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My Words on ATATÜRK: “The mothers of the fallen ANZACS...”
by Dr. Bülent ATALAY
, Ataturk Society
Turkish Embassy, May 19, 2011, W.DC.

My father, as Colonel (Albay) Kemal Atalay, was the military attaché from Ankara to Washington in the 50s. Twenty years later, as Orgeneral Kemal Atalay, he served as Undersecretary of Defense and the Commander of the First Army, retiring in 1970. A genuinely gracious and noble man to the end, he died in 2003.

On a drive down the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1967 he recounted stories about his own childhood. His father, my grandfather, Ismail Hakki, was born in Selanik in 1881, and was a close childhood friend of Mustafa Kemal. They went to the same school, they played football (soccer) on the street. They were “mahalle arkadaslari.” Ismail Hakki even named his son after his friend, “Mustafa Kemal.” They fought alongside each other in Gallipoli through eight months of unspeakable hell — Mustafa Kemal as a Lt. Colonel (Yarbay), Ismail Hakki as a Major (Binbasi). From there in 1916 my grandfather went to fight against the Arabs in southeastern Turkey, and he died, it is believed, while fighting T. E. Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Mustafa Kemal ATATURK, Founder and the 1st President of
Republic of Turkey (May 19, 1981 - Nov. 10, 1938)

Meanwhile, his incomparable friend, Mustafa Kemal would go on to create the Republic of Turkey, as a secular nation with Western values, to resurrect it from the smoldering ruins of the Ottoman Empire on an inexorable path to annihilation… He championed women’s rights, of science and reason over superstition and dogma. A grateful parliament of the republic he created would bestow on him the honorific title, Atatürk, “Father of the Turks.” Then they would retire the title lest anyone else would try to use it. I grew up with an almost idolatrous admiration and affection for him, in a home where “Atatürk” was only half a name. He was always referred to as “Büyük Atatürk” (Great Ataturk). He had played a small but crucial role in the marriage of my parents, although never finding out that my father was childhood friend Ismail Hakki’s son.

On the battlefield, Kemal Ataturk had been invincible, and off the battlefield he was gracious and generous beyond bounds. In 1930, fourteen years after the cessation of hostilities in the Gallipoli campaign, as the President of Turkey, Ataturk was given a letter by his aid-de-camp, “The mothers of the fallen ANZACS,” the aid reported, “… are requesting permission to visit the graves of their sons.” Ataturk mused, “What do I tell them.” The aid said, “Warn them if anyone invades us again, we’ll break off their legs.” Ataturk, responded, “I can’t do that.” He sat down and penned a deeply comforting letter to the women:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives in this land they have become our sons as well. — Kemal Ataturk.”

“…I recently posted the foregoing in a Blog for National Geographic. A comment rolled in a few days later: “It was impossible to read your poignant and heartfelt note without the tears rolling down my cheeks. Each time I read Ataturk’s letter to the mother’s of our fallen sons it reminds me of the unbreakable bond between our two countries that will remain forever.” — Peter Wall, Sydney, Australia

This is an example of the compassion, wisdom and intelligence of Kemal Atatürk.

Late one night in 2002, while working on a book, with the television set on for company, I suddenly perked up when C-Span’s Brian Lamb asked his guest a question, “Did you know much about Ataturk?” And the guest answered, “No, I had no idea. I simply put the data into the computer...” Professor of psychiatry, Arnold Ludwig, it turns out was being interviewed about his recent book, King of the Mountain. After having toiled 18 years to create the Political Greatness Scale (PGS), a gauge to assess effectiveness in leadership, he had graded and ranked the leaders of the 20th century. (The scale is based on factors such as the size of the population, military prowess, nature of reforms, economics, duration of rule, etc, distilled from the qualities of individuals whose names have come down through the ages as synonymous for leadership — Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, etc.) Moreover, since one nation’s hero, can be another nation’s scourge, Professor Ludwig was able to factor out the “good vs. evil factor.” (Stalin, Hitler, Castro are high on the list.) Dr. Ludwig acknowledges that there were over 2200 leaders during the years spanning 1900-2000, but he focuses on 377 about whom ample information exists. A cold maximum PGS score would be 37, but no one could possibly have gotten a 37 — not Alexander the Great, not Julius Caesar, not Charlemagne, not Lincoln… Among the highest ranking in the 20th century are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mao Zedong tied at 30 points; Stalin 29 points; Lenin 28 points; de Gaule and Deng Xiaoping tied with 27 points; Churchill and Reagan 22 points; Clinton and Kennedy 15 points; Carter 14 points… (all of these leaders are in the top-third of the 377)… Kemal Ataturk, with a score of 31 points, is first in the ranking among all leaders of the 20th century. This is an objective ranking!

National leaders are not necessarily gifted people, although they have slightly higher than average intelligence. Among American Presidents, I have no doubt that Thomas Jefferson was enormously gifted. My two books on Leonardo, and the new book that I am writing on Isaac Newton are about great geniuses. I can tell you without hesitation that Atatürk was indeed in a rare class of genuinely gifted leaders.

Thank you very much…

- Ataturk Society, W.D.C.
- About Dr. Bülent ATALAY

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