Sunday, January 25, 2009

Anit Kabir: Ataturk's Final Resting Place

The last few weekends, I have enjoyed feeling a part of this city I live in through going out to brunch with friends, visiting the Mausoleum where Ataturk is buried, running into people I know while downtown and grabbing an impromptu coffee, finding a great yoga center/instructor who translates her instruction into English, and finally today volunteering at a rehabilitation center for children with cerebral palsy. Let's start with the Mausoleum:

Anit Kabir is Ataturk's final resting place, and a great museum interpreting his life has gone up around the mausoleum. It was snowing the day I visited, and I caught some neat pictures of the changing of the guards. The mausoleum itself is a squared-off, neoclassical temple with huge bronze doors. The interior is almost completely bare with the focus on his plain sacrophagus. And, yes, that is a new word I learned.

Although the museum was extensive and I suffered from fuzzy, museum-overload brain by the end of my experience, I was most interested in learning about Ataturk's vision in the 1940s of what would make his country more "civilized" in the eyes of the western world: a unified language with a latinized alphabet, westernized clothing (men in top hats and walking canes, women with hair cut into a bob without headscarves), taking religion out of education, and a unified history that was not a history of Islam but a history of Turkey as a country. And what was even more amazing to me was that this man made these giant changes within a short period of time, changes that somewhat stripped his people of aspects of their culture, and that the people in no way resisted. Why did they not resist change? Was it the timing: Were they numb from of the series of wars, one war after another occurring in their country? Was it his promise that these sacrifices were needed in order for the nation to prosper? Was it the personality cult that arose around this man, and which was still evident through the Ataturk paraphernalia, like walking sticks and pocket watches, that were spread out through the museum for people to visually fawn over?

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