On April 17, 1993 the Turkish President, Turgut Özal, suddenly died, leaving the Turkish nation in a state of shock and mourning. This situation lasted for almost a week, a time full of nationwide, activities in preparation for the final services which eventually were to culminate in the state funeral. It was only after this that Turkish society returned to normal everyday life, to watch its politicians haggling over Özal's political heritage. As outsiders to Turkish society living in Istanbul at that time we became participant observers of this atmosphere of rising collective solemnity. It was the symbolic dimension of the funeral preparations and the final services which principally aroused our interest, and these are, therefore, the main reason and focus of this article. As festivities always have a reference to the self-understanding of a community or a nation, we analyzed those images and signs which reached us through reading newspapers, watching TV, listening to the radio and the people, and through personal participation in the funeral service in Istanbul. Insofar as we conceptualized Özal's funeral as a collective ceremony that both mirrored and created this society's self representation, our focus gradually broadened. Proceeding on the assumption that the comparison of two similar events at different historical moments of a society will allow us to get an insight into the development of a society’s self understanding over time, we have chosen the funerals services for Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the republic, as just such a point of reference. This will give us an insight into the development of Turkey’s great political tradition, or, more precisely, into the changing construction of national identity on the part of the political elite. In choosing the funeral service of Kemal Atatürk as such a point of comparison we do so first of all because until today Turkish state and society have been deeply characterized by and identified with this leader's legacy, and consequently any change can only be measured by taking Kemalism as a point of reference.