PhD Defense: Enis Dinç (University of Amsterdam)

Performing Modernity: Atatürk on Film (1919-1938)

Supervisors: Frank van Vree, M. Şükrü Hanioğlu and Esther Peeren
Date: 13 December 2016, 12:00 hrs, Agnietenkapel

When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, took the lead in the national resistance movement in Anatolia in 1919, he was far from being a household name. Nevertheless, the effort and attention that his government devoted to the creation of his public image gradually turned him into a superhuman figure in the eyes of many. The mass media played an important role in the creation and dissemination of this image, and helped Atatürk to advance his project of building a new “imagined community” of the Turkish nation.

Based on extensive research in Turkish and foreign archives, this dissertation explores the relationship between media and power, and more specifically the role of film in the making of the myth of Atatürk and the modern Turkish nation-state in the early twentieth century. By placing newly discovered footage featuring Atatürk in a series of contexts, this study demonstrates that this footage did not merely record history but assisted in the shaping of it. It shows that film played an important, if sometimes paradoxical role in making Atatürk and Turkey’s new “modern” image visible on both the national and the international stage. Finally, it suggests that the making of the leader’s image in cinema not only influenced his contemporaries when he was alive, but continued to have an effect long after his death, determining how later generations have continued to imagine Atatürk as a hero, teacher, father and modern statesman.