The Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is a monumental structure that sits amidst parkland on a hill overlooking central Ankara, Turkey's capital. School children, conscripts, professional societies and groups of tourists pay homage to Turkey's secularist leader, watch the changing of the guard, and tour its grounds, parks, and exhibits.
Along with the room where Atatürk passed away in Istanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace, it is the most prominent memorial to Atatürk in modern Turkey. This is something that likely chafes at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's dictatorial president, every single day.
Erdoğan would like nothing more than to erase Atatürk's memory from Turkey's consciousness. In 1994, as mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan derided those who stood with respect in memory of Turkey's founding father. "One ought not to stand [in respect, stiff] like a straw on Atatürk's commemoration events," he declared. In June 2005, Erdoğan surprised Turks when he changed the background for his monthly television address. Out was the traditional backdrop of the Turkish flag and a portrait of Atatürk and in its place the Anıtkabir and a mosque. The symbolism was clear: Atatürk was dead, but Islam lives on.
As Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won pluralities in successive elections, Erdoğan has dropped any pretense both of orienting Turkey toward the West or respecting the separation of mosque and state. "We will raise a religious generation," he thundered back in 2012.
Now, with the July 15 coup attempt crushed and despite Nuremberg-like rallies ironically profaning the very concept of democracy and waving banners reading, "You are a gift from God, Erdoğan" or "Order us to die and we will do it," he has accelerated his efforts to transform Turkey and crush and humiliate opponents. He has, for example, announced plans to convert exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen's house near Erzurum into a public toilet. Could closing the Anıtkabir or repurposing it, perhaps as a monument to those killed in the name of Atatürk or victimized by the coups of 1960, 1971, 1980, or 1997 be on the horizon?
The centenary of Atatürk's declaration of the dissolution of the caliphate and the foundation of modern Turkey are less than a decade away. Rather than celebrate a strong, modern, liberal, secular and democratic Turkey, expect Erdoğan to use the anniversary to put the final nail in the coffin of Atatürk's legacy. As for the actual coffin of Turkey's founding father, don't be surprised if it marks the centenary of Turkey's founding far away from its resting place today, perhaps near a public toilet.