atatürk heykelleri ve toplu siyasal hareketler

Any first-time visitor to Turkey, even today, is quick to point out the most widespread symbol throughout the country: Atatürk. Since the early of the 1990s, Turkish political culture has witnessed a certain amount of desanctification with respect to Atatürk. It is now easier to criticize his policies and principles without risking accusations of blasphemy, and it has become somewhat less common to run into his pictures in such places as public toilets, public transportation vehicles, grocery stores or pharmacies. This, however, was not always so.

In roughly the first decade of the post-Atatürk era, starting from 1938, in other words during İsmet İnönü’s presidency until 1950, the sanctity of Atatürk as the symbol of the republic remained more or less intact. İnönü attempted to introduce himself as a symbol in his own right by issuing banknotes with his picture on them, and by having his own statues and busts erected throughout the country, but this did not produce the intended result, perhaps because İnönü was not as charismatic a leader as his predecessor. Atatürk remained the foremost symbol.

In the aftermath of the landslide victory of the Democratic Party in the 1950 elections, a number of legacies from the Republican Party era came under attack, both by the new government and by social actors. The İnönü banknotes were withdrawn from circulation; the call to prayer, which had been delivered in Turkish during the latter part of the İnönü era, was changed back to the traditional Arabic form; a large portion of the immovable property that belonged to the Republican People’s Party were confiscated; and İnönü’s statues were removed from city squares and public buildings to warehouses. Attacks on Atatürk statues and busts, however, preceded these state initiatives.

The first such attack of a long series occurred on 25 February 1951, in Kırşehir. In the early hours of the morning, the Atatürk statue in Republic Square was attacked, and its nose and chin were broken. Ulus reported that “the incident created great sorrow and hatred”, and that “the people of Kırşehir are certain that security forces will soon arrest the unknown culprit.” This attack led to widespread protests. On 5 March, a demonstration was held in Kırşehir; one hundred students from İstanbul University took part in this demonstration, under the leadership of Temel Enderoğlu, the president of the İU Student Council. Delivering the message of the İstanbul youth, Enderoğlu said that, “the revulsion we feel at the insolent and impudent attack on the Atatürk statue which adorns the Republic Square of your city is boundless... we bring to all of you who have gathered here around his edifice, the greetings of the nationalist, reformist and Atatürkist youth whom we represent.” On the same day, the National Turkish Student Union (NTSU) organized a lively meeting at the Eminönü People’s House. The next day, students in Ankara held a condemnation meeting organized by the Ankara Higher Education Student Union (Ankara Yüksek Tahsil Talebe Birliği) in Ankara University’s Department of Language, History and Geography. On 9 March, a protest demonstration was organized in Konya, where opponents of Atatürk came under attack, and the Kırşehir incident was condemned. The organizers of this demonstrastion were the Press Society (Gazeteciler Cemiyeti), who professed to act in the name of the youth of Konya. The event took place in one of the movie theaters of the city, and close to two thousand people reportedly attended the event, after which a statement was issued to the effect that the youth were ready to shed their own blood if necessary in order to defend the reforms.

By 18 March the waves of protest had not subsided – the youth of Tokat organized a meeting on that day in Tokat’s Republic Square to condemn Kırşehir. The attack created immediate sensitivity, which at times got misplaced. On the same day, a peasant in Selçuk, İzmir discovered a wrapped-up Atatürk bust in the mud. He informed the village muhtar (headman), who transferred the bust to his home and informed the police. A formal investigation ensued, and the papers were quick to label this a second Kırşehir incident. Two days later it was discovered that the bust belonged to Selahattin Önder, a small-scale sculptor from Uşak, who had been living in Selçuk for the last month and a half. He had left the bust with Mustafa Topal, who sold oranges, asking him to sell it for 250 kuruş. The bust was then stolen by an unidentified person, wrapped in clean paper and hidden in the grass in the fields. The next day’s papers reported that the thieves were Mehmet Sertel (19) and Ömer Görgülü (12), who had stolen the package from Topal’s shop. When they discovered it was just a bust, they dropped it in the field. Two days later they told a peasant named Ali that they had seen a package in the grass, which was how the bust came to be discovered.

Similarly, an Atatürk bust was reportedly attacked in the Alama village of Taşköprü, Kastamonu, on 22 March. The culprit was caught by the gendarme. Later on, a statement issued by the governor of Kastamonu, Nurettin Aynuksa, said that the object attacked was not a bust but a photograph hanging on the wall of a classroom in the village school. A few peasants had entered the building through a broken window and started playing cards. One of them, a 23-year old man named Şükrü, had taken out his knife and practiced knife-throwing with the photograph as his target. The governor expressly stated that the incident had no political content whatsoever.

The 27 March issue of Ulus reported that three attacks on Atatürk statues had taken place within one week. One was in Eryamanlar, where the villagers had commissioned a concrete bust of Atatürk in 1939; the second was in Burhaniye, where a man named Rasim Akcan broke the bust in the police station; and the third was in Dalama, Aydın, where the bust in the DP building was attacked and its eyes were “abominably carved out.”

İnönü’s statues also received their fair share of this kind of vandalism. On 29 March, 1951, one arm of the İnönü bust in front of the Ministry of Education Pavilion at the İzmir Fair was broken. On 30 May, Ulus complained that the İnönü bust in the Ereğli Cloth Factory had been taken down, just like the İnönü photograph at the Pötürge City Club.

On 7 April of the same year, the government announced that it had drafted a new law in response to the increase in attacks against Atatürk, and the draft was sent over to the Justice Commission. Upon the RPP deputy Kamil Boran’s question, the Minister of Interior Halil Özyörük informed the Parliament on 27 April that from the date of Atatürk’s death to 14 May 1950, there had been sixty-seven attacks; the number of attacks since then (i.e., during the past year) was twenty-nine. All of the culprits, he said, had been arrested. The RPP announced that it was in favor of the draft, but wanted it to explicitly express that these attacks aimed at the very foundations of the Republic and the reforms. The party’s main objection, however, was the clause which stipulated the banning of statues of living persons, which of course meant İnönü. Hamdullah Suphi Tanrıöver asked the Assembly to avoid passing such a law, which also worked backwards in time, requiring existing statues to be taken down. Cezmi Türk warned the deputies on 21 May that “the people don’t like our messing with İnönü.” On 8 June, the “statue law” as it was called was rejected in Parliament. On 25 July, the final version of the draft was voted and accepted – the law stipulated imprisonment for one to three years of those who insulted the memory of Atatürk in public. Attacks against photographs were left out, and no mention was made of attacks against reforms.

Meanwhile, the attacks continued, sometimes extending the range of symbolic action to include the Turkish flag. In Konya, for example, on 10 April, some members of the Konya Turkish Youth Organization Association (Konya Türk Gençlik Teşkilatı Derneği) came across a shop with a broken window; the hole in the window had been stopped with a flag. With great bravado the young men broke the window and rescued the flag. Upon inspection, security forces found out that the shop belonged a sign-painter who was being tried for communist propaganda, and that the flag was in sad shape, smeared with oil paint and torn in places.

Attacks continued unabated through 1951. On 2 July, an unidentified individual broke the Atatürk statue in the garden of the Mohair Society Model Farm (Tiftik Cemiyeti Numune Çiftliği) in Lalahan, Ankara. The next day, a big demonstration was held in İzmir’s Republic Square, in protest of such attacks. Members of the RPP and the DP, the mayor, teachers, intellectuals and townspeople attended the meeting. The National Anthem was sung, and speeches were delivered after lots were drawn to determine the order. One of the placards read “İtcaniler” (dog criminals), a wordplay on the Ticanis, a Muslim sect held responsible for the attacks. Vows were taken to protect the reforms, and people stood guard in front of the Atatürk statue, with torches in hand. A week later, a similar protest demonstration was held in Aydın, organized by the local Students of Higher Education Association (Yüksek Tahsil Talebeleri Derneği). On the same day, A Ticani dervish attacked a bust with his stick in a grocery store in Eskişehir, but was averted by a child who took away the bust and held it against his chest. On 21 August, the bas-relief of Atatürk on a fountain in Altındağ, Ankara, was destroyed, but the governor denied that there had been an attack, putting the blame on the wear of time.

Sensitivity on this issue continued to lead to exaggerations. When a Sıtkı Arslan, hailing from Gümüşhane, decided to climb the Atatürk statue in Ulus, Ankara, and speak his mind, he was duly taken away by the police, who suspected he was either mentally unstable or a Ticani.

Such actions created their symmetrical opposite. In Eryamanlar, a new bust, donated by President Celal Bayar, was installed in the place of the broken one after a big ceremony on 25 April, attended by the governor of Ankara. Another ceremony was held in the National Turkish Student Union’s Laleli center on 30 April for a flag sent to the Turkish youth by General Tahsin Yazıcı, head of the Turkish forces in Korea. İnönü himself attended the opening ceremony on 19 May for an Atatürk statue by the sculptor Sabiha erected in Çankaya, Ankara. On 16 November, the senate of Ankara University decided to have a statue “of a size commensurate with the greatness of Atatürk” to be erected on the campus. İstanbul University decided to do the same, via the initiative of the students. İş Bank donated twenty thousand TL for this statue. Ulus supported the initiative, and started a fundraising campaign itself.

1952 was no different. On 21 January, the bas-relief pictures of Atatürk and İnönü on the wall of the People’s House were broken down publicly in Biga, Çanakkale, where the audience shouted, “Hit the eye!” and “That’s the way!” On 1 March, an engineer called Hüseyin Türkmen found a destroyed Atatürk bust in the mud in the Parliament parking lot. The culprit was arrested two days later. His identity was not disclosed, but he was a Ticani. On 18 March, a bust of İnönü in Selçuk was attacked, and its chin was broken. On 18 April, the Atatürk picture in the primary school of Lakdikras, Kars, was torn to pieces by three people during the lunch hour, with the students witnessing the act.

Ankara University’s plans for a new Atatürk statue gained momentum in 1953. The rector decided the base stones to be brought in from all the provinces so that “all corners of the country will be represented.” The president of the NTSU gave a detailed description of the statue: “The monument has three figures. In the center is Atatürk, with his left arm raised, pointing to the future of the Turkish people. On his left is a young girl, symbolizing the past struggles of our nation. On his right is a young man with a flag over his shoulder, symbolizing the Atatürkist youth. In this monument Atatürk is depicted in the idea of eternity; thus he wears no dress or uniform to suggest his being a great soldier or a statesman. The monument will be seven meters high together with the base, and will be cast in bronze.”

One of the “counter-uses” of Atatürk as a symbol involves his mausoleum, the Anıtkabir, in Ankara. Visits paid there often turn into a form of collective political action with the intention of underlining secular or Atatürkist intentions. In 1953, for example, university students of Ankara gathered twice, once in March and once in November, and went to the Anıtkabir in order to renew their vows to protect the reforms.

Assaults on Atatürk’s image continued. On June 6, 1955, Mehmet Demirbaş from Büyükdere entered the RPP building and tore two of Atatürk’s pictures into pieces. Caught redhanded, he was sent for medical examination.

The events of 6-7 September 1955 have been studied extensively elsewhere and have gone down in Turkish history as an example of provocation and manipulation of the masses into hysterical reaction aimed at minority citizens and their property. For the purposes of this study, one feature of the upheaval is of special significance: the use of symbols in turning the metropolitan crowds into mobs. On the night of the 6th, rioting masses wrought havoc on the streets of İstanbul and İzmir, ostensibly in protest of the prosecution of Turks in Cyprus and the news that Atatürk’s house and the Turkish Consulate in Salonica had been bombed. The target, of course, was the Greek minority in these two cities; their houses and shops in Beyoğlu, Pangaltı, Yüksek Kaldırım, Karaköy, Bankalar Avenue, Eminönü, Sirkeci and Kumkapı were looted, put to fire, and vandalized. People began to gather in Taksim around 6 p.m., upon the spreading of the news about Atatürk’s house, and marched in different directions. The mob grew in size as the march continued. Churches were put to fire in Taksim and Yenişehir. The upheavals spread uncontrollably throughout the city after 11 p.m. One group uprooted the electrical poles of the railway between Sirkeci and Bakırköy and used them to attack stores and houses in Yeşilköy and Bakırköy.

Military troops were brought in from neighboring İzmit and martial law was declared, banning all long distance telephone calls. In İzmir, the Greek Consulate, the Greek Orthodox Church, and boats belonging to Greeks were burnt. The next day, after midnight, a march was organized by Ankara University students, who gathered in front of the Law Department and walked down to Ulus singing “Misty Mountain Top” (“Dağ Başını Duman Almış”) and the National Anthem, continuing on to Sıhhiye. Here the crowd shouted slogans against the Greeks who had bombed Atatürk’s house. In Kurtuluş the police clashed with the crowd. On 8 September, a group of children aged 8-10 attempted to march to Anıtkabir with Atatürk’s pictures and maps of Cyprus in their hands, but were dispersed by security forces.

An article that appeared in Forum one year after the incidents accused the government of doing nothing on the issue: “Right after the event, the authorities, who know how these things happened much better than we do, called the incidents [of 6-7 September 1955] ‘a national disaster’. But such a diagnosis would have required the heaviest pnishment of all those responsible, all those who were at fault and showed neglect... Then, as time has passed and the memory of the incident has become dimmer, the same authorities have started to call the incidents ‘a national uprising’,” thus exempting the perpetrators of investigation.

The summer of 1956 witnessed two attacks on Mersin’s Atatürk statue. The first came on 27 July. Osman Memiş from Niğde stood in front of the statue and started berating it. Passersby informed the police, who came and took Memiş to the police station for interrogation. About two weeks later, on 13 August, Mehmed Zelho climbed on top of the statue and started to hit it with a sledgehammer. He could not be caught by the people in the vicinity, and managed to run away. He was later arrested by the police in front of his house, to be tried for violation of the Atatürk law.

1957 was not without incidents. In Silivri’s Çeltik village, on 22 April, Mustafa Başak invited Mehmet Ali Aygün (19) for iftar, the evening meal during Ramadan. After the meal, while sitting in the living room, Aygün saw Başak’s bust of Atatürk, got mad and broke it to pieces. On the next day, a holiday celebrating national sovereignty, a Greek immigrant was found to be going around in villages dressed as an imam, preaching against Atatürk and breaking his busts.

In November, Çanakkale became the locus of similar incidents. On 30 October, in the town of Çan, a number of young men destroyed Atatürk’s portrait and got arrested. On 4 November, in the village of Gökçalı, some unidentified people broke the Atatürk bust in the village square by throwing stones at it. The coffeeshop owner Mustafa Pehlivan repaired the bust himself and then painted it. The next day, one of the attackers was caught and delivered to the Çanakkale court of justice.

1958 was the year when the Cyprus issue came to a head. On 28 January, British forces used their weapons against Turkish Cypriots for the first time. Turkey refused to accept British proposals, and Britain replaced the military governor on the island with Sir Hugh Foot. On 19 June, Prime Minister Macmillan announced a new plan which entailed a partnership regime; there would be an interim government for seven years, after which a new government would be formed based on the British, Turkish, Greek and the Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the island. Greece and Makarios refused the proposal; Turkey found it wanting with respect to clarification of the status of the island, but nevertheless announced on 25 August that it was not against the plan, which was then put into practice in October. Greek terrorist attacks disrupted the plan’s success, and the United Nations took up the issue in November. The Political Commission decided for a conference to be held with all parties attending, and for a new constitution to be written. The Zurich and London conferences were held in 1959, as a result of which the Cyprus Republic was founded in 1960.

The Turkish flag emerged in this period as the foremost symbol of patriotism and national solidarity. At times, the flag replaced any practical aid sent to Cyprus and took on the quality of aid in its own right. Thus on 9 February, the NTSU organized a campaign to send flags to the Turkish Cypriots. The campaign proved to be very popular – 250 flags were donated in one day. This was regarded as ample response to the British forces on the island, who had confiscated Turkish flags during a demonstration and refused to give them back. Even though the British agreed the next day to return the flags to Dr. Küçük, the NTSU went ahead and sent all the donated flags to Cyprus, after the members of the Union took a pledge on them. Alongside the Turkish flag, Atatürk’s figure was also deemed to be a source of hope for the Turkish Cypriots and a sign of their compatriots’ solidarity back in the motherland. It was in this vein that sculptor Mehmet İnci made a big bust of Atatürk using a special stone brought in from Balıkesir, and sent it to Cyprus on 28 April 1959.

1958 was also a year of increased strife with respect to domestic politics. The DP was attempting to stifle all forms of opposition, criticism and freedom of expression. At such a time, the safest bet was to revert to the use of symbols once again, and this was exactly what Ulus did on 19 May, the national holiday for youth and sports. The paper ran a long quotation from Atatürk which called on the “revolutionist youth” to protect the regime:

The Turkish youth is the owner and keeper of the reforms and the regime; he has identified himself with the regime and the reforms, and as soon as he detects the slightest or greatest attempt to weaken them, you [sic] will not leave it to the police, the gendarme, the military, or the judiciary to take counter-action. You will fight against it immediately and protect what is your own work. The police may come and arrest him instead of the real culprits. The youth will think that the police are not yet the police of the reforms, but will never beg for pardon. The court will find him guilty, and again he will think: ‘it is necessary to streamline the judiciary as well.’ He will be put in jail, but he will say: ‘I did what my conscience and judgment dictated; I am right in my intervention and action. If I am here unjustly, it is my duty to correct the causes and factors that create this injustice.’

The public prosecutor took immediate action against the newspaper, demanding to know the source for the quotation, which indeed was questionable: Rıza Ruşen Türer’s book of mostly hearsay stories of Atatürk, entitled A Few Stories and Memories of Atatürk.

On 2 June, the municipal council of Bafra, Samsun, decided to take down its İnönü statue. The RPP was outraged, but could not do much because it was replaced with Atatürk’s statue. They could only complain that “there was no ceremony for the placement of the new statue, which the people thought was a shame.” The Cyprus meeting on 12 June was rich in the use of symbols. One hundred fifty thousand people gathered at the Anıtkabir to protest the British and the Greeks; young men displayed painted maps of the island on their bare chests, efes (swashbucklers) with national costumes were there, as well as other old people and students carrying caricatures of the British government and Makarios, the Greek Orthodox leader of Cyprus, in their hands. An effigy of Makarios was hanged and then burned. 8 November brought vindication to the RPP. Ahmet Özoğlu, the mayor of Gelibolu, who had taken down İnönü’s statue eight years earlier, finally received a sentence in court for his deed. As the DP rule grew increasingly hostile towards any actual or even potential opposition in 1959, various tools came to the forefront to manipulate public opinion, and the sensitive issue of minorities, especially with the developments in Cyprus in the background, provided many such opportunities. At times, however, attempts at manipulation became too obvious and bordered on being ridiculous. For example, a junior high school student named Povliya Çola, obviously of Greek descent, was arrested by the police on the grounds that he had torn out a picture of Atatürk published in Hayat magazine and thrown it on the ground on 14 July.

The coup d’état of 1960 changed the political climate in Turkey drastically, but as far as the use of symbols goes, it mostly served to institutionalize existing tendencies. Atatürk’s statues and busts, for example, would no longer be produced haphazardly. A new association was founded under the name of the Association for the Production of Atatürk Statues (Atatürk Heykeli Yaptırma Derneği) for the express purpose represented by its name. On 18 August 1961, one such statue made under the auspices of this body was erected in Kütahya. On 10 September, a new Atatürk bust was installed in the garden of the Torpedo Depot Administration in Kocaeli in a ceremony attended by the governor and the commander of the army corps.

The alleged bombing of Atatürk’s house in Selanik in 1955 had caused riots in İstanbul. A similar thing might have happened in 1962, when Atatürk’s house in Şişli, now a museum, caught fire. On 9 January, after midnight, upon hearing the news, thousands of university students left their dormitories to gather in Taksim. They marched to Harbiye, reached the house, and sang the national anthem. Two minutes of silence followed, after which the governor made a speech. The crowd dispersed peacefully, since there were no identifiable suspects, and no agitators.

Agitation would soon follow. In Silifke, on 28 May, a young Islamic fundamentalist named Kürşat Kunt (30) destroyed Atatürk’s bust in front of the local high school. He was caught, and a protest march was organized by the youth of the town, who then replaced the broken bust with a new one. When a similar attack occurred in Kulu on 17 September, the Turkish National Youth Organization condemned the act and issued a statement claiming that the reason why such attacks continued was the lenient application of laws, and asking for forceful punishment of the attackers. On 21 September, the representatives of youth organizations came together to visit the Anıtkabir in condemnation of the recent attacks. Leaving a garland of flowers at the mausoleum, they signed the guest book, stating that they were “ready to join our friends who have been lost in the battle for democracy.”

The 27 May Idea Club organized a conference at the Turkish National Student Federation, where “all the progressive forces of Turkey” were invited to a close co-operation in the name of “the great revolutionary war.” This was followed a week later by the words of three Justice Party senators in the town club of Giresun, to the effect that they were determined to erect Menderes’s statue right beside that of Atatürk. The youth present there applied to the public prosecutor’s office for the necessary action to be taken. General Güventürk, who happened to be there at the time of the incident, spoke harshly and was quoted by the papers: “We will string up the carcasses of those who attempt to hang another picture beside Atatürk’s, or erect another statue beside his. Let them do it.”

It was not until February 1964 that a new attack was staged. On 14 February, a primary school teacher named Osman Nuri Amasyalı bought two Atatürk busts from a bookstore in Urfa and then smashed one of them right in front of the shop and took the other to the mosque to break there. Duly arrested, Amasyalı said that he had acted under the influence of a preacher who had told his congregation of the way Abraham had broken idols. About a month later, on 7 March, a man named Cemil Kalkan entered the primary school building in Albayrak, Van, and broke the Atatürk bust there. He was caught by the gendarme and the people.

A different type of symbolic action, one that was not designed as an attack to destroy anything, took place in September the same year. The Cyprus issue was high on the agenda once again, and the US policy with respect to the status of the island had come heavily under attack. Public opinion was swinging towards military action, and youth organizations were especially vocal in making such demands. On 14 September, the National Turkish Student Union sent Prime Minister İnönü a pair of soldier’s boots, and held a press conference to elaborate the point.

Two attacks caught the attention of the national press in 1965. On 17 January 1965, a young man named Rıza Çiçek attacked the Atatürk statue in Ulus, Ankara, with a stick in his hand, and was arrested. On 11 December of the same year, Selahattin Dedeoğlu (16) attacked the Atatürk bust in the school garden in Talas, Kayseri. He was arrested after the school teachers informed the security forces; in turn the teachers were attacked by the villagers and were forced to leave the village.

1966 was richer in attacks. Edip Erat (50) brought down the bust in front of the Koca Mosque in Burhaniye on 14 February, shouting, “Can there be a statue where Muslims pray?” He was arrested. The attack on 8 April made it to Cumhuriyet’s headlines: “Atatürk’s Statue in İzmir Attacked with Axe.” Ahmet Ali Gezgin, aged 55, had come in from the village of Gümüldür with his son. After praying by the base of the statue, he took an axe from his son, and shouting that he was on a mission from God, he started hitting the statue. The crowd that gathered was about to lynch him, but Gezgin was saved by the police. The Turkish National Student Federation decided keep watch in front of the Atatürk monument in Taksim, İstanbul, and put a garland of flowers at its base. Four hundred students gathered, but the police intervened and put fourteen people into custody. The crowd shouted one of the popular slogans of the day: “Is this the way it ought to be? Does a brother shoot his brother?” The head of the police department spoke to the crowd, saying that a group of three representatives should be chosen to put the garland of flowers on the base of the monument. Another group walked to the Monument of Freedom to stand at attention. In Ankara, the youth stood watch in front of the Monument of Victory with flags in their hands; the minister of interior gave personal permission for the torches of the monument to be lit.

On 11 April, the Atatürk busts in the primary schools of Çanakçı, Antalya, and Dilek, Malatya, came under attack. Members of the İstanbul University Student Council stood watch in front of the Taksim monument throughout the night, in protest of the two incidents. The next day, three primary school students were turned over to the court of justice in Malatya. On 13 April, the Turkish National Student Federation announced a week-long watch in the name of national loyalty to Atatürk. On 15 April, the students in İzmir, organized by the TNSF, marched from Konak to Republic Square and back to Konak, in protest of the attacks. In Malatya, the real culprit was identified as the schoolteacher named Şaban Özayabakan, who was denounced by the villagers in a meeting. The people of Dilek brought people from other villages and towns with their tractors and minibuses; the army provided ten vehicles for public transportation. The head of the National Turkish Student Union spoke in disapproval of the Respect for Atatürk Watch on 19 April, and claimed this was not a national watch but a “fever attack of leftist circles.” On the last day of the month, in the village of Apaydın, Urfa, the village’s schoolteacher Abdurrahman Yaşar took down the Atatürk bust there.

On 19 May, in Buldan, Denizli, a bust in one of the public parks was attacked. The next day police investigation determined that the “attacker” was a 14-year old boy named Cengiz Demiray, who said in his testimony that he had been “playing football with his friends and they had a bet about whether the bust was alive or not, so he made a mudball and threw it at the bust, and it came down.” Two months later, on 13 July, the last incident of 1966 took place: in the village of Tepecik, İstanbul, unidentified people took the Atatürk bust in front of the office of the muhtar down to the highway and smashed it against a milestone.

The single event of 1967 involving symbols came on 30 July, when the representatives of twelve student organizations marched to the Anıtkabir to complain about the government. Alp Kuran, head of the Turkish National Youth Organization, wrote in the guest book that the government was treating the youth with hostility.

It was not until 1969 that a new attack occurred. On 9 April, a group of members of the Justice Party Youth Division entered the Department of Language, History and Geography in Ankara and tore down and burned Atatürk’s picture. They also broke windows by randomly shooting around with guns. On 2 August, in the Gemici village of Uzunköprü, a young man named Burhan Er took shots at the Atatürk picture in the village coffeehouse after drinking six bottles of wine with his friends. The villagers tried to conceal the incident by hiding the picture, but the office of the public prosecutor was informed, and Er received a sentence of two years and eight months in prison.

On 8 February 1970, three people threw rotten eggs at the Atatürk bust in the garden of the Ankara State Conservatory around 6.30 p.m. They were arrested the next morning, around 10 a.m. On 13 March, a different bust was attacked: this time it was that of Halide Edip Adıvar, the famous woman writer of the War of Independence era. Her bust had been erected in the Sultanahmet Park by the Turkish Women’s Union. It was blown to pieces by a bomb; revolutionary students later placed a garland of flowers on the base of the bust.

The 14 April issue of Cumhuriyet reported that attacks on the photographs of Atatürk had increased. RPP Kayseri deputy Tufan Doğan submitted a motion of enquiry pertaining to the reports that in the religious schools of Kayseri, Atatürk’s eyes had been punctured in the schoolbooks. On 24 November around 8.30 p.m., the Chemistry Department of İstanbul University was attacked by fundamentalist students and outsiders. The doors of the department were broken and pictures of Atatürk were torn down.

A long interim followed. It was not until 1976 that a similar action occurred. On 6 March of that year, ultra-nationalists calling themselves “commandos” attacked the People’s House in Fatih, İstanbul, and threw Atatürk’s busts to the ground. They wrote “God save the Turk”, “İstanbul Idealists Association”, “Down with Communists” on walls and tables, using ballpoint pens.
This overview of symbolic action within the first thirty years of democracy in Turkey reveals that there was a considerable concentration with regards to type of action and the years such actions were undertaken. By far the most popular symbol was Atatürk, and action involving this symbol was Janus-faced: it involved attacks on Atatürk’s busts, sculptures and monuments, his pictures and photographs on the one hand and a ritual of consecration to his image on the other. The attackers were usually identified as religious fundamentalists, but especially during periods of political unrest and instability, a certain hysteria developed which saw fundamentalist attacks everywhere and feared the end of the regime was at hand. This led to the arrest of schoolchildren, drunkards, and petty thieves on political grounds. It is noteworthy, however, that many of the incidents studied in this chapter involved school teachers and villagers, which leads to the conclusion that many primary school children, especially in the countryside, were being inculcated against Atatürk and presumably the founding ideas of the secular republic. In a country where the religion of the overwhelming majority is one which bans all representations of human beings as idolatrous, it is only natural that the representations of the very person who is held responsible for the establishment of a secular state, and hence of the alleged demise of the religion, should come under attack. The other major figure who was the victim of such attacks was İnönü, for very much the same reason – he was, after all, “the second man” after Atatürk, carrying his legacy on through the next decades.

The diametric opposite form of symbolic action again involved Atatürk: students and the youth, to whom Atatürk had entrusted the republic, frequently organized marches to and congregations at the Anıtkabir, paying tribute to the founding father and demonstrating to the enemies of Atatürk’s legacy that they were a united force ready to crush those who aimed to destabilize or overthrow the regime. These enemies included not only religious fundamentalists, but also the DP government in the 1950s. Similarly, Atatürk’s pictures were carried in marches and demonstrations; new statues and busts were commissioned and erected, sometimes with great flourish; keeping watch at the base of the Atatürk monuments symbolized the vigilant watch kept to protect the modern Turkish state.

As for the years in which such actions were mostly concentrated, even a cursory glance reveals that the 1950s were the busiest years for symbolic action, and that this form petered out in the next two decades. Two reasons can be cited, which are again the two sides of the same coin. The DP era was seen by many as the harbinger of a type of freedom of religion, because the RPP rule since the founding of the republic was regarded as having stifled that freedom with its charade of secularity. As such, the 1950s offered an opportunity to fight back against the stifling ideology. Since all-out war was still out of the question, partly because even the DP government, even though it made ample use of religious gestures to support its populist policies, did not envision any radical departure vis-à-vis the basic tenets of secularity, the only route available to the “opposition” was staging a clandestine, unorganized, de-centered attack, or rather, a series of disparate attacks. In addition, the young generation, and especially the more organized university students, saw it as their foremost duty to protect the secular republic and, as political actors, they derived their legitimacy directly from Atatürk. Thus, when faced with attacks directed at the source of their legitimacy, they undertook organized action (unlike their opponents) to defend both the symbol itself and what it symbolized.

Even for far-left groups of the late 1960s and 1970s, Atatürk remained a reference point. One member of the Revolutionist Youth (Dev-Genç) Executive Committee would reminisce in the 1990s, as the president of the Generation ‘68 Foundation (68 Kuşağı Vakfı), that Atatürk’s Bursa Speech or his Address to the Youth had always been very important for them.

In the decades that followed, many of the ground rules changed. The introduction of the military as a major actor in the game raised the risks of directly attacking Atatürk. Religious fundamentalists began to employ other forms of action, and attacking statues more or less fell out of fashion. Visiting the Anıtkabir remained, however, a basic form of public statement with regards to one’s -real or purported- orientation in the field of Turkish politics.


[1]“Atatürk heykeline tecavüz/ Hadise büyük bir teessür ve nefretle karşılandı. Kırşehir’de dün sabahın erken saatlerinde Cumhuriyet meydanındaki Atatürk heykelinin burun ve çene kısımları kırıldı. Kırşehirliler, emniyet teşkilatının bu meçhul şahsı yakında yakalayacağından emindirler.” Ulus, 26 February 1951.
[2] “Şehrinizde Cumhuriyet alanını süsliyen Atatürk büstüne karşı işlenen küstah ve hayasızca tecavüz dolayısiyle duyduğumuz infial sonsuzdur... onun anıtı etrafında toplanan sizlere temsil ettiğimiz milliyetçi, inkılapçı ve Atatürk’çü gençliğin selamlarını iletiyoruz.” Ulus, 4 March 1951.
[3] Ulus, 23 March 1951.
[4] “Tam gözlerine gelen kısım iğrenç bir şekilde telvis edilmiştir.” Ulus, 27 March 1951.
[5] “İnönü ile fazla uğraşmayalım, milletin hoşuna gitmiyor.” Ulus, 22 May 1951.
[6] Ulus, 23 August 1951.
[7] “... dikilecek abidenin Atatürk’ün büyüklüğü ile mütenasip olması.” Ulus, 17 November 1951.
[8] “Vur, gözüne vur!” “Ha şöyle!” Ulus, 22 January 1952.
[9] “Heykelin kaidesine konacak taşların Türkiye’nin her vilayetinden ayrı ayrı getirilmesi ve böylece yurdun her köşesinin temsil edilmesi komitece kararlaştırılmıştır.” Ulus, 7 February 1953.
[10] “Anıt üç figürlüdür. Ortada Atatürk sol kolunu yukarı kaldırmış, Türk milletinin geleceğine işaret etmektedir. Solunda bir genç kız, milletimizin geçirdiği mücadeleleri temsil ediyor. Sağda bir genç erkek ve omzunda bir bayrak vardır. Bu da Atatürk gençliğini ifade ediyor. Bu anıtta Atatürk ebediyet fikri içinde şekillendirilmiştir. Üstünde büyük bir kumandan veya devlet adamı olduğunu hatırlatan bir elbise yoktur. Heykel kaidesiyle beraber 7 metre yüksekliğinde olacak ve bronzdan yapılacaktır.” Ulus, 8 February 1953.
[11] “Hadisenin hemen akabinde, bu işin nasıl cereyan ettiğini hepimizden iyi bilen resmi makamlar, bunu ‘milli bir felaket’ olarak adlandırdılar. Fakat milli bir felaket teşhisi, mutlaka buna sebep olanların, kusur ve ihmali görülenlerin, en ağır bir şekilde cezalandırılmasını gerektirirdi...
Nihayet zaman ilerleyip, bu hadisenin hafızalardaki tesirinin küllenmeye başladığı bir devrede, 6-7 Eylül, resmi makamlar tarafından ‘milli bir galeyan’ olarak tavsif edildi.” “6 Eylülü Nasıl Adlandıracağız?”, Forum, 15 September 1956.
[12] Cumhuriyetin 75 Yılı (İstanbul: YKY, 1998), pp.432-451.
[13] “Türk genci inkılapların ve rejimin sahibi ve bekçisidir. Rejimi ve inkılabı benimsemiştir. Bunları zayıf düşürecek en küçük veya en büyük bir kıpırtı, bir hareket duydu mu, bu memleketin polisi vardır, jandarması vardır, ordusu vardır, adliyesi vardır demiyeceksin. Hemen mücadele edeceksin ve kendi eserini koruyacaksın. Polis gelecektir, asıl suçluları bırakıp suçlu diye O’nu yakalayacaktır. Genç, polis henüz inkılabın polisi değildir, diye düşünecek, fakat asla yalvarmıyacaktır. Mahkeme O’nu mahkum edecektir. Gene düşünecek: demek adliyeyi de ıslah etmek lazım, diyecek. O’nu hapse atacaklar. Diyecekki: ‘Ben iman ve kanaatimin icabını yaptım. Müdahale ve hareketimde haklıyım. Eğer buraya haksız olarak gelmişsem, bu haksızlığı meydana getiren sebep ve amilleri düzeltmek benim vazifemdir.” Ulus, 19 May 1958.
[14] Rıza Ruşen Türer, Atatürk’e Ait Birkaç Fıkra ve Hatırası.
[15] “Bu büstün yerleştirilmesi sırasında hiçbir tören yapılmaması halk arasında üzüntü ile karşılanmıştır.” Ulus, 3 June 1958.
[16] “Demokrasi uğruna verdiğimiz şehit arkadaşlarımızın yanına gelmeğe hazırız.” Cumhuriyet, 22 September 1962.
[17] “Büyük devrim savaşı için Türkiye’nin bütün ileri güçlerini yakın bir işbirliğine davet ediyoruz.” Ibid.
[18] “Atatürk heykeliin yanına bir heykeli dikmeğe, onun resmini asmağa kalkanların biz oraya leşlerini asarız. Diksinler görelim.” Cumhuriyet, 29 September 1962.
[19] “Namaz kılınan yerde heykel olur mu?” Cumhuriyet, 15 February 1966.
[20] “İzmir’deki Atatürk heykeline balta ile tecavüz edildi.” Cumhuriyet, 9 April 1966.
[21] “Olur mu böyle olur mu?/ Kardeş kardeşi vurur mu?”
[22] “Bu nöbet ulusal nöbet değil, solak çevrelerin humma nöbetidir.” Cumhuriyet, 20 April 1966.
[23] “Parkta arkadaşlarıyla oynarken büstün canlı olup olmadığı yolunda bahse girdiklerini, bunu öğrenmek için de çamurdan bir topaç attığını, büstün böylece kırıldığını anlattı.” Cumhuriyet, 20 May 1966.
[24] “Tanrı Türkü korusun”, “İstanbul Ülkücüler Derneği”, “Kahrolsun komünistler.” Tercüman, 7 March 1976.
[25] Hulki Cevizoğlu, Dünü Bugünü ile 68’liler (İstanbul: Toplumsal Dönüşüm, 1997), p. 15.

(Guarding the State, 2012)

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