a whopping thirty-six hours and thirty-one minutes long, delivered over the course of six days to a captive Congress. Amongst (MANY) other things, Atatürk went into some detail about the history of the Independence Struggle of Turkey against the Allies (1919-1922). Not one for false modesty, Atatürk also spoke at length about his own heroic military leadership during the Struggle, just in case the audience had forgotten that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Central to Atatürk’s world-view was his belief that Turkey’s history reflected a constant narrative of unrelenting struggle against both external (foreign invaders) and internal (religious fundamentalists) threats to its autonomy and progress. He was convinced that these threats were so powerful and pervasive that they needed to be dealt with swiftly and comprehensively. His Kemalist reforms brought effective social change on education (genuine public education system) and vastly improved the status of Turkish women (he abolished headscarves and granted women genuine level of voting rights), but were less effective (less popular) with respect to wiping out Turkey’s deeply-rooted feudalism, one of only a few targeted “threats” that outlasted the indomitable general. An end-justifies-the-means kinda guy, Atatürk did not balk at the use of brute force in the service of his goals, as progressive as many of them were. As such, his legacy is a complicated one.
As an aside, I must confess that I would probably agree to just about anything after listening to a thirty-six hour speech, if only to make him wrap it up. And I bet he wasn’t even a little bit hoarse afterward. He probably even kicked himself later for leaving this or that point out. All I can say is that I am glad he never became a college professor…
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