Ever seen a caricature of Atatürk? I did! Earlier today, a whole lot of them. Frankly, I didn’t totally understand them all. To do that, I would have to know many more details about the times in which Atatürk lived, and all the relevant persons and discussions at the time. Because the caricatures I saw dated back to the period 1919-1938, so from right before Turkey’s War of Independence, in which the Turkish forces were lead by Atatürk, until Atatürk’s death in 1938 as President of the state. The caricatures of those days have now been collected in a book called ‘From rebel to war veteran: Atatürk in caricatures’.
There is, I believe, a small chance that the compiler of the book, Ismail Sen, will be brought to court. ‘Insulting Atatürk’ could be the charge. Of course he didn’t make the caricatures, but getting into trouble for publishing them now, when Atatürk has become a saint, is not imaginary. Many people have before: journalists, politicians, even academics trying to look at the cult of Atatürk in an academic way, or trying to define how democratic Turkey was when Atatürk ruled the country.
In those days, there was a one-party system. Around the founding of the republic, opposing Atatürk could lead to death. But apparently making caricatures was no problem. At least, I assume the makers of the caricatures in the book weren’t all thrown into jail, or worse. Very interesting, I must say. Nowadays, even the famous caricature magazines, like Penguen and Leman, wouldn’t consider publishing a caricature of Atatürk. Not because they are afraid of prosecution (they are prosecuted often enough by, for example, Prime Minister Erdogan, who doesn’t like to be drawn in a funny way), but because it doesn’t even cross a Turkish mind to make fun of the founding father. Atatürk: from rebel in the beginning of the last century, to war veteran and President in 1938, to untouchable saint about eighty years later.