September 21, 2014

Ataturk: Immortal Leader and Unrivaled Hero?

In “Turkey Shocked by Chain Smoking, Raki-Swilling Atatürk,” Spiegel Online reporter Daniel Steinvorth reports on the controversy over a new film released to mark the 70th anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

… Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül showed that the seven-decade anniversary can also be celebrated in another way — one perhaps more to the liking of the Kemalist Thought Association. At a ceremony at the Turkish embassy in Brussels, he gave a lecture on the difficult formation of the Turkish State and the expulsion of Greeks and Armenians, a fact which Gönül described as a “very important step.” At the end of the day, he said, modern Turkey would not be as we know it, “if Greeks still lived on the Aegean and Armenians still lived in different parts of Turkey today.”

In other words: the historical expulsion, deportation and extermination of the two population groups, as the thinking goes, are to be welcomed.

Between 1.5 and 2 million Anatolian Greeks were forced to leave their home in the process of the population changes. In return, half a million Greek Muslims came to Turkey. In 1955 another 100,000 Greeks left their home city of Istanbul following anti-Greek pogroms in a chapter of Turkish history which the once multicultural metropolis prefers to keep quiet about.

Later in the week, Gönül would correct himself, saying that Turkish minority groups, like the Armenians and the Greeks, enrich the country.

Still, Turkey’s official writing of history reveals a deep reluctance to tackle the “disappearance” of the Armenians. While Armenian sources say 1.5 million Armenians died in massacres and death marches during World War I, Turkey speaks of deaths on both sides, claiming there were 300,000 Armenian victims at the very most.

Turkish politics professor Baskin Oran was well aware how strong Gönül’s words sound beyond Turkish borders. “Because the Armenians and Greeks from Anatolia were sent away, industrialization was been delayed by at least 50 years,” he said.

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