Ataturk Museum Opens in Thessaloniki

With the strong support of Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, who is eager to lure more Turkish tourists, Thessaloniki has inaugurated a museum dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state under whose charge Greeks were driven out of Asia Minor.
The building, at the house where Ataturk was believed to have been born in 1881, took a year to renovate. Boutaris said it will help strengthen ties between Greece and Turkey, two long-standing rivals and with Greek nationalists still seething over the 400-year-long Ottoman Occupation even though it ended two centuries ago.
The three-level house lies within the Turkish Consulate complex and has been declared a modern monument by Greek cultural authorities. It was restored to the look it had 132 years ago.
Ataturk, who led Turkey’s defeat of Greek expeditionary forces in the 1919-22 war, lived part of his childhood in Thessaloniki. He became Turkey’s first President, heading efforts at reconciliation with Greece, and died in 1938.
Under Ataturk’s leadership, Turkish forces drove Greece out of Smyrni in 1922 and many Greeks were massacred in the city although he wasn’t directing the Turkish forces there. Boutaris said the historic significance of Ataturk should be remembered but his critics have accused him of coddling Turkey.
Before the Greek army won back Thessaloniki 100 years ago, the area was known as the Koca Kas?m Pasa district. It was built before 1870 and in 1935 the Thessaloniki City Council gave it to the Turkish State.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this year, Boutaris said Greece should capitalize on the chance to show visiting Turks all the sites in Thessaloniki where their ancestors ruled. “Thessaloniki was a booming city of the Ottoman Empire,” he said during a trip to Istanbul.
Boutaris’ role in resurrecting Ataturk’s memory in Greece has had vehement critics during this 100th anniversary of his own city being freed. He said that displaying Greek pride was “ethnic populism,” and that, “With the European Union, I feel like a partner.” he added, “With the Turks, I feel like a brother.”
Boutaris even refused to attend a parade re-enacting the Greek army’s liberating march into his city in 1912, an event which included hoisting the biggest Greek flag in his country.
Also, two monks earlier this year year interrupted a ceremony of the delivery of an icon from Mt. Athos to the city by screaming at the Mayor: “Boutaris, you bum!”
Another yelled “Anathema!” And,as police dragged them away, another screamed at him, “Turk lover!” Boutaris has tried to explain his admiration for Ataturk.
“If our perspective on history here in Thessaloniki is hostile to everyone else who has lived in this city before, who will be left for us to do business with?” Antonis Kamaras, an aide to the Mayor told the Journal, trying to defend the idea of worshiping Ataturk.