Secretary Clinton Visits Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Mausoleum

Posted by Ann Kim
March 7, 2009
Secretary Clinton at Mausoleum Kemal Ataturk

About the Author: Ann Kim serves as a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

Today is the eve of International Women’s Day, and I have had the privilege of witnessing Secretary Hillary Clinton pay her respects to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk at Anitkabir, where Turkey’s hero is laid to rest. It is an interesting coincidence that Clinton — a individual who has tirelessly advocated democracy and women’s rights and proudly wears the badge of “first woman to accomplish…” in her own right (first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation, first female partner at Rose Law Firm, etc.) — pay her respects to a man who also tirelessly fought for democracy and women’s rights; one of his hallmark reforms was to give Turkish women the right to vote in 1934, shortly after American women fought for and won their right to vote in 1920.

When Secretary Clinton arrived at the site, energy filled the air. I’ve been to Anitkabir before, but the crowd was larger for a Saturday morning. She continues to be a favorite American among Turks, which is really important right now when Americans are not always looked upon favorably by a number of countries. But this crowd was clearly excited... they said hello and waved. She waved and said hello back… It has been a while since Turks have been excited about an American so it was a moving scene to behold.

The Turkish dignitaries greeted her, and they all proceeded toward Ataturk’s mausoleum for the wreath laying ceremony. The excitement when she arrived contrasted with the solemnity of the ceremony was striking. I was amazed at how quiet things got, even though there were many people around. The slow walk, the dignity of the soldiers leading the procession, and the reflective expression on Clinton’s face underscored the uniqueness and importance of Turkish-American relations. .

For her entry in the Guest Book, Clinton wrote: “It is an honor to visit once again on behalf of my country to show our honor and respect for the founder of this great country and demonstrate the friendship of the American people.” These words reflect the nature and importance of this bilateral relationship. Though at first glance it might appear to some that Americans and Turks do not have much in common, upon reflection, it is easy to see that the democratic values of both nations bind the two countries together.

Comments

Comments

Rosemary
|
New Jersey, USA
March 7, 2009

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Thank you, Ann for this very informative post, and Happy International Women's Day to you and to our lovely Secretary of State who continues to put a pretty and well-regarded face forward to the world for us.

Wow! Hillary! What a trip! *Thumbs up*

Brian
|
California, USA
March 7, 2009

Brian in California writes:

Madame Secretary Clinton: Yes indeed; two thumbs up! Thank you for your noble service to our country.

Bahar
|
Arkansas, USA
March 8, 2009

Bahar in Arkansas writes:

Thank you for such an important visit! You make your country proud! We are honored to have an individual such as yourself to know how to truly honor important leaders from our past.

Alec
|
California, USA
March 8, 2009

Alec in California writes:

Despite all the myth-making and deification in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal is not an individual who deserves to be honored by the United States. This is the man who instituted the policy of denial of the Armenian Genocide, this is the man who denied the Kurds and minorities of their identity, this is the man who created a militant, near-fascistic conception of "Turkishness" that breeds violence and murder against truly democratic thinkers in that country. Google "Ergenekon" and you will see what I mean.

Secretary Clinton, do your research before blindly placing a wreath wherever your hosts guide you.

Mary
|
Delaware, USA
March 9, 2009

Mary in Delaware writes:

Thanks to Ann Kim for posting, and to Secretary Clinton for your service to our country. Happy International Women's Day. You make us proud.

Wendy
|
California, USA
March 9, 2009

Wendy in California writes:

Dear CO Kim,

Honor & respect. Honor & respect. When the means and the ends are the same, we can all stand in the sunlight.

Behar
|
District Of Columbia, USA
March 9, 2009

Behar in Washington, DC writes:

I find it quite ironic that our Secretary of State paid her respects to a man who is often painted as a westernized forward thinking Turkic hero rather than the oppressive dicatorial leader he truly was. There's a common phrase among the Turks, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk" but how happy were the Armenians and Kurds who lived in that society? What about the practicing Muslims who were ordered to remove their headscarves and traditional Turkish clothes all in the name of westernization? What about Mr. Ataturk's policies that still linger, such as the inability of a woman who covers her hair to serve in parliament or go to school, or for a Kurd to speak Kurdish in federal buildings, for Kurdish to be taught in schools, or for Kurds to name their kids Kurdish names? I went to Turkey as a U.S citizen in the summer of 2005 and my 11 year old sister was denied a visa because of her name-apparently her name was a threat to their sovereignty. Ataturk may have preached about the need to embrace democratic principles, but his implementation of those principles caused a good deal of censorship and oppression to minority and religious groups living in Turkey at the time. Rather than encouraging Turkey to continue democratizing and allowing everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity to take part in the political process, Turkey was given reassurances that the issue with Cyprus would be dealt with accordingly and that the PKK was a common enemy. What about PJAK-a sister branch of the PKK that operates in Iran? Are we to condemn the PKK in Turkey because we're allies, but condone their attacks in Iran because we're not on good terms with them?

So many Kurdish lives have been lost in Turkey thus far, lives that, contrary to what Turkey might say, are not affiliated witht the PKK in any way. Human rights groups and the EU have continuously cited those violations time and time again, but all the U.S. has been doing in recent years is pay Turkey to stay out of Iraqi affairs, and pat them on the back for its hypersecular "democratic" principles. We'll be quick to point the human rights violations of other countries in the Middle East but when it comes to Turkey, we won't even bat an eye. Just because it doesn't make the 6 o clock news, that doesn't mean that innocent people aren't being killed or harassed.

Rachel F.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
March 9, 2009

Rachel in Washington, DC writes:

First of all I'd like to applaud the efforts of everyone at the Department of State that works to keep this blog up to date. It is a very effective tool for everyday citizens who like to keep up with our diplomatic efforts and official overseas business.

I would also just like to say how proud I am of Secretary Hillary Clinton. In her short time as Sec. of State she has already made me so very proud that I am on of the Americans she represents internationally. She has already taken steps to show her dedication to democracy, human rights and women's rights around the globe and has wonderful job of reaching out to other countries on these issues. Her visit to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's mausoleum in Anitkabir is a wonderful example of her outreach in this regard. I applaud her efforts to honor a great advocate of democracy and human rights, and I hope she will continue to work for those issues around the globe.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
March 10, 2009

SNP in Syria writes:

@ Behar in Washington, DC -- The head cover ban is one of the most honorable of laws introduced and enforced by Attaturk. He cared about woman dignity. He prevented women from being humiliated and degraded by the wearing of it and should be outlawed worldwide and replaced by head cover, even Bouqa for men. You do not object for that would you, If societies started passing laws that men should wear bourqa? Why women only should be penalized. Why not the Ayatollah wears a head cover. I think Ahmadinejad will look acceptable in bourqa. Arabs wear one already, they just need to add the head cover then there is no need to hide behind sun glasses at night.

Behar
|
District Of Columbia, USA
March 11, 2009

Behar in Washington, DC writes:

@ SNP in Syria: Banning woman from choosing the right to wear whatever they want is NOT honorable. In fact it goes against the very principles of democracy that our own country was founded upon. Women should have the right to choose what they want to wear, not a government. Just as a quick example, I'd like to point out the Prime Minister of Turkey and how his own children weren't immune to these laws. He had to send his daughters to school in the United States because they were wearing a headscarves. You cannot get an education in Turkey or hold public office as a woman if you wear a headscarf. Mustafa Ataturk was the founder of these very policies.

I'd also like to point out a clause that appears over 30 times in the Turkish constitution which states that anyone that believes in the indivisibility of the Turkish state loses their human rights. This clause has given the Turkish government plenty of leeway when persecuting its large Kurdish population over the past 80 years.

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
March 14, 2009

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

It is surprising that this article, which focuses on Ataturk and the importance of women's history, didn't include this fascinating fact: Mustafa's daughter, Sabiha Gãkãen, was the first female fighter pilot IN THE WORLD.

As for the other comments below, it never fails that when one culture supplants another, or a culture transforms from its traditional roots into something new, there will always be those in the minority that didn't benefit from that transformation and will boo-hoo about it. It is common practice for those who feel embittered to ignore the extraordinary forward leaps of progress made by the leaders and focus on something small that didn't benefit their group. Well- too bad.

For those who think Mustafa was not a great person, in at least some respects, perhaps would prefer to live in a multitude of different realities where he hadn't risen to power. Any one of those possibilities could include living under communist rule, living under fascist rule, or being conquered by the Greeks, or attempting to remain attached to the ideals of the crumbling Ottoman empire with its backwards technology and no citizen rights. Go ahead, take your pick.

The founding of Turkey may not have been the best for everybody, but it was the best for the majority, and for those people, Mustafa happened at the right time and the right place.

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