Kemal Pasha: Conflict in Turkey

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Related stories: “Turkey in Transition” by Isaac F. Marcosson, November 10, 1923, and “The Eastern Mess” by George Pattulo, December 23, 1922.

Kemal Pasha
October 20, 1923
by Isaac F. Marcosson

Kemal Pasha
Kemal Pasha as Field Marshal of the Turkish Army

THERE was a time when Angora was famous solely for cats and goats. Today the shambling, time-worn town far up in the Anatolian hills has another, and world-wide significance. It is not only the capital of the reconstructed Turkish Government and the seat therefore of the most picturesque of all contemporary experiments in democracy, but is likewise the home of Ghazi Mustapha Kemal Pasha—to give him his full title—who is distinct among the few vital personalities revealed by the bitter backwash of the World War.

Only Lenin and Mussolini vie with him for the center of that narrowing stage of compelling leadership. Each of these three remarkable men has achieved a definite result in a manner all his own. Lenin imposed an autocracy through force and blood. Mussolini created a personal and political dictatorship in which he dramatized himself. Kemal not only led a beaten nation to victory and dictated terms to the one-time conqueror, but set up a new and unique system of administration.

Lenin and Mussolini have almost been done to death by human or, in the case of the soviet overlord, inhuman interest historians.  Kemal Pasha is still invested with an element of mystery and aloofness largely begot of the physical inaccessibility of his position.  To the average American, he is merely a Turkish name vaguely associated with some kind of military achievement. The British Dardanelles Expedition know it much better, for he frustrated the fruits of that immense heroism written in blood and agony on the shores of Gallipoli. The Greeks have an even costlier knowledge, because he was the organizer of the victory that literally drove them into the sea in one of the most complete debacles of modern times.

At Angora I talked with this man in a critical hour of the war-born Turkish Government.  The Lausanne Conference was at the breaking point. War or peace still hung in the balance. Only the day before, Rauf Bey, the Prime Minister, had said to me: “If they [the Allies] want war they can have it.” The air was charged with tension and uncertainty. Over the troubled scene brooded the unrelenting presence of the chieftain I had traveled so far to see. Events, like the government itself, revolved about him.

In difficulty of approach and in the grim and dramatic quality of the setting, Anatolia was strongly reminiscent of my journey a year ago to the Southern Chinese front to see Sun Yat-sen. Between him and Kemal exists a certain similarity. Each is a sort of inspired leader. Each has his kindling ideal of a self-determination that is the by-product of fallen empire. Here the parallel ends. Kemal is the man of blood and iron—an orientalized Bismarck, as it were—dogged, ruthless, invincible; while Sun Yat-sen is the dreamer and visionary, eternal pawn of chance, and with as many political existences—and I might add, governments—as the proverbial cat has lives.

Turkey for the Turks
As with men, so with the peoples behind them.  You have another striking contrast. While China flounders in well-nigh incredible political chaos, due to incessant conflict of selfish purpose and lack of leadership, Turkey has emerged as a homogeneous nation for the first time in its long and bloody history, with defined frontiers, a real homeland, and a nationalistic aim that may shape the destiny of the Mohammedan world, and incidentally affect American commercial aspirations in the Near East.  “Turkey for the Turks” is the new slogan. The instrument and inspiration of the whole astonishing evolution—it is little less than a miracle when you realize that in 1919 Turkey was as prostrate as defeat and bankruptcy could bring her—has been Kemal Pasha.

He was the real objective of my trip to Turkey.  Constantinople with its gleaming mosques and minarets, and still a queen among cities despite its dingy magnificence, had its lure, but from the hour of my arrival on the shores of the Golden Horn my interest was centered on Angora.

I had chosen a difficult time for the realization of this ambition. The Lausanne Conference was apparently mired, and the long-awaited peace seemed more distant than ever. A state of war still existed. The army of occupation gave the streets martial tone and color, while a vast Allied fleet rode at anchor in the Bosporus or boomed at target practice in the Sea of Marmora. The capital in the Anatolian hills had become even more inaccessible.

Every barrier based on suspicion, aloofness and general resentment of the foreigner—the usual Turkish trilogy— all tied up with endless red tape, worked overtime. It was a combination disastrous to swift American action. My subsequent experiences emphasized the truth of the well-known Kipling story which dealt with the fate of an energetic Yankee in the Orient whose epitaph read: “Here lies a fool who tried to hustle the East.”

To add to all this handicap begot of temperament and otherwise, the Turks had begun to realize, not without irritation, that the consummation of the Chester Concession was not so easy as it looked on paper. The last civilian who successfully applied for permission to go to Angora had been compelled to linger at Constantinople seven weeks before he got his vessica—as a visa is called in Turkish.  Two or three others had departed for home in disgust after four weeks of watchful and fruitless waiting. The prospect was not promising.

When I paid my respects to Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the American High Commissioner, on my first day in Constantinople, I invoked his aid in getting to Angora. He promptly gave me a letter of introduction to Dr. Adnan Bey, then the principal representative of Angora in Constantinople, through whom all permits had to pass.

I went to see him at the famous Sublime Porte, the Foreign Office and the scene of so much sinister Turkish history. Here the sordid tools of Abdul-Hamid, the Red Sultan, and others no less unscrupulous, lived their day. I expected to find the structure almost as imposing as its richer mate in history, the Mosque of St. Sophia. It proved to be a dirty, rambling, yellow building without the slightest semblance of architectural beauty, and strongly in need of disinfecting.

In Adnan Bey I found my first Turkish ally. Moreover, I discovered him to be a man of the world with a broad and generous outlook. An early aid of Kemal in the precarious days of the nationalist movement, he became the first vice president of the Angora Government.  Moreover, he had another claim to fame, for he is the husband of the renowned Halide Hanum, the foremost woman reformer of Turkey, whom I was later to meet in interesting circumstances at Munich, and whose story will be disclosed in a subsequent article. Adnan Bey, however, is not what we would call a professional husband in America. Long before he rallied to the Kemalist cause he was widely known as one of the ablest physicians in Turkey.

He at once sent a telegram to Angora asking for my permission to go. This permission is concretely embodied in a pass—the aforesaid vessica—which is issued by the Constantinople prefect of police. Back in the days of the Great War it was a difficult procedure to get the so-called white pass which enabled the holder to go to the front. Compared with the coveted permission to visit Angora, that pass was about as inaccessible as a public handbill, as I was now to discover.

Adnan Bey told me that he would have an answer from Angora in about three days. I found that three days was like the Russian word seichas which technically means “immediately” but when employed in action or rather lack of action on its own ground, usually spells “next month.”

Red-Tape Entanglements
After a week passed, the American Embassy inquired of the Sublime Porte if they had heard about my application, but no word had come. A few days later Turkish officialdom went mad. An order was promulgated that no alien except of British, French or Italian nationality could enter or leave Constantinople without the consent of Angora. People who had left Paris or London, and they included various Americans, with existing credentials, were held up at the Turkish frontier, despite the fact that the order had been issued after they had started. Thanks to Admiral Bristol’s prompt and persistent endeavors, the frontier ban was lifted from Americans. Angora became swamped overnight with telegraphic protests and requests, and I felt that mine was completely lost in the new and growing shuffle.

Meanwhile I had acquired a fine upstanding young Turk, Reschad Bey by name, who spoke English, French and German fluently, as dragoman, which means courier and interpreter. No alien can go to Angora without such an aid, because, save in a few isolated spots, the only language spoken in Anatolia is Turkish. Reschad Bey was really an inheritance from Robert Imbrie, who had just retired after a year as American consul at Angora. Reschad Bey had been his interpreter. Much contact with Imbrie had acquainted him with American ways and he thoroughly sympathized with my impatience over the delay. He had a strong pull at Angora himself and sent some telegrams to friends in my behalf.

At the expiration of the second week Admiral Bristol made a personal appeal to Adnan Bey to expedite my permission, and a second strong telegram went from the Sublime Porte to Angora. Other Turkish and American individuals whom I had met added their requests by wire. Of course I was occupied with other work, but I had only a limited amount of time at my disposal and when all was said and done, Kemal was the principal prize of the trip and I was determined to land him. Early in July therefore I sent Reschad Bey to Angora to find out just what the situation was. He departed on the morning of the Fourth. When I returned to my hotel from attending the Independence Day celebration at the embassy I found a telegram from Angora addressed to Reschad Bey in my care from one of his friends in the government, saying that my permission to go to Angora had been wired nine days before! Yet on the previous morning the Sublime Porte had declared that Angora was still silent on my request.