It has come to my attention that some WB members have newly become aquainted with my namesake, the historical Mustafa Kemal. When I first discovered him one of first things that came to my mind was “Why do so few people in the US know anything about this blue eyed Macedonian?” Of course, that included me at the time. Coming from a military family I asked close friends and they didnt know him either. This is a little curious since he has rather outstanding military and leadership accomplishments. As I learned about him I discovered that he had accomplished many remarkable things. Before I list a few, just let me mention Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross you will get a good view of Ottoman history. One of the first things that will happen is that it will dispell many myths you may have had of them.
Then Ataturk, also by Kinross is an extraordinary read. If you like action, drama, the struggle for freedom, like Americans do, then you will enjoy it.
Now some of his accomplishments.
1)Gallipoli: in 1915, disobeying orders and actually taking command as a captain he led the counter to the Allies invasion of Galipoli. One of the things that is clear from reading about him is here is a clear cut case of a truly charismatic character. Evidently, he said
““Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place”
and die they did, around 80,000 of them, defeating the British Navy, no small feat, and the Australians, defiinitely no small feat, thus initiating their ANZAC creation mythos, celebrated every year by them.
By all accounts he was fearless, and there are accounts of the “bullet in the watch” saving his life.
Some years later here is what he had to say to the losers:
“The heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives on this country's soil! You are in the soil of a friendly country now. Therefore rest in peace. You are side by side with the little Mehmets. The mothers who send their sons to the war! Wipe your tears away. Your sons are in our bosom, are in peace and will be sleeping in peace comfortably. From now on, they have became our sons since they have lost their lives on this land.”
Here the expression “little Mehmets” deserves some explanation. In Turkey there is only one Muhammed, and that is the Prophet, peace be upon him; Those named after him are called Mehmet. And “little muhammed” is their version of GI Joe.
2) War of Independence: After WWI, during which the present confines of Turkey lost %15 of their population ( and the US .15% ) they were invaded by the Greeks, the British, the Italians, the Russians and the French. Their war of independence was fought by a destroyed state against numerous victorious states.
And they won, much of it due to the leadership of this man. But much of it also due to Halide Edib, of which we will have more to say soon.
Indeed, Mustafa Kemal was not an idealogue, he was a practical man. His goal was the resurrection of the dying man of Europe and the creation of a healthy and prosperous state. He knew well that at healthy and prosperous state needs to be at peace and so he said that one of Turkey’s primary directives is
“Peace at home is peace in the country. Peace in the country is peace in the world.”
Look at Turkey’s war history since 1924. Almost nothing except for the Cyprus war of 1975. For those of you who are outraged by such adventures ask yourself how the US war record compares.
3) Modern dress: Mustafa Kemal once assembled a group of haberdashers from Europe, I think in Smyrna( present day Izmir) and at the end of his speech about modernization he waved his hat in the air and said something like “This is called a hat. From now on you will wear a hat; anyone caught with a fez or a turban will be arrested” And they did and they were. The changes extended to pants, womens dress, ties beards. Today Turkish men dress modestly but generally look very sharp. There are mens salons throughout Turkey.
4) Secularization: Kemal not only destroyed the Caliphate but helped create a form of Republican government which did not allow religion to interfere.
5) Language: Ottoman Turkish was a warped merging of old Turkish with Persian and Arabic. Only scholars could read it. Kemal completely revised the language, change the Arabic script roman, and instituted secular educational reform so that all Turks were required to learn to read and write in modern Turkish. Today, often when you walk by a school you can hear young students singing -the sound is quite delightful. is a photo of mine of some Turkish schoolchildren from
Yusufeli (Joseph’s hand) near the Black Sea.
While we are on the subject of delightful things, see
some Kurdish women we met at the Ishak Pasha Palace near Mt. Ararat on the Armenian/Iran border.
6) Equality of women: during the War of Independence he spoke to the women and told them that if they would contribute their efforts to the winning of their independence then they would be able to attain legal equality with the men. They did, heroically I might add, and he kept his promise. If you think women are second class citizens in Turkey I suggest you go there and tell them. You will receive a very powerful impression of what Turkish women are, and I would love to be a fly on the wall. Kemal’s daughter became the first female fighter pilot in history.
7) European naming convention: Kemal started by assuming the last name Atatürk. father of the Turks.
Several years ago there was the distinct possiblity that I may have to devise an alternate line of making a living. I started to prepare to write a screenplay for a movie of the Turkish Ordeal. My big hurdle was knowing that most americans cannot watch movies with subtitles and I am not going have these Turks speak English. Anyway the opening scene was going to be aboard a British navy ship during the bombardment of the peninsula and then I would move towards the action over thousands of fighting soldiers and come to something that looked like this iconic photo of Mustafa Kemal at Gallipoli.
Then we would move to a scene in Istanbul where a mother is trying to get her children off to school while worrying about her sons in the battle a short distance away.
Well, that did not come pass. If it had, I might be in a very different place now, certainly on Erdoğan’s shit list.
So now to Halide hanım, (Lady Halide).
Halide1 Halide2 Halide Edib was an Ottoman intellectual. Her father was a secretary to the Sultan and her first husband was the famous Ottoman astronomer and mathematician Salih Zeki. In the first part of her Memoires1 you will find a very interesting view of the Ottoman world at its transition, and from a women’s point of view. For those of you who feel they know how muslims treat their women you will experience some cognitive dissonance here. For the rest there is also much to learn and enjoy. Interestingly, having lived through her father’s polygamy, she says something like “Polygamy is wrong, not because it is immoral, but because it does not work.” In her memoirs she gives a rather lucid account of the changes that took place when her father took a second wife.
In another account, she is working for the Red Crescent in Syria
and the place where they were was jointly owned by Christians, Jews and Muslims. She recounts how the place was filthy because if any of the three groups touched the place there was bloodshed. So she called in a small group of Kurdish (as I recall) soldiers to clean up while she stood guard. Nothing happened. Then, while the Turks were preparing to receive an attack and were trying to transport the locals to a safe place she saw a Turkish officer manhandling some of the youngsters and she said something like “Brother, do you think that is an appropriate way to treat Gods children?” She says that the officer started to cry that “Sister, you are right. I am besides myself. These Arab children are not at all like our Turkish children. Turkish children you can get to march all day without food. With these, I get them on a railroad car and they jump off on the other side. It is like herding rabbits. Evidently, they had a short conversation and he proceeded in a much improved mood. When I read this I asked an Arab friend of mine, who knows the Turks, about this and he responded “Have you heard of the hot temper and emotional ways of the hot blooded Spanish?. Where do you think they got it?” The Turks dont have it.
In the second part of her memoirs, the Turkish Ordeal
she recounts her experiences during the Turkish War of Independence. When the Greeks invaded is when the people’s dissatisfation with their leadership began to really mount. It hit such a feverous pitch that at one of the meetings that Halide was at they mentioned that there were 200,000 people at the Hippodrome in Istanbul demanding action and that the time was ripe to move. They all agreed it was the right time, but who was going to seal his fate and go speak to this crowd? Initially none offered, until after some time and discussion, Halide speaks up and says “I will speak. ” In her memoires you can viscerally feel how her life is changing before your very eyes as they all walk in a group to the Hippodrome, everyone quiet, understanding that she is now preparing a speech of a lifetime and has not long to do it. And it was here that she gave a speech that was to change her life and fire the shot that began the revolution. Here is
preparing to speak.
Not long after this, a fatwa was issued against the 7 primary characters, one of which was Halide hanım, and this fatwa indicated not only a sentence of death upon them but also that it was a requirement of all muslims that they execute this sentence. The night before the fatwa she began her 7 day flight, with the flu, during cold and rain up to the Anatolian pleateau to join her fellow conspirators. A singular image I have of her is when she recounts setting her son on her lap while she writes a letter to a friend asking if he will take her son to live in America and take care of him. You can see the tears welling up in the young boys eyes as he reads what his mother is writing. As she mentions, being a well raised you Turk he behaved himself with dignity. I think he was 10. She was thinking that this may be the last time they will ever see each other again.
Escorting her on this trip was a soldier she referred to as Çavuş Mehmet ( Sgt. GI Joe)
and she recounts the long horse drawn rides in the dark, rain, and cold at night where she could always tell he was there, not by his conversation, but by the fact that he held the hem of her gown the whole way. She refers to these soldiers as her Anatolian Tigers and she decribes vividly their fierce dedicated character, the alertness and readiness to pounce and the sound of their quiet tiger feet outside where she slept.
Most accounts of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk are rather complementary so one of the advantages of her account is not only that it is from a woman’s perspective but that she is not completely enamored with him. There is one scene where they are debating and he say something like “OK, let me be clear, what I want for you all to do is say “Yes, Mustafa we will do whatever you say””. Halide, evidently prepared for this eventuality, says something like “OK Mustafa, we will do that, but be careful, the minute that we do not think that you are working in the interest of the Turkish people …………” And that is what happened, and I suspect that is partly why they defeated the Greeks at Sakarya.
She describes the soldiers preparation for the Battle of Sakarya. The Greeks had made it to the point where if they won this battle, they would then be able to move to Ankara for the kill. She said that they all prepared as if they were going to die that day. She said it was very quiet, the men writing their farewell letters and settling both their secular affairs and those with Allah, as if most expected that this was their last night to be alive. And lose it they almost did, but that Turkish tenacity turned the day and they won the day yet again (that is an interesting story in itself), After that was the battle of Dumlupinar which was essentially the beginning of the drive of the Greeks back to the port of Smyrna where the had landed their invasion. Accounts of what happend there vary, but most agree that the bay was filled with Greek bodies. Halide gives first hand accounts of what the Greeks did on their way out. And this is where it gets interesting. She was adamently opposed to revenge upon the Greeks for this. Her accounts are grueling. After destroying most of the Greek Army, instead of revenge, the first thing he did was propose a peace treaty.
She recounts a conversation with a senior officer who brought her a puppy to keep her company in cold Ankara, This officer was exasperated and said
“ I know the solution to this campaign”. What is that ? “ Shoot all the officers”
“Shoot all the officers and let the soldiers do their work. They will not fail us”
I forget this individual’s name, but she recounts how sad she was when she found out he was killed, one of her Anatolian Tigers. Just after this her little puppy is found to have a terminal disease and one of the soldiers takes it out back and shoots it. Then, after all the bloodshed, keeping her composure through the loss of dear friends and family, she breaks down and cries for the first time, over a puppy.
When she arrived in Ankara, she was given a single roomed building with a glass door and two blankets for her bed. That night, because of modesty standards, she had to use one of her blankets to cover the glass door and the other to sleep in. She had a very cold night.
During this time was also the Bolshevik revolution and they sent her to Russia to see if their model would be of any use to them. She returned with a dim view of socialism and it was never considered as a form of government for the republic.
This account is also filled with adventure, the high adventure of the creation of the Turkish state by one of its primary revolutionaries. She survived two assassination attempts but according to her she never had to use her Walther parabellum pistol, although coming close a few times. After the war and some turmoil in the opening phase of the Republic, her party was outlawed, for being too religious as I understand it, she was accused of treason and she fled to France and then England, eventually returning home to Istanbul in 1939