Interview with Mustafa Kemal

Below are transcribed the words in the image above by the founder of the Turkish Republic.

When I first visited Istanbul, in 1998, I was too late to see old American cars used as dolmuşlar. Perhaps there were still a few around, but I did not see them. They had been described in a book published the previous year:

If you like old cars go down to [Kadıköy] on the Asian side and take the dolmuş up to [Üsküdar]. Some of the cars on this run are from the Twenties and have running boards. There are some great origin-of-the-species Dodges and Cadillacs patched together by ingenious Turks. Some people consider buying these museum pieces but it is not always recommended as they are virtually rebuilt by scrap and, I was told, are unmaintainable by European mechanics who look at the bizarre reconstituted engines and have to go lie down with a damp towel over their foreheads.

This is from Will Lawson, The Drinker’s Guide to the Middle East (Edinburgh: Rebel Inc., 1997, p. 113). I found this wonderful book in an anarchist bookshop (it must have been Bound Together) on Haight Street in San Francisco while living in Berkeley (as a post-doc at MSRI) in the spring of 1998. Lawson’s description of the workings of an old dolmuş could describe Turkish politics as well. The English term “Byzantine” does seem to fit. Mathematics is easy by comparison.

The article reproduced below from the Los Angeles Examiner of Sunday, August 1, 1926, is headed as follows.


President Says He Will Forgive
Woman, Once His Friend, Who
Joined Conspirators

By Mustapha Kemal Pasha

(The Dictator of Turkey, in an interview with Emile Hilderbrand, a
Swiss artist and journalist, on June 22)

Thus the headlines. At the time of publication, the Turkish Republic, created through war, was not three years old. Its creator had not yet taken the surname Atatürk: this would not happen until November, 1934. The “İzmir Conspiracy” to assassinate him in June, 1926, is described by Erik J. Zürcher in Turkey: A Modern History (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005, p. 174), and in more detail by Andrew Mango in Atatürk (London: John Murray, 2004, pp. 444–5). Neither author mentions the bouquet or the repentant woman in Mustafa Kemal’s own account below.

That account seems to have been preserved on the Web because it happens to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Present interest in Mustafa Kemal’s words also lies in their echoes in the language of the President of the Turkish Republic today. One may note in particular the expressions of Kemal such as “foreign detractors,” “will of the republic,” and especially,

when a group of dissolute, corrupt and unscrupulous political adventurers begin to organize seditious movements under the cloak of political opposition, it becomes the sacred duty of those who are in charge of the machinery of the government to suppress it and suppress it with an exemplary ruthlessness that will prevent the eventual shedding of rivers of blood.

This could be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, talking about the followers of his former ally, Fethullah Gülen. And yet Erdoğan might be accused of hyperbole at best for his remarks about threats to the “will of the nation.” One can hardly lend credance to his words, when a boy is killed by a teargas capsule shot by the police, and Erdoğan calls the boy a terrorist.

Mustafa Kemal knew what he was talking about when he referred to “rivers of blood.” He had directed men into battle, saying, “I don’t order you to attack; I order you to die.” Or perhaps the actual order was slightly different (see Mango, pp. 146–7); but the men did die. Below he seems to boast of having other men put to death.

May Day 2014: rocks ready for the TOMA at Şişli Etfal  Hastanesi (hospital)

From my report on May Day 2014. At Şişli Etfal Hastanesi (hospital), rocks are being readied for the TOMA down the street

Demonstrators today may throw rocks at the police—police who are behind shields, or are inside what might as well be a tank. In 1930, in the Menemen Incident, demonstrators cut off the head of a gendarme and brandished it on a stick—in the name of restoring the Caliphate and Sharia law. The death penalty in Turkey was abolished after Tayyip Erdoğan became prime minister (and had not been used for many years before that). But Erdoğan is an experienced victor of political battles. Has experience taught him to ape the rhetoric of the original holder of his current office of President?

Here are the words of Mustafa Kemal from 1926. I have taken them from a pdf file published by the Zoryan Institute; but I have made a few minor corrections by comparing with an image (shown also above) of the original article. (I could not check the few lines at the bottoms of columns that the image does not contain.)

I shall not stop until every guilty person, no matter how high his rank, has been hung from the gallows as a grim warning to all incipient plotters against the security of the Turkish Republic. Since the very hour of its reincarnation in the rejuvenated body of the Republic, our nation has endured travails no other nation has ever experienced.

When we were fighting external enemies, or enemies whom [sic] we were certain were sympathetic with foreign intriguers, nearly all of the rank and file of our population were enthusiastically, even fanatically, united to deliver the nation from the multiple foreign yokes. But no sooner had the nation proved its worth to its foreign detractors than certain elements, bred in the old school of political intrigue, began to show their claws. We were face to face with a menace to the life of the republic from two elements.

One was the group who combined religious fanaticism and ignorance with political imbecility and who, in the past, under different Sultans had come to believe that the state was an organism to be exploited through debauchery, corruption and brazen bribery for personal ends. I put the ax in the dual root of this sinister and reprehensible theory of government by destroying the Khalif and the Sultan. I sent into exile the persons in whom this theory was personified. Large numbers, adherents of this school of politics, attempted to interpret any act as atheistic, and, under the aegis of religion, began to intrigue against the life of the republic.


In several instances in the past when, in Kurdistan and other interior regions of Anatolia, they showed a disposition to challenge the will of the republic, I crushed them with an iron hand, and, for example, had over sixty of their leaders hanged at dawn.

That element had its lesson and will not again attempt to measure swords with me.

The second element, I am now about to deal with ruthlessly, is the group of men who in the pre-republic days were known in the world as the Committee of the Union of the Young Turks. The ranks of this element were recruited from a questionable assortment of political adventurers, half-educated progressives and men of dissolute habits. In the days when we were battling against foes from within and without, this element joined us and fought in our ranks. Yet from the early days I had misgivings as to their motives. But I wished, hoped and then prayed that once our country was redeemed from the foreign yoke, this element would mend its methods and become infused with the seal of patriotism. I soon began to realize that my hopes were doomed to be disillusioned and my prayers were to be unanswered. I patiently waited, keeping a sharp eye on their movements.


They formed themselves into a political opposition. I do not pretend to be a dictator, bent to suppress sincere and honest political opposition, because a republic is a misnomer when it ceases to brook criticism. But when a group of dissolute, corrupt and unscrupulous political adventurers begin to organize seditious movements under the cloak of political opposition, it becomes the sacred duty of those who are in charge of the machinery of the government to suppress it and suppress it with an exemplary ruthlessness that will prevent the eventual shedding of rivers of blood.

I am about to show these plotters that the Republic of Turkey cannot be overthrown by murderers or through their murderous designs.…

These left-overs from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule. They have hitherto lived on plunder, robbery and bribery and become inimical to any idea or suggestion to enlist in useful labor and earn their living by the honest sweat of their brow.

Under the cloak of the opposition party, this element, who forced our country into the Great War against the will of the people, who caused the shedding of rivers of blood of the Turkish youth to satisfy the criminal ambition of Enver Pasha, has, in a cowardly fashion, intrigued against my life, as well as the lives of the members of my cabinet. I would have more respect for them had they planned an armed revolution, taking the field in a manly fashion, to overthrow my government. But being conscious of the fact that they could not muster out even one regiment to give battle to the zealous adherents to, an [sic] upholders of, the glorious republic, they have resorted to bestial methods of assassination. They have hired murderers and even debauched women to commit their murderous acts.

In the middle of June last I had planned to make a tour of the country. My itinerary was published. A group of these assassins, placed on the route of procession, were to “rain” hand grenades at the automobiles which were to carry me and my staff.


They went even further and seduced a woman who had been for years identified with my cause and who had been my loyal political friend and on occasions, [sic] even adviser. They induced this woman to accept the reprehensible assignment to present me with a bouquet which concealed a bomb that would, on my receiving it, explode and obliterate everyone in sight. This ill-advised woman deserves pity, for she was made to believe that she would thus sacrifice her own life for the good of the fatherland. I was the enemy of the nation. She will be forgiven for her part in the plot, for she conscience-stricken, confessed to the proper authorities in time for me to cancel my intended tour.

The subhead “Woman as Bomber” was printed originally as a pull quote. As noted elsewhere in my blog, Mustafa Kemal did not know English. It is not clear what language the interview is, or who made the translation.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] dek yayından kaldırılacaktır. Çeviride kullanılan yazı, okunabilirlik sebeplerinden dolayı bu adresten […]

  2. By Thoreau and Anacreon « Polytropy on May 9, 2020 at 8:14 am

    […] Middle East, by Will Lawson (Edinburgh: Rebel Inc., 1997), a book discussed and quoted in “Interview with Mustafa Kemal.” In a chapter called “The Arab Archipelago,” Lawson […]

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