November 10, 2017, marked the 79th anniversary of the death of Turkey’s beloved Atatürk. Bilkent University commemorated the solemn occasion with a ceremony and a concert.
The ceremony began at Bilkent’s Atatürk Monument with a moment of silence. It then continued at Mithat Çoruh Auditorium, with a mini concert performed by Bilkent Quartet (Eda Delikçi, Süreyya Defne, Elif Onat and Serdar Rasul), following which Prof. Erdal Onar of the Faculty of Law gave a tribute titled “National Sovereignty.”
He began by noting the difficulty of discussing Atatürk’s achievements in a comprehensive way in a short speech. Prof. Onar observed that although Gazi Mustafa Kemal’s life spanned only 57 years, he had so many successes in that short time that it can be seen as a miracle.
To illustrate his point, Prof. Onar referenced an anecdote dating from around the late 1950s, concerning a teacher who was evaluating an essay by a high school student on the topic “What has Atatürk done?” The teacher referred the matter to a board of his colleagues because the student replied to the question in only these few words: “What did not he do?” In the end, the essay was given the highest possible grade. “In trying to choose just one thing that Atatürk did to discuss in my speech,” said Prof. Onar, “I better understood that high school student’s beautiful and clever answer.”
The topic Prof. Onar eventually chose was Atatürk’s vision of national sovereignty. In his talk, he explored the definition and history of sovereignty, providing examples from ancient history to the French revolution, and then from the Ottoman Empire to Atatürk.
Prof. Onar concluded his remarks in this way: “The thing that amazes us is that while Mustafa Kemal was fighting on various fronts over many years of war, he nonetheless found time to examine such topics as Jean Jacques Rousseau’s vision of intention and the history of the French Revolution, as he sought to provide legitimacy to the new authority after the revolution using the national sovereignty model. Equally amazing was his success in applying this model after 1918, during the years of the War of Independence.
“At the end of my talk, I would like to repeat the first thing I mentioned. Atatürk did so much in a short period of time that the saying, ‘The impossible we do at once; miracles take a little longer,’ may be aptly dedicated to Atatürk.”
On the evening of November 10, the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra and the Presidential Symphony Orchestra (CSO) joined to present a concert in memory of Atatürk. The concert, which took place at the CSO Concert Hall, consisted of pieces by Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, as well as a world premiere by Turkish composer E.S. Kaleli, “The Portrait of Atatürk as a Young General: 10 Fragments,” specially commissioned for the occasion. The program was performed again the following evening at the Bilkent Concert Hall.