JOOST – Ataturk in the Nazi imagination

Ataturk in the Nazi imaginationIt will be extremely interesting to see how a recently published book on the way the Nazis perceived and portrayed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his New Turkey will be received in todayand#39s highly polarized Turkey. Will pro-government pundits, critical of Ataturkand#39s legacy, use the book to prove they were always right in considering the founder of the Turkish Republic first and foremost a ruthless dictator? And will Kemalists present the findings of the book as further proof of the perfidious conspiracy of domestic Islamists and foreign imperialists against the man who saved and modernized Turkey?It would really be a pity if Stefan Ihrigand#39s book andldquoAtaturk in the Nazi Imaginationandrdquo would be the next victim of the culture war between the two dominant ideological blocks in Turkish society.

In his book, Ihrig illustrates how Turkey was seen by the Nazis as andldquoa standard bearer for the modern nationalist and totalitarian politics they wished to bring to Germany.andrdquo From the start, the author stresses that he will be talking about opinions and discourses.

Aware of the explosive nature of some of his revelations, he explicitly states that his is not a study on whether the Nazis were right in saying Kemalists displayed fascist tendencies: andldquoI will leave that discussion to others.andrdquoI am sure we will see quite a lot of that debate in Turkey.

The main reason being the overwhelming amount of quotations from the German press on Mustafa Kemal and the new republic he founded that the book presents. According to Ihrig, the Germanand#39s postwar fixation on the Turkish War of Independence bordered on the obsessive.

From the start, Germans on the political right and far right compared their frustration and anger over the Treaty of Versailles with the Turkish rejection of the Treaty of Sandegravevres. They saw Ataturkand#39s war against the British, the French and the Greeks as a nationalist dream come true and as an example they wanted their weak and subservient government in Berlin to follow.

Turkey was presented in the nationalist German press, over and over again, as a andldquorole modelandrdquo that showed that humiliating treaties could be revised. Ataturk was admired for his military bravery and the rest of the Turks for their love of the fatherland.

The emerging Nazis grew up with this German preoccupation with Turkey in the years 1919-1923 and developed a particular respect for the strong leader who was able to interpret the andldquonational willandrdquo of his people.For understandable reasons, in the publicity surrounding the book much attention has been given to Hitlerand#39s praise of Ataturk.

After coming to power in 1933, the Nazi leader called the Turkish president a andldquoshining starandrdquo during the dark days of the 1920s when he was trying to establish his nationalist-socialist party. In 1938 Hitler summarized the Nazi interpretation of Ataturk as follows: andldquoAtaturk was the first to show that it is possible to mobilize and regenerate the resources that a country has lost.

In this respect Ataturk was a teacher Mussolini was his first and I his second student.andrdquoThis Nazi esteem for Ataturk and the New Turkey can only be understood against the background of, in German eyes, the miracle of the Turkish War of Independence and the subsequent successful building of a modern society.

Moreover, in order to legitimize and promote Hitler and his ideas, the Nazis stressed and defended Ataturkand#39s autocratic style and one-party rule, his harsh treatment of the opposition, the ethnic cleansing of Anatolia and the elimination of religious powers over society.Having read all this praise, it is important not to overlook Ihrigand#39s own words on the andldquotruthandrdquo behind the Nazi glorification of Ataturk: andldquoThis does not mean that Kemalism was in fact fascist.

It only illustrates, on the one hand, how selective and predetermined the Nazi vision of Turkey was and, on the other, how ambiguous the Kemalist project still was, that it could andlsquoaccommodateand#39 such perceptions.andrdquo In other words: The Nazis saw in Turkey what they wanted to see, created a rigid picture and used the Turkish case to aocate, in Ihrigand#39s view, the fascist modernization they wanted for their own state.

The Turkish reality of the 1920s and 1930s allowed them to do so.That means anti-Kemalists should resist the temptation to use Hitlerand#39s admiration for Ataturk as the kiss of death for each and every Kemalist achievement.

On the other hand, staunch Kemalists should recognize their ideology has always been a confusing mix of progressive ideas and strong authoritarian inclinations from which many could pick and choose as they saw fit.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman