BY ARA PAPIAN
Head of the Modus Vivendi Centre
Turkish commentators cannot understand why a photograph of Ataturk was included in a drawer filled with incriminating documents. Some believe that it might have something to do with his involvement in the genocide of the Armenians and Greeks.
The world has many things to say about Wikileaks nowadays, because Wikileaks has much to say about the world. Numerous cables notwithstanding, the following is of note: a picture of Kemal Atatürk came up in a desktop wallpaper available for download from the website portraying various scandals. Some speculated that the photograph indicates that Wikileaks possesses incriminating evidence on Atatürk, ready to be made public. Some did not hesitate to proclaim that such material might have something to do with the involvement of Mustafa Kemal in the massacres of the Armenians and Greeks. Perhaps. But it has been a long time since that secret was out; it has simply been forgotten, or rather, it has been denied due to certain political and economic interests. However, this was not always the case.
As opposed to the current situation, journalists were much more independent in the past, and diplomats were much more straightforward. The press and diplomatic correspondence of the time is replete with information on the massacres of civilian Armenians by Kemalists in the territory of the Republic of Armenia (September, 1920 to April, 1921) and Cilicia (February, 1920), as well as the massacres of Greeks and Armenians in Smyrna (September, 1922). It is not without reason that in 1921, the body of Kemalist leadership – the Grand National Assembly of Turkey – granted the title of ghazi, the “Destroyer of Infidels” or the “Destroyer of Christians” to Mustafa Kemal.
Of course, during that very time, he and his supporters were known in Europe under different names. The following was written in 1936 about Mustafa Kemal by the well-known journalist and author of many valuable books, John Gunther: “Ataturk is the roughneck of dictators.
Beside him, Hitler is a milksop, Mussolini a perfumed dandy”. And the Deputy Secretary to four cabinets of the British Empire (1916-1930), “one of the six most important men in Europe”, Thomas Jones, would refer to the Kemalists as “Angora butchers” when left to his conscience alone. Nevertheless, I do not think that, if Wikileaks were to publish anything about Ataturk, that it would refer to his policies on Christians.
The outpouring of information from Wikileaks is neither the first such instance, nor will it be the last. It’s just that, if such phenomena occurred through the print media in the past – that is to say, it was slow to reach to the thousands, perhaps even to the tens of thousands – then today, through the internet, any information is instantly accessible by the tens of millions. Once upon a time, when Turkey did not have the clout to shut people up, and the Europeans were free to express themselves at home as they saw fit, European diplomats, to put it in modern terms, would leak information on a regular basis. This would be manifested by honest articles and books on the countries in which they were serving, and the leadership of those countries.
Artificial piety had not yet reached the level of state policy at that time.
As for the issue of most interest to us – writings about Kemal Ataturk – perhaps the most remarkable and most reliable intelligence comes from one Harold Armstrong. After the First World War, from April, 1919 to June, 1922, Armstrong was Acting Military Attaché to the High Commissioner of the British Empire in Constantinople, a Special Service Officer in the War Office, as well as Supervisor of the Turkish Gendarmerie. As someone who immediately oversaw the network of agents working within Turkey, he became well aware of the details of the lives of many political figures.
He possessed the authority and the capacity to fulfill this role, besides being fluent in Turkish. After more than three years of service in Turkey, Harold Armstrong wrote two books of great value as primary sources on Turkey, based on the information he had collected in all that time – “Turkey in Travail: The Birth of a New Nation” (London, 1925) and “Gray Wolf, Mustafa Kemal: An Intimate Study of a Dictator” (New York, 1933). The second book is particularly of exceptional value.
Hundreds of books have been written about Kemal Ataturk up to the present. However, they are much more reminiscent of the books about Stalin written in Stalin’s time, rather than serving as serious academic studies. There are a few reasons for this, one of which being that the criminal code of the Republic of Turkey (articles 301, 305, 306) allows for the prosecution of the author of any publication about Ataturk, the contents of which may be considered insulting by the authorities, even if, in reality, they are not. As the British diplomat and spy Harold Armstrong has been dead for a long time, there is no reason to be concerned about him getting arrested. Let us simply offer some citations from his book in order to shed light on the lesser known aspects of the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In all probability, the material which Wikileaks has on Atatürk pertain to the secret side of his private life. That there is much documented in this regard is a fact. I have myself read many reports by diplomats about Atatürk dating from the 1920s and ’30s which would be worthy of publication in Playboy or Instinct. I must emphasise the fact that the details of the private lives of public figures are, for that reason, not private at all in their essence. What is private sensibly conditions human thought, which, in turn, is the basis for making decisions, decisions upon which thousands of human lives and historical eras depend. The factor of the private for politicians is always a matter of import for societies in general and ends up having wide-ranging influence.
As a result, a political figure does not and cannot have a private life. The lifestyle of a politician is a voluntary choice, which each individual consciously carries out. One’s sexuality is one of the most important aspects of one’s private life, and so, one’s sexual practices can reveal a great deal and provide significant information on a person’s internal state and thinking.
The first bit of information by Armstrong on Mustafa’s initial sexual life and orientation takes place in his second year, in 1894, at the Military Cadet School at Salonika (Thessaloniki). It is here that Mustafa’s mathematics teacher who shared his name, one Captain Mustafa, took the 13-14 year old adolescent “under his wing”: “In his second year one of the masters, a Capitan Mustafa, took a fancy to him”. The use of the phrase “to take a fancy” is an interesting move by Armstrong. That expression may have a number of meanings – to like, to be taken by, to be attracted to, to feel attached to, especially in sexual way. Also, it is this very Captain Mustafa who bestowed the title “Kemal” – “perfect”, “beautiful” – to the young, blue-eyed Mustafa.
Armstrong elaborates on what he means in the following passage: “The friendship and protection of Captain Mustafa did him no good. The friendship was unhealthy. He developed overrapidly. Before he was fourteen he had passed the boy stage: the gropings after sex: the petty dirtiness: and he had started an affair with a neighbor’s daughter”.
In order to continue his education, Mustafa Kemal transferred from Salonika at first to Monastir in 1895, and then to Constantinople in 1899. The young Mustafa Kemal dove headlong into the nightlife of the big city:
“At once he plunged wildly into the unclean life of the great metropolis of Constantinople. Night after night he gambled and drank in the cafes and restaurants. With women he was not fastidious. A figure, a face in profile, a laugh, could set him on fire and reaching out to get the woman, whatever she was. Sometimes it would be with the Greek and Armenian harlots in the bawdy-houses in the garbage-stinking streets by Galata Bridge, where came the pimps and the homosexuals to cater for all the vices; then for a week or two a Levantine lady in her house in Pangaldi; or some Turkish girl who came veiled and by back-ways in fear of the police to some maison de rendez-vous in Pera or Stambul.
He fell in love with none of them. He was never sentimental or romantic. Without a pang of conscience he passed rapidly from one to next. He satisfied his appetite and was gone. He was completely Oriental in his mentality: women had no place in his life except to satisfy his sex. He plunged deep down into the lecherous life of the city.”
Armstrong’s next bit of information on the private life of Mustafa Kemal refers to that time period when he was the military attaché of the Ottoman Empire in Sofia (27 October, 1913 to 2 February, 1915):
“He learnt ball-room dancing, methodically with a teacher, and then danced whenever possible, but always as if he was on parade. He frequented the drawing-rooms and tried to become the society gallant, making love to the ladies of Sofia, but they found him excessively gauche.”
Mustafa Kemal fell in love in Sofia with Dimitrina, the daughter of General Stiliyan Kovachev, the former defence minister of Bulgaria. However, he was rejected by her, “And Mustafa Kemal, touchy and sensitive, became more lofty and aloof than ever. He began to hate society”.
Avoiding high society, Mustafa Kemal was drawn more and more towards other circles.
“With men – and especially men who were deferential – and with the loose women of the capital, Mustafa Kemal was far more at ease. With these, in the cafes and the brothels, he drank and reveled night after night far into the dawn. He gambled and diced for hours against any one who would sit against him. He heaped up all the indulgences and glutted himself with them. He tried all the vices. He paid the penalty in sex disease and damaged health. In the reaction he lost all belief in women and for the time being became enamored of his own sex.”
The First World War began in 1914. On the 28th of October, 1914, Turkish battleships perfidiously bombed the Russian ports of the Black Sea, due to which war was declared on Turkey by Russia on the 3rd of November, followed by France and Britain on the 5th of November. Turkey was facing war on two fronts.
Little is known in general about the private life of Mustafa Kemal in the war years, and Armstrong does not convey much either, for his part. One thing is evident, that alcohol deteriorated his health to such a degree that he was forced to leave for Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic today) for treatment from April to August, 1918, during the most heated time of the war. As Armstrong relates, he was seen by the celebrated Austrian physician, Otto Zuckerkandl, who warned him, that “If he did not stop drinking he would die in a year”. It must be emphasised that the Austrian doctor was wrong; although Mustafa Kemal continued to drink no less than what he used to, he lived for twenty more years nonetheless, until 1938.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the signing of the Treaty of Moudros (on the 30th of October, 1918), Mustafa Kemal returned to Constantinople from the Syrian front. Despite his many efforts, Kemal did not receive any offices in the new government. What is more, in staying unemployed, he rented a small house in the ?i?li district of Constantinople and gave himself to the pleasures of life. His only friend in that period was one Colonel Arif:
“He had few friends and only one intimate, a Colonel Arif. Arif was a capable staff officer trained in Germany. He was a younger man than Mustafa Kemal. They had known each other since the days in Salonika and Monastir; they had served together in Syria, the Balkans and Gallipoli. After the Armistice they struck up a close friendship. They had common tastes; both were absorbed in all military matters; both enjoyed the same loose talk, the heavy drinking and the wild nights with women. Mustafa Kemal’s enemies said they were lovers, for Arif was the only person for whom Mustafa showed open affection, putting his arm round his shoulders and calling him endearing names.”
Mustafa Kemal kept his daring and indiscriminate sexual life in future years. Armstrong writes the following on Atatürk’s private life during the years 1921-1922:
“As long as there was work, it absorbed Mustafa Kemal’s every minute: nothing could divert him. When work slackened, he grew irritable and restless and began to interfere with his subordinates. It was then that with Arif and one or two other men he would disappear on heavy drinking bouts which, with gambling, would last whole nights; or he went a whoring with the painted women of the poor brothels of the town.”
Naturally, such a lifestyle had its negative effects on Mustafa Kemal’s health. A doctor advised him to “work and drink less, and lead a regular life with someone to look after him”. It was at that time that Fikriye Hanum came into his life:
“From a break-down he was saved by Fikriye Hanum. She was a distant relative of his from Stambul who had volunteered as an army nurse and come to Angora. As soon as he saw her, Mustafa Kemal took her to his house.”
Armstrong is mistaken here. Fikriye (1887-1924) was not a distant relative of Mustafa, but his own first cousin (his mother’s brother’s daughter), in whose house Mustafa lived for two years during his childhood. Fikriye had been married to a rich Egyptian Arab, but had long since been separated.
“She watched over all his needs. When he was ill, she nursed him. She was his mistress and his absolute slave, for she was Turkish and oriental.(…) For a while Mustafa Kemal was absorbed in her. But very soon he tired. He went back more and more to his painted women, his drinking companions and his cards.”
The life of Mustafa Kemal during the period 1922-1924 is reminiscent of a classic love triangle. In September, 1922, Mustafa Kemal met Latife U?akl?gil (1898-1975). The meeting changed his life for a while. Fikriye was suddenly rendered superfluous, a burden. Kemal had her sent to Munich “for treatment” in 1922. On the 14th of January, 1923, the only close person to Mustafa Kemal, his mother Zübeyde, died. Barely fifteen days after her death, Kemal married Latife, with whom he lived for two and a half years. In 1924, Fikriye returned from Munich, met with Mustafa Kemal and tried to discuss what was to become of her. The next day, Fikriye was found dead in a ditch behind Mustafa Kemal’s house. The theory that she committed suicide is heavily questioned to this day.
What else? Nothing more. I don’t think there is any reason to laugh or to cry.
(the final lines of the 1924 work “Lenin and Ali”, by the celebrated Armenian poet, Yeghishe Charents)
Let us await the future revelations courtesy Wikileaks. If there is nothing new, then at least the older leaks would still be dripping.
After all, the new is nothing more than the old which has been well-forgotten.