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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A few moments later the most attractive Turkish woman I had yet met entered—I should say glided—into the room. She was of medium height, with a full Oriental face and brilliant dark eyes. Her every movement was grace itself. Although she wore a sort of non-Turkish costume—it was dark blue—she had retained the charming headdress which is usually worn with the veil and which, according to the old Turkish custom, must completely hide the hair. The veil, however, was absent, for madame is one of the emancipated ones, and some of her brown tresses peeped out from beneath the beguiling cover. A subtle perfume emanated from her. She was a visualization of feminine Paris literally adorning the Angora scene.

Kemal presented me to his wife, employing Turkish in the introduction. I addressed her in French and she replied in admirable English; in fact, she had a British accent. The reason was that she had spent some of her school life in England. Later she studied in France. Madame Kemal at once took her seat at the table and listened to the cross examination of her husband with interest.

Shortly after her arrival Kemal was summoned into the next room, where the cabinet was still in session, and during his absence she told me the story of her life, which is a charming complement to the narrative of her distinguished husband’s more strenuous career.

Her father, as I have already intimated, is the richest merchant of Smyrna, which has been for years the economic capital of Turkey. Her name is Latife. To this must be added the word hanum, which in Turkey may mean either “Miss” or ” Mrs.” Thus before her marriage she was Latife Hanum.  If she employed her full married name now it would be Latife Ghazi Mustapha Kemal Hanum.

During the early days of the Greek war she was alternately in Paris and London.  In the autumn of 1921 she returned to Smyrna, which was then in the hands of the Greeks, who had imprisoned her father and who eventually arrested her on the charge of being a Turkish spy. She was sentenced to detention in her own home with two Greek soldiers on guard before the door. Here she spent three months.

One day the Greek sentries suddenly vanished. There was the bustle and din of hasty retreat, and early the next morning the conquering Turks rode into Smyrna.  A few days later Kemal entered in triumph at the head of his victorious army. Let me tell the rest in madame’s own naïve words, which were:

“Although I had never met Mustapha Kemal, I invited him to be our guest during his stay in Smyrna. I admired his courage, patriotism, and leadership, and he accepted our invitation. I found that we had common ideals for the reconstruction of our country, and later we discovered that we had something else in common.  Not long afterwards forty to fifty of our friends were invited to the house for tea. The mufti, as the Turkish registrar is called, was summoned, and without any previous announcement we were married. Our wedding ring was brought to us later from Lausanne by Ismet Pasha.”

Madame Kemal spoke with frank admiration about her husband. “He is not only a great patriot and soldier but he is also an unselfish leader,” she said. ” He has built a system of government that can function without him. He wants absolutely nothing for himself. He would be willing to retire at any time if he were convinced that his ideal of the self-determined Turkey will prevail.

“I am acting as a sort of amanuensis for him. I read and translate the foreign papers for him, play the piano when he wants relaxation, and I have started to write his biography.”

“What are your husband’s diversions?” I asked.

He loves music and when he does find time to read he absorbs ancient history,” was the reply. Then pointing to three playful pups that gamboled on the floor at our feet she added: “I have also provided him with these little dogs, to whom he has become much attached.” The snapshot of Kemal reproduced in this article shows the pups.

Education Before Suffrage
Madame Kemal has definite ideas about the future of Turkish women. Like Halide Hanum, she is strong for emancipation. Along this line she said:

“I believe in equal rights for Turkish women, which means the right to vote and to sit in the Grand National Assembly. I maintain, however, that before suffrage and public service must come education.

It would be absurd to impose suffrage on ignorant peasants. We must have schools for women eventually, conducted by women. It is bound to be a slow process. I am in favor of abolishing the veil, but this will also be a gradual development. We want no quick changes. It must be evolution instead of revolution.

“On one subject I have strong views:  Education and religion in Turkey must be separate and distinct. This is my ideal of the mental uplift of the women of my race.”

We began to discuss books. Much to my surprise I found that Madame Kemal was a great admirer of Longfellow. She quoted the whole of the Psalm of Life. I was equally interested to find how well she knew Keats, Shelley and Byron. I referred to the fact that in the old days Byron’s books were forbidden in Turkey on account of his pro-Greek sentiments, whereupon she remarked vivaciously, “All such procedures are now part of the buried Turkish past.”

At this juncture Kemal returned, and the threads of the interview with him were picked up. When we concluded, twilight had come and it was time to go. I had brought with me a photograph of the Ghazi that I had obtained in Angora. It was taken in the early days of 1920. As he looked at it he said wistfully, “That reminds me of my youth.” He signed it and then gave me two others at my request.

The farewells were now said, and I left. As I drove back to Angora through the gathering night, hailed at intervals by cavalry patrols, for the watch on Kemal increases with the dark, and with bugle calls echoing across the still air, I realized that I had established contact with a strong and dominating personality, a unique leader among men.

It remains only to reveal the somewhat brief and crowded span of Kemal’s life so far. He is the son of an obscure petty government official and was born forty-three years ago at Saloniki, which was then under the Turkish flag. The fact of his birth here has given rise to the widespread belief that he is a Jew, which is not true. The surmise was natural because during the Spanish persecutions Saloniki became the haven of innumerable oppressed Israelites. Here, as elsewhere in the Turkey that was, and is, they have become important factors in both the commercial and the political life. The Turks are a mixed race, however, because of the old itch for conquest, and Kemal’s mother had a strain of Albania in her.

Kemal was destined for the army and at the proper age entered the military school at Monastir. Once in the army, he impressed his colleagues by a real love of soldiering. Then, as now, he was a nationalist. In those days this was heresy, because Turkey was in the grip of a corrupt stewardship which combined control of both church and state in the sultanate. In other words, the sultan was not only ruler but, as grand caliph, was also defender of the faith.

A comrade of Kemal’s early soldiering days told me in Constantinople that when the Committee of Union and Progress, which was controlled by Enver Pasha, and which brought about the revolution of 1908 and the counter revolution of 1909, was at the height of its power, the future emancipator of his country said: “These politicians are bound to fail because they represent a class and not a country. Their motives are purely political.  Some day I shall help to redeem Turkey.” Like Napoleon, he believed that he was a man of destiny, and his subsequent achievements have confirmed that early belief.

Kemal at the Dardanelles
It is interesting to add that at a time when smart officers in Turkey had brilliant prospects in politics Kemal stuck to his profession. He fought in Tripoli against the Italians, but it was not until the World War that he emerged from the more or less anonymity of the average officer’s life.

With his antipathy for the Germans, he naturally opposed Turkey’s entrance into the war on the side of the Central Powers. At once he incurred the bitter enmity of Enver Pasha, and this hostility became more acute during the years of the conflict.  Enver tried in every way to humble him, but he was too good a soldier to be sacked.  At one time he temporarily left the front to accompany the future Sultan Mohammed VI, then the crown prince, on a state visit to Germany.

Prior to the Dardanelles campaign Kemal was a colonel of infantry. Even before the British and French made their ill-fated landing he had been given a command on Gallipoli. Soon after, he was made a brigadier general—this gave him the title of Pasha—and he took over the 19th Division. When the notorious Liman von Sanders fell from favor, he became one of the chief ranking Turkish officers on the peninsula.

Most people do not know that it was largely through Kemal’s quick judgment that the Dardanelles expedition failed. On the day that the Australians made their historic attack at Anzac Beach, Kemal had ordered the two best regiments of his division on parade, fully equipped for a maneuver against the very heights where the Anzacs, as the Australians were known, were about to operate. When the news of the landing and of the defeat of the Turkish troops along the coast first reached him it was coupled with the information that the movement was merely a feint, and with a request that he would detach only one battalion to deal with it.

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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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