ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 17, 2012 – The paving stones on the Road of Lions leading to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s mausoleum are purposely placed about three inches apart so those who approach it have to think about where they are.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey walked the Road of Lions to place a memorial wreath at the tomb of the man who founded the Turkish Republic. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was here to consult with Turkish military and civilian leaders.
“I am deeply honored and proud as a representative of the American people to pay my respects to the Turkish nation and to this great leader,” Dempsey wrote in the tribute book in the Anitkabir, which is what the Turks call the memorial and museum in downtown Ankara.
Ataturk died in 1938, but his spirit continues to guide the nation. In each Turkish office the chairman visited today, photos or paintings of Ataturk – which means Father of the Turks – graced the walls.
Turkey is a key U.S. bilateral and NATO ally, Dempsey said. He visited Turkish leaders to get their sense of the issues in the region, and to find ways to increase cooperation between the United States and Turkey.
The chairman started the day at the American Embassy. He met with U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone and the American country team. He moved from there to the Office of Defense Cooperation, where he spoke with Air Force Brig. Gen. James E. Daniel Jr. and his staff about military-to-military issues, foreign military sales and the international military education and training program.
Turkey is part of the joint strike fighter program, and has indicated it ultimately will buy 100 F-35A’s. Turkey’s other big purchase from the United States is Patriot anti-missile batteries.
The chairman then moved to Ataturk ceremony, and then on to the Ministry of National Defense, where met with his counterpart, Gen. Necdet Ozel of the Turkish army, chief of the General Staff. Then Dempsey and his staff received a briefing on regional issues, including Syria.
“It started with a briefing and evolved into a discussion,” said Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, special assistant to the chairman for public affairs. “The discussion on Syria started with refugees, moved to proliferation and then to missile defense. The Turks see the war in Syria very much as we do.”
The Turks gave a masterful presentation on regional issues, Lapan said, starting with the Arab Spring, moving to Syria, Iraq and other threats such as the PKK.
The PKK – a Kurdish terror group operating in eastern Turkey – was a big part of the discussion, Lapan said, noting that the United States shares intelligence with Turkey about the terrorist threat.
Dempsey then moved to the other side of the Turkish version of the Pentagon and met with Minister of National Defense Ismet Yilmaz before visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru.
The chairman ends his trip to Turkey tomorrow.