My September Don’s Diary – a Rejoinder

In my last Don’s Diary I made a statement that I understand some of my readers of Greek heritage have found to be offensive. I am told many of these people think Ataturk was evil:

“In this year of us marking the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of WW1 we might also contemplate the development work of the great WW1 Turkish General and hero, the first President of Turkey, Gamel Ataturk, who was a Muslim and a Freemason.”

For this I offer my apology for any offence that this has incurred.

I understand the feelings arose from the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) at Smyrna where there were many Greek citizens. It is now called Izmir and is the third most populous city in Turkey.

After WW1, Turkey was engaged in the Turkish War of Independence separating itself from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Britain promised Greece additional territory if it entered WWI. The Treaty of Sèvres was made to allocate the areas. However Greece, which had much larger claims of the territory of ancient Thrace as part of its “Megali Idea” c1844 (Μεγάλη Ιδέα Megáli Idéa, "Great Idea"), never ratified the Treaty. Ataturk certainly frustrated Greek ambitions. Similarly Britain promised the creation of a Jewish state to bring the US into the war, the focus of so much of conflict today.

The Greco-Turkish War started on 15 May 1919 when the Greek Army landed in Smyrna and it was resisted by armed Turkish civilians. Turkey was occupied by the Allies but they were opposed by sometimes covert operations in which Ataturk had a prominent role. (One has to wonder whether or not he used his masonic connections as Garibaldi did during the unification of the Italian states.) The war ended after a big fire that destroyed a large amount of housing and the Greeks blamed it on the Turks. However there were recriminations on both sides including the killing and wounding of unarmed Turkish soldiers and 300-400 civilians early in the Smyrna occupation. By September 1922 the Greek Army had been defeated and was in full retreat, the last Greek soldiers leaving Smyrna on 8 September 1922.

I wrote the article to argue the position that the world is a better place now because of Ataturk. Turkey is an Islamic country in an important strategic location in the east and an important Western ally. Furthermore, I wanted to tell a story about an important Freemason. In his own country he was sometimes criticised by claims that he was really a Jew who had adopted an Islamic name, had eroded Islam in his country and unduly Westernised Turkey. His reforms included the emancipation of women, the abolition of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. Abroad he pursued a policy of neutrality, establishing friendly relations with Turkey's neighbours. As far as I am aware he behaved honourably as an enemy commander opposing us at Gallipoli and in Palestine.

Again, I am sorry for any offence that I caused. Every war is abhorrent and this was an irregular war which can be worse. Civilians can suffer terribly as more often than not they are on the front line.