One day, my mortal body will turn to dust, but the Republic of Turkey will stand forever,” Atatürk reportedly said after he escaped an assassination attempt in the early years of the Republic. Today, both his memory and the Republic stand strong 79 years after his death with modern Turkey’s first president still a beloved figure for millions.
On Friday, the public and the country’s leaders commemorated the man who led the War of Independence after the fall of Ottoman Empire on the anniversary of his death.
As is annual tradition, daily life stopped as sirens wailed throughout the country at 9:05 a.m., the time he passed away in 1938, at the age of 57, and people observed two minutes of silence.
Thousands flocked to Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara to commemorate him.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, cabinet members, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chair Devlet Bahçeli and Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar also attended the commemoration ceremony at the mausoleum, known as Anıtkabir.
“We are once again remembering our first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” Erdoğan wrote in a book of commemoration. “We are working day and night to bring Turkey to the level of contemporary civilization. May his soul rest in peace,” he wrote, in reference to Atatürk’s ambitious plan to make the country as prosperous and developed as Western societies.
Following the ceremony at Anıtkabir, a commemoration program was held at the Presidential Palace complex. In his address, Erdoğan praised Atatürk’s efforts during the War of Independence and foundation of the modern Republic.
“In the tumultuous period of the past century, every country brought up leaders and sought liberation through them. Very few leaders met their country’s desired victory. There is no doubt that Atatürk is one of them,” Erdoğan said.
The president later criticized several ideologies and cliques, including the main opposition CHP for trying to capitalize on Atatürk’s values and goals, saying that after his death, the CHP has changed its discourse.
As the leader of the pro-Republic First Group in the Grand National Assembly during the War of Independence between 1919 and 1922, Atatürk was the chairman of the CHP from its establishment on Sept. 9, 1923, until his death in 1938.
Erdoğan also said that criticizing Atatürk’s policies only contribute to achieving the goals left unfinished during that period, specifically mentioning the chaos in Syria and Iraq.
“Turkey could not uphold its National Oath, declared before the War of Independence. Now in Syria and Iraq, I say we stood behind the National Oath through Operation Euphrates Shield, and our actions in Idlib and Afrin,” Erdoğan said, referring to the set of decisions adopted by the Ottoman parliament in 1920 for peace conditions after the empire’s defeat in World War I. The National Oath sought self-determination for Turks in areas previously occupied or expected to be occupied by the Allies in a peace treaty, and demanded Mosul and Kirkuk in northern Iraq, northern Syria, Georgia’s Batumi and western Thrace in Greece be included inside the country’s borders.
Atatürk’s distinguished military career included repelling the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 and rallying Turkey to withstand the Allies’ attempt to carve up Turkey after World War I in the War of Independence.
“The heroic Turkish Armed Forces, which honorably carry the torch of independence and sovereignty that Atatürk lit, continue their dedication to fight against every kind of risk and threat,” Gen. Akar said in a statement published online.
As Turkey’s first president, he transformed the country through a wide-ranging series of modernizing reforms.
In addition to Ankara, hundreds of people gathered in front of Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace, where Atatürk had spent his final years and passed away.
In many cities including Istanbul and Adana, human “chains of respect” stretching for kilometers were formed as people held hands to mark the 79th anniversary. The chain of people in Adana trailed 14 kilometers (9 miles).
Off the coast of Istanbul’s Maltepe district, a group of divers brought a copy of British painter Ned Pamphilon’s Divers to the surface and held red flares aloft.
Diver Yoshinori Moriwaki, a Japanese engineer living in Istanbul, said: “Today, as one of those involved in the group, we did our best job and took Atatürk’s Eyes out of the sea…
“We would have him live forever… I am very happy. The ideas of our ancestor will never die.”
Parachutists dropped to the ground as they trailed Turkish flags and in Toroslar, a district in the southern city of Mersin, 7,700 people came together to form an image of Atatürk’s face.
Mayor Hamit Tuna thanked those involved. “There was a little confusion but this is a record,” he said. “The record of this kind of action was 4,500. We have 7,700 friends here.”
The Turkish Football Federation mentioned Atatürk’s emphasis on sport while Hidayet Turkoğlu, chairman of the Turkish Basketball Federation, commemorated “Atatürk and his brothers in arms, as well as all our martyrs and veterans with appreciation.”
The country’s “Big Three” sports clubs — Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş — also issued messages of respect. “We once again grieve his death and commemorate him with love, longing and respect,” Beşiktaş said in a statement.
Atatürk was born in 1881, when Thessaloniki was part of the Ottoman Empire before being taken by Greece in 1912 during the First Balkan War. The house is now a museum to modern Turkey’s founder and around 5,000 are expected to visit on Friday.
At the three-storey building in Apostolou Pavlou Street, Thessaloniki, the Turkish consul general addressed around 1,000 Turkish students who had gathered to pay their respects.
“We remember him today in every corner of the world, all over the world,” Orhan Yalman Okan said. “But, in this house where he was born, it is quite different and remarkable.”
“Atatürk was such a wonderful and perfect person that even the people who had waged a war [against Turkey] were saddened over his death,” Okan said, referring to Greek newspaper reports on his death in 1938.
Okan noted that Eleftherios Venizelos, who served as Greek prime minister at the start of the War of Independence ended with Greek troops driven out of the country, nominated Atatürk for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934.
Turkish diplomatic missions across the world held commemoration ceremonies.
In Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, the embassy organized readings of poems about Ataturk.
At the embassy in Georgian capital Tbilisi, Ambassador Zeki Levent Gümrükçü said: “There is no other leader that could bring his nation to become one, even 79 years after his death.”
Başak Türkoğlu, Turkey’s envoy to Kuala Lumpur, said: “I believe that the best way to commemorate Ataturk is to understand him. We need to cherish our republic.”
The ambassador to Azerbaijan, Erkan Özoral, described Ataturk as “the strongest icon to unite Turkish people.”
In Paris, Ambassador İsmail Hakkı Musa said Ataturk was symbolized through freedom and love of liberty.
In Hungarian capital Budapest, Ambassador Şakir Fakılı led a crowd in a moment of silence at the city’s Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Park.