Posted: 4/21/2012


      Outside the post office in downtown Bodlum in south west Turkey, where I purchased stamps last week, is a bust of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The bust shows his birth as 1881- BUT no death year. I assure you that he is dead, but the nation's hero is alive in spirit. He died in 1938 age 57 of liver problems after a life of heavy drinking and smoking.

        Born in the Ottoman Empire in what is now Thessaloniki, Greece, he knew that he had to drag his backward country into the modern era, which he did with vigour. He was an army officer, politician, statesman and established a new capital, Ankara, in the middle of Anatolia, away from Constantinople, now Istanbul. He abolished the caliphonate, made his new nation a westernised, democratic, secular state and was the first President of the Republic of Turkey when it was founded in 1924.

      He established a new Turkish alphabet in Latin script, abandoning the old arabic one, and in two years literacy went from 10% of the population to 70% and 1934 full political rights for women, before many European countries. Turbans, veils and arabic dress were banned, as was the fez, and all civil servants were required to wear western suits and ties and panama style hats. He married in 1923 and was divorced 2 yeears later, but adopted 12 daughters and a son.

      All Turkish lira banknotes have his portrait and at 9.05am every 10th November, vehicles and pedestrians pause for one minute of rememberance.

      All over the country, in shop windows, on house doors, in the floor at the entrance to many buildings, around necks and in wrist charms is the evil eye charm. It is called NAZAR BONCUGA in Turkey, but can be found in may different areas of the Middle East for thousands of years. It is a blue glass eye to ward off evil thoughts or spirits. New born babies can have one pinned to their shirts, farmers sometimes put them on animals and machinery and you will find them hanging on rear view mirrors of cars, buses and motor bikes.

      Many new buildings have them embedded in the floor as you enter, and may home doors are painted blue. I bought a few such key chains which are very elaborate. Blue is the colour of water, which is in short supply in some areas of Anatolia, and the key chains were gaudy with lots of interesting designs.