Quezon and Ataturk (2), clash of empires
States at the crossroads of the clash of empires have been the breeding ground of charismatic and messianic political leadership. Such is the case of the Philippines and Turkey, which saw the rise of crisis leaders (Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippines, and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk of Turkey in the early 20th century) during the transformation of their countries into modern republican states.
Turkey was crossed over by waves of foreign invasions, and saw foreign masters from Europe and Asia before Ataturk proclaimed Turkey a republic in 1924 on the ruins of the diminished Ottoman Empire, following World War I. The Philippine state, at first a colonial entity, grew out of the demise of the Spanish Empire, and Quezon emerged to lead the Commonwealth government of 1935, the stepping stone toward the establishment of an independent republic after World War II.
Turkey stands astride Asia Minor and Europe; its former capital, Constantinople, under the Byzantine Empire, was captured by the Turks in 1453, at the height of Ottoman rule. After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman conquerors renamed it Istanbul. Istanbul controls the only passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Istanbul lies on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara and on both sides of the southern end of Bosphorus, the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia, and the gateway to the Black Sea. Collier’s Encyclopedia has this to say about such a very strategic location: “In the past, trade, military and naval routes between Europe and Asia and between southern Russia and the Mediterranean intersected at Istanbul.” Collier’s also notes, “Control of the site has been a target of international rivalry since ancient times.”
The “modern Turkish republic embraces a large Asian territory, mainly Anatolia, Turkey’s heartland in Asia Minor, and a small European territory, Eastern Thrace.” Together, according to Collier’s, they form the only water route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey also flanks the principal land routes from the Caucasus to the Iranian and Arabian oil fields and the Suez Canal. A 1,075-meter highway bridge, an iconic architecture structure, built in 1937, across the Bosphorus, spans two sides of the city.
On the other hand, the geographical position of the Philippines, the last bastion of the Spanish Empire in Asia and Southeast Asia, put the country at the crossroads of invasions by foreign powers for more than 300 years—after the Spanish invasion in 1521 came the British occupation of Manila from 1762-64, the invasion of the United States fleet in 1898, and the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945. We were on the path of the Japanese military sweep into Southeast Asia. It has been the fate of crossroads countries to experience turbulence stemming from foreign military interventions.
Such experience has been the crucible from which great leaders, seizing the moment, emerged to reshape the destiny of their countries. After the successful defense at Gallipoli, Ataturk was promoted by the Ottoman government to the rank of general and eventually field marshal. From this platform, he led the nationalist movement in the Turkish War of Independence, which began in 1919, against the Allies (which had defeated the Ottoman Empire) and the Greeks (which sought to annex large portions of Anatolia).
According to one biography of Ataturk, following the armistice in 1919, the Allied Forces started to take over the Ottoman armies which sided with the Central powers. Ataturk, then an Army inspector, went to Samsun on May 19, 1919, and published a circular declaring that “The freedom of the nation shall be restored, and the resolve and determination of the nation itself.” He convened the Erzurum Congress during the period July-August 1919 and Sivas Congress from Sept. 4-11, 1919, thus defining the “path to be followed towards the freedom of the motherland.” With the launching of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920, “a significant step was taken on the way of establishing the Turkish Republic.”
Ataturk was elected head of the assembly and of the government. The assembly started to put into effect the “necessary legislative measures so as to enable the Independence War to come to a successful conclusion.”
The War of Independence started with the firing of the first shot on May 16, 1919 against the Greek occupation troops at Izmir. The fight against the victors of World War I, which had divided the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Sevres of Aug. 10, 1920, initially started with militia forces. The Turkish National Assembly started a regular army, a move that led to the successful conclusion of the War of Independence. The end of the War of Independence cleared the last obstacle to the creation of a new nation on Turkish soil which the Treaty of Sevres “had torn to pieces by leaving the Turks an area the size of five to six provinces.”
On Nov. 1, the assembly severed the offices of the sultan and the caliph, and the sultanate was abolished. This cut off the administrative ties with the Ottoman Empire. On Oct. 29, 1923, the Turkish Republic was proclaimed in Ankara, the new national capital in the heart of Anatolia; and Ataturk was unanimously elected its first president.
The Turkish Republic was proclaimed on the twin principles: “sovereignty, (that) unconditionally belongs to the nation”; and “peace at home, peace in the world.” Ataturk undertook a series of reforms to “raise Turkey to the level of modern civilization.” (Continued next week)