Turkish Recruits

Soldiers & JulianIn 2001, I took a group of volkssporters to Turkey. I had just finished reading Atatürk; The Founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango (The Overlook Press: Woodstock, 2000). My trip served two purposes; one was to see the land of so much early Christian history and the second was to gather material for a novel about this extraordinary man and his times. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is considered the George Washington of Turkey. He gained a following initially as the commander of the 19th division in Gallipoli. It was this division which checked the Allied invasion in Sulva bay during World War I. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal and his fellow nationalist  officers exiled the Ottoman dynasty and abolished the Caliphate. A new nation, a Republic was proclaimed with Mustafa Kemal as its president.

Eventually, over several years, religious schools and courts, primarily Islamic, were abolished. A new language based on the Latin alphabet was developed and taught in the public schools. Women were given the right to vote and be elected to congress. Clerical dress was banned outside places of worship and secularism was made part of the nation’s constitution. (In 2013 we are watching some of these advances modified.) Even surnames, formerly unknown in the Ottoman Empire, were made mandatory in the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal was given the surname Atatürk which means “Father of Turkey.”

In light of today’s political climate, you may be interested in several of Mustafa Kemal’s quotations:

Now Turkey is far from being the scene of religious or shariat schemes. If there are any who desire such schemes they would be well advised to seek other stages for themselves (1924).

The Turkish State is secular. Every individual reaching majority is free in choosing his or her religion (1930).

There will be no bolshevism in Turkey. Because the foremost objective of the Turkish Government is to assure the liberty and the happiness of its people (1935).

The modern Turkish society, with its women and men being equal in every right, is a creation of recent years (1937).

It was during these years that the Turks became known as fierce fighters. Greece, France, England, Russia and Italy, all wanted a piece of the Ottoman empire at the conclusion of the First World War. Mustafa Kemal was willing to give up land for secure borders, but only so much before he was willing to fight. The demand that citizens become Turks in mind as well as in formal allegiance, caused major relocations of peoples into and out of Turkey. Many died as a result.

My novel with a working title of Ibrahim, the Turk should be published this coming winter. It tells the tale of a young man who faces the challenges of his fledgling country from the First World War until the conclusion of the Korean War. During the latter war the Americans and the Turks fought side by side as I point out in my book. In my studies, imagine my surprise to learn that a Swiss woman, a Madame Bauer, was employed by Mustfa Kemal Ataturk to train his young family in European manners. She often danced with him explaining that she only did so to keep him from drinking, which he did to excess. I wondered if Madame Bauer and I were related.

I spoke a smattering of Turkish, which I learned over the internet, and engaged the recruits in the above picture. They knew that the United States has a large Air Force base in Incirlik, Turkey with 5,000 U.S. Airmen serving on this base. We shared cigarettes and spoke of our relationship. They were deadly afraid that the Turkish military police would see them. I don’t know why. After a few enjoyable moments, I left the recruits and later found several military policemen, about six foot two each, wearing grim faces, heading in the recruits direction. I hoped they didn’t get into trouble.