94th Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

24 July. You probably won’t read much about it in media elsewhere, but it’s a pretty important date in Turkey – and possibly one of the reasons Western powers have a long-standing grudge against Turks. I’m publishing a few extracts from other sources on the subject:

The Turkish Coalition of America

Greek invasion

Jubilant Smyrniots welcome the Greeks with garlands, flags and a picture of Premier Venizelos, May 1919.

“The Treaty of Lausanne followed the signing of the Armistice at Mudanya on October 11, 1922, after decisive victories by Turkish national forces led by Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk). Britain was forced to lift its occupation of Istanbul and the Turkish straits and call for a peace conference following the final defeat of Greek forces, which invaded Anatolia as Britain’s surrogates, and as occupying Italian and French forces decidedly moved toward non-confrontation with the Turkish national resistance movement.

Countries represented at the peace talks were Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Serbo-Croatia. Russia, Belgium, and Portugal entered the treaty negotiations at later stages to discuss the status of the Turkish straits and financial matters concerning the defunct Ottoman Empire. The Unites States attended the treaty negotiations as an observer.

The Turkish War of National Liberation, fought against the most powerful imperial states of the time, culminated in a military and diplomatic victory for the Turkish people who achieved full independence and sovereignty at Lausanne. This victory would serve as a source of inspiration for several nations in their struggles against Western imperialism and independence for many years to come.” 

Daily Sabah (English language news source published in Turkey)

“Signed on July 24, 1923 in Switzerland’s Lausanne, the treaty officially ended hostilities between the Allies and the Turkish state led by the Grand National Assembly and marked Turkey’s current borders with the exceptions of Hatay, which joined Turkey from Syria in 1939, and the border with Iraq, which was a British mandate at the time.

Sevres map

Turkey, if not for its War of Liberation and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne

It also reversed the extensive losses of Turkish-inhabited territories that were laid out in the Sevres Treaty, forced upon the Ottoman Empire by Allied powers.

The Treaty of Lausanne also put an end to the centuries-long economic concessions granted by the Ottoman Empire to European powers.”

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Great Speech to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly in 1927

“Gentlemen, I  don’t think it is necessary any  further to compare the principles underlying the Lausanne Peace Treaty with other proposals for peace.  This treaty, is a document declaring that all efforts, prepared over centuries, and thought to have been accomplished through the SEVRES Treaty to crush the Turkish nation have been in vain.  It is a diplomatic victory unheard of in Ottoman history!

Encyclopedia.com

“Defeat in World War I resulted in a harsh peace treaty for the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) stripped Turkey of all its European territory except for a small area around Constantinople (now Istanbul); demilitarized the straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas, opened them to ships of all nations, and placed them under an international commission; established an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan in eastern Anatolia; turned over the region around İzmir to the Greeks; restored the capitulations; and placed Turkish finances under foreign control. By separate agreement, some parts of Turkey left to the Turks were assigned to France and Italy as spheres of influence.

Unlike the other nations on the losing side in World War I, Turkey was able to renegotiate its treaty terms. This was the result of the decline of the sultan’s power, the rise of the nationalists under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the defeat of the Greeks’ attempt to expand their power in Turkey.

The Allied powers restored Constantinople and the straits to Turkish authority and called for a peace convention to renegotiate the terms laid down at Sèvres. [In a typical attempt to divide Turks against each other] the Allies invited both of the contesting powers in Turkeythe sultan’s government and the nationalists under Kemalto a conference at Lausanne, Switzerland. This precipitated Kemal’s decision to separate the positions of sultan and caliph, abolishing the former, exiling Mehmet VI and giving the residual powers of caliph to his cousin, Abdülmecit II. Thus, when the conference at Lausanne began in November 1922, Kemal’s Ankara government was the sole representative of Turkey.” 

As an interesting aside, I found this brief piece on a website calling itself historycentral.com:

“After an unsuccessful military campaign [sic!] against the Greeks, Turkey concluded a peace treaty with the allies. Under the terms of the agreement Turkey gave up all claim to non-Turkish territories lost in the course of World War I. It recovered however, Eastern Thrace. In the Aegean it received [sic!] Imbros and Tenedos, but the rest of the islands went to Greece [as a result of some submarine seismic activity?]. Turkey paid no reparations. The Straits of Dardenelles were demilitarized and open to all ships in time of peace and all neutral ships in a time of war.”

I’ve corrected the several spelling errors – and left the other nonsense to speak for itself. When it comes to “history”, there may be more than one version of the same events. Be careful which one you choose to believe!

the-treaty-of-lausanneTranslation of the French:

The Lausanne Conference

For Peace in the Near East [still waiting for that!]

At the Chateau d’Ouchy

From 15 November 1922 to 28 July 1923 [What’s with those Roman numerals?]

The United States of America, the British Empire, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Turkey, the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia [What happened to that one?], Bulgaria and Russia participated in the work of the conference which led to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne

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An Important Day for Turkey

19 May is one of the most important national holidays in the Republic of Turkey. It commemorates the day in 1919 when Mustafa Kemal set sail from the occupied Ottoman capital, Istanbul, to the Black Sea port of Samsun. That day is taken as the beginning of the national struggle to assert Turkey’s independence against imperial forces bent on dividing its territory and subjugating its people.

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Kadıköy Council’s planned programme for 19 May

After a four-year struggle, the new Republic was founded in 1923. Mustafa Kemal became its first President, subsequently acquiring the honorific “Atatürk” after a law was passed requiring all citizens to adopt a surname.

More Propaganda!

In our newspaper today, among large advertisements inserted by commercial enterprises keen to demonstrate their loyal attachment to the founder of the Republic, was one paid for by the Beşiktaş Borough Council, announcing that the government had forced them to cancel their planned celebration of the day. The ad featured shadowy silhouettes of ordinary citizens, children, elderly and wheelchair-bound going about their business behind bars. I assume the implication was that you never know in Turkey these days when you will be arrested. I have been hearing the same from other people in our social and work circles – commemorating Atatürk’s achievements and celebrating national events has been banned by the AKP government.

So I did a little search online, and I found the following:

Kadıköy’de 19 Mayıs Coşkusuyla Kutlanacak – 19 May will be joyously celebrated in Kadıköy

kadikoyde-19-mayis-coskusu-2As it does every year Kadıköy City Council is organising celebrations on May 19 Youth and Sports Day. The Council has prepared a magnificent program featuring everything from sport to music.

The program includes a 12-km Bicycle Tour, an evening rock concert with popular musicians and a DJ dance. A variety of sports events will be staged including women’s rugby and lacrosse matches, a frisbee competition and a skateboarding performance.

A shuttle bus service will be put on free of charge to transport festival-goers to the various venues.

Reports in other Turkish sources:

http://www.kadikoylife.com/kadikoyde-19-mayis-coskusu-2/

http://www.milliyet.com.tr/kadikoy-de-19-mayis-coskusu-tum-gun-istanbul-yerelhaber-2041710/

And one in English:

Turkey marks Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day

Turkey will celebrate Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day on May 19, with various events planned in the capital Ankara and around the country.

anitkabir-toren-celenk-3In Ankara, official ceremonies will be held in parliament and Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Atatürk. The ceremonies will continue today in the city, with the Turkish Air Force’s aerobatic demonstration team, the Turkish Stars, set to perform an air show at 4 p.m. There will also be a flag parade at 6:30 p.m. in which a 1,919-meter-long Turkish flag will be carried by the participants.

Meanwhile, police detained seven of nine suspected members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in four cities yesterday for “planning a sensational attack” on the May 19 ceremonies.

So who to believe? The sad fact is that Turkey is located in a dangerous part of the world. It has borders with Iraq (in state of lawless chaos since George W Bush destroyed most of its infrastructure in 2003); Syria (where a vicious civil war has been going on since 2011); and Iran, not to mention several other problematic neighbours.

There has been a state of emergency in force since a violent military-sponsored coup attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government in July 2016. My people at the NZ Embassy in Ankara send me frequent warnings about the dangers of terrorist attacks and the risks of living and traveling in Turkey.

In spite of this, most of us in Turkey continue to go about our lawful business confidently in safety and security, without noticing any oppressive signs of military or police heavy-handedness.

Milli Bayramınız Kutlu Olsun!

Turkey: Turkish delights

Well, knock me over with a feather! I have receiving regular dire warnings from my countryfolk at the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara advising me to stay away from Turkey in general, and Istanbul (where I have been living safely and happily for more than 15 years) in particular. So, credit where credit is due, I want to share with you this article that appeared in the NZ Herald today, 25 April.

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Pretty magnanimous words, don’t you think?

The day is significant because hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders are currently in Turkey to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign when our grandfathers, loyally following orders from their British Imperial masters, invaded the Ottoman Empire and spent eight months doing their best to kill its young men and capture its capital, Istanbul.

As happens every year, local people are extending customary hospitality to their former enemies, and local authorities providing security to ensure commemoration services proceed in comfort and safety.

Read Ms Wade’s article. Once you get past her opening remarks about a young man’s traditional circumcision operation, you’ll find that she and her fellow tourists had “an unforgettable . . . wonderful time.”

 

Beyond the war graves and remembrance is a vibrant land with a rich history, writes Pamela Wade.

Apr 25, 2017

It’s not the sort of thing you’d share with strangers, but after 10 days together and over 2500km of travel in a grand circuit around Turkey, we all felt like friends. There were 39 of us, Kiwis and Aussies, on this Insight Vacations tour and although it was the Gallipoli centenary and Anzac Day services that had brought us all together, the bulk of our time was spent exploring an older history.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Tour director Barcin has a university education that gives him an effortless command of not only the seven complicated centuries of the Ottoman Empire, but thousands of years of Greek and Roman history before that.

Literally thousands: five, in fact, at Troy, where nine levels of settlement have been excavated down to its beginnings in 3000BC. Wandering around the site, past walls, ditches, foundations, columns both standing and tumbled, and a theatre of tiered seats, the age of the place was hard to grasp, despite Barcin’s best efforts. What was obvious, however, was the sheer beauty of the ancient stone, softened by feathery fennel and bright red poppies against a background of the distant Dardanelles.

NZH0557501646

Photo: NZ Herald

Some on the tour were deeply into history and the literary and religious connections, and everyone was impressed at Ephesus to be walking on polished marble pavers once trodden by Cleopatra, Mark Anthony and St Paul. For many of us, however, the visits to such sites, including Pergamon and Assos, were more about appreciating what remains rather than studying their origins. Pictures rather than words, perhaps, and no less legitimate for that. After listening to the explanations about what we were seeing – temples to Athena, Artemis, Dionysus, a towering library, a 10,000-seat theatre on a steep hillside, Roman baths, an Acropolis, the home of modern medicine, statues and so much more – the temptation was irresistible to use it all as the most glorious photoshoot ever.

The tour isn’t all archaeology, legend and history. There was shopping, too. Astute stall-holders, knowing their market, shouted “Kiwi! Cheaper than The Warehouse!” as we walked past; others went for flattery: “Beautiful rugs! Like you!” or pathos: “We have everything but customers.

Few, in the end, held out against the pretty scarves, the “genuine fake watches”, the evil eye pendants or the tapestry bags; but the serious shoppers waited for the visits to the factories. Fabulous fine lamb’s leather made into truly stylish jackets displayed in a catwalk fashion show; dozens of colourful wool and silk rugs unrolled with a flourish as we drank perilously strong raki; gorgeous decorated plates at a pottery visit that began with a mesmerising kick-wheel demonstration.

turkeyruins_620x310

Photo: NZ Herald

Then there was the culture: an evening of traditional dance in an underground theatre began deceptively low-key, but wound up to an exciting climax that sent us away buzzing. We saw real Whirling Dervishes spinning unfathomably long and fast; and met a friendly lady who lives in a house burrowed into the rock, where Helen Clark’s signed portrait hangs (at least during our visit) in pride of place.

This was at Cappadocia, the scenic high point for most of us, which is saying something in this country of bays and beaches, forests and farmland, white terraces and snow-capped volcanoes. Pillars of sculpted tufa capped by gravity-defying slabs of basalt make for a fantasy landscape, and to see it in low sun as a hundred hot-air balloons float overhead is unforgettable.

Actually, it was all unforgettable: Gallipoli, the poppies and tulips, the cats, the food, the friendly people. There were mosques, markets and museums; a cruise, calligraphy and coloured glass lamps; sacks of spices, pyramids of Turkish delight, tiny cups of atrocious coffee. I had a wonderful time.

93rd Anniversary of the Republic of Turkey

Cumhuriyet Bayramınız kutlu olsun!

To commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the official founding of the Republic of Turkey, I’m passing on this piece posted on the Turkish Coalition of America website:

unnamedOn October 29, 1923, the newly recognized Turkish parliament proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, formally marking the end of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day, Mustafa Kemal, who led the Turkish National War of Liberation and was later named Atatürk (father of Turks), was unanimously elected as the first president of the Republic.

Turkey had effectively been a republic from April 23, 1920 when the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated in Ankara. When the Turkish parliament held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the crumbling Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, the nationwide resistance movement gained momentum. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolution of the Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal’s justification for opening the resistance movement’s new legislative body was created.

With the opening of the Assembly, Ankara became the center of the Turkish national struggle for liberation. The National War of Liberation culminated in the emancipation of Anatolia from foreign occupation, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and finally, the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. October 29, or Republic Day, is an official Turkish holiday celebrated each year across Turkey and by peoples of Turkish heritage worldwide.

Following the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked on a wide-ranging set of reforms in the political, economic and cultural aspects of Turkish society. These reforms have left a lasting legacy of which the peoples of Turkish heritage are proud: the conversion of the newly founded Republic into today’s modern, democratic and secular Turkish state.

The 93rd Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

This post was published by the Turkish Coalition of America to commemorate the treaty signed in Lausanne on June 24, 1923 that gave international recognition to the modern Republic of Turkey.

“TCA celebrates the 93rd anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the boundaries of the modern state of Turkey. This international treaty was signed on July 24, 1923 and shortly thereafter, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on October 29.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Fotoðraf ve Objeler

Legislative Assembly of the new Republic of Turkey

The Treaty of Lausanne followed the signing of the Armistice at Mudanya on October 11, 1922, after decisive victories by Turkish national forces led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Britain was forced to lift its occupation of Istanbul and the Turkish straits and to call for a peace conference in the face of the final defeat of Greek forces, who invaded Anatolia as Britain’s surrogates, and with the occupying Italian and French forces decidedly moving toward non-confrontation with the Turkish national resistance movement.

The Turkish delegation to Lausanne was led by Ismet Inonu, the victorious commander of the final battles that led to the peace negotiations. Countries represented at the peace talks included Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Serbo-Croatia. Russia, Belgium and Portugal entered the treaty negotiations at later stages to discuss the status of the Turkish straits and financial matters concerning the defunct Ottoman Empire. The United States attended the treaty negotiations as an observer.

Cheering the victory

Citizens of the new Republic celebrating their victory

The negotiations began on November 21, 1922 and lasted over eight months. Turkey’s main concern was to achieve recognition of its borders as defined in its National Pact of 1920, gain control over the Turkish straits and end the economic concessions and privileges (capitulations) conferred to some European states. At the end of the conference, the Turkish borders gained international recognition with special provisions placed on Iskenderun and Mosul. The status of Iskenderun was later determined by a local referendum and the province legally joined Turkey’s borders on June 23, 1939. Mosul remained outside of Turkey’s borders and subsequently became part of Iraq. Turkey also gained control of the straits with special provisions to regulate international commercial traffic and rights by the Black Sea littoral countries, which were later codified by the Montreux Treaty on July 20, 1936. Finally, capitulations were abolished.

The Turkish War of National Liberation, fought against the most powerful imperial states of the time, culminated in a military and diplomatic victory for the Turkish people who achieved full independence and sovereignty at Lausanne. For many years to come, this victory would serve as a source of inspiration for several nations in their struggles against Western imperialism and independence.”

The Sykes-Picot Agreement -Who’s to blame?

This Thursday, May 19, will mark one hundred years since the concluding of an agreement signed in secret by the three Entente Powers in the First World War. Britain, France and Czarist Russia, anticipating victory and the final demise of the Ottoman Empire, drew up a document carving up the Ottoman domains and divvying them up amongst themselves.

Mark_Sykes00

Colonel Sykes

When the victorious Bolsheviks made the agreement public after the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was something of an embarrassment for the British and French governments. Nevertheless, they went ahead with their plans, and the post-war Treaty of Sevres was an attempt to implement the provisions determined by Mr Sykes and M. Picot.

There is a debate going on in Western media at present over the extent to which those two gentlemen are to blame for the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. There seems to be a significant body of opinion on the affirmative side, arguing that the post-WWI division of Ottoman territory was based on self-interest, without regard for on-the-ground realities. The result, they say, was the current national borders that pay little or no attention to the ethnic and religious composition of the local people. This is one of the key wrongs that the ISIS/Daesh people claim they want to set right.

On their part, the opposition play down the importance of Sykes-Picot on the grounds that: A. It was never fully implemented; B. Messrs Sykes and Picot didn’t really know what they were doing; and C. Hatreds and conflicts in the region go back millennia. Implicit in this position is the argument that the Western allies should not be held responsible for Middle Eastern chaos.

So who’s right? As usual, there are elements of truth on both sides, but neither adhere to the legal principle of ‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’

François_Georges-Picot

Monsieur Picot

First of all, there can be little doubt that Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes, Baronet, and François Marie Denis Georges-Picot were acting on the authority of their respective governments. You can’t weasel your way out of that, guys.

Second, while it is true that the Sykes-Picot agreement was not implemented in full, it wasn’t for want of trying by the French and British governments. The 1918 Mudros Armistice that ended WWI hostilities was followed by occupation of the Ottoman capital Istanbul, and military invasion of Izmir and the Anatolian Aegean region by Greece. The 1920 San Remo Conference and the subsequent Treaty of Sevres pretty much followed the Sykes-Picot formula.

The fly in the ointment was Mustafa Kemal Pasha, later Atatürk, who led his Turkish nationalist forces to victory, expelling the Greek army from Anatolia, liberating Istanbul from enemy occupation, and establishing the Republic of Turkey. The 1924 Treaty of Lausanne obliged the 1915 conspirators to except the Anatolian heartland from their plans. Nevertheless, boundaries in the rest of the Middle East were redrawn more or less according to Sykes-Picot. Britain and France got their imperial ‘spheres of influence’, established puppet local governments, and laid the groundwork for the Zionist state of Israel – the main stumbling block to peace in the region.

83-59

The fly in the ointment

As for the claim (said to have been uttered by US President Obama) that regional hatreds and conflicts ‘date back millennia’, this is, at best, a blurring of the truth with ambiguous words. It may be that Biblical conflicts were fought two thousand years ago – but the Pax Romana enforced a peace that lasted pretty much until the oil age that began around the beginning of the 20th century. The creation of Israel in 1947 established a Jewish state that had not existed in any form for 1,815 years. Various Islamic empires controlled the Middle East, North Africa and even Spain for much of the time from the 7th century to the 20th. Admittedly control was established initially by conquest, but thereafter, citizens were allowed to follow their own religions and speak their own languages. The current mix of religions and cultures in the Middle East is surely testament to this.

Of course, it is unfair to lay the blame for present conflicts on two imperial civil servants. Debate over the role of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is surely a red herring. Blame clearly rests with the imperial governments of Britain, France and Russia, who used their military and economic power to force their will on helpless and trusting people – and the emergent United States Empire that continued (and continues) that legacy into the 21st century.

Sebastian Martyrs and the Cult of Atatürk

October and November are big months in modern Turkey. Three important dates in the history of the Republic are commemorated:

  • 6 October – The liberation of Istanbul
  • 29 October – The foundation of the Republic
  • 10 November – The anniversary of the death of the founding president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

I’ve been in this country long enough to have witnessed a few annual returns of these dates, and it seems to me that of late the celebrations have become somewhat muted. Possibly that’s understandable. The elitist old guard have taken a bit of a beating in recent years from the new political kid on the block, the Justice and Development Party. The AKP, to use its Turkish initials, ‘Islamic-rooted’ as the foreign press persistently tells us, has been governing the country since 2003. Despite vociferous opposition from the left, right and centre of the traditional political spectrum, the AKP has won majorities in five parliamentary elections, and succeeded in having its candidate elected president in the first general election ever held for that position.

The country’s military leaders, long-established protectors of the sanctity of the constitution (which they wrote), have been nudged back to the more conventional role of defending the state from outside threats. Middle-aged social mediaholics, prefacing their Facebook profile names with the initials TC (for Turkish Republic) are convinced that the country is plunging headlong into a dark medieval night of alcohol prohibition, judicial beheadings and compulsory black burqas for women. You can understand their despair, given their total inability to make an impact at the ballot box.

sivas_turkiye_haritasinda_yeri_nerede

Location of Sivas province

As for me, I’m an optimist. Foreign visitors to Turkey have long been puzzled by the seemingly idolatrous adulation accorded to statues, photographs and death masks of the nation’s founder. I, at least, have read enough about Atatürk’s achievements to sympathise with the veneration accorded him. In a nutshell, if it hadn’t been for Mustafa Kemal Pasha, no country remotely resembling the modern nation of Turkey would exist today.

I do feel, however, that the time is right for authorities to lay aside the conventional blind adoration and work towards a realistic appraisal of Atatürk the man. While this may require some acceptance of his human failings, it will, I am convinced, result in a more profound appreciation of the mental and moral strength required to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against his people in those days.

I worked in a school for some years whose commitment to secular Kemalism would rank among the more dedicated. From the day they entered our doors, pupils were drilled in the minutest details of the great man’s life, the colour of his eyes (piercing blue), the names of his father, mother  and sister (Ali Rıza, Zübeyde and Makbule respectively), the colour of the family home in Salonika (pink); and encouraged to shed tears of grief at 9.05 am every 10th of November. By the time they reached high school, it was difficult to get them to attend school ceremonies on those most sacred days in the Republican calendar. Most of them had had enough. Which struck me as sad.

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

Another thing that struck me as sad – and somewhat surprising in view of the school’s dedication to the lore of secular republicanism, was how many of my students thought that the Liberation of Istanbul had something to do with the conquest of Byzantine Constantinople by the 15th century Sultan, Mehmet II. Very few seemed to be aware that, after leading the army of National Salvation to victory against the invading Greeks, and driving them out of Izmir, Mustafa Kemal turned his troops northwards towards Istanbul, faced down the threat of war with the mighty British Empire, and watched the invaders leave as they had come, without firing a shot. The disgrace to Great Britain actually led to the collapse of David Lloyd George’s government and Winston Churchill’s (temporary) exile to the political wilderness. Whether Kemal Pasha’s eyes were blue, brown or bloodshot red, you’d think that would be something worth telling kids about.

29 October was the date in 1923 when the newly established parliament of Turkey proclaimed the foundation of the Republic. It has enormous symbolic importance, and is celebrated annually as Turkey’s equivalent of America’s 4th, and France’s 14th of July. As an actual historical event, however, the proclamation was a formal acknowledgement of a situation that had already existed for over three years. The nation’s Republican parliament (Millet Meclisi) had been inaugurated on 23 April 1920, in the new capital city of Ankara. Nevertheless, Turkey without Istanbul would be inconceivable, and one might argue, therefore, that winning that city back from the armies of occupation was an event of unparalleled significance.

Undoubtedly the fledgling Republic of Turkey suffered a great loss when its first President passed away on 10 November 1938. On the other hand, they were lucky to get him at all. Few nations in the world have been blessed with a leader whose multi-faceted genius encompassed military victories against fearsome odds, constitutional revolution, and statesmanship on the international stage. And of course, no one lives forever. Have you ever paused to consider what might have happened to Christianity if Jesus Christ had been allowed to see out his three score years and ten, instead of being martyred in the prime of life at the age of 33? Atatürk made it to 57, and it could be argued that his best years were behind him. How would he have dealt with the traumas of the Second World War, and pressure to give his people the vote? Possibly it’s for the best that we didn’t have to find out.

Sivas's famous kangal dog

Sivas’s famous kangal dog

It does seem to me though, that the outpourings of grief on anniversaries of his death, sincere though they may be, militate against a genuine appreciation of Atatürk’s outstanding achievements. Certainly he lives on in true Turkish hearts, and in that sense, is not actually dead – but the reality is that he’s not coming back. The Republic needs to move on, and to do that, 10 November provides an opportunity to give thanks for his life, and to begin evaluating, with a vision unclouded by tears of mourning, exactly what relevance his legacy has for Turkey in the 21st century.

Strange to say, my inspiration for this post did not actually come from any of those dates listed above. Last week there was a festival held in our new park by the seaside at Maltepe. Entitled ‘Sivas Günleri’, it was a celebration of the cultural identity of a region in central Anatolia east of Ankara. Sivas, its citizens driving cars whose number plates are prefixed with ‘58’, is, in area, the second-largest of Turkey’s 81 provinces, and one of the most sparsely populated.

It was a very Turkish festival. Two large marquees had been erected in the vast public square of the new park. The larger of the two housed displays of Sivas’s various districts, displaying local handcrafts and traditional costumes, and serving tea and snacks to mustachioed middle-aged and elderly gentlemen, one assumes hailing from those parts. There was also a central auditorium with a stage from which various minor dignitaries were holding forth about whatever these kind of guys like to hold forth about – with a rather sparse audience exhibiting scant interest in what they had to say.

Help yourself

Mouth-watering Sivas cuisine

The adjacent marquee held more appeal, not only for me, but for the crowds in attendance. It contained a number of restaurants serving Sivas cuisine, and stalls purveying local produce: honey, fresh and dried fruit and vegetables, and a marvellous variety of peculiarly Turkish delicacies. I bought a doll in traditional costume for my granddaughter, Kiri, and a packet of sweets made from hazel nut paste, which were a taste sensation! Then, since it was around lunchtime, and my salivary glands were in a state of high excitement, I allowed myself to be enticed by the sight of lamb carcasses rotating on spits over hot coals, and sat down to a meal of sırık kebab. Words cannot describe . . .

But what has this got to do with the Turkish Republic and its revered founder, I hear you ask. Well, Sivas, in contrast to its current relative insignificance, has a very colourful history. My sources tell me there was a Hittite settlement in the area as early as 2,600 BCE, though little is known about the town until the Roman general and political luminary, Pompey, founded the city he named Megalopolis, which later became Sebaste. You may be interested to learn, as I was, that the name ‘Sebastian’ derives from the Latin adjective meaning a citizen of that city.

Apparently Sebaste was quite a hive of early Christianity, back in the days when the Roman Empire was trying to stamp it out – and consequently is remembered for a number of martyrs, by churches that go in for that sort of thing. One particularly memorable event involved forty soldiers back in the 4th century who, to demonstrate the error of their ways, were exposed naked overnight on a frozen lake in the middle of winter. Well, nights can get pretty chilly out there on the Anatolian steppe at an altitude of around 1,500 metres, and there weren’t many signs of life the next morning; but to make certain, local authorities had the bodies burned and the ashes cast into a nearby river.

Sivas's 4th century 40 martyrs

Sivas’s 4th century 40 martyrs

Continuing the tradition of misfortune, Sebaste’s location at the eastern reaches of the Byzantine Empire exposed it to the earliest depredations of Turkic invaders in the 11th century. By the 12th century it had become Turkish to the extent that it served as one of the capitals of the Seljuk Empire, and in 1408, was incorporated into the expanding Ottoman dominions. In spite of Muslim conquest, however, Armenian and Orthodox Christian communities survived, with their churches, into the 20th century.

The Republican connection dates from September 1919. British and French armies had occupied the Ottoman capital Istanbul at the end of the First World War, and their governments began the process of dismembering the empire according to plans they had been making in secret for some years. The last straw for Turkish patriots was when a Greek army, sponsored by the victorious allies, landed in Izmir, intent on re-claiming their once extensive Byzantine territories.

There is some debate about the circumstances surrounding Mustafa Kemal’s departure from Istanbul and arrival in the Black Sea port of Samsun on 19 May 1919. Nevertheless, that date is recognised in modern Turkey as the beginning of the War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). He wasn’t alone, of course, but it was undoubtedly Kemal Pasha’s charisma that inspired his war-weary people to one further struggle. Two congresses were held, in Erzurum and Sivas, laying the groundwork for the forthcoming conflict, and these two cities are recognised as crucial in the foundation of the Republic.

Sivas has two other claims to fame. One is its status as the home of the kangal, a large breed of dog renowned as a guardian of livestock and villagers against wolves, bears and jackals.

The other, less honourable, is a shameful event that took place on 2 July, 1993. On that date, the city was the venue for a cultural festival attended by a gathering of artists, writers and intellectuals, many of whom were Alevi. A mob of religious extremists set fire to the Madımak Hotel where many of the visitors were staying, resulting in 35 deaths.

Stop the killing - there are better things in life

Stop the killing – there are better things in life

Again there is some debate about the reasons for the attack. Some say it was targeting a gentleman by the name of Aziz Nesrin, who had angered orthodox Sunni Muslims by translating Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, into Turkish. Others say it was more generally directed at the Alevi community as a whole. It was asserted at the time that local police stood by and allowed the arsonists to do their work unmolested. That’s entirely possible – although the government of the day did seem to do its best to bring perpetrators to justice.

Well, the 1990s are not so long ago, when you think about it. Those were bad times in Turkey, as opponents of the present government should not forget. The history of Sivas has a lot to teach us, if we choose to listen.