In the beginning of “Crescent and the Star: Turkey between two worlds” Stephen Kinzer tells the story of a young Turkish third grader who was asked to write an essay about love. He wrote, “Love means love for Ataturk. Love means love for Ataturk’s mother, Zubeyde Hanim. Love means love for Ataturk’s father Ali Riza Bey” (Kinzer, 35). This attitude is still reflective of the memory of Ataturk even until present day. It’s amazing how a humble boy, born in Thessaloniki (located in modern day Greece), could become and remain Turkey’s most admired hero nearly seven decades after his death.
The Ottoman Empire once stretched from North Africa, extended through the Middle East and lay at the door of some of the promising European countries. England, France, and Russia called it the “Sick man of Europe” because the Ottoman Empire was economically and politically falling apart at the seams. It lacked the leadership and the vision to hold its vast empire together as it once had. During the the start of the Great War (WWI) when it looked as if Germany and Austria-Hungry (the Central Powers) would win, the Ottoman Turks decided to join them. It was a manoeuvre that would ultimately cost the empire its life. When the war ended Germany, Austria-Hungry, and the Ottoman Empire lay prostrate before the Allied powers who subsequently presumed they had the right to carve up its rich carcass (Kinzer, 39). The last 250 years of the Ottoman Empire were a sad story which modern Turks would like to forget (Spencer, 44).
Yet it was in that story that a young Ottoman soldier found his calling. Mustafa Kemial, later christened Ataturk, was largely regarded a hero among the peoples of what is present day Turkey even before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. By 1915, he had proved himself to be a true leader. During the Great War as the British fleet converged on the Gallipoli Peninsula he was there with his forces to guard it. For eight long months the battle raged but never in all that time did the peninsula fall. Kemial held the straight and ultimately expelled the British lead invasion. It was the only important Turkish victory of the war.