Armistice Day and Ataturk

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November 10, 2018, marked the 80th anniversary of Ataturk’s passing.

Today marks the centenary of the Armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiègne, France, ending the First World War.

Eleven days before that, the Armistice of Mudros signed on October 30, 1918, had brought about the cessation of hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied powers. The Armistice meant total surrender. Anatolia was in ruins.

And, on August 10, 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed carving up the Ottoman Empire. In the decades leading to the First World War Ottoman Empire’s demise had become a foregone conclusion.

In brief, Ataturk lived only twenty years after the Central powers admitted defeat at Compiègne and eighteen years after the Ottoman Empire became history at Sèvres.

In one’s adult life two decades could be an important time period whereas in the lives of nations this is closer to a split second, pause, break, interlude, intermission, at best a chapter. What is important is whether developments which occur in such brief time frames are of consequence or not. In the case of Turkey, those two decades have been of greatest consequence.

When the Treaty of Sèvres was signed Ataturk was already our hero of Gallipoli. In May 1919 he had launched Turkey’s War of Independence against the victors of the First World War which eventually led to the Armistice of Mudanya signed on October 11, 1922. This was followed by the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. The Treaty of Sèvres became history. The victory came at a great cost and sacrifice by the people of Turkey. In the years which immediately followed, the Sultanate was abolished. The Republic was declared and Turkey’s Westernization began. Ataturk’s reforms included the emancipation of women, the introduction of Western legal codes, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. Turkey became a secular state. A major overhaul of the education system and the economy was launched.

In foreign policy, his maxim was “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” which aimed at securing Turkey’s national interests through peaceful engagement. In 1936, the Montreux Convention restored Turkish sovereignty over the Straits. His reforms and foreign policy laid the foundations of Turkey’s membership in Western institutions after the Second World War.

All of that was accomplished in just two decades. Sultan Abdulhamid II, held in great esteem by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), acceded to the throne on September 7, 1876, and reigned for thirty-three years.

Yesterday, commemorative ceremonies were held in Compiègne and today many leaders are attending the Paris Peace Forum. Turkey is among the participating countries as an equal.

No wonder, the note on an old commemorative postcard reads, “Turks owe Ataturk to God and everything else to Ataturk.”

Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog https://diplomatikyorum.com/2018/11/11/armistice-day-and-ataturk/#more-1496