Vol. 5 Num 169 Wed. November 10, 2004  

Tribute to Kamal Ataturk

Sixty-six years ago Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey breathed his last on 10th November, 1938. On this solemn occasion an attempt has been made to relate how the people of Bengal along with the rest of the people of the Indian sub-Continent were deeply influenced by the ideas and achievements of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, who was unquestionably a successful military commander the founder of a state, a nation builder, a moderniser of his society, and extraordinarily capable political leader, a creator of political institutions, and an educator of his nation.

Ataturk is indeed one of those rare charismatic political leaders whose historical and moral influence has transcended the boundaries of his own country, and became an "international phenomenon." Beyond the borders of his homeland Ataturk is revered as "one of the first successful anti-imperialist leaders of the Third World, as a statesman who deeply believed and contributed to world peace, and was one of the outstanding men in the liberation movements of the 20th century".

A befitting tribute was paid to him at the General Conference of the UNESCO in 1981 which adopted a resolution and referred to him as one of those "eminent personalities who should serve as an example for future generations, as Ataturk was an exceptional reformer and because, in particular, he was the leader of one of the earliest struggles against colonialism and imperialism."

Beyond the borders of his homeland Ataturk is revered as "one of the first successful anti-imperialist leader of the Third World, as a statesman who deeply believed in and contributed to world peace" and "as one of the outstanding men in the liberation movements of the 20th century."

The people of South Asia were one of the first to perceive intensely and appreciate at the initial stage the real worth and significance of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk's "unparalleled struggle and exploits." The victory of the Turks against the Greeks at the battle of sakarya in 1921 was a "moral fillip" to the Muslim world which began to realise that the Oriental nations could stand their ground in a "duel with Europe." The very fact that Mustafa Kamal had successfully defied Europe, stimulated Muslim unrest all over the world, backed by the Muslim Eastern Press, which passionately urged the Muslims to rally round Turkey -- the only independent Muslim country.

The influence of Mustafa Kamal's movement was also profoundly felt in Bengal. During the second decade of the 20th century, the Muslims of Bengal, along with their compatriots in the different regions of India, were surging with new nationalistic political stirrings which found practical expression through various movements. In Bengal, the Muslims had specific reasons to feel politically discontented and emotionally frustrated. The partition of Bengal in 1905, which had created a new Muslim majority province of "Eastern Bengal and Assam" was revoked in 1911. The new province had emerged as a boon to the Muslims as it opened up new opportunities and privileges which were denied to them under the previous administrative set up.

The annulment of the partition of Bengal served as a death blow to Muslim sentiment and aspirations. The British government further lost credibility among the Muslims of Bengal as the question of founding of a new University at Dhaka which was promised to them as a compensation in 1912 was shelved, and it actually did not materialise until 1921.

The news relating to the Italo-Turkish War (1911) and the Balkan Wars (1911-1913) in the Middle East created serious misgivings in the minds of the Muslims against the British rulers. Through these external events coupled with the distressing internal situation, the Muslims of Bengal saw a clear expression of what they were vaguely beginning to feel, that Western imperialism, specifically British, was bent upon destroying Islamic culture, and oppressing Muslims all over the world.

Their anger with the government at the reunification of the province of Bengal was reinforced in 1914 by their concern over Turkey's alliance with Germany against England in World War I. Indian Muslims regarded the Sultan-Khalifa of Turkey as the spiritual head of Sunni Islam, and the fact that he was now at war with Great Britain imposed a severe strain on their loyalty to the British government. All the more so, as pan-Islamic sentiment was unusually strong among the Muslims during that period.

The new trend among the Muslims during this period was to read with avid interest essays and poems with anti-British flavour, expressing sorrow over the loss of power by Muslims at different periods of history, at the hands of the imperialist Western powers. The Bengali Muslim literary figures expressed their discontent through their writings, and the were warmly received by the people at large. In Bengal poems, verses and the press were important media through which mass enthusiasm was aroused in favour of political and other issues.

In this connection the name of the talented poet Syed Abu Muhammad Ismail Hossain Shirazi of Pabna deserves special mention. The Muslims of Bengal owe a great deal for their intellectual and political renaissance to this fiery speaker, fighter, and writer in the realm of poetry and prose. Shirazi had the unique opportunity to be included as a member of the All-Indian Medical Mission which was sent in 1912 by the Indian Muslims to Turkey during the Balkan Wars, to aid the Turkish soldiers with moral and material support. On his return Shirazi wrote about his experiences in a book entitled Turoshka Bharaman (travels in Turkey) in Bengali published in 1913. In this book Shirazi depicts the tragic condition of the Ottoman army fighting the Balkan wars, and the shabby treatment meted out to Turkey by the Western powers. He was a great supporter of the Turkish war of Independence organized and led by Mustafa Kamal.

The writings of Shirazi and other literary figures made a deep impact on the minds of the Bengali Muslims and made them conscious of other Muslims and their plight, living beyond the confines of their own country. It was in this psychologically and emotionally receptive state of mind and feelings, the Muslims of Bengal became aware of the Nationalist Movement in Turkey and its great leader Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. To the Muslims of Bengal, as with the rest of the people of India, he came to symbolize the spirit of resurgence of nascent nationalist opposition to Western domination in Asia.

In Bengal, along with the poets and prose-writers, historians, journalists and political leaders have also played a major role in propagating the achievements of Ataturk among the Muslims of Bengal. "As a pioneer of anti-colonialism and nationalism" Ataturk became a "symbolic hero" to the people of the Sub-continent. This succeeded in making a powerful emotional appeal to the Muslims of Bengal, and had helped to infuse a new spirit of hope in the community. His attainments provided a sustainable theme through which the Bengali Muslims expressed their discontent.

The deep and penetrating influence of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk's revolutionary ideas and concept of nationalism had bequeathed a permanent legacy helping to give a new direction, and to usher in a new era in the field of Bengali literature. He came to be regarded as a legendary hero to whom glowing tributes were paid in prose and poetry. Ataturk's activities had a profound impact on the thought process of the Muslim leaders.

Among others, the great Bengali Muslim leader Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq took an effective part in the Indian Khilafat Movement (1918-1922) and was a great admirer of Turkey and its nationalist leader Mustafa Kamal. The other prominent Bengali Muslim intellectuals who popularized the cause of Turkey and accomplishments of Ataturk in Bengal, was Maulana Akram Khan a reputed theologian and an outstanding journalist. Mustafa Kamal's resounding victory over the Greeks, inspired no less a person than the revolutionary Bengali Muslim Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam to produce famous political poems like the Rana Bheri (Trumpet call to Battle) and the more popular Kamal Pasha, published respectively in September and October 1921. According to Abdul Qadir a Bengali Muslim poet and literary critic of high repute, Kazi Nazrul Islam was positively influenced by Mustafa Kamal and his ideas during the early years of his literary career. The soldier-poet Nazrul discovered in "Commander Kamal his cherished Hero" whom he later immortalised in his poem Vidrohi (an eternal rebel) "a symbol of an uncompromising fighter who would not give up his sword until he attains final victory."

The publication of these poems had created a deep impact on the minds of the Muslims of Bengal. The poem Kamal Pasha in particular became a special favourite among all sections of the people. A Bengali Muslim writer Khan Muhammad Moinuddin describes in his book Jugasrashtha Nazrul (Nazrul -- the Creator of a New Era published in 1921-22), the sensational effect of this poem on the people of his generation. He wrote, "I still fondly recall the memories of the great emotion and enthusiasm this poem aroused in our tender minds. It seemed to me as if the whole of Bengal had been stirred to its depth, surging with happiness and excitement. On the roads, street-corners, side-walks, and in the tea-shops, restaurants and social gathering, the poem Kamal Pasha was the main topic of discussion."

One other well-known publication of this category is a serialised drama, entitled Kamal Pasha written by a distinguished academician and a prominent literary figure Principal Ibrahim Khan, first published in 1926.

The news of the sad demise of Ataturk on November 10, 1938 who was regarded in Bengal as "the invincible dynamic Muslim hero" came as a rude shock to the people. As the contemporary newspapers and journals reveal a wave of shock and grief swept the country, and his death was universally mourned by the enlightened, the educated, and by the masses. In the typical fashion, the Bengali Muslims expressed their grief, and paid homage and rich tributes to Ataturk, through the medium of literature and the press. This sad event became the most favourite subject of the writers of that period such as Begum Sufia Kamal, Poet Shahadat Hossain, Poet Talim Hossain and many others.

The popular daily newspaper "Azad" of Maulana Akram Khan came out with banner headlines on 11th November 1938 saying: "The world's greatest statesman and maker of modern Turkey Ghazi Kamal Ataturk passes away." In its issue of 19 November 1938, the paper published detailed accounts of the Kamal Dibash or "Kamal Day" observed on 18th November in Calcutta and in different regions of the province of Bengal. The Mourning Day was observed by holding condolence meetings and offering funeral prayers in absentia in the mosques. Popular newspapers and journals like the Dhaka Prakash, Mashik Muhammadi, Shaugat and others published editorials, numerous articles, essays and poems through which the Bengali Muslims and non-Muslims paid their homage to Ataturk.

The highest tribute was paid to Ataturk by the great Bengali poet Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who was deeply grieved by his death. At the condolence meeting organized by him at his own University "SHANTINIKETAN" he spoke in November 1938, saying:

"Turkey was once called the 'Sickman of Europe' until Kamal came and set before us an example of a new Asia where living present recalled the glories of a dead past .........Kamal Pasha's heroism was not on the battle field only, he waged a relentless war against the tyranny of blind superstition which perhaps is the deadliest enemy a people have to contend against. To his own people he was a great deliverer, to us he should remain a great example."

Dr Sufia Ahmed is a national professor.