When reviewing the alphabet in my Kindergarten phonics lesson last year, I once had a student volunteer the word ‘God’ as we attempted to brainstorm words that started with ‘g’. I was shocked that this English word was familiar to 5-year-old Turkish students. So, I asked my students to define it. One of my favorite students-charming, precocious and wickedly smart-blasted his arm into the air. I could not resist. I had to call on him. His definition?! ‘Ataturk’.
While this may offend or surprise some, it stuck with me. To this 5-year old, Ataturk was the most important person, figure and symbol he has ever encountered. As the founder of the modern Turkish state, his vision transformed the people, the land and the nation of Turkey. He introduced reforms that promoted the arts and education. He empowered women as equals in society and gave them the right to vote. He oversaw the introduction of the Latin alphabet and established the modern Turkish language. There are very few other examples in history, where one man’s vision and actions shaped an entire nation (or to my 5-year old student…his world)
Located on a hill overlooking the city of Ankara, this impressive monument celebrates the life, accomplishments and vision of Ataturk. Admittedly, I am a fan of monuments and museums, especially those that are particularly nostalgic and ambitious in their efforts to establish the legacy of whatever they attempt to memorialize. I was not disappointed.
Anit Kabir presents Ataturk’s vision and fight for a modern Turkish state. At the entrance, three men and three women stand equally to greet visitors. Intellectuals , democratic ideals and youth are presented as the face and future of the nation. This monument houses the body of Ataturk, but also the vision. It serves as a regular meeting place to celebrate the country’s progress and potential. It features stone from every corner of the country and showcases the sculpture and design of Turkish artists.
Once you enter the main square, you catch sight of the large mausoleum. As you walk up the 42 steps, you see his greatest speeches engraved on the walls. Soldiers stand solemnly at the doorway. Inside the design is simple and understated. A large three-dimensional rectangular structure sits at the end of the Roman-temple like building. This stands above the enclosed space where Ataturk’s body lies. Many Turkish people smile, look and pose for pictures around the monument. Others look around and admire the structure itself. The floors are made of marble of all colors and showcase various designs of the infamous Turkish carpets. Above, the ceiling is covered in sparkling gold tiles. Distant, but elegant they hang over the visitors, sparkling with optimism.
At the heart of this memorial is a museum that wraps itself around the main square and below the memorial itself. It showcases the clothing, works and beautiful collectibles that once belonged to Ataturk. It displays grand portraits and paintings of the celebrated victory over the allied forces in the War of Independence. It highlights Ataturk’s accomplishments and goals as he founded the new Republic. And, my favorite part?! It contains Ataturk’s book collection! Here you can see what an accomplished leader and intellectual he really was. His library contains books in Arabic, Ottoman, French and Modern Turkish. Every corner of the world is represented in this collection. He was an avid historian, philosopher and political scientist. He studied law, morality, language, culture and the social sciences. Several books were opened and displayed his meticulous notes.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. It deepened my understanding of Turkish culture and history. With its manicured lawns, beautiful square and spectacular view, it also proved to be one of my favorite places in Ankara.