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  • Writer's pictureJoel Butler, MA

A Brief History of Atatürk Museum in Istanbul

What is Atatürk Museum?

Atatürk Museum is a house museum dedicated to the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder-president of the Turkish Republic.

Atatürk Museum

Atatürk Museum History

It will not have gone unnoticed to anyone visiting Turkey that Mustafa Kemal occupies a singular position at the heart of the country’s national identity. He was indeed a man of unique talents, undoubtedly a great military commander and a charismatic political force. His image has been carefully crafted from within his lifetime until the present day, and still, for many Turks, to denigrate Atatürk or to undermine his legacy, is to commit a grave offence. The overwhelming monumental grandeur of the Atatürk Mausoleum in Ankara, for example, which overlooks the capital city, is testament to his legendary status as a one-man foundational myth of the Republic of Turkey. He was, after all, the first Turk to officially register a new fixed surname: Atatürk, ‘the father of Turks’.

This Atatürk house museum, located on the major Halaskargazi Street in the uptown district of Şişli, is one of many museums in Turkey, and worldwide, based on Mustafa Kemal’s residences. Others include his birthplace in Thessaloniki and a replica in Ankara. The museum is a three-storey townhouse constructed in 1908, in which Mustafa Kemal lived between 1918 and the 16th of May 1919, with his mother, sister, and adopted son. At this time, Istanbul was occupied by the Allies of the First World War after the defeat of the Ottoman Army. Mustafa Kemal returned here from his last action on the Syrian Front in November 1918 and departed around six months later for his army duties in Anatolia, that would ultimately lead to the Turkish War of Independence and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

The townhouse was purchased by the city of Istanbul in 1928, and Atatürk’s belongings have been stored here ever since. It was first opened as a public museum in 1942 and renovated ahead of the centenary of Atatürk’s birth in 1981. It contains various original signed and annotated documents, photographs, and personal items belonging to Atatürk from across his lifetime. While this appears to be a somewhat miscellaneous collection, a tour of the house offers plenty of insight into how Mustafa Kemal lived during a pivotal time in the late-Ottoman period. He lived and worked on the middle floor, while his family took the upper floor. The lower floor was for the house staff.

One item that will not be found at the Atatürk Museum are the diaries of his one-time wife, Latife Uşaklıgil. The couple were married in 1923 but divorced in 1925 after an unhappy two years. Latife remained silent on their relationship for the rest of her life, living an extremely private existence limited to her close circle of friends and family. The Turkish Historical Society wished to make her diaries public in 2005 but were blocked by her family.

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