World view




Africa, Turkey - and a personal touch


by Prof. Dr. Türkkaya ATAÖV




“...As I see the early rays of the sun coming up and chasing the darkness of the night away, I envisage with equal certainty that all the colonial peoples will drive foreign exploitation out and attain their deserved independence and freedom...” It is on record that these prophetic words were uttered in March 1933, at the end of a high-level meeting that continued until day-break, by none other than the great M. Kemal Atatürk, the illustrious leader of our National Liberation Struggle (1919-22) and the founder of our Republic (1923). Ours was the first successful anti-imperialistic struggle of modern times, and it served as a pioneering model for all peoples striving to throw off colonial and the imperialistic yokes.


What Kenyatta knew  


During the visit of a Turkish delegation to Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister (1963-64) and then president (1964-78) of that country, told his listeners how Turkey had been faced with foreign intervention but had resisted all assaults. When one of those present expressed his surprise at the Kenyan leader’s command of Turkish history, Kenyatta retorted: “I am not an expert on the history of the Turks; but I am well-read on the records of anti-imperialistic struggles. What I know is that history, in which the Turks wrote glorious pages.”


When I was in Tripoli in 1981, to attend the Asia-African Philosophy Conference, which coincided with the centenary of Atatürk’s birth, I phoned the Editor-in-Chief of The Nation to inform him that I had prepared a special article for his paper on the Turkish leader. At the same time, I narrated the Kenyatta episode. The publisher immediately assured me that he had himself witnessed those remarks. He was the President’s press attaché at the time, and had been in attendance. He printed my article on the editorials page the next day.


Academic approach


As Ottoman Turks in particular, we knew North Africa quite well. Our first appearance there in 1517 - in response to Western European incursions designed to encircle the Muslim lands - added Egypt and the seat of the Caliphate to our Empire. Eventually, Ottoman sovereignty touched the Moroccan borders in the far West. Even Karl Marx, one of the foremost analysts of discrimination and exploitation, stated that Ottoman rule could not be compared to the subsequent European colonialism either in that region or in the other parts of the globe.


Although some Arab geographers further divide North Africa into sub-regions, such as “Jazirat al-Maghrib” (meaning Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), I have always chosen to treat the continent as a whole. This was my academic approach when I prepared The African National Liberation Movements, a 705-page textbook, for my course on Africa at Ankara University. Atatürk’s guiding statement, quoted above, was printed on the back cover of the book.


Six pioneers


I introduced this course, initially as a graduate seminar, in the year 1960, when there were only six independent African states. They were:

 -- Ethiopia - also known in the past as Abyssiania - with which we had age-old relations since Ottoman times, and a complete identity of vital interests, especially against Mussolini’s fascism;

 -- Liberia, founded in 1847 by freed black slaves from the southern USA who had first settled along the western Guinea coast;

 -- Egypt, which had experienced a high degree of cultural individuality before the coming of the Muslim Arabs, a golden age under the early Fatimids, a long Ottoman period, British rule, independence (1922) and finally continental leadership after the “Free Officers” Revolution (1952);

 -- Libya, where the majority were Muslims, and which had been ruled by the Karamanlý dynasty of Ottoman origin or directly by the Porte until the Italian invasion (1911), then achieved a Revolution (1959) remarkable for the absence of opposition, fighting or deaths;

 -- South Africa, which later overthrew the apartheid regime - an extreme formulation of segregationist principles adopted by all governments since the Union (later Republic - 1961), and

 -- Ghana, the famous “Gold Coast”, which possessed a respectable tradition of protest against British colonialism, and which had adopted the slogan of “Self-Government Now”, and attained independence in 1957.


The EAFORD years


Later, my course became a fully-fledged undergraduate course, the first and only one in the whole network of the Turkish universities. This interest of mine, coupled with other publications and activities, led to my election to the newly-founded (1976) Central Executive Council of the “International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination”, known for short as EAFORD. A UN affiliate, EAFORD, which met in an African capital, now has a Secretariat in Geneva, and formerly had chapters in London, Paris, Quebec, and Washington, D.C.. It organized several international conferences and printed various books and booklets.


My own publications under EAFORD’s roof include several books and booklets printed in the UK, Canada, the USA, Switzerland and Libya. It was on account of activities of this kind that I was to receive an academic award from the University of Bophuthatswana (South Africa) which reads: “This Citation of Meritorious Contribution to African Scholarship and Research is awarded for his Service to the African Phenomenon which spans some 30 years...”


After apartheid


When I started my first course on Africa, Nelson Mandela had not yet been arrested (1962). While he spent long 27 years behind bars, becoming an international cause célèbre in the meantime, some of us worked for three decades to help bring about the transition to non-racial democracy. Consequently, I was his government’s guest (the only Turk besides Mrs. Ataöv) at that historic session of parliament that ended apartheid. Having considered the treatment of the Palestinians as another form of racial discrimination, I may add that Chairman Yasser Arafat responded to my equally sincere endeavours in support of Palestinian rights with the award of a “Medal of Honour”, conferred on me in his Tunis headquarters.


It gave us Turks great pleasure to host speeches and a reception marking the occasion of “Africa Day 2005” in our capital last month. Atatürk’s prophecy has certainly materialised. The “crowns” are now on the heads of the majorities of the African peoples. What should be watched from now on is to see that their jewels are also evenly distributed.



(DIPLOMAT – June 2005 – Ankara)