Conflicts and the Turkish War of Independence
Beginning in 1919, the Turkish War of Independence was a series of conflicts led by the Turkish nationalists in retaliation to the occupation and partition of former parts of the Ottoman Empire. These nationalists led campaigns against powers such as Britain, France, and Greece, and it was during these conflicts that Mustafa Kemal became the leader of the Turkish nationalist resistance. Many of the documents in our content set offered reports on the movements and locations of Kemal and the nationalists, helping us to track the development of the Turkish War of Independence that helped lead to the creation of the Republic.
The first document in our content set is an article from The Western Times, on July 4, 1919, called Trouble Brewing.1 Though the article begins by hinting at the evolving disagreements between Mustafa Kemal and Sultan Mehmed VI, it later alludes to one of the causes of the Turkish War of Independence – British occupation and interference in Turkish affairs. This is evident when the article states that nationalists had gained support from “Shieks” who agreed they would “resist the British in order to remain under Turkish Sovereignty”.2
The beginnings of the movement and progress for Mustafa Kemal’s campaigns can be seen in an article from The Times in October 1919.3 The article allows us to follow Kemal, highlighting how he had “usurped power in many parts of Anatolia”. After being outlawed by the Cabinet earlier in the year, Kemal “seized power in the Eastern Provinces”, establishing himself “within 40 miles of Constantinople at Ismid”.4
The next article that offers insight into the developments of the Turkish War of Independence comes from the Gloucester Journal on March 13th, 1920.5 This article again signposts where struggles with the Allied powers occurred, covering the conflicts between the nationalists and the French in Marash, and the Allied occupation of Constantinople in response.6
Though newspaper articles comprise most of our content set, the Turkish War of Independence was also mentioned amongst decrypts of intercepted diplomatic communications, often highlighting where nationalist opposition could be found. One example from March 1920 shows how the Greeks were found in Smyrna, and the French in Cilicia – where the Cilicia Campaign, or Franco-Turkish War, occurred.7
Another example from April 1920 includes a decrypt titled “Alleged secret agreements in Turkey” and states that possible agreements were being made between Bulgaria and the Turkish nationalists to help drive out Greeks who were also occupying a region of Thrace.8 Not only does this highlight the importance of Thrace in the nationalist campaigns, but the decrypt also states that the author believed this scheme, alongside one between Kemal and Azerbaijan, attempted to oppose the “probable Allied partition of TURKEY”.9
Finally, it is in an article from The Times in September 1922, that one can find comments on the Turkish nationalists reoccupying Smyrna and achieving several more victories.10
Atatürk and the Nationalists’ Demands
From the sources detailing the developments during the Turkish War of Independence we can identify hints of the main aims Atatürk and the nationalists had. However, many other sources in our content set offer more in-depth insight into their demands – such as an article titled “Outlawed Turks” from The Times in August 1919.11 Here, it mentions that the current Turkish Government’s “readiness to accept technical, scientific, and administrative assistance from a foreign Power” was denounced, as the nationalists believed that a government which allowed foreign intervention did not represent “national aspirations”.12 Permitting interference from foreign powers not only opposed nationalist desires for independence, but also could be seen to support the treaties imposed against the Ottoman Empire after World War One that were criticised for their severity. A call for a “new and representative Chamber” to be elected is suggested in response.13
A month later, another article featured in The Times under a section of “Imperial and Foreign News Items”, provides further insight into Atatürk’s aims for the Turkish government to be run by nationalists who represented the desire for Turkish independence, calling for the current government’s “immediate resignation”.14 This article offers the first real mention of Kemal’s threat to “declare an independent Anatolian Republic” with himself as President if they did not meet his demands.15
Supposedly based on a telegram from Mustafa Kemal, we see again in The Times of Atatürk’s aims for Turkey in January 1922.16 These demands are now forwarded as “peace terms” and reaffirm again that the nationalists are seeking “the recognition of the complete independence, political and economic, of Turkey within the national frontiers”.17 One of the main issues this article takes with these demands is the lack of input Turkey wishes from other powers on “the settlement of the Straits question”, an issue that previous articles have highlighted was causing much contestation.18
A later article in September that relays an interview between Atatürk and John Clayton in The Daily Telegraph furthers these demands, highlighting that Kemal wants “real independence over all Turkish lands”, specifically mentioning “Constantinople, Adrianople, and that part of Thrace which is predominantly Turkish”.19
Just over a week later, we can find an article from The New York Herald that suggests the Allies planned to accept the terms that Atatürk and the nationalists had requested, which included “Adrianople and Thrace as far as the Maritza river, the withdrawal of every Allied soldier from Constantinople and the sovereignty of the Straits”.20
Another demand we found amongst our sources was in relation to the Sultan. In February 1921, in The Times, we see the first mention of the removal of the Sultan’s power as one of Atatürk’s aims, which suggests that Atatürk was proposing to “abolish the temporal authority of the Sultan and relegate him in his spiritual capacity as Khalif”.21
The desire to reduce the power of the Sultan is highlighted again in another article from The Times in October 1922.22 Here, it is noted that the nationalists wished for the Sultan to be “deprived of temporal power”, calling the mixing of the Sultan’s spiritual and temporal power in the past a “grave political error”.23
One reason behind the opposition to the Sultan’s rule can be inferred from an article in The Daily Telegraph in November 1922, where Kemal denounced how “The Government of the Sultan himself had accepted the conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres, which put an end to the independence of Turkey”, likening this action to the Sultan and his government committing “suicide”.24 It was the Treaty of Sèvres, a pact made between the victorious Allied powers and representatives of the government of Ottoman Turkey after World War One which sought to separate Ottoman territories, that helped to spark the Turkish War of Independence.
Reactions to Atatürk and the nationalists
As mentioned previously, due to many of the primary sources in this content set being of British, US, and Western European origin, the portrayal and reaction to Atatürk, the Turkish War of Independence, and the founding of the Republic, must be considered through their Allied influence. From the sources we have investigated, we can identify opposition from the Allies, especially the British, against the actions of Atatürk and the nationalists, and that Allied interference was a motivation behind the Turkish campaign for independence.
One example of opposition to Atatürk and the nationalists comes from an article in The Times in June 1920, which describes Atatürk as “the head of an insurgent body which shoots political prisoners daily and has inspired one very successful massacre at Marash and several minor horrors in Cilicia”, linking him strongly, and frightfully, to the violence associated with the military campaigns.25
Nevertheless, one of the more evident reactions offered by our sources was fear – several articles expressed worries about the prospect of further war for Britain after the devastation of World War One. One such example is from the Sunday Mirror in March 1920, titled “Are We Drifting into Another War?”.26 Though its tone isn’t sympathetic towards Kemal and the nationalists, the paper is clearly aware of the impact the conflict could have on the world, and encourages the Allies to avoid any “extremes” and “give the Turks a better position in Asia Minor” in order to avoid being dragged into further war.27 The way that the article concludes by admitting that the “Allied nations are weary of war” emphasises the fear of war still scarring the continent since World War One.28
This fearful tone is still evident in September 1922, in an article from The Courier titled “War Menace Growing in near East”.29 This language creates an anxious picture of a possible imminent war, suggesting that “war with Turkey comes measurably nearer” and that the Near East was close to being set “ablaze” in the struggle for Straits independence.30 Although the article does not appear to support Kemal and even puts the chance of war on his decision, there are criticisms towards the British government’s actions, unlike in previous articles. For example, it states that “the British people have never approved Mr Lloyd George’s pro-Greek policy”.31
The Creation of the Republic of Turkey
The first reports of the founding of the Republic of Turkey can be found in the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the Daily Mail Atlantic Edition on the 31st October, 1923, just two days after the event.32 Both articles state that Atatürk was “unanimously” elected President by the government, and the Aberdeen Press and Journal further details “illuminations and a display of bunting” being used by the “enthusiastic population” to celebrate, despite labelling some support in Constantinople as “fictitious”.33
Again, reports of the creation of the Republic of Turkey and the “unanimous” election of Atatürk as President continued to be reported into November, including in The Western Gazette, albeit in a small article amongst many others.34
Another article in November from the Aberdeen Press and Journal takes a more critical approach to its report on the Republic of Turkey this time, which it describes as being created under the “masterful dictatorship of Mustapha Kemal Pasha”.35 The article suggests that issues were still occurring in the region despite the achievement of independence, such as “massacres in Armenia” and rigged voting systems, fuelling the claims of Kemal’s “dictatorship”.36 This appears to continue the non-celebratory line other articles have taken, possibly owing to their Western publications’ political stances. However, despite the critical tone towards Kemal and the Republic, this article does imply that progress is possible in the Republic and recognises the achievements of the nationalists by deeming that “Turkey is free, with an ardent and experienced Nationalist and reformer to guide her”.37
The Legacy of Atatürk, and President Erdoğan
Atatürk remained the President of the Republic until his death in 1938. Turkey’s current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, became Prime Minister in 2003 before becoming the first popularly elected president in 2014. When exploring our content set for discussions of the legacy of Atatürk, several documents discussed such in juxtaposition with Erdoğan’s current presidency, with some even suggesting that Atatürk’s legacy was beginning to “unravel” under Erdoğan.38
An article from the International Herald Tribune on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic offers the first hint as to where some believed the newly elected Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Erdoğan, contrasted with Atatürk’s legacy.39 The article states that Atatürk made “secularism a cornerstone of the new republic”, in his efforts to modernize and reform the country when he became President.40 However, the paper describes AKP as having “religious roots”, and critics that worried the party might “threaten the secular principles of the republic”.41 Nevertheless, the article does not imply any further tension related to this issue, going on to discuss the positive changes made by the AKP and improvements that were needed.
Still, these contrasting opinions over the role of religion are also mentioned in another article from the International Herald Tribune in 2007, which positions its analysis under the question, “What would Atatürk, founder of the country, think or say?”.42The article begins by stating that Turkey is “poised to join Europe”, acknowledging that this achievement of the AKP has helped Turkey towards the “fulfilment of Atatürk’s vision”.43 However, the article also notes how Atatürk’s secular reforms “settled deeply” into Turkish society even after his death and that the AKP’s “Islamist roots” have led to concerns and rallies over Turkey’s secular future despite a member of the European Parliament suggesting that the AKP had forwarded EU negotiations further than previous parties of secular elites would have.44
The question of Atatürk’s legacy is again pitted against Erdoğan partly under the frame of religion in The Economist in 2015. In this article, Erdoğan’s desire for Turkey to become a place “where Sunni Islam prevails and the glories of the old empire are revived”, is discussed, interestingly contrasting against the aims of Atatürk we found amongst articles over ninety years before.45
Whilst previous articles have emphasised a clear narrative of comparing Erdoğan’s government with the achievements and aims of Atatürk’s, an article from The Times in 2017 highlights the physical decline of Atatürk’s legacy under Erdoğan.46 According to accounts from Atatürk’s living relatives, the founding father of the Republic “is being removed from everything – school, books, coins”, whilst compulsory classes on how Erdoğan “crushed the military revolt” were being introduced.47 Furthermore, after the failed military coup against Erdoğan in 2016, a banner of Atatürk in Taksim Square, Istanbul, was removed and “hastily replaced” with an image of Erdoğan instead.48
Moreover, in an article from The Times in 2019, which discusses the national commemorations in Turkey for the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, it is stated that Atatürk is seen as the “only man who still rivals” the current President’s power in Turkey, evidenced by this day where soldiers “saluted Atatürk, not Erdoğan”.49 Yet, the celebration Erdoğan received in Turkey was not small, especially considering that on a day devoted to Atatürk and “designed to humble any living Turkish leader”, Erdoğan left the sarcophagus hall where Atatürk’s body lay to be welcomed by a “chorus” from a crowd cheering their President’s name.50
These later articles highlight a clear shift in the portrayal of Atatürk since the Turkish War of Independence. Where he was once discussed by the Western press in relation to war crimes and linked to a fear of further world wars, Atatürk later becomes a symbol of a successful modern Turkey, revered and celebrated decades after his death.