Atatürk's Coffee Cup

And Other Mementos from the Father of the Republic
by Emily Neumeier

[1] Inscription in Turkish reads, "When Ataürk came to the halkevi (community center) he drank coffee from this cup." AR magazine, December 1938.

This past weekend, the people of Turkey remembered Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the nation's first president, who passed away on November 10, 1938, eighty years ago. At 9:05 in the morning, the exact time of Atatürk's death, the hustle of daily life around the country ground to a halt to observe one minute of silence

[2] Waterfront view of the Dolmabahçe Palace (now a museum) from the Bosphorus. Image under Creative Commons License.

[3] These days, every clock found at the
Dolmabahce Palace has been intentionally 

"frozen" at 9:05 am, the precise time of 
Atatürk's passing. Photo by the author.
A short anecdote: the first year I was living in Istanbul, on November 10, which happened to fall on a weekday, I boarded the commuter ferry in Üsküdar--on the Asian side of the Bosphorus--to go to work. All of a sudden, the captain of the ferry began to blast his horn, and most people on the crowded boat quietly rose and turned to face west. Somewhat startled, it took me a few seconds to realize that they had oriented themselves to look directly across the water, where the Dolmabahçe Palace--the place where Mustafa Kemal passed--is situated.

Every so often, I come back to this moment, because it got me thinking: the way Atatürk is commemorated in Turkey, with a minute of silence, works to unite people from all around the country in a single act at the same point in time. At least in theory, school children, bus drivers, factory workers, foreign Ph.D. students...everyone is supposed to stop what they are doing and sit in contemplation. Yet, on that ferry boat in Üsküdar, the specific context of having direct visual access to the Dolmabahçe from across the water added a unique spatial contour to the ritual, prompting the commuters to engage not only their minds and hearts but also their bodies, and most importantly their faculty of sight, to physically witness the place where Mustafa Kemal drew his final breath.

[4] Masthead for the Turkish arts and culture magazine AR

On this occasion, let's now turn to an unusual historical source that also features this concept of "embodied" commemoration. Among the many tributes to Atatürk shortly after his passing, the arts and culture magazine AR published a special dedicatory insert in their December 1938 issue, so just about a month after the event.

[5] Painting reproduced for the December
1938 issues of AR magazine: Cemal Tollu,
"Villagers Reading the Alphabet" ["Alfabe 
okuyan köylüler"], 1933.
As one might expect, the editors of the magazine included several modern paintings showing nationalist themes (like Cemal Tollu's "Villagers Reading the Alphabet") as well as short essays that testified to Mustafa Kemal's impact on the arts in Turkey, especially painting, sculpture, literature, and music. 

That being said, the editors also made the somewhat unusual decision to include a final section of photographs, with the purpose of showing "a few mementos [hatıra] belonging to Atatürk at the Ankara community center [halkevi]." These images, including the coffee cup above and a number that are reproduced below, form a strange archive of still-life photography, a collection of portraits dedicated to objects that are utterly unremarkable, save for the fact that they were all at one point or another used by Mustafa Kemal. 

Within a number of religious traditions like Christianity or Islam, the concept of a relic--an object that gains significance because it has at one point come into physical contact with a holy figure--is quite familiar. What this collection of photographs does is remind us that even in the most secular of contexts, the power of the embodied object still holds purchase in moments of mourning, contemplation, and commemoration.

[6] "In the rooms of the Ankara halkevi Atatürk was always sitting in the corner of the table marked with an x." (It is difficult to see, but the magazine editors marked Mustafa Kemal's favored seat in the photograph with a white x, on the fourth chair from the left.)

[7] "Atatürk's box" at the center's theater

[8] "Oftentimes when Atatürk came to the halkevi he would sit on this couch, having conversations with young people."

[9] "Atatürk would sit in this seat at the halkevi's theater"

Emily Neumeier is assistant professor of art history at Temple University. 

***Issues of AR magazine can be found in the special collections of the National Library in Ankara and the Atatürk Library in Istanbul.


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