Kemal Pasha: Conflict in Turkey

At the request of several emails, here is Isaac Marcosson's 1923 interview with the remarkable founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Kemal Pasha

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Almost before I realized it a pall of smoke, the invariable outpost of a city, loomed ahead. Then I saw scattered mosques and minarets stark and white in the sunlight, and before long we were in Angora. The railway station is in the outskirts of the town and I had to drive for more than a mile to get to my lodging.

Despite the discomforts of the trip I must confess to something of a thrill when I stepped from the train. At last I was in a capital without precedent, perhaps, in the history of civilization. After their temporary sojourn first at Erzerum and then at Sivas, the Kemalists had set up their governmental shop in this squalid, dilapidated, and half-burned village at one railhead of the Anatolian road. It was not without its historical association because once the crusaders camped here, and later Tamerlane the Terrible had overwhelmed the Sultan Bayezid in a famous battle and carried him off to the East as prisoner.

Angora, the Strange Capital
Almost overnight the population had grown from ten thousand to sixty thousand. With the advent of the Grand National Assembly, as the Turkish parliament is called, came the cabinet, all the members of the government, and the innumerable human appendages of national administration. Until the overthrow of the Greeks last year, Angora was also the general headquarters of the Turkish Army and its chief supply base.

Then, as now, Angora was more like a Western mining town in the first flush of a boom than the capital of a government whose future is a source of concern in every European chancellery. Every house, indeed every excuse for a habitation, is packed and jammed with people. Imbrie, the American consul, was forced to live for a year in a freight car which was placed at his disposal by the government. Moreover, he had to struggle hard to hang on to this makeshift home. The shops are primitive, and there are only two restaurants that a European could patronize.

Hotels as we know them do not exist. The nearest approach is the so-called han, which is the Turkish word for house. The average Turkish village han for travelers is merely a whitewashed structure with a quadrangle, where caravan drivers park their mules or camels at night and sleep upstairs on platforms. It is full of atmosphere, and other things more visible.

If you have any doubt about the patriotism which animates the new Turkish movement you have only to go to Angora to have it dispelled. Amid an almost in describable lack of comfort you find high officials, many of them former ambassadors who once lived in the ease and luxury of London, Paris, Berlin, Rome or Vienna, doing their daily tasks with fortitude.

Happily I had taken out some insurance against the physical discomfort that is the lot of every visitor to Angora.  After Kemal’s residence, about the only one fit to occupy is the building remodeled for the use of the Near East Relief workers, which had lately been acquired by the representatives of the Chester Concession. Before leaving Constantinople I got permission to occupy this establishment, and it was a godsend in more ways than one.  By some miracle, but due mainly to the three old Armenian servants whom I kept busy scrubbing the floors and airing the cots, I had no use for my insect powder.  In fact I carried it back with me to Constantinople and exchanged it for some other and more aesthetic commodities.

This reference to the Chester Concession recalls a striking fact which was borne in upon me before I had been in Angora half a day. Everybody, from the most ragged bootblack up, not only knows all about the concession but regards it as the unfailing panacea for Turkish wealth and expansion.  Ask a Turkish peasant about it and he will tell you that it means a railroad siding on his farm next month. There is a blind, almost pathetic faith in the ability of the Chester Concessionaires to work an economic transformation. This is one reason why in Angora as elsewhere in Turkey the American is, for the moment, the favorite alien. But the whole Chester matter will be taken up in a later article.

Reasons for the Choice
By this time you will have asked the question, Why did the Turks pick this unkempt apology of a town as their capital?  The answer is interesting. The first consideration was defense. Angora is more than two hundred miles from the sea, and any invading army, as the Greeks found out to their cost, must live on the country. Even in case of immediate attack there is a wild and rugged hinterland which affords an avenue of escape. But this is merely the external reason.

If a Turk is candid he will tell you that perhaps the real motive for all this isolation is to keep the personnel of the government out of mischief. At Constantinople the official is on the old stamping ground of illicit official intercourse. The Nationalist Government is taking no chances during its period of transition. It was Kemal Pasha who selected Angora, and in this choice you have a hint of the man’s discretion. Although the Turks maintain that Angora is the permanent seat of government and that the unwilling foreign governments must sooner or later establish themselves there, it is probably only a question of years until Constantinople will come back to its own as capital. Meanwhile Angora will continue to be the Washington of the new Turkey, while Constantinople will be its New York.

The principal thoroughfare of Angora is unpaved, rambling, and the fierce sun beats down upon its incessant dust and din. At one end is a low stucco building flying the red Turkish flag with its white star and crescent. Here, after the personality of Kemal, is what might be called the soul of the Turkish Government. It is the seat of the Grand National Assembly. In it Kemal was elected president, and here the Lausanne Treaty was confirmed.

Over the president’s chair hangs this passage from the Koran: “Solve your problems by meeting together and discussing them.” In Kemal’s office just across the hall is another maxim from the same source, which says: “And consult them in ruling.” In this last-quoted sentence you have the keynote of Kemal’s creed, because up to this time he has carefully avoided the prerogatives of dictatorship, although to all intents and purposes he is a dictator, and could easily continue to be one, for it is no exaggeration to say that he is the idol of Turkey. His picture hangs in every shop and residence.

The Grand National Assembly is unique among all parliamentary bodies in that it not only elects the president of the body, who is likewise the executive head of the nation, but it also designates the members of the cabinet, including the premier. By this procedure a government cannot fall, as is the case in England or France, when the premier fails to get a vote of confidence.  If a cabinet minister is found undesirable he is removed by the legislative body, a successor is named, and the business of the government goes on without interruption.  The delegates to the Assembly are, of course, elected by the people.

But all this is by way of introduction. I was in the ken of Kemal and the job now was to see him. I had arrived at noon on a Wednesday and promptly sent Reschad Bey to see Rauf Bey, the premier, to whom I had a letter of introduction from Admiral Bristol. The cabinet was in almost continuous session on account of the crisis at Lausanne, and I was unable to see him until the following morning at nine.

I spent three hours with him in the foreign office, a tiny stucco building meagerly furnished, but alive with the personality of its chief occupant. Rauf Bey is the sailor premier—he was admiral of the old Turkish Navy—and has the frank, blunt, wholesome manner of the seafaring man. He is the only member of the cabinet, by the way, who speaks English, and he told me that he had visited Roosevelt at the White House in 1903. He was one of the prominent Turks deported by the British to Malta in 1920. In exile, he said, his chief solace was in the intermittent copies of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST which reached him through friendly naval officers. He had read these magazines so thoroughly that he quoted long extracts from them. He had been particularly interested in an article of mine about General Smuts, whose ideal of self-determination has helped to shape the new Turkish policy.

It was Rauf Bey who made the appointment for me to see Kemal Pasha at his house on the following afternoon at five o’clock. The original plan was for both of us to dine there that evening. Subsequently this was changed because, as Rauf Bey put it, “The Ghazi’s in-laws are visiting him, and his house is crowded.” By using the term “in-laws” you can see how quickly Rauf Bey had adapted himself to Western phraseology.

The premier’s reference to the Ghazi requires an explanation. Ordinarily Kemal is referred to in Angora by the proletariat as the Pasha. The educated Turk, however, invariably gives him his later title of Ghazi, voted by the assembly, which is the Turkish word for “conqueror.” Since that fateful day in 1453 when Mohammed the Conqueror battered down the gates of Constantinople and the Moslem era on the Bosporus began, the proud title has been conferred on only three men. One was Topal Osman Pasha, the hero of Plevna; the second was Mukhtar Pasha, the conqueror of the Greeks in the late ’90’s, while the third was Mustapha Kemal.

Friday, the thirteenth, came and with it the long-awaited interview with Kemal.  He lives in a kiosk, as the Turks call a villa, at Tchau Kaya, a sort of summer settlement about five miles beyond Angora.  Motor cars are scarce in Angora, so I had to drive out in a low-necked carriage. Reschad Bey went along. He was not present at the talk with Kemal, however.

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  1. History without bias is probably best perceived through articles written at its time for events and personalities which (who) are to be evaluated after passing the test of time, but are tarnished by opponents contemporaneously on purpose because they still continue to effect the present by their lasting resonances. Having learnt him very well to easily admire such a high caliber leader encompassing all universal values at large,I believe Kemal Pasha (our Ataturk) will contine to shine ever more, to become eventually a star above most founding fathers for all humanity.

  2. It was great to read from a amazing journalist who got face to face with the great leader I admire.
    Thank you Saturday Evening Post for publishing this article, and giving us another opportunity to learn Ataturk from his own words.


  4. I really appreciate your help, also publishing online this article is great! Hope many people can reach it easily and read, and understand one more time we had best leader in Turkish history and we need to keep all that improvement in hour life and history.

    Thank you one more time for publishing this great article, and many many great years to the Post…

  5. I would like to convey my gratitude to The Post. I have to express my appreciation that among other qualifications, The Saturday Evening Post has the vast experience and capability to enlighten the history.After 89 years posting this interview on your website is great service to acquaint the people on history.
    I wish many successful 300 years to Saturday Evenin Post.

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