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«Ipek Çalislar: Latife Hanim Turkish, Biography Report by Moris Farhi Latife Hanim – “Hanim” means “Lady” in Turkish – was the wife of ...»

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Ipek Çalislar: Latife Hanim

Turkish, Biography

Report by Moris Farhi

Latife Hanim – “Hanim” means “Lady” in Turkish – was the wife of Mustafa Kemal (of

Gallipoli fame), the founder and first president of modern Turkey later to be known as

Atatürk, “Father of the Turks”.

(Note: I will refer to Mustafa Kemal as Atatürk throughout this report even though the

cognomen was conferred on him long after his marriage to Latife Hanim.)

In the main, this biography concentrates on Latife Hanim’s life. Living through a phenomenal era which saw the birth and evolution of modern Turkey, she was acclaimed and revered by people during her brief marriage to Atatürk – it lasted less than two years – but shunned, scorned, forgotten, even despised in her advanced years by some extremists. (Neither she nor Atatürk married again.) You will note that I have incorporated the three Turkish letters that have not appeared on this copy in the following colours: Red - for capital I with a dot on top; Blue - for s cedilla both in capital and lower case; Maroon - for lower case i without a dot.

Birth of a nation:

The Ottoman Empire, as Germany’s ally, not only suffered a calamitous defeat at the end of World War I, but was also subjected to the partitioning of much of its territory. Britain and France seized Istanbul, Ottoman Thrace and the Marmara Sea basin. (Britain also expropriated the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia; and France accroached vast tracts of Central, Eastern and Southern Turkey, including today’s Syria and Lebanon.) Italy gained much of Western Turkey and some sectors of Southern Turkey unclaimed by France. Greece, having been apportioned the coastal areas of Ottoman Aegean, promptly invaded Izmir in May 1919. And the Armenians, having been promised a state of their own, were allotted the North-East provinces bordering Russia.

Much of this dismemberment was to change following Turkey’s War of Independence under Atatürk’s leadership. In the course of this War – launched four days after the Greek occupation of Izmir – which aimed to reclaim, as Atatürk declared, “The Turkish soil” - his armies reconquered the territories occupied by the Italians and the French, fought off the Armenians in the East and, finally, in September 1922, liberated Izmir and Turkish Aegean from the Greeks. The relief of Istanbul from the British and the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 which secured “The Turkish soil” – today’s Turkey minus the province of Hatay which was annexed in 1939 – followed. Thereafter, forcing the last Ottoman Sultan into exile on a British warship, Atatürk abolished the Sultanate and declared Turkey a Republic. (The abolition of the Sultanate also abolished the Caliphate – Islam’s spiritual authority – which the Sultanate had held since Selim I had requisitioned the title in 1517 during his conquest of Egypt.) Atatürk served as Turkey’s first President until his death in1938. During the 15 years of his presidency, he forged a variety of cultural, political and economic reforms to Westernize Turkey: the Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic one; European dress, instead of Ottoman attire, not least for women, became law as did the accretion of surnames; the sharia was abrogated and substituted with legislation based on Swiss laws; and, remarkably, the statute that declared Turkey a secular state became one of the pillars of the constitution. (To this day, for most Muslim countries, the concept of a secular state is unthinkable, if not intolerable.

The same can be said of many Christian states.) Thus, under Atatürk’s rule Turkey rose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and set out to transform itself from the undeveloped, theocratic, regressive “sick man of Europe” into a vibrant, westernized country.


Latife Hanim – maiden name: Latife Usakizade, married name: Latife Mustafa Kemal and, after her divorce, given the surname of Ussaki by Atatürk himself – was born in 1898 to one of Izmir’s richest families. Her father, a merchant much influenced by the West and wellknown in Europe and the USA, provided his children with the best education possible. Thus Latife became an accomplished pianist, spoke the languages prevalent in the then open-port of Izmir – French, Italian, Ladino, Greek, English – and pursued higher studies in Chislehurst, England, and law in the Sorbonne in Paris. Consequently, by the time she met Atatürk on September 11, 1922, she was a lively, enlightened young woman much engrossed with women’s rights.

Atatürk reached Izmir soon after its liberation. As the remnants of the defeated Greek army desperately fled by sea, a ferocious fire – probably started by the Turks – raged and consumed vast tracts of the city.

Latife who, captivated like most Turks by Atatürk’s fame and hero-worshipping him as “Turkey’s Saviour”, went to meet him to offer him her family’s mansion, located in a district untouched by the fire, as his headquarters. Atatürk accepted the offer.

Latife proved to be the perfect hostess during the three weeks he billeted there. His charm, striking looks and exemplary good manners soon transformed her hero-worship into love.

Atatürk, in turn, though feverishly engaged in supervising Cease-Fire negotiations, was enthralled by her education, polyglottism, intelligence, high spirits and, not least, by her views on women’s emancipation – views which he shared and which would be one of his main reforms in patriarchal Turkey. At times, he even consulted her on certain matters of state or asked her to help draft important messages in English.

By the end of his stay, deciding that she would be the perfect consort for him – as well as an invaluable helpmate in rebuilding Turkey – he proposed to her.

On September 29, 1922, overriding Latife’s requests to accompany him and telling her he would summon her soon, he left for Ankara, his proposed capital for the new Turkey, to attend to pressing political matters. (One reason that hindered Atatürk from taking Latife with him might have been the presence in Ankara of Fikriye Hanim, his long-time mistress whom he no longer favoured but from whom he had not yet separated. This he did when he sent Fikriye – who was ill with tuberculosis – to Munich for treatment.) On January 27, 1923, soon after his mother, Zübeyde Hanim’s death, Atatürk returned to Izmir to marry Latife. (Though Zübeyde Hanim had approved of her son’s marriage to Latife, Latife’s father, Muammer, had advised against it.) The marriage took place on January 29, 1923.

This was a time when the Lausanne Peace Treaty negotiations and plans to declare Turkey a republic were primary concerns. (The Lausanne Treaty was signed on July 24, 1923 and on October 29, 1923 the Grand National Assembly which had been elected in 1920 on Atatürk’s appeal but had since been overhauled as the new parliament, proclaimed Turkey a republic.) The marriage started harmoniously. Atatürk, eager to embark on his reforms, set an example for the emancipation of women by touring parts of Turkey – with Latife prominently at his side – in lieu of a honeymoon.

The people in those regions, charmed by Latife – who was always dressed in smart, but modest, European clothes – took her to their hearts.

Back in Ankara, Latife’s popularity increased through her visits to the nascent Parliament with Atatürk, her candid interviews with journalists from various countries and her cordial meetings with foreign dignitaries. Almost without exception, she was lauded as an irresistibly charming woman with a fine intellect and political acumen.

Latife’s love toward Atatürk deepened day by day. By now even more convinced that he was “Turkey’s Saviour”, she felt gratified that he included her in his activities and at his dinners with old comrades-at-arms and important personages. (At times, he even rehearsed his speeches by reading them out loud to her.) But she also worried about Atatürk’s health – particularly about his smoking and heavy drinking with his cronies long into the night – and tried to curtail his excesses. Her concerns for his health increased when, soon after the birth of the Republic, he suffered a heart attack.

She nursed him back to health devotedly.

(She proved the depth of her love, her affirmation that she would die for him, on two occasions.

On the first, in April 1923, when Topal Osman, the leader of a militia, having murdered a member of the Grand National Assembly, surrounded their residence with his men and fusilladed Atatürk’s room, she improvised Atatürk’s escape by dressing him in her clothes;

then to give the impression that Atatürk was still in the room, she put on his hat and stood on a crate of oranges by the window. Entering the residence eventually, Topal Osman, seeing that Atatürk had escaped, ransacked the place and manhandled Latife. He was later arrested and killed.

On the second, in January 1924, an unknown man, said to be from Crete, having been granted an audience, attempted to assassinate Atatürk by throwing a bomb. Latife, trying to shield Atatürk, was slightly wounded in the process. Though the man was apprehended, the incident was kept secret from Turkish journalists and was reported only in foreign media.) After some months, Latife’s deep love commuted into possessive love. Her status as Atatürk’s consort and aide fuelled her sense of self-importance.

Eventually possessive love tinged with hubris brought on resentments. She begrudged Atatürk’s dinner-and-drinks parties with old comrades and felt excluded. She was gravely offended when he refused to allow her to stand for parliament as well as when he disapproved of her support for the newly-formed Women’s Party and other fledgling parties. She became jealous when he was attentive to other people, particularly women. (This jealousy may have been fuelled when Fikriye Hanim, Atatürk’s former lover, having returned from Germany, visited him at the presidential residence. Latife met her during her first visit and found her unlikeable. On her second visit, Fikriye, failing to receive an audience with Atatürk, left the presidential residence in a huff, then shot herself in her carriage; she died two days later. It has been assumed that on this second visit Fikriye had the intention of murdering both Atatürk and Latife before killing herself.) Though there appeared to be a hiatus in Latife’s moods when she accompanied Atatürk on a tour of Eastern Turkey, this proved very brief. At Sarikami s irked by Atatürk’s praise for their hostess, she threw another tantrum, even challenged him to divorce her. Atatürk, infuriated by the incident and despite Latife’s subsequent pleas for forgiveness, began to consider that possibility.

Finally, following another of her outbursts against his drinking companions, Atatürk wrote a letter to Latife on July 22, 1925, suggesting that she should go away for a while to Istanbul or Izmir for “treatment”. Feeling desolate, but thinking that this would only be a temporary separation, Latife left for her family home in Izmir.

But her hopes proved delusional. On August 12, 1925, Atatürk divorced her with a governmental directive. This was a rushed and unexpected procedure that mirrored Ottoman procedures. One reason given as mitigation for the haste was that as the new civil law had not yet been passed by the Parliament the particular directive was the only law applicable. (The new civil law was ratified about a year later.) The divorce rendered Latife inconsolable. (It also harmed the family’s prestige in Izmir, inducing them to move to Istanbul.) Self-recrimination – including, as she put it, “her inability” to give Atatürk a child – dominated much of the early years. By all accounts, Atatürk, too, deplored the disunion and was much saddened by it.

(After the divorce Latife and Atatürk met only once – from a distance. Yet throughout their separate lives, both remained considerate, even “loving” toward each other. Quite undoubtedly both had sworn never to disclose matters concerning their conjugal life and kept this promise. Latife who outlived Atatürk for almost forty years, not only observed this fidelity until her own death, but also instructed those family members who survived her to follow her example.

Atatürk died on November 10, 1938. At the time Latife was having treatment in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland. The news left her desolate.

During the ensuing years, Latife spent much of her time in seclusion, seeing only members of her family and her old friends. Of the latter the most notable was Ismet Inönü, Atatürk’s best general during the War of Independence and his successor as President.

Sorrow continued to be ever-present in her life as she lost beloved members of her family, including her parents.

Atatürk’s death prompted many publications, mainly memoirs. Most of these idolized him. However, some publications in the 1950s, haunted by the “possibility” that Latife might be persuaded to divulge the real dynamics of her marriage and thus mar Atatürk’s iconic image, blamed Latife Hanim for the failure of their marriage by relating certain contentious incidents that had become public knowledge. These publications, despite Latife’s continued silence about her life with Atatürk, unleashed a condemnatory campaign against her. Though she found this campaign hurtful and malign, she refused to break her silence.

Latife Hanim died on July 12, 1975 of cancer.

She left numerous writings and documents in two safe deposit boxes in two separate Istanbul banks. Her family bequeathed the contents of these boxes to the Turkish Historical Institute. Though the boxes were duly opened, respectively, in 1977 and 1979, a considerable number of their contents – letters and documentation that would shed important light on Turkey’s recent history – were returned to the Historical Archives and still await declassification.

Summary of Chapters:

(As this book comprises 41 chapters and 5 addenda, I will summarize them in groups.)

Chapters 1-5:

Introduction to Latife’s childhood and youth, her rich family, her privileged background and her exceptional education.

Latife, who, during the Greek occupation of Izmir was with her family abroad, is the first to return to Turkey. She is present in Izmir when the city is liberated by Atatürk’s forces.

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