Sculpting Turkish nationalism : Atatürk monuments in early republican Turkey
Today every city and town in Turkey has at least one monument of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the founding father of the Turkish Republic, located in one of its most important public spaces. All private and state primary, middle and high schools have at least one bust of him in front of which students have to line up every Monday morning and Friday evening to chant the national anthem. Apart from statues and busts, his portraits and pictures are hung in every office in state buildings and in most private offices. His name has been bestowed upon boulevards, parks, stadiums, concert halls, bridges, forests, and, more importantly, on educational institutions. Among these many public expressions, the monumental statues of Atatürk erected before he died exemplify one of the most effective instruments of the elite-driven modernization in early republican Turkey (1923-1938). These monuments reveal the ways in which Atatürk and his political elites attempted to establish a modern and secular sense of identity as well as a new official public culture and official history, mainly constructed through Atatürk’s Nutuk, the speech which he delivered in 1927. Nutuk was Atatürk’s public defense of his policies during the military and diplomatic struggle for independence in Anatolia between 1919 and 1923. It has not only become a remarkable and extremely influential text both in Turkish and foreign historiographies but also has been the source for visualizing the official interpretation of the struggle for independence in Turkey to the present day. Thus, all the monuments of the early Republic stand for such orthodox interpretations of history, emerging defensive Turkish nationalism and national identity while symbolizing the closure of the predating Ottoman Empire. Codified within this new national identity are the elements of secularization and racial homogenization of the society, a western cult of the “Orient” in the Orient, and an effort to control and limit the cultural and religious hegemony of Islam in the official public culture of early republican Turkey.