The United Nations is the premier international organization promoting peace, progress, and prosperity in the world. Through one its major components UNESCO, an acronym for the “Educational, Scientific, and Cultural arm of the United Nations,” the group commemorates its important programs on certain days on the calendar: e.g. “Women’s Day” with March 8 and “Education and Science Day” with November 10, etc.


We the members of the Atatürk Society of America (ASA), are proud to be an NGO  (albeit one of the younger) associated with the UN and happily join in celebrating many of UNESCO’s causes, especially when their dates and ours coincide. November 10 happens to mark the 80th Anniversary of Ataturk’s death. Literally “Father Turk,” Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern secular republic of Turkey 95 years ago placing overarching importance on “governance by science and reason in distinction to superstition and dogma.” Among the myriad reforms of the Founding President were the promotion of gender equality and modern education.


In the closing days of 1999, Time Magazine had announced Albert Einstein as its “Person of the 20th Century.” The greatest scientist since Isaac Newton, 300 years earlier, Einstein, in turn, had cited Ataturk as the greatest leader in the 20th century. On two occasions, speaking with a Turkish graduate student Münir Ülgür in the early 50s, and the second speaking in the early 70s through his secretary, Helen Dukas, to the Bülent Atalay, President Emeritus of ASA, Einstein had made these sentiments abundantly clear. In a letter to Ataturk in 1933, Einstein had pleaded with the Turkish President to allow 40 Jewish German professors to continue their scientific and medical work in Turkey.[1] With the rising threat of the Nazis, Einstein claimed, these men were losing their jobs and that their lives were in danger. Atatürk took these 40 scientists along with their families and indeed many others into Turkey — saving their lives and dramatically improving medical school training in Turkey. Television celebrity Dr. Mehmet Öz, a cardiologist trained at Harvard, was the son of the Turkish cardiologist Dr. Mustafa Öz, who was trained by some of these great German scholars in the University of Istanbul Medical School.

[1] Einstein’s letter to Ataturk’s Turkey: