Photographer's Note


This photo is a gift to my Turkish compatriots at a time when Turkey stands at a crossroads in its history. Later in the summer elections will take place, and the vote will either help to preserve Atatürk’s legacy of a secular state, a separation of government and religion, or bow to the winds sweeping the middle-east and follow the lead of some of the Islamic States, and reintegrate religion and government. This photo is also meant as an expression of gratitude for the generous spirit of the Greeks, who allowed the preservation of this landmark — so important for a people who were once a foe, and now a friend!

June 23, 2005, the cruise ship, Crystal Serenity, on which I am serving as a guest lecturer, docks in Thessalonica, Greece’s second largest city. At the turn of the 20th century, as “Selanik,” it was the Ottoman Empire’s second largest city. The streets of the ancient city are poorly laid out; there is no grid with a north-south and east-west bearing. Like most old cities, it has evolved according to the natural topography of the land, with a citadel perched on its acropolis. I am in search of Atatürk’s birthplace, 17 Apostolou Pavlou, “located around the corner,” I read in the guidebook, “…from to the Turkish Consulate.” To get my bearing, I drive up to the acropolis of Thessalonica, where the ancient Byzantine walls still stand, restored; but with time running out to return to the ship, I am nearing a frenzied state. Quite suddenly I happen upon a young boy, an apprentice to an automobile mechanic, who senses my frustration, and in lucid English, asks if he can help me. When I tell him the address, he responds that he does not know the place himself. But then he strolls over to his boss. They discuss my plight. When he returns, he tells me that they will lead me in their own pickup truck.

The distance turns out to be less than two kilometers through serpentine streets, but it takes twenty-minutes to negotiate the distance through the virtually impenetrable rush-hour traffic. After shoehorning the rental car into a tight spot, I jump out and begin a mad jog up the street, in search of Number 17. Midway up the next block, perhaps a hundred meters away, is the two story frame house that I have seen in faded old black and white pictures, the upper story cantilevered over the lower, evocative of the 19th century houses one sees in Istanbul. Atatürk’s house at last! And the narrow street, where my grandfather, Ismail Hakki, as a young boy, played with Mustafa Kemal, his closest childhood friend, who would go on to rescue Turkey, then set on a seemingly inexorable course to disintegration. A grateful parliament of the republic he created would later bestow on him the appellation, Atatürk, “Father of the Turks,” then proceed to retire the title permanently, lest someone else try to adopt it. Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, was born in this house in Selanik/Thessalonica on May 19, 1881.

In his book, 'King of the Mountain, Arnold Ludwig, professor of psychiatry, graded and ranked 377 world leaders of the 20th century. One group’s freedom fighter is another group’s terrorist. This subjective aspect was removed from the assessment, and by studying the legacies of great leaders of the past, including Alexander the Great, the Caesars Julius and Augustus, Napoleon and others, Dr. Ludwig, was able to formulate a ‘Political Greatness Scale’ (PGS). The type of leader (visionary, monarch, tyrant, elected, etc.), the scale of change, and their lasting effects were among the most important factors. Among the very highest scores are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mao Zedong (tied with 30 points); Vladimir Lenin (28 points); Charles de Gaul (27 points); Winston S. Churchill (22 points); John F. Kennedy (15 points). Atatürk achieved the very highest GPS score at 31 points. His reforms included separation of state and religion, granting women equal rights, Latinizing the Alphabet, Westernizing clothing, Legal Reforms, Banking Reforms, Introduction of efficient farming techniques…

Hand held Nikon D-70, 18-70 mm lens. Minor post-processing and cropping.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6809 W: 476 N: 12169] (41257)
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