For decades his picture dominated Turkey, piercing blue eyes staring from hoardings, keeping watch over city streets and army barracks. Schoolyards echoed every morning to his oath: “Happy is he who can say ‘I am a Turk!’”
Now that oath rings out no more and the image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the secular republic, seems for some to be retreating into the shadows, victim of a new ruling class they suspect of cherishing a new more ‘Islamic’ Turkey.
Turkey’s “Kemalists” flinch at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan advising women on the number of children they should have, fostering restrictions on alcohol and expressing moral outrage over male and female students living together in the same house or flat.
The natural place to turn, as in hard times before, was to Ataturk’s tomb, the Anitkabir, a columned stone monument atop a hill in Ankara. Over a million people descended on it this month on the anniversary of his death, the highest number in more than a decade. Tens of thousands more marked the ritual at Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace where Ataturk spent his last days.