Orhan Kemal Cengiz is a Turkish lawyer, journalist and human rights activist. He graduated in law from the University of Ankara in 1993. From 1997 to 1998 he worked in London.
The Radikal daily has started quite an interesting discussion about the family origins of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Radikal reported, according to the forthcoming book “From Mustafa to Kemal: Atatürk’s Big Secret” by Fatih Bayhan, that the family origins of Atatürk do not lie in Thessaloniki, as is commonly believed, but instead in the eastern province of Malatya. Bayhan claims that Atatürk’s family immigrated to Thessaloniki from Malatya.
According to this new version of his life, Atatürk’s true father and mother were people who lived in Malatya and Atatürk’s acknowledged mother, Zübeyde Hanım, was actually his aunt. The writer claims that Atatürk was sent to Thessaloniki when his actual father died and was adopted by Zübeyde Hanım when his mother died. The book is said to be based on official governmental records and documents that are set to be made public for the first time.
I do not want to bother you with all these details any more. This allegation of course needs to be proven. However, I would not be surprised if it turns out to be true. Much of history in Turkey is based on so many lies and legends, all of which were created to deny some fundamental facts in our past. Turkish official history “writers” never hesitated to bend history according to the needs of our official ideology and the state’s so-called “higher interests.”
Malatya was one of the provinces which were heavily populated by Armenians in the past. If this new version of Atatürk’s origins is true, the first question to come to mind is why the history writers fabricated the well-known version of his life. Did they write the official version to disassociate Atatürk from Anatolian Armenians? If the new story is true, there must be a reason.
The facts of Turkish history are still surrounded by many taboos, some of which have caused loss of life. You know how the tragic events leading to the assassination of Hrant Dink began. He simply dared to say that Atatürk’s adopted daughter Sabiha Gökçen was indeed an Armenian orphan. And this revelation was followed a lynching campaign and he was killed after that.
Nowadays the walls around the taboos which surround our history seem to be weakening. Ayhan Aktar keeps writing about some taboos in our history. One of the stories he tells is about the Dardanelles wars. According to Aktar, one of the heroes of this war was Cpt. Sarkis Torosyan, a citizen of Armenian descent in the Ottoman Empire. Torosyan’s story is a heartbreaking one. Torosyan was a much-decorated gunner wounded while defending the Dardanelles. He was later transferred to the area where his family had been deported, modern-day Palestine. There he discovered his sister in rags and heard his fiancée was dying of tuberculosis. He learned that his parents had been killed along the way. While he was defending his country to the death, his family and loved ones had been forcefully evicted from their homes.
This story is of course not written in any schoolbooks, nor is it known by many people in Turkey. Some may think this story is just a tiny detail in Turkish history, but I think it’s a very significant and important one. The real story of an Armenian captain who fought a heroic war in the Dardanelles is a huge burden on the Turkish conscience. This is because this one single event has the capacity to bring up all of our painful memories about our long-lost neighbors and about our past.
As I repeatedly said in this column before, people confront their past by opening their hearts to the stories of others, by feeling the pain and anguish they suffered — a process which has already started in Turkey and in which we have a very long way to go.