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Turkey’s Capital, Ankara, and the Atatürk Mausoleum

Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, the vibrant, modern capital of Turkey, proudly hosts the mausoleum of the father of their country, Kemal Atatürk. This impressive stateman aligned Turkey toward the West, separated mosque and state, emancipated women, and legislated equality for all citizens.

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A good place to sample today’s Turkish character is in Ankara. A small provincial town just a century ago, today Ankara, with over 4 million people, is the vibrant capitol of a modern nation.

The city is a thriving example of Turkey’s new affluence. Energized by busy boulevards, prestigious universities, and striking malls, Ankara is contemporary Turkey. If Turkey is more modern and comfortable with the West than other Islamic countries, it’s because of its greatest statesman: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This is the mausoleum and memorial museum honoring the father of modern Turkey.

Inside, the museum tells the story of this amazing man, whose career started as a military hero. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Atatürk. It’s been said that the Turkish nation should thank God for Atatürk…and thank Atatürk for everything else.

Mustafa Kemal was a heroic leader in the First World War. After the war, he drove out the Allied occupation forces, overthrew the Ottoman sultan, and saved Turkey from European colonization. Then, in 1923, he established today’s Turkish Republic.

A grateful nation re-named him Atatürk, or “Father of the Turks.” As the first president of the Republic, he built the foundation of modern democracy here on the ruins of a corrupt empire.

A long hall celebrates the impressive accomplishments of Atatürk. He separated Mosque and state, emancipated women, replaced the Arabic script with Europe’s alphabet, introduced Western-style industry, and legislated equality for all citizens.

The memorial site is grandiose, with avenues of lions and formal guards giving visitors a sense of patriotism and nationalism. The mausoleum itself crowns the site like a grand temple, giving those who visit a feeling of reverence and respect. Pilgrims from all corners of Turkey stand before the tomb of Atatürk and remember the father of their nation.

Traveling here, we get to know that nation, and I find it’s the faces that best tell the story. It’s a land of diversity and contrast — a complex mix of people and history, where old and new thrive side by side: the holy and the secular, farmers and students, villagers and hipsters. The young and old, those who whirl when they pray, and those who don’t pray at all. Those who wear scarves and those who don’t. Families, widows, couples, and kids…traveling here, like traveling anywhere, the key ingredient of the experience is the people.