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TURKEY: Martinet

3 minute read

Modern Turkey last week lost her foremost social and political architect. In Istanbul’s white-domed alabaster Dolma-baghche Palace, in other days the home of sultans and califs, President Kamal Atatürk, long ill, died of cirrhosis of the liver. Beside his death bed wept his sister and two of his most intimate friends: Ali Fethi Okyar, Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s who had stood faithfully by the Grey Wolf’s side when Atatürk was waging a desperate uphill battle to save Turkey from dismemberment after the World War; and Sabiha Gökgen, one of his five adopted daughters, who is a Turkish Air Force pilot.* One grief-stricken friend. Salih Bozuk, put a pistol to his head, critically wounded himself.

Public dancing, which the Father of All Turks had introduced enthusiastically as a part of his Westernization program, was canceled in Turkey on the night the President died, and nowhere could one buy raki, the anisette drink which Atatürk often guzzled for hours on end. Istanbul burst out with such a display of the red-with-white-crescent Turkish flags that although all were at half mast, they made the city look en fete instead of in grief, and the Government asked that all flags except those on public buildings be withdrawn.

Veteran of the modern world’s strong men, once called by Britain’s Lord Balfour the “most terrible of all the terrible Turks,” Atatürk nevertheless left his country with all the forms of democracy intact. To those who looked last week at Turkey as the first real test of what happens when a dictator dies, the answer could be given that Atatürk, admirer of parliamentary government, was not a dictator in the same sense as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Those democratic forms which Atatürk nurtured functioned well last week. For a day Abdulhalik Renda, president of the Grand National Assembly, was provisional president. Next day the Assembly elected deaf, 60-year-old General Ismet Inönü, long Turkey’s No. 2 strong man, for a four-year presidential term. It was constitutional procedure.

In 1935, when it was decreed that all Turks must have a last name, General Ismet Pasha took his from the Battle of Inönü, in 1921, in which he commanded the Turkish troops who routed the Greeks. Prime Minister for twelve years, Ismet Inönü was often called a martinet, is regarded as a brilliant, stubborn bureaucrat. As chaste in his personal life as Atatürk was lecherous, he is violently nationalist. He represented Turkey at two crucial international conferences at Lausanne and Montreux, getting for Turkey virtually all she wanted. French and British statesmen railed at him but the louder their demands, the deafer Ismet Pasha became. A year ago he was forced out of the Prime Minister’s office. Some said he was too pro-Russian for Ataturk. The true reason was probably mutual irritation despite mutual respect.

*Many used to sneer that the adopted-daughter system was Atatürk’s method of keeping a harem after he had abolished outright polygamy. Atatürk’s daughters, however, were invariably plain girls. The Ghazi, not particular in his choice of women, preferred painted cheeks and lips. By giving talented young women the protection of his name he could set them to work safely on jobs never before attempted by a Turkish woman and thus symbolize women’s new freedom.

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