In Complex Times, Turkey Seeks a Reassuring Face

Jan 16, 2008, NY Times:

ANKARA, Turkey — Looking dapper in a bow tie and a crisp suit, the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, stared fiercely into a dark room. He was made of wax and standing in a museum, but for some visitors last week, he might as well have been alive and breathing.

“If they let me I would kiss his hand,” exclaimed a middle-aged man with a bushy black mustache. “My heart is burning.”

Almost 85 years after Ataturk formed the modern state of Turkey from the remains of the Ottoman Empire, millions of Turks still flock to the mausoleum that contains his grave here in the country’s capital. So many that 2007 was a record year for visitors, according to the Web site of the mausoleum, called Anitkabir.

Last year, a total of 12.7 million people visited the monument, a figure lifted by a large demonstration in the spring, but still a 50 percent rise over the previous year and more than in any other year in the 54-year history of the monument, according to the Anka news agency.

Why the surge in visits to the grave of a man who died in 1938? For one, Ataturk is no ordinary man. He is referred to as the “immortal leader and unrivaled hero,” in the preamble to the Turkish Constitution. Insulting his memory is a crime in the penal code. The entire nation stops to mourn on the minute, each November, when he died.

Perhaps more to the point, 2007 was one of the more turbulent years in Turkish history, with secular Turks standing off against the rising power of a pious class of politicians, and people may have been reaching back to what was familiar. A political crisis over the selection of a president paralyzed the government and prompted an early election. The military seemed on the verge of carrying out its fifth coup. And the religious politicians now control the Parliament, the government and the presidency.

There are some people in Turkey who sincerely believe the republic is coming to an end,” said Guven Sak, managing director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, a private organization here.

In these confusing times, Ataturk is apple pie, Washington and Jefferson all in one. A brilliant military strategist, he led the Turkish uprising against occupying European powers at the end of World War I, driving them from the land they had seized from the dying Ottoman Empire.

He was also a statesman, imposing a radical secular revolution on a poor, devout country. He changed the language, dress and even the cultural habits of his compatriots, severing ties with the Muslim world ...

Turkey is in the midst of a broad transformation. An economic boom has jolted prices. Plans are under way to enter Europe. Some secular Turks are suspicious of the devout politicians now running things. In this atmosphere, nationalist fervor has gained momentum ...
Liberal use of the thesaurus there: 'complex times'? More like 'threatened times'.


gatesofvienna said...

Unreported at all in the UK again.

The riots which started six nights ago (Feb. 9th) in Nørrebro have spread out to the rest of Copenhagen and other cities around the country (see Google map of the fires). Witnesses in one case described the rioters as "second genreation immigrants". The riots included burning cars and trash containers, throwing molotov cocktails at schools and municipal buildings, and throwing stones at police and emergency services. I will not be listing every car set aflame, but I try here to give a general overview of what's been happening, as reported in Denmark's major newspapers.

Schools in and around Copenhagen were the target of molotov cocktails Thursday night. The worst hit was the Værebroskolen in the Copenhagen suburb of Bagsværd, where ten classrooms were burned down. The fire brigade was called in to deal with at least 20 fires in the city. Berlingske Tidende offers a picture gallery of the fires in Greater Copenhagen.

Police are being accused of using racist language against immigrant-background youth during the recent nights of unrest in inner Nørrebro. There are complaints of needless ID checks. Social workers were also accosted by the police and treated harshly. One of them reported that though he showed his ID, he was searched and forced to take down his pants.

There were disturbances in other parts of Denmark as well. North-Zealand police received reports of 7-8 cars burning in Kokkedal in the evening. Later the situation escalated with container and car fires in Farum and Birkerød, all in North-Zealand. The police don't know the motive behind the attacks but say the rioters are clearly inspired by the exposure in the media.

In Aarhus there were also riots, concentrated around Brabrand, but there also cases of container fires in Risskov and Viby. One person was arrested for throwing stones at the police.

During the Friday prayers imams in Aarhus and Copenhagen will be urging young Muslims to stop the violence and riots.

Sources: Berlingske 1, 2, 3; Politiken 1, 2, 3; Nyhedsavisen (Danish)

Abandon Skip said...

Kids and comics. They're not what they used to be. Thanks for the update.