"A man born out of due season, an anachronism, a throwback to the Tartars of the steppes, a fierce elemental force of a man. With his military genius and ruthless determination, in a different age he might well have been a Genghis Khan, conquering empires."
Never in doubt of his abilities, the man excelled at every task he took on. Time and again he developed battle plans that succeeded against impossible odds. His triumph at Gallipoli against the British and Australians was nothing short of a miracle. As well, his powers of persuasion were legendary. I quote a speech he made to those whose family members or loved ones had lost their lives and lay buried on Turkish soil:
"Those heroes (who) 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 the Mehmets to us – where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers who sent (your) sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
Amazing, no? The Turkish War of Independence, which ended in 1922, was the last time Atatürk used his military might in dealing with other countries. Ensuing foreign issues were resolved by peaceful methods during his presidency.
But he was just getting warmed up. He opposed the Turkish government's decision to surrender to the Allies after WW I, so he organized an army of resistance, which successfully defeated the Allied occupation forces. Atatürk changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul and established a Republic with a new capital in Ankara, a more centrally located city. Atatürk became the Republic's first president. He once more set his sights on reform by banning the veil and fez, leading by example; he strutted around in Panama hats and western business suits before a shocked public. He gave women the right to vote, thus making Turkey the first Muslim country to do so. He ordered men to appear in public with their wives – even to dance with them; prior to this decree most Turkish men had never before met each other's wives. In his spare time Kemal banned polygamy. Oh, I nearly forgot – he forced everyone to take a surname. His own surname, Atatürk (meaning "Father of the Turks"), was granted to him, and forbidden to any other person, in 1934 by the Turkish parliament. He abolished the use of Arabic script and replaced it with a Latin (West European) alphabet, at the same time making secular public education compulsory, even for women, thus thumbing his nose at centuries of Islamic segregation of the sexes.
"Fellow countrymen," he declared, "you must realize that the Turkish Republic cannot be a country of sheikhs or dervishes. If we want to be men, we must carry out the dictates of civilization. We draw our strength from civilization, scholarship and science and are guided by them. We do not accept anything else."
In a span of less than ten years he had resurrected a people with “Loser” stamped upon their foreheads into a force to be reckoned with, deserving of respect. He had the populace in his pocket and was nearly universally beloved by his people and respected by his enemies. To this day it is against the law to insult his memory or destroy anything that represents him. There is even a government website that polices and denounces those who violate this law, which has been in force since 1951.
In 2007 the Turkish government blocked YouTube throughout the country for 30 months, in retaliation for four unflattering videos about Atatürk that alleged that he was a Freemason and a homosexual, citing a book printed in Belgium that is still banned in Turkey – international standards of free speech be damned. I don’t know about Freemasonry, but my research has shown that Atatürk was not a homosexual. He was bisexual and always preferred the company of men. I will quote a passage from this book – one of the most awkward and tortured examples of syntax I’ve ever read:
“Women, for Mustafa, were a means of satisfying masculine appetites, little more; nor, in his zest for experience, would he be inhibited from passing adventures with young boys, if the opportunity offered and the mood, in this bisexual fin-de-siècle Ottoman age, came upon him.” (Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross)
In short, this man engaged in occasional sexual dalliances with young men, yet he was briefly married to a woman.* In the two biographies I have read, Atatürk comes across as an omnisexual, using sexual prowess as just another tool of intimidation, a man obsessed by conquest. If he had been a guest in my home, I’d have feared for my larger houseplants. His libidinous influence is felt today – Turkey is the only Muslim country where homosexuality is not against the law.
*He had seven adopted children: six daughters and one son. Ulku Adatepe, just nine months old when adopted by Atatürk, died last summer in an automobile accident at age 79. As a young girl she had traveled with her adoptive father as he traversed the entirety of Turkey to teach the new alphabet to his people. She was just six years old when Atatürk died.
All that off towards one side, Atatürk’s veneration has been constant since his death in 1938, nearly 75 years ago. His photograph appears on the walls of restaurants, shops, schools and government offices. His image is on banknotes, and nearly every Turkish town sports a statue or bust of the man. Your blogger knows this first-hand, since I have just returned from my second trip to Turkey this calendar year. At the exact time of his death, on every November 10, at 9:05 a.m., most vehicles and people in the country's streets stop for a minute of remembrance.
In response to several readers' requests for specific resources attesting to Atatürk’s bisexuality:
Atatürk (1962) Irfan and Margaret Orga:
“He had never really loved a woman. He was used to the camaraderie of the mess, the craze for handsome young men, [and] fleeting contacts with prostitutes, … His body burned for a woman or a boy...”
Mustafa Kemal, An Intimate Study (1933) by H.C. Armstrong
“After divorcing Latife, ...he went back to the long nights in smoke-filled rooms with his drinking friends...after that he became shameless. He drank deeper than ever. He started a number of open affairs with women, and with men. Male youth attracted him...”
Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals – by Keith Stern (pub. 2009)
Achilles to Zeus (pub. 1987) by Paul Hennefeld
Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation (2001) by Patrick Kinross, a former British Diplomat