Miss Tuerken Atatuerk 1

When Ataturk's big hour struck. . .

Hamburg. The final decline of the mighty Ottoman Empire, whose shadow has lain over Europe for centuries, is heralded when the earth trembles in front of Vienna. The date is September 12th, 1683. For two months the dreaded army of the Turkish sultan besieged the city with up to 200,000 soldiers.

On this late summer morning the decisive battle broke out between the besiegers and the rushed imperial relief army. It's about the fate of Europe. In the afternoon 20,000 cavalrymen, at their core the Polish winged hussars, the heavy armored weapons of that time, thunder down from the Kahlenberg and smash the flank of the Turkish army. First the Crimean Tatars flee, then the sultan's entire army is in disarray.

The battle at Kahlenberg is one of the most momentous in recent war history. It is more devastating for the Turks than the defeat in the sea battle at Lepanto in 1571 and ultimately heralds the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from Europe. As a result, the former world empire, seat of the caliphate and thus the protector of the Islamic world, sinks into a plaything of European power interests.

The Ottoman Empire simply slept through the development of modernity in Europe. While it was paralyzed by corruption, political encrustation and rigid Islam, capitalist development advanced far in the west, a dynamic bourgeoisie strengthened and scientific and technical innovations benefited society and the war system.

After a series of other loss-making wars, Turkey even became a "sick man on the Bosporus" at the beginning of the 20th century. The First World War, in which the country fought on the side of the Germans, brought the final collapse of the empire. In a world of enemies, the Turks have always viewed the Germans as their only friends. Emperor Wilhelm II visits Turkey three times; Germans are building the strategically important "Baghdad Railway" for the Turks. And now, in 1920, in the infamous "Peace of Sevres", the once huge empire that stretched from Albania and Macedonia via Palestine to Iraq is rudely slashed to Anatolia and Istanbul.

But this is the hour of a man who has triggered what is probably the most profound cultural revolution of modern times and who is building a new nation out of ruins. It is Mustafa Kemal, whom his people later gave the honorary name "Ataturk" - "Father of the Turks" - who sent Turkey on its long journey to Europe. The officer's son, born in 1881, became legendary as a general when he defeated an Allied invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 - for which he received the Iron Cross from the German Emperor.

Ataturk was unable to prevent the defeat of the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but is now organizing the establishment of an independent Turkish state and becoming President and Prime Minister of Turkey, which has been sovereign since 1923. Immediately he set to work to bring the oriental state into line with western civilization through previously unthinkable reforms. Ataturk abolishes the Islamic caliphate and turns Turkey into a secular state structure by separating politics and church. He replaces medieval Islamic law with European norms: Swiss civil law (but with the right to vote for women), Italian criminal law, German business law. He even converts his citizens to Western clothing standards; the fez, the popular headgear of Turkish men, is banned. And the Arabic script is replaced by Latin letters; In doing so, Ataturk creates a further separation from the Arab-Islamic world.

From 1933 onwards, Turkey willingly accepted thousands of Germans fleeing the Nazis - scientists and intellectuals who accelerated Turkey's development towards the west. Germans play an important role, especially in medicine, engineering, but also in music. Words like Taksi (taxi) or Oto (car) become part of the Turkish language. Ataturk leads his people towards Europe with an iron hand, but does not become a tyrant. When in 1935, on the 12th anniversary of the republic, he was presented with posters that cheerfully celebrate him as "the greatest of the nation", he waves him off: "Just write on it: 'One of us'."

He dies in 1938 - and leaves an obligatory legacy. Only more than 60 years later did his successors have the courage to expect radical reforms from Turkey. Much of it, such as the abolition of the death penalty and the state security courts, criminal law reform and the containment of the political role of the once overpowering military, is being tackled by a reformed Islamist, the charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What many critics are still missing is Turkey's clear commitment to the genocide of the Armenians at the beginning of the last century.

Turkey is on the way to Europe, but it is not a social monolith. Istanbul, bursting with energy, has long been part of Europe, not just geographically. Eastern Anatolia, on the other hand, with its clan structure or old traditions such as the (officially forbidden) polygamy is still part of the old Orient. But at some point the reforms will have to take effect there too. Because the Turks, who failed as conquerors before Vienna, now want to enter Europe as Europeans.