We shall make the expansion and rise of Turkish culture in every era the mainstay of the Republic.”
Among the prominent statesmen of the 20th century, few articulated the supreme importance of culture as did Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, who stated: “Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic.” His view of culture encompassed the nation’s creative legacy as well as the best values of world civilization. It stressed personal and universal humanism. “Culture,” he said, ” is a basic element in being a person worthy of humanity,” and described Turkey’s ideological thrust as “a creation of patriotism blended with a lofty humanist ideal.”
To create the best synthesis, Ataturk underlined the need for the utilization of all viable elements in the national heritage, including the ancient indigenous cultures, and the arts and techniques of the entire world civilization, past and present. He gave impetus to the study of earlier civilizations of Anatolia — including Hittite, Phrygian, Lydian and others.
Pre-Islamic culture of the Turks became the subject of extensive research which proved that, long before the Seljuk and Ottoman Empires, the Turks had already created a civilization of their own. Ataturk also stressed the folk arts and folklore of the countryside as a wellspring of Turkish creativity.
The development of painting, sculpture and the decorative arts had been arrested by Ottoman officials, who claimed the depiction of the human form was idolatry, but these arts flourished during Ataturk’s presidency. Many museums were opened and architecture gained new vigor. Classical Western music, opera and ballet, as well as theater took impressive strides. Several hundred “People’s Houses” and “People’s Rooms” all over Turkey gave local people and youngsters a wide variety of artistic activities, sports and cultural affairs. Book and magazine publication enjoyed a boom. The Film industry started to grow. In all walks of cultural life, Ataturk’s inspiration created an upsurge.
Ataturk’s Turkey is living proof of this ideal — a country rich in its own national culture, open to the heritage of world civilization and at home in the endowments of the modern technological age.