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KEMAL ATATÜRK AND THE FOREIGN SOLDIERS WHO DIED IN GALLIPOLI

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KEMAL ATATÜRK AND THE FOREIGN SOLDIERS WHO DIED IN GALLIPOLI

KEMAL ATATÜRK AND THE FOREIGN SOLDIERS WHO DIED IN GALLIPOLI

13 December, 2017
By Sermet Atacanlı

“An idiot throws a stone into a well and forty wise men cannot take it out” says a Turkish proverb. This is precisely what happened as regards the recent controversy in some historical and academic circles on the famous words of Atatürk expressed towards the mothers of Anzacs and other foreign soldiers who fell in Gallipoli.

It all started when Cengiz Özakıncı, author and self-styled historian, wrote successive articles in 2015 in March and April issues of Bütün Dünya, (All the World) a monthly publication which is a sort of Turkey’s Reader’s Digest, published by a well-known university in Ankara.

The cover of its March issue carried the title :

“The Bitter Truth that Surfaced on the 100th Anniversary of Çanakkale (Gallipoli) : The Words on the Anzac Monuments Belong to Whom ?”

This striking cover was almost certain to capture the attention of historians and academicians who work on the subject. Even those with a certain degree of interest in the Gallipoli Campaign, such as numerous history enthusiasts around the world, were surely not going to fail noticing this “revelation”.

In the article, Özakıncı went on to re-tell the story behind those words by repeating what we already know as to how they came about. He quoted extensively from a small booklet entitled “Atatürk and the Anzacs”, written in 1978 by Uluğ İğdemir, then Secretary-General of the Turkish Historical Society. Regrettably, in doing so, he totally distorted the story by not only twisting the facts, but also entirely missing the essence of the whole issue with misleading interpretations and far-fetched comments.
In order to give a resemblance of an archival work and a scholarly study to his articles, he included into the first one an old clip from the newspaper Cumhuriyet (Republic) reporting the speech in Gallipoli in 1931 by Şükrü Kaya, Atatürk’s interior minister. It was enough to blur the minds of not only ordinary readers but even those of more attentive and knowledgeable people.

Naturally, more confusion has followed. Soon after it hit the book stores, some Turkish newspapers and internet sites published excerpts from the article with comments to the effect that “It is claimed those words do not belong to Atatürk…” or “Atatürk is claimed to have never said those words…” Consequently, the uproar echoed in Britain and as far as in Australia, sadly casting a shadow on that magnificent expression of humanity and civility coming from a magnanimous personality that we all know Kemal Atatürk to have been.

Then came the second article in the April issue of the magazine as a furtherance of his arguments. Yet when I examined it, I was rather surprised to find out that it was based almost entirely on the documents that I had discovered at the Presidential Archives in Ankara and used in my book “Atatürk ve Çanakkale’nin Komutanları” (Ataturk and the Commanders of Gallipoli) which was first published in 2007. While Mr. Özakıncı does not fail to make due reference to my book, it was most disappointing to see that those documents were used-or rather misused- in an attempt to justify a ludicrous argument as I will elaborate further below.
As far as I could see from Turkey, my home country, the first public reaction to this false argument came in the form of an article by Mr. Paul Daley published in “The Guardian” newspaper on 20 April 2015. The issue was then taken up, in a similar article by “Honest History”, an Australian organization which I understand, and as its name suggests. aims to present an “honest and truthful version” of the events in history.

There is nothing wrong with that commendable endeavor. It appears, however, that there is one basic flaw in “The Guardian” article as well as in the “Honest History” version : The main source on which they base their argument, (i.e.) Mr. Özakıncı’s articles are full of flaws, distortions, omissions and misrepresentations. We have been witnessing, during the past decade or so, the emergence of a new age of historians who take it upon themselves to bring a new approach to historiography and thus attempt to re-write some segments of it. As I pointed out, they are no doubt a bunch of courageous people who are in an honest search for the truth. However, some of them -and luckily very few in number-go beyond that. They first set for themselves a target subject in history for examining it with a revisionist approach and then start looking for any kind of documentation to substantiate their claim. If they find any, that’s fine. If not, they fabricate, twist and distort.
Now in the light of the known facts, let us examine the gist of the assertions as put forth by Mr. Özakıncı and taken-up by others in their writings :
The key figure in this narrative is Mr. İğdemir who was a respected historian and a close associate of Atatürk. Among the books he authored and the ones he prepared for publication were two detailed accounts of the fighting in Gallipoli as noted down by Kemal Atatürk himself. They remain two of the most basic accounts of the Gallipoli Campaign from the Turkish side. On the other hand, the booklet in question “Atatürk and the Anzacs” was a compilation of Mr. Iğdemir’s correspondence with Mr. Alan J. Campbell, who was the Chairman of the “Gallipoli Fountains of Honor Committee” set up to build a memorial fountain in Brisbane, Australia. Mr. Campbell had earlier written to Mr. İğdemir asking him to verify Atatürk’s words on Anzacs as they intended to inscribe them on the fountain.
Being a first-class scholar, İğdemir undertook a thorough and meticulous research and found out that these splendid words first appeared in a special edition of the “Dünya” (The World) newspaper published on 10 November 1953 on the occasion of the transfer of Atatürk’s remains from its temporary resting place to the newly built mausoleum in Ankara.

There is an interview in that newspaper with Mr. Şükrü Kaya, a former interior minister during Atatürk’s time, conducted by Yekta Ragıp Önen, who himself was a prominent journalist of the day. During the interview, Mr. Kaya reminisces about one of his meetings with Mustafa Kemal. His account is as follows : The Interior Minister is to leave for Gallipoli for the opening of a monument, called the Mehmetçik Monument , dedicated to the Turkish heroes of the fighting there. The year is 1931 (And not 1934 as erroneously known). Upon learning this, Atatürk had these words to say to him :
 “When you go there, you will say ‘those dear martyrs lying here, we commemorate you with reverence and respect’. You will speak with all the eloquence of your tongue by the side of the Mehmetçik Monument. You will address to them : ‘Rest in peace, if you had not been there and not shielded against the steel castles with your chest, this Strait (The Dardanelles) would have been crossed through, Istanbul would have been occupied, and our native land would have been invaded’.
The conversation then continues as follows :
 All right, I shall speak accordingly !
 No, not quite so… You will speak more than that and very differently from it. You will speak as though addressing the whole world. There, in Gallipoli you will not solely mention our martyrs with reverence and respect, but also those heroes that shed their blood in this soil.
 Pasha, I cannot do that, because these are the sublime words that can only be uttered by yourself.
 No, you will do it. You will speak in this way facing all the nations in this manner”.
Şükrü Kaya met with Atatürk once again that evening, at which time Atatürk handed him a piece of paper with the instruction that he will speak along the lines he had personally written on it. This was what he wrote in a very noble and moving way :
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. You the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Minister Kaya arrived in Çanakkale (Gallipoli) on 25 August 1931, delivering his speech the same day at the inauguration ceremony of the Mehmetçik Monument. The full text of his speech is published in the newspaper Hakimiyet-i Milliye (National Sovereignty) next day- 26 August 1931.

In that speech, Mr. Kaya speaks exactly the way Kemal Atatürk had directed him to. He first exalts in lavish words the heroism and sacrifices of the Turkish soldiers who fought there. “[We owe] eternal gratitude to those Turkish youngsters who shed their blood here in defense of the motherland” he says. Following more words of praise for the Turkish soldiers, he makes his reference to the foreign cemeteries and monuments located on the peninsula. These were his exact words :
“… As an authorized member of the government of the republic established by the Turkish society, I hereby wish to state that the Turkish nation views all the memorials here in reverence and commemorates the fallen ones from both sides with wishes for God’s blessing on their souls. In doing so, the sincere expectation in their mind is that such memorials that were dedicated to the dead shall never be erected again, and instead civilized ties and humane bonds be established between those who erected them”.

Simple, isn’t it ? Exactly in line with Atatürk’s sentiments expressed to him earlier in Ankara. Alas, Mr. Özakıncı in his articles takes these words and turns them completely around to suit his arguments. He curves them into the implication that the Minister is criticizing the existence of foreign cemeteries and monuments in Gallipoli.

His motive in doing so appears clear. He dislikes the Anzacs and other foreigners who fought at Gallipoli. The main thrust of his two articles centers on the anachronistic notion of “occupying Johnnies”, a notion that has long been discarded in Turkey in the context of the fighting in Gallipoli. He disregards or does not realize that the children of the Anzacs have long engaged in a self-criticism about the meaninglessness of their participation in the campaign. He ignores that the emphasis today on the Gallipoli War is placed on building bridges of friendship and cooperation among the participating countries. He overlooks that the commemoration ceremonies on the peninsula every year are organized around these themes.
This is also why he doesn’t like Atatürk’s words either. He cannot bring himself to acknowledge that a person of Atatürk’s stature could possibly have expressed such words of affection for a former “enemy”. So, he concludes pathetically, that those words do not exist ! I should add that the editor-in chief of the magazine Bütün Dünya (now deceased) was harboring the same unfriendly sentiments towards the Anzacs in Gallipoli as I found from my correspondence with him on the subject. We certainly cannot interfere with people’s feelings on any given matter, but attempting to bring a perverted approach to specific events in history out of personal dislikes is simply unacceptable.
Now let us continue to look into the correspondence between Mr. İğdemir and Mr. Campbell. In his letter of 7 April 1978 to Mr. İğdemir, Mr. Campbell writes the following :
“The statement by Atatürk has been inscribed upon a metal plaque along with a statement identifying the rock and the pebbles from ANZAC set in the foundation of our Fountains, it varies slightly with the advice you have sent me. But the difference makes no difference in solemn meaning and inspiration, it is very beautiful indeed”.
“The difference” that Mr. Campbell refers to is the phrase “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours…”
In fact, Atatürk’s original words were shorter and were as follows : “… You [the Anzacs] lie side by side with our Mehmets…”
Granted, this addition was perhaps unnecessary. But does this change the essence of the chivalry that is inherent in the entirety of those words ? Are we going to assume that those words were never uttered based on a small deviation in translation ? Certainly not. Not because Mr. Özakıncı wants us to believe this nonsense in order to give credibility to his unsubstantiated revisionist views.
Now let us talk about Mr. Şükrü Kaya… He is a well-known figure in Turkish political history. After having assumed various positions in the cabinet soon after the proclamation of the new republic, he served as Atatürk’s interior minister from 1927 to 1938.
The article in the “Honest History” engages in some kind of a speculation as regards the political atmosphere in Turkey in the 1950’s in order to discredit Şükrü Kaya’s interview. To say the least, this analysis is superficial and indicates an apparent lack of depth of perception into Turkish political history. Its claim that Mr. Kaya made up the whole story because he was at odds with President İnönü, Atatürk’s successor, fits neither into the intricacies prevailing at the Turkish political spectrum at the time nor does it accurately reflect Şükrü Kaya’s personality. I should also add that, at the time of this interview, President İnönü had already been driven from office following a defeat at the 1950 presidential elections.
Also, the insinuation that because Mr. Kaya was 70 years old at the time so perhaps could not remember properly what had happened 22 years earlier is totally unacceptable within the context of a scholarly discussion, and only serves to show how weak the entire argument is. The fact of the matter is that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever why Mr. Şükrü Kaya, as the person he was, would have fabricated such a story. He was, as I mentioned above, merely reflecting on his times with Atatürk in those very emotional days for the Turks when Atatürk’s second funeral ceremony was in progress.
We see another fine example of Atatürk’s personality and his approach towards wars in general in the message that he sent to the people of Australia through The Star newspaper in Melbourne, Australia upon the latter’s request on the occasion of the anniversary of the Anzac landing in Gallipoli. The message was published in the paper on 25 April 1934.
“The Gallipoli landing and the fighting on the peninsula showed to the world the heroism of all who shed their blood there, and how heartrending for their nations that were the losses this struggle caused”.
This second message is exactly in line with his first one. Again, there are no words of jingoism or chauvinism, no praise for wars ; only a total empathy with the “other side”.
I should point out that it was I who uncovered this second message in the Presidential Archives in Ankara, but to my great dismay Mr. Özakıncı used this in his articles in a totally distorted and confusing context.
In concluding, a few words on Kemal Atatürk himself : Although he was educated to be a military officer, and spent a considerable time of his life on the battlefield, he was basically a man of peace. He detested wars. “Unless the very existence of a nation is threatened, war is a crime” he once said. And those fine words have been inscribed on the walls of his mausoleum in Ankara. Not only did he say this, but he remained faithful to what he said all through his life following the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, which was a pinnacle of his achievements. In fact, when for example Germany, the other major loser of the WWI opted for a policy of revanchism, irredentism and outright expansionism soon after, Atatürk instead turned his attention to internal matters affecting the country and worked for the modernization of the new republic and its institutions. “Peace at home, Peace in the World” was his heartfelt motto which continues to remain as the guiding principle of the Turkish foreign policy today.
It is indeed a pity that under the pretext of “honest history”, a great disservice is being done to a great man and to a great history.


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