On November 10 th at 9. 05 a.m. ...
Everything began November 10 th at 9. 05 a.m.. I became aware that day and at that time of the strength of the Turkish people. This day is the anniversary date of the death of Ataturk ( 1881-1938 ) a.k.a. Mustapha Kemal, and at this time of day, life stops, every year, completely, for one minute, in the whole country. Please, imagine, over 750 000 km ˛, 70 million motionless, silent people who stand to honour their rescuer and this, every year, for more than sixty years. Cars stand still, the pupils get up in their classrooms, life freezes for sixty seconds, every Turkish person respects this minute, at the risk of being sacrilegious. Even mosques and their muezzin do not come to disturb this privileged moment, and for a very good reason : this man was a great destroyer of clerics.He is the one who made of Turkey the secular state that it has become. One of the rare Moslem countries where state and religion are separate, which makes of Turkey a Moslem and not Islamic state.
Often the Europeans confuse Arabs and Moslems. The Turks will tell you they are not Arabs ; on the other hand the Turks colonized the Arabs under the Ottoman empire, hence an opposition, sometimes rather fierce, between colonizers and colonized. An opposition which went recently as far as secret military agreements with Israel. So the Turks are not Arabs but simply Moslems.
The republic terminated the caliphate, in 1924, by deposing the sultan and the caliph Mehmed V. Henceforth the Sunni Moslem religion has no more "pope" and the power has been returned to the imams. But Istanbul accommodates another pope : the Patriarch of the Orthodox. Indeed, in 1453 , after the fall of Constantinople taken from the Byzantine, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror left to the Greeks the freedom of their cult and accepted the presence of the Patriarch in his walls. Today this Patriarch does not reign over more than some thousand orthodox believers in Istanbul but also over millions outside the Turkish borders. In fact, it seems that the Greeks want to leave the Patriarchy in Istanbul still to mark this earth with their presence as if they thought of returning one day. Could one imagine the pope of Rome in Cairo, Damascus or Teheran ?
But never a people paid and has kept paying such great homage to a man, especially 60 years after his death. The portrait, the bust or the effigy of Attaturk throne superb, often old-fashioned, in most of the Turkish workshops. And it is funny to have one's hair cut or to buy one's 'raki' ( national alcohol) under the watchful and mocking gaze of the 'holy man'. Not only is he the guardian of Turk secularism but also the guardian of morality. Besides, Turk school-children know it, for every Monday morning, after trooping the colours and singing the National Anthem, they recite together a few moral principles written by the 'holy man'.
All the Turkish daily life is stamped by this dualism which affects every Turkish person : following the republican and secular rules of Mustapha Kémal or listening to the religious sirens of the imams. This opposition seems to make to the religious sirens of the imams. This opposition seems to make a certain moral order reign where respect for children and old men is important. This duality came to its paroxysm in 1997 when an Islamist was named Prime Minister but the army, which in the past had not always respected democracy, let thngs be done while resting on its power so that the constitution were respected by the Islamists. Ataturk arose from military ranks, he saved Turkey from the big disaster of the Greek invasion in 1923. That is why today's army still has so much power.
Ataturk also knew how to return to the Turks their national pride by the victory of 1923 over the Greeks, wiping out the humiliation of the defeat of 1918 and the division of the Ottoman empire. That is why one often sees on the pediments of public buildings this maxim of the father of the nation : " I am so happy to be Turkish ", a slogan which is often heard on Monday mornings also in school-yards, chanted with force by the pupils. Without being a staunch nationalist he restored strength to the Turkish identity.
Few peoples worship so much and for a long time a man with such allegiance, Mao, Lenin, but it is above all their ideologies which were more respected than the men. In Turkey the cult of Ataturc remains as attached to his personality as to his ideas.
This man, who incidentally died from cirrhosis of the liver, which few Turks accept or know, was extremely sophisticated. Great admirer of women, he also realized they had to be given the right to vote, very early, ten years before De Gaulle did it in France. Amazing for a Moslem country where religion places woman in another category. Moreover, a woman : Tansu Ciller, was, for some years, Prime Minister, another paradox of this country.
He also had the courage to give its letters of nobility to the Turkish language, by "nationalizing" it and by Latinizing its alphabet but also by replacing many words of Arabic origin by Turkish words. At the same time, he introduced 300 modern words of French origin. It is not rare to see in the streets words such as " dekorasion ", " oto ", " san-elise " which, once read by a French speaker, become : decoration, automobile, Champ Elysees. Nevertheless the Turkish language is far from being understandable by a lay European. The Turkish language is agglutinative that is to say, like a train with its locomotive and its cars, every noun drags behind hit information as ownership, direction, etc.... The Turkish language is a language which knows how to treat suspense, like German and Tamil, it is necessary to wait for the end of the sentence to find the verb and finally know the action.
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