With the exception of a rather loud gong that called guests away from cocktails to dinner, little at the Ataturk Centennial Ball Saturday night was reminiscent of the fabledland of ancient Turkey, the Turkey of the Ottoman Empire.
But the evening's distinctly Western trappings in the Washington Hilton's Crystal Ballroom befitted the modern Republic of Turkey -- the land Mustafa Kemal Ataturk envisioned when he led Turkish nationalists in a successful revolt against the government in Constantinople and, on Oct. 29, 1923, established an independent state.
Now Turkey, which, under Ataturk's rule was one of the first Asian countries to begin industrialization and drastically change its traditional, Islamic mores, is assuming another role in history. "Turkey is a member of NATO, and is its easternmost and first line of defense in an area of turmoil," said Turkish Ambassador Sukru Elekdag. "That is why the strategic importance of Turkey has increased."
"The U.S. has always had a deep interest in Turkey," said Frank Carlucci, deputy secretary of defense. Since the collapse of Iran as an American stronghold in the Middle East, he continued, Turkey's significance has shifted. "Turkey serves as the bridge between NATO and Asia," he said.
So the annual ball sponsored by the American-Turkish Associations in Washington (ATA) and Maryland (MATA) was special this time around. It commemorated not only the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ataturk ("Great Turk"), the "Father of Modern Turkey," and served as a fund-raiser for a cultural center in Ankara, but celebrated a new era -- one in which the leading Turkish newspaper will begin distribution in this country at the end of the month.
Hurriyet, currently based in Istanbul and Frankfurt, with a circulation of one million, is opening headquarters in New York and as of Thursday will serve the United States, Canada and Australia with a daily in Turkish. Publisher Nezih Demirkent was present Saturday night but doesn't speak English. So Garbis Kesisoglu, the managing editor, explained that it will be "the first time a Turkish newspaper crosses the Atlantic." Hurriyet pamphlets that were distributed said, in part: "Our columnists do not only write what they think and what they wish the reader would think, but also what the people think . . . Whatever Hurriyet reports is taken for granted for being true."
The annual event, as Dr. Ali Alp Manizade, president of the MATA, put it, also gives Turkish-Americans a chance to "associate with people of similar background." About 500 guests attended, many of whom came from as far away as Wisconsin and Florida. The large delegation of Turkish-Americans from New York was joined by Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), who received a boisterous round of applause and who told the crowd: "What Michaelangelo was to art, what Shakespeare was to literature, what Freud was to psychology . . . Ataturk was to nation-building."