Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Tourist snapshot of Ataturk’s Turkey

Just back from a cheap “last minute” package holiday near Kusadasi, Turkey. I’ve never been to Turkey before, always meant to, but like many people, had been put off in the past by military coups, terrorism, Cyprus and Kurdistan etc.

The Mrs and I were just looking forward to escape the UK winter for a week with some sun and sightseeing. By coincidence on Wednesday, it was a National Turkish Holiday. “Cumhuriyet Bayrami , the day commemorates the proclamation of the Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

In the run up to the day, practically everywhere you went you would see national flags with pictures of Ataturk. The hotels all had huge red Turkish flags hanging down from their fronts. All cafes, shops and restaurants would have his picture or poster fixed somewhere, usually you would look up and he would be glaring down at you from various directions.

On Monday we went into Kusadasi and walked up the hill to the huge statute of Ataturk that overlooks the harbour (see pictures). Many Turkish towns have similar such statues. The walk up went through some very poor areas but we were cheerfully greeted by families and young children without any of the hassle you find in the main shopping and tourist areas. A lesson somewhere no doubt? The view from the top was well worth the effort but the site itself was strangely neglected, vandalised and definitely unkempt.

On the Wednesday itself we went to Selcuk by Dolmas (local shared transport) which despite its proximity to popular tourist attractions is a really nice Turkish market town, no “English breakfasts” on offer. As we went into the town there was a parade of local children with bands and swirling Turkish flags. We followed them to a local school where the headmaster (or local Mayor?) gave a stirring speech which the children seemed to enjoy by regular cheering and clapping. They then wandered off so I assume the rest of the day was a holiday which might have contributed to a celebratory spirit.

There were huge banners of Ataturk hanging from the walls of the local castle and various city buildings. The cult of Ataturk felt very pre 1989 Soviet or even 1984-ish. It also did not seem (to me) a particular “joyous” day of celebration. There were a number of trucks driving slowly around the town with PAs playing loud martial “patriotic marching music”, some decorated with flags, some not. The characters manning these trucks (all men) seemed to be out of central Turkish gangster casting. Large big stomached blokes with bushy moustaches and permanent scowls who didn’t seem to appreciate my David Bailey impersonation by taking their photos. I suppose that in the past Turkish internal politics has been very, very (repeat very) violent and it is understandable they are suspicious but I thought that I stuck out a mile as a tourist. I also felt that they expected some sort of opposition or were making some sort of provocative stance? I didn’t ask what political party they were supporting but I assume they were right wing secularists.

The “Rough Guide” suggested that Selcuk has designated quarters for “settled Yoruk Nomads....Kurds and gypsies......socialising little with each other”. I tried to see if there were any parts of the town which were not displaying flags or posters. I assume that many Kurds are not impressed with the legacy of Ataturk? Neither Islamic fundamentalists. But it seemed that all areas flew the flag. Even if you did not want to celebrate you would stick out if you didn't so you could understand the reason why you had to "fly the flag". Or else?

Saying all this, it did overall seem to me that Ataturk is a national hero for the mass of Turks. His achievements are pretty amazing despite the obvious “but”.

He first came to prominence as a divisional general who helped defeat the First World War allied invasion in Gallipoli in 1915 (my "Taid" or Welsh Grandfather also fought in Gallipoli with the British Royal Naval Division), he later defeated the Greek, French and Italian Armies who were trying to dismantle Turkey, overthrew the 600 year Ottoman sultanate, 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. Nuf said?

When he introduced surnames in 1935 for Turks he choose the name Atatürk, meaning 'Father of the Turks'. He died on 10 November 1938.

Of course he was also a dictator who crushed opposition and ruthlessly destroyed opponents who he thought plotted against him and his vision for the future, whether that threat was real or imagined. His understandable obsession with national unity in 1923 meant repression for minorities in the years after and he legitimised the role of the Armed Forces in overthrowing civilian governments they did not like. In the end at the age of only 57 he drank himself to death.

We flew back last night from a 26C blue sky Turkey to a Gatwick Airport car park where I had to scrape the ice off the car windows. End of holiday.


Anonymous said...

Good to see that you added to the destruction of the Ozone layer with your cheap holiday flight and unseasonal holiday. You didn't even get public transport to Gatwick. But you were happy to support the attempts by Ken to stop people driving Porsches. Your flight will have done more damage to the environment than someone drivig a porsche for an entire year? Good socialists should take their holidays at home and preach a bit less. You need to check your grammar as well...I don't think your Grandfather fought in Gallipoli with the Royal Naal division, he later defeated the Greek, French, overthrew the 600 year old Ottoman Empire..Nuf said!

Anonymous said...


another winston Churchill disaster

Anonymous said...

yes big yachts, russians, planes

Tories on Ozone

yes its Lord Snooty

Now where did Haig fly to on private jet to speak to bankers on how to keep their bonuses

while getting the state to bail out the bankers

no lectures from Tories please

John Gray said...

Hi Anon 1
I suppose you have a point about everyone’s personal responsibility to deal with climate change. However, I am a member of the Labour Party not the Greens. I don’t think people should give up holidays abroad. Air aviation fuel should be taxed and inefficient planes phased out. Ken had a really good idea not to stop dipsticks driving Porsches rather that such fuel guzzlers and Chelsea tractor polluters should pay more to encourage fuel efficiency.

Now, I also thought you may have a point about my grammar, so I consulted Mrs Grayee who is my oracle on this subject. She said that the brackets made it very clear that my Taid did not defeat Greeks etc. But she did tell me off for the length of the sentence.

Looking at your own spelling and grammar dare I mention greenhouses?

Anonymous said...

Its OK for you to fly on a gas guzzling holiday but not for someone to own a gas guzzling car? Its just typical socialist envy.
Where did Mandy fly to on a private jet...Russian Oligarchs and Rothschild? What was Blair getting from the millionaire Bernie Ecclestone? and what did he earn since he was booted out by Labour? How many members of the cabinet went to Private school? Yes, its Lord Snooty.

John Gray said...

Hi Lord Snooty
Apologies for not reply sooner. It’s not just about whether or not it is wrong to fly or what car you drive. A start is that you pay according to how much you pollute.

Neither is this about “envy” over former Prime Ministers earnings?
The CEO of the Housing association “Anchor Trust” earned £327,000 last year. About 4 times the amount that Secretary of State Hazel Blears earned. This is the real disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Good that someone has taken on this subject. Yu forgot to mention the extermination and murder of 1 million Armenia civilisans who dared to rebel. This genocide was acknowledged by theFrench parliament recently but Britain and the USA refuse to even debate the matter.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon

Yes, perhaps I should have brought this up. I don't understand why Turkey still doesn't accept any responsibility for what happened.

It is no use lecturing the Israeli about the present if you refuse to examine your own backyard.