If Atatürk returned and saw all of this, he might ask where the young people are
Opinion By Ali Abaday
Sometimes it’s almost impossible to know what first triggers a thought in our minds. But when I started writing this article, I know that HBO Nordic’s first original series Beforeigners, and an old issue of Superman before that, are the things that got me thinking.
In Beforeigners, flashing lights over the sea start bringing people from the past to modern-day Norway. With every flash, Stone Age people, Vikings, 19th-century people, and those from other eras begin to appear all over the world.
No one knows how these people travelled through time, and the travellers themselves don’t remember what happened to them. After arriving, they face a difficult adaptation period. Although people are surprised to see their own ancestors suddenly appear, there are also people who are unwelcoming towards those from the past, same as the people in European countries that don’t like immigrants and asylum seekers.
In an old issue of Superman, Jonathan Kent, who’d died years before, somehow returns from the dead to enter into his son Clark’s (Superman) life for a short time. The notion of dead people, or those thought to be dead, suddenly coming back to life can spark some interesting ideas.
The idea that’s started turning around in my mind is this: if Mustafa Kemal Atatürk returned from the dead, what would happen to him? What would he think about what’s going on in Turkey, especially in the last 10 years? If Atatürk were to return, almost 81 years since his death, and someone told him what’s happening here, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t understand and that he would be arrested for any criticisms he had.
Along with the Turkish Army, Atatürk saved the country from being broken apart. He founded a new state. It would not be easy to explain to him why military school students’ throats were cut on the Bosporus Bridge during a coup attempt. A soldier who spent his life on the frontlines knows very well that it’s almost impossible for students studying in a military school to be putschists. He especially would not understand why those who cut these young students’ throats are now protected by law or why many military school students are now in prison… But, of course, if Atatürk started asking questions about this, our modern prosecutors would not hesitate to prepare an indictment accusing him of supporting the coup.
If you took a walk with Atatürk along the Bosporus, it would be extremely difficult to explain about Kuleli Military High School, which may or may not have been sold to Arabs, the military schools that have been shut down because there was no need for them (!), the tank tread factories that have been sold, the permits were given to open up new mines despite the environmental destruction they cause, or the buildings that have gone up in burned-down forests. If, God forbid, the founder of the nation said the people running the country and making these decisions have no idea what they’re doing, the prosecutors would charge him with insulting the President or attempting to destroy the state.
It would also not be easy to explain how the small religious institutions that were shut down years ago somehow survived and took over the state and the military. However, if Atatürk said anything about one religious group after another taking powerful position in the state, or if he thought about shutting all of these organizations down, he would face the judges and the possibility of arrest.
It was Atatürk who brought the terminology of geometry to Turkish, but what if he saw the current state of the education system, where a large portion of schools has been made into religious schools, or that now there are graduates of religious schools in the upper echelons of the state? Atatürk, who emphasised the need for the separation of religion from the state, would need to be told that not only are there theologians and religious school graduates at the highest levels of the bureaucracy, but also that these high-level religious people are confused about issues like marrying young girls and taking gifts to do their work.
It would not make Atatürk angry to learn that his name was not mentioned in the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Çanakkale and 30 August (Victory Day) commemoration speeches, or that his name has been removed from many public institutions such as the Turkish Language Association. Atatürk did not save the country to become famous. However, he would be furious that the Atatürk Forest Farm, which he donated for the good of the nation, has been opened to construction despite all of the protections he put into place. Although he donated this land himself, there is no one to prevent its sale. These days, it’s like construction is the way to save the nation. But if Atatürk were to protest all of this, he’d find the riot police waiting for him, along with the prosecutors and judges.
If Atatürk returned, someone would have to explain the situation children in this country are in. But how is it possible to explain why so many young girls are getting forced into marriage with no laws to protect them, or why there are hundreds of babies growing up with their mothers in prison, or why the corpses of dead children wait for days in a freezer because of a 24-hour curfew, or why a child died in the street after getting hit in the head with a police teargas canister, or how a child who was helping the gendarme was shot by guerrillas? Even worse, when all of these children meet in Heaven, is there a way to explain that some of them are considered heroes while others are considered so traitorous by a portion of society that their mothers are booed at political rallies?
Of course, if Atatürk were to ask why there are no journalists to write about all of this, you’d have to tell him that a great many journalists are out of work or in prison. You’d also have to warn him: “You may be our ancestor, but today, if you’re going to write about something you don’t like, choose your words carefully. It’s not the murderers and thieves who are in jail but those who have a way with words.”
If he asked, “How are the conditions for women in this country? What are the women of modern Turkey doing?” you’d have to hang your head and tell him that women are being murdered, that there are no protections for women who’ve been threatened, and that a part of society thinks it’s normal when women are harmed for walking in the streets after dark, for wearing shorts, for drinking, and for having fun.
If Atatürk returned and saw all of this, he might ask where the young people are, the ones he summoned as “O, Turkish youth!” This is what you can tell him: “Those young people have found their way or made their way to other countries. Those who are trying to save the country have lost their jobs or are in prison. You might say that’s not how it’s done, but just for saying this, you might be accused of having links to a terrorist organization and you can be judged. Keep this in mind.”