Atatürk, always on the wall

The Pera Palace Hotel In Istanbul was built to keep travellers in the style to which they had become accustomed on the Orient Express. Mata Hari, Tito and Kim Philby pulled up stools to its bar; Agatha Christie plotted murder in Room 411. Another room, 101, was favoured by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first president of the republic of Turkey, and is now preserved as a museum in his memory. I was taken up to it once in an ornate birdcage lift by one of the porters. Atatürk’s shirts, pyjamas, Panama hat and binoculars, toothbrush, cigarettes and medicine boxes were all on display. As I looked them over, moving from display case to display case, the porter padded  close behind to keep an eye on me. I was struck then by the almost religious reverence accorded to the possessions of a man who had set out to make Turkey a secular state; who had emancipated women and abolished Islamic institutions. Seventy-five years on from his death, he remains “the poster boy of modern Turkey”, according to a picture essay in today’s Guardian Weekend magazine.


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