Two Fathers, Two Nations

Comparing Gandhi and Ataturk

    Statues of Ghandi (at the Ghandi Museum in Madurai)

Raising the flag in front of the statue of Gandhi at the Gandhi Museum in Madurai

The statue of Ataturk in Taksim Square, Istanbul

The statue of Ataturk in Taksim Square, Istanbul

Mohandas Gandhi and Mustafa Kemal. Both have so much in common. They both liberated their home country (both from the British… funny), and both received a name meaning Father (Ataturk actually means Father of the Turks, but whatever). To compare these two figures, one must first know a bit about them. And I learned a lot about each as we travelled through both India and Turkey.

Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma (great soul), was born in 1869 in Porbandar, India on the west coast of the country. By the age of thirteen he was married through an arranged marriage. When he was eighteen, he left India to become a lawyer in England. After this, he went to South Africa to pursue his first court case. While there, he saw the discriminatory treatment of visual minorities by the British and he resolved not to leave until he had made a change. After having accomplished his goals through what he called civil disobedience, he returned to India with a hero’s welcome, and immediately set to work pushing for a free India. Because of the peoples’ love for him, he was called Bapu, or Father.


A pair of Gandhi’s sandals

Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Gandhi urged people to support the British hoping that, in return, India would be given Home Rule. When this didn’t happen, Gandhi urged for a day of non-cooperation. Horribly, it was soon followed by a massacre of over 1,000 innocent civilians by British troops. This caused Gandhi to change his strategy towards a less amiable relationship with the British Empire.

In 1922, Gandhi was arrested for urging others to break the law. In 1930, he led a famous march to collect salt from the ocean in protest of British salt laws. In 1942, Gandhi began his Quit India movement, saying that if Britain was truly fighting for freedom in WWII, it should look towards India first. This was the final stretch of the movement.

Finally, on August 15, 1947, India was declared independent. Serious rioting broke out between the Muslims and Hindus because of their religious differences. Because of his respect for each, Gandhi fasted because he knew this would cause them to stop, and it worked. In 1948, on his way to a prayer meeting, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu hardliner in protest of Gandhi’s fair treatment of Muslims. Now for the other guy…

Ataturk, the coffee mug

Ataturk, the mug on the mug

Mustafa Kemal was born in the Ottoman town of Salonica in 1881. At the age of eighteen, he enrolled in the Ottoman military academy in Istanbul. Continuing with his military career, he enrolled in the Ottoman army just in time for the Italo-Turkish War, Balkan War, and First World War. While he had been promoted and advanced during the previous wars, it was during the First World War (and the time after) that he made his name.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire sided with the central powers, and began to take action against the allies. Since the western front was at a stalemate, the British began to look for ways around it. It was originally a young Winston Churchill that proposed the idea of launching an attack against the Ottoman Empire to get break the stalemate of the western front. It was because of this that the disastrous Gallipoli landings came to pass. In fact, Mustafa Kemal had been promoted to the post of front line commander due to his actions at Gallipoli.

After Gallipoli, however, the Ottoman Empire began to falter, and collapsed along with the other central powers. Unlike its allies, the Ottomans were not allowed to form a peace treaty and began to be carved up by its enemies. It was during this time of chaos that Mustafa was able to gain the trust and command of a rebel army and proceed to retake the Turkish cities one by one. This was mostly due to arms supplies from (then communist) Russia. Finally, peace was made and Turkey was accepted as a new country. This is why Mustafa Kemal has now gained the name Ataturk, meaning Father of the Turks.

Now to compare the two. First of all, both were the fathers of their respective nations. For Gandhi, he helped the Indian subcontinent free itself from its British overlords. Similarly, Ataturk helped Turkey liberate itself from the western powers that were dividing it up. However, Gandhi used an altogether peaceful course of action, whereas Ataturk used military force to change the course of history for Turkey. He gathered an army of militants, and proceeded to recapture the Turkish cities one by one.

Secondly, they had both had extensive access to western ideas. After leaving college, Gandhi went to Britain to practice law. Ataturk, on the other hand, had always been an admirer of western policies and ideas. Because of this, after independence, Ataturk remodeled the Turkish Government to resemble a western country. Turkey became a secular nation, and changed its methods of government to resemble that of Britain and France.

And last of all, they were both referred to as Father. The people of India adored Gandhi so much that they took to calling him Bapu, or Father. He undertook a life of celibacy (after he had already had children) and dedication to doing what was right, not what was good for him. Likewise, Mustafa Kemal became known as Ataturk, or Father of the Turks. However, there have been allegations that he was a womanizer and alcoholic. Even so, he arguably did a better job of minimizing poverty in his country through his excellent administrative skills.

So now let me ask you this, between the two of them, which acted as a better father of their nation? Which of these men did a better job of bringing their country into the twenty first century, and changing many of the things that were wrong in the process?

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