Onur Bayrakçeken selected the most noteworthy series and films about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. On the anniversary of the great leader’s death, we are sharing this list again on Episode International.*
A revolutionary when he was still a military school student, then the hero of Anafartalar, the commander-in-chief of our war of independence and finally the great revolutionary of our Republic… Gazi Marshal Mustafa Kemal Atatürk passed away 82 years ago on the dark and ugly morning of November 10.
We can debate at length about what he did; after all, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is a historical and political figure. But if today, despite everything, we are still able to live a little bit of a modern life, or if we still have the hope of living a freer, more civilized life, we owe this in part to his will to create an independent republic out of a semi-colonial monarchy.
A FORMER BRITISH SOLDIER ASKING ABOUT MUSTAFA KEMAL
It was 2016, I was in India and I met an old Englishman in a bar. He was a medical officer in the UK army, he had retired three or five months ago, and he had come to visit India with the money he had saved.
At first I approached him coldly; I mean, a British officer in India, it didn’t have any pleasant connotations… However, after a while, when it came to politics, he told me that he was a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, I was surprised, but the part of the conversation that really surprised me started when he asked me what I thought about “Mustafa Kemal Pasha”.
Since Turkey was very much in the news at the time, I was often asked this question, but it was the first time someone said “Mustafa Kemal Pasha”, not “Atatürk”… I thought, “He must know something about our man.” Indeed he did, much more than me!
MUSTAFA KEMAL’S MILITARY GENIUS
That evening he spent hours telling me about Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s military genius. He told me how Pasha’s famous order in the Battle of Sakarya, “There is no line of defense. There is a surface defense. That surface is the whole homeland.” was the product of a daring and astonishing strategy, how his actions in the Battle of Gallipoli led to changes in the doctrine of naval landings of the entire British army, and how the Irish drew strength in their war against the British from Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s war in Anatolia.
Then I felt sad, why had I learned all this from an Englishman?
It was after this that I started researching movies, TV series and books about Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish War of Independence and the Republican Revolution. There were plenty of books; unfortunately, there were very few TV series and movies… In this list, you will find the ones that are worth taking a look at from the little that was produced.
Kurtuluş was a production I watched many times on TV and at school when I was a child. I knew that Rutkay Aziz was not really Mustafa Kemal Pasha, I just knew that the character suited him very well. But Savaş Dinçel looked so much like İsmet İnönü that I still think of the late Savaş Dinçel’s face when I think of İsmet İnönü!
The Kurtuluş series was a TRT production; not to be mistaken, back when TRT was still a bit TRT… In 1994, it was broadcast in six episodes. It was classy. Turgut Özakman’s script was ultimately faithful to the official narrative, but it was different from today’s historical productions, which are full of exaggeration. In particular, it portrayed the internal conflicts in the first assembly, the tremendous back and forth during the Battle of Sakarya, the tensions between the commanders on both sides, and the diplomatic struggle (which succeeded) from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s point of view, but successfully and without too much demagoguery. In the meantime, it did justice to some of our liberation heroes, notably Kâzım Karabekir, who entered into a political struggle with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the proclamation of the Republic and were purged.
Kurtuluş had an incredibly rich cast from Rutkay Aziz to Savaş Dinçel, Macit Koper to Altan Erkekli, Ayda Aksel to Füsun Demirel, Müşfik Kenter to Aytaç Arman and was directed by Ziya Öztan. The music of the series was composed by our master composer Muammer Sun.
A huge production for its time, Kurtuluş, which tells the story of the War of Independence from the very beginning of the War of Independence until the Mudanya Treaty of Fire, is one of the best historical productions in the history of Turkish television.
As the title suggests, Cumhuriyet, the sequel to Kurtuluş, was about Turkey’s Republican Revolution. Just like Kurtuluş, Cumhuriyet, which was prepared with a huge budget for its time, consisted of five episodes and again Rutkay Aziz played Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Savaş Dinçel played İsmet İnönü. The production team was the same. So, Kurtuluş and Cumhuriyet were actually two seasons of the same series.
The Republic series opens with the liberation of Izmir from enemy occupation, and portrays the tensions of the famous Gallipoli Crisis, which brought the United Kingdom and the Ankara government to the brink of war, and the great struggle in the Lausanne negotiations in an exciting way. Then, the rivalries leading up to the proclamation of the Republic, the economic breakthrough, the rapid social and cultural reforms, the friendship with the Soviets, the political purges, the reactionary movements, and so on, were all described very fluently. Republic, also devoted extensive space to Atatürk’s personal life, especially his marriage to Latife Hanım and his gradual isolation.
Mustafa Kemal’s speech to the deputies who were discussing whether to declare a republic or not, in which he said: “It is not a question of whether or not to leave the nation its sovereignty or reign. The issue consists of expressing a truth that has already become a fact. This will absolutely happen. If those gathered here, the Assembly and everyone sees the matter as natural, it would be appropriate in my opinion. Otherwise, the truth will still be expressed as it should be. But there is a possibility that some heads will be cut off.” The scene in which that revolutionary speech was re-enacted is still remembered today.
The Republic series, which ended with Turkey’s acceptance into the League of Nations, has taken its place among the unforgettable productions in the history of cinema and television, just like Kurtuluş.
In the 1950s, the United States, which wanted (and succeeded) to bring Turkey to its side against the Soviets, was doing a lot of cultural work in Turkey. This 25-minute short documentary produced by America Prudential Insurance Company is one of the products of this Turkish-American rapprochement.
This production, which calls Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as “The Great Turk”, can therefore be considered a kind of tribute. However, it is an important work as it consists of archive footage compiled by Armenian Aram Boyajiyan. While watching The Incredible Turk, you may face images of Atatürk that you have never seen before.
The Incredible Turk is also important because it includes one of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s most significant speeches in both audio and visual terms. Here we see Atatürk in the garden of the Çankaya Mansion with US Ambassador Joseph Clark Grew. In his speech, Atatürk addresses the American people: “The Turkish nation is naturally democratic. I have no doubt that the American nation, which has already risen very high in this high goal, is together with the Turkish nation. And it will not stop here. Perhaps it will help all mankind to love each other, to forget old hostilities and to live together in peace.”
Written and directed by Zülfü Livaneli and based on the memoirs of Atatürk’s aide Salih Bozok, Veda was actually criticized by many historians and film critics. In particular, some serious material mistakes overshadowed the quality of the movie. Nevertheless, Veda deserves a place on this list as it is one of the rare films that focuses directly on Atatürk’s life.
In the movie, which also includes segments from Atatürk’s personal life, we see Atatürk from the age of six. Kaan Olcay portrays Mustafa, a child between the ages of six and seven; Bartunç Akbaba portrays the young Mustafa Kemal at the Manastır Military Idâdisi; Sinan Tuzcu portrays the great commander and revolutionary Mustafa Kemal Pasha between the ages of 25 and 45; and Burhan Güven portrays Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in his last days. Names such as Sunay Akın, Özge Özpirinççi, Serhat Kılıç and Ezgi Mola were also cast in the movie.
Directed by Tolga Örnek, the Atatürk documentary may not be as interesting or speculative as its predecessors, but it is probably the most neat and clean Atatürk documentary ever made.
Tolga Örnek’s documentary, which took him almost two years to produce by digging through more than five thousand photographs and more than nine hours of archival footage, shines a light on the process of creating a modern republic from the wreckage of an empire.
The documentary also includes interviews with local and foreign historians who have done research on Atatürk.
Commissioned to Soviet director Sergey Yutkevic in 1933 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic, this documentary is not directly about Atatürk. However, it was Atatürk himself who asked for the documentary to be made and we see footage of Atatürk in the black and white documentary, which was completed in a year.
The documentary opens with the arrival of the Soviet delegation on a steamer first to Izmir and then to Istanbul and the enthusiastic welcome ceremony organized for them, and then continues in Ankara. Through various images, we witness the birth of a modern city in the middle of the steppe. The 10th Anniversary celebrations are also shown in the documentary and names such as Atatürk, İsmet İnönü and Fevzi Çakmak can be seen together.
Türkiye’nin Kalbi: Ankara is important for being the first documentary about the new republic, for being commissioned by Atatürk himself and for being a reflection of Soviet-Turkish friendship in those years. Another interesting detail about the film is that it was prohibited in Turkey for a period of time on the pretext of “making Turkey look very poor” and “communist propaganda”!
Note from the Editor: Two more Atatürk films have recently been released to mark the 100th anniversary of the Republic. The first one is Atatürk, which was released on November 3. The film was first aired on FOX on October 29th, before its release date, with a TV special broadcast. The other is Zübeyde, Analar ve Oğullar, which focuses on the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mother and was released on October 20.