Commentary: Ataturk Unmasked

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

A little-known historical event has a great significance in deciphering and defining the racist ideology of today’s Republic of Turkey; during World War II, Turkey was assisting Nazi Germany’s war efforts by supplying raw material to its war machine, in appreciation of Turkey’s support, Hitler allowed the transfer of the remains of Talaat Pasha, assassinated in Berlin in 1921, his Turkish soul mate, back home to Turkey, where a monument was erected in Istanbul’s Liberty Hill (Hurriyet Tepe) as a shrine for all racist Turks to visit and venerate one of the arch-criminals of the 20th century. That monument is still standing, carrying with it symbolism for the Turks and their victims.
When historians hold responsible and accountable the present Republic of Turkey, as the successor state inheriting all the booty generated by the murder of 1.5 million Armenians, they need also to refer to the symbolism that Talaat Pasha’s monument represents.
Current leaders of Turkey cannot avoid responsibility because they have inherited historic Armenian territory and the blood money resulting from the murder of an unarmed nation.
Fortunately, some Turkish scholars, writers and journalists are awakening to the fact that the present generation of Turks have on their shoulders an awesome burden of history. One of those writers, Ayse Hur, is revising the history she was taught at school in an article published in Radikal, unmasking the racist policies of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey.
Historian Taner Akçam, through his thorough research, reveals that many Ittihadist government functionaries who had executed Talaat’s orders eventually joined the milli movement of Ataturk in laying the foundations of the Republic of Turkey.
However, even Ataturk himself as a young man in the military had joined the Union and Progress Party of Talaat and he also had a significant role in the Young Turk revolution of 1908 which deposed the sultan.
His hands are not clean as a military man either, as he participated in colonial wars to put down revolts against the harsh Ottoman rules in Albania (1910) and the Balkans (1912-1913). The same colonial war was waged against Armenians in Cilicia (1921) and Greeks in Smyrna (1922) under the direct leadership of Ataturk.
Reading through scholarly or journalistic sources in the West, one is left only with awe and respect vis-à-vis Ataturk as a military leader and reformer. No mention, if any, is made of his racist policies and atrocious war crimes. Reading BBC sources on the Internet, we come to “admire” the father of modern-day Turkey.
The source presents Ataturk, the fatherly figure in the following way: “He [Ataturk] launched a program of revolutionary social and political reforms to modernize Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women, the abolition of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one.”
To inspire pride in the Turks, he coined racist slogans, one of which to this day, all schools, including the ones belonging to minorities, have to prominently expose: “Proud should feel the person who claims to be a Turk.” This kind of a slogan has fed feelings of racial supremacy to the Turks, while inducing an inferiority complex and fear among minority children.
Although he promulgated the Hat Law of 1925, forcing Turks to wear Western-style hats to replace the fez, he could not change what was under that hat, because he was not interested in what lay below the surface.
Hur lists a long number of laws, decrees, regulations that define Ataturk as a racist leader. Only a few examples will suffice to fully understand the true reformist side of the father of the Turks.
Thus, speaking to a group of Turkish businessman in Adana, on March 16, 1923, Mustafa Kemal (aka Ataturk) said: “Finally this land returned to its true owners. The Armenians and others have no rights here. These fertile fields belong to true Turks.”
In a decree promulgated in June 1923, all Jews, Greeks and Armenians were laid off from government and private institutions and their travel within Anatolia was banned.
An April 3, 1924 law stripped the title of all Jewish, Greek and Armenian lawyers, allowing the legal profession to be the purview of the Turks exclusively.
A law was passed on August 1, 1926 to confiscate all minority properties acquired before the Lausanne Treaty took effect (August 23, 1924).
Minister of Justice Mahmoud Essat Bozkurd announced on September 18, 1930, in the region of Eodimis: “My idea, my belief is that this land itself is Turk. Those who are not real Turks and wish to live in this country can only survive as servants or slaves.” And this is a Turkish kind of justice from a minister of justice. This kind of treatment reduced the minorities to the levels of rayas (slaves) practiced during the ages of sultans. While suppressing Islamic symbols, Kemalists enhanced the rights of Muslims and Turks over all minorities.
Therefore, it is not difficult to detect the red line, which runs throughout Turkish history from the sultans to the Young Turks and then to the Ataturk era, inherited intact by the modern Republic of Turkey.
These racist laws are still extant in Turkey. In fact, they have been codified. What is penal code Article 301, supposedly defending Turkishness, if not a muscle to silence dissidents and in the first place any one who pronounces the word “genocide?” It is under that penal code that authorities in Turkey have been persecuting and prosecuting Orhan Pamuk, Ragip Zarakolu, Hrant Dink and other scholars and journalists.
The reason these anachronistic trends and laws have survived is that the army has taken upon itself to safeguard Kemalism, or the legacy of Ataturk. Indeed, an unelected junta has assumed the perpetuation of these laws.
The feeble voices of scholars and journalists would not have been sufficient to transform Turkey from racism to civilization, were it not for the pressure exerted by the European Union.
Once Turkey attains a respectable a level of civilization then the gates of Europe may become more hospitable.
It is also our hope to deal with that kind of Turkey, because only a fully civilized nation will be able to demonstrate the courage to face its abominable history.

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