“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate May 19 as a significant day in the history of our friend and ally the Republic of Turkey. In Turkey, May 19 is celebrated as the commemoration of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Founder of the Republic of Turkey. It was on that day in 1919 when Ataturk landed in the Black Sea port of Samsun and the war of independence began. After the war, he dedicated May 19 to Turkey’s youth as a reminder that their “first duty is to preserve and defend forever Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic.”

He was an exceptional leader who understood that Islam and modernity are not inconsistent–an important factor to reinforce today with democratic leaders throughout the Muslim world. Ataturk went on to build a republic based on universal values, secularism, equal rights and democracy under the rule of law–from a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. He understood that advances in women’s rights, education, science and technology were crucial to his vision of creating a nation as proud members of the group of civilized nations.

His reforms inspired President John F. Kennedy who said, ”The name Ataturk reminds mankind of the historical accomplishments of one of the greatest men of this century. His leadership gave inspiration to the Turkish nation, farsightedness in the understanding of the modern world, and courage and power as a military leader.”

Recognizing the importancephysical activity has in the health of our nations, the United States and Turkey have a shared vision of promoting the well-being of their nation’s youths. Coinciding with Ataturk Youth and Sports Day, President Barack Obama has designated the month of May 2012 as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. These celebrations promote the value of physical activity in the pursuit of a happier, healthier and more productive nation. May is a very important month for the United States and Turkey–it’s a month where we both honor the importance and health of our youth.

What started on May 19, 1919 as a great leader beginning his inspirational journey to transform his people, has culminated in a yearly celebration of his vision becoming a reality. We should all learn a lesson from this man’s life. A leader with motivation and determination can lay the roots for a great future.”

Congressman Steve Cohen