Kemal Ataturk,
Turkey's National Hero
I don't know if other countries have a National Hero, but
Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, more than earned
that status.  60 years after his death, pictures and statues of
Ataturk were everywhere I went.

As the Ottoman General Mustafa Kemal, he fought and won
the Turkish War of Independence (1920-1922), defeating a
Greek invasion aimed at restoring the Byzantine Empire upon
the ruins of Ottoman defeat in World War I.  Instead, the
Turkish Republic was proclaimed in 1923, ending Ottoman
rule.  Ataturk was Turkey's President until his death in 1938.  
Ataturk introduced a large number of revolutionary policies,
most of which are still followed today.  He believed in
separation of mosque and state, abolishing Islam as Turkey's
official religion.  Ottoman elements which Ataturk saw as
backward, such as the Turkish fez, were banned.  Women
received the right to vote and run for office.  Most visible is
Ataturk's replacement of Arabic script with the Latin alphabet
used in the west.  Turkish is now written with the same letters
you are reading on this site.
Ataturk also mandated the use of last names (family names),
eliminating the Islamic custom of a single name.  The Turkish
Parliament chose "Ataturk" for their President, which means
"Father Turk".
All names were to be "Turkified", a policy resisted by the large
Kurdish minority, who insisted upon maintaining their own
non-Turkish names, customs and language.  This conflict
between Turks and Kurds continues up to the present
day.                 
I believe Ataturk's most important policy direction was
that Turkey's future had to be with the west, as part of an
emerging modern Europe.  And Turkey has been knocking
on Europe's door ever since, hoping to be let in.  Turkey
became part of NATO, the cold war military alliance led
by the United States to block Soviet expansion.

And now the European Union is yet to decide whether
Turkey will be accepted, many years after Turkey first
applied.  As a relatively poor Moslem country with real
problems, Turkey may not be allowed into the European
Union.  Such a rejection, or endless delay, would be a
severe shock to Turkey, calling into question the road
Turks have long taken following in Ataturk's footsteps.      
If you have a high speed internet connection, watch the
Intrepid Berkeley Explorer's free video of Turkey by clicking
on:
What the Sultan Saw