Ataturk biopic causes controversy in Turkey

Reveals founder as depressed and a heavy drinker


A documentary about the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey, is causing controversy with its revelations about his depression, fondness of women and heavy drinking.

The film, entitled "Father of the Turks", was released late last month to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic, largely thanks to a man who transformed a Muslim nation into a secular state.

Directed by journalist Can Dundar the film records his authoritarian nature, military genius and his reforming and visionary energy in building a new and modern state on the ruins of the Ottoman empire.

But it also portrays him frankly as a three-packets-a-day heavy smoker, a heavy drinker whose fondness for alcohol caused cirrhosis of the liver and his death at the age of 58, his deep depression in his final days when he sought solace in female company.

The film has already been seen by half a million Turks. A 1993 film by the same director on the last year of Ataturk's life won wide acclaim and was distributed to schools.

This time, though, the reaction has been more mixed.

In Turkey Ataturk enjoys a heroic status, with statues and memorials to be found everywhere. Every school has a bust of him and millions of devoted Turks visit his mausoleum each year. It is an offence to denigrate his memory.

The film has attracted violent criticism in some quarters.

'He is a human being like everyone else'

"Do not go and see this documentary, persuade those who want to see it not to," wrote Yigit Bulut in a column in the newspaper Vatan.

He said that the film "diminishes the image of Ataturk in the minds of young Turks" and could only serve the interests of Islamists at a time when there is still tension between secularists and backers of the ruling Islamist-rooted conservative government.

"This film depicts a sincere and tender leader," said Dundar. "It is my Ataturk," he said on television, adding that he regretted that in the whole of Turkey there was not a single museum devoted to its founder.

He criticized the exploitation of the personality cult of the "Great Savior" particularly during the third and most recent of the country's military coups in 1980.

The effect had been to diminish his philosophy by turning into a dogma, so making it harder to understand: even making it look ridiculous.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay brushed aside criticism, saying that some people wanted to portray Ataturk as a superman without any flaw.

"Naturally he is a human being like everyone else, who has his hopes, his disappointments, his rages and his moments of happiness."