Happy Birthday Turkey!

On the Republic of Turkey’s Republic Day, Happy Birthday from Ireland.

There are many parallels between Ireland’s and Turkey’s struggles for independence which were apparent to both Irish Republicans and Turkish nationalists at the time. A few years ago I discovered that an enthusiastic commentary had been published in Ireland about Mustapha Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish struggle for freedom and the negotiations and Treaty of Lausanne. It is no exaggeration to say that the Irish who wrote and published it saw Ataturk as their greatest inspiration and they recognised the enormous significance of what he had achieved in defeating the British Empire at the height of its power along with the other vultures who wished to feed on the Ottoman corpse.

It isn’t going too far to say, therefore, that Atatürk was not just the father of the Turkish State but he had also something to do with the birth of the independent Irish nation as well.

In those days of John Redmond’s Imperial Ireland its Westminster politicians and the newspapers had begun to hold views that were similar to the British understandings of the world. This had been a recent development, all due to the alliance the Irish Parliamentary Party had made with Liberal England to gain Home Rule for Ireland. The Irish political establishment who looked forward to getting an Irish Parliament for themselves in return for their recruiting efforts that provided Irish cannon-fodder for the fronts, supported the British Great War, got their news from Britain, with some of them even leading the propaganda war. Therefore things were most often seen in British Imperial terms with these view becoming articles of faith in the highly moralistic war that was necessary to secure voluntary killing and dying.

They also tended to hold Christian sympathies in favour of the Greeks and Armenians and had deep prejudices against Islam and the Turks which they had absorbed from the slanders of Gladstonian Liberalism.

There was, however, one notable exception.

The discovery that I made in writing the book ‘Britain’s Great War on Turkey’ was that Irish Republicans knew about and became great admirers of Atatürk.

‘The Catholic Bulletin’ was a popular religious periodical that supported the Irish Republican cause i.e. that Ireland deserved an independent existence from England so that it did not have to participate in catastrophic wars through which England stirred up conflict in the world to its own advantage.

Fr. Timothy Corcoran, Professor of Education at University College, Dublin, was the driving force and main contributor to the Bulletin. He had taught, and was a close friend of, Eamon DeValera, the Republican leader who did most to achieve Irish independence and who later became leader of the Irish nation.

The Catholic Bulletin took a great interest in events between the end of the Great War and the successful conclusion of Turkey’s war of independence. It supported Turkey in its struggle against the Imperialist powers and also defended the Turkish position in relation to the Greek invasion, when most of the Western Christian press were sympathetic to the Greeks. It also followed the negotiations at Lausanne keenly and published a commentary on events between 1922 and 1924.

‘The Catholic Bulletin’ wrote about Atatürk’s defeat of the British Empire and saw Turkey’s achievement as an inspiration to Ireland. It praised Atatürk’s humiliation of the British at Chanak when the Turks defeated the British Empire at the height of its power, as the world was seemingly at its feet. For the Catholic Bulletin Ataturk proved that the British Empire was not invincible and gave hope to others, including Ireland, who were determined to establish freedom.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Turkish victory at Chanak was a pivotal event in the history of the British Empire and Imperialism generally – although the event is mostly forgotten about today in Ireland and Britain.

The Catholic Bulletin was particularly impressed with the Turkish negotiating skill at Lausanne and contrasted it to, what it saw as, the Irish failure in negotiating with the British in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 that left the country part of the British Empire and divided the national forces against each other. The Turks had successfully beaten the Imperial power and ‘The Catholic Bulletin’ described Ataturk as the ‘man of the year’ in 1923 and the greatest cause for optimism in a world that had been shattered by the catastrophe of Britain’s Great War.

Irish Republicans were greatly inspired by what Atatürk had achieved. Britain had closed the Turkish parliament in Constantinople as it had done the Irish parliament in Dublin; it had arrested and interned the Turkish deputies as it had the Irish members of Dáil Éireann. It had attempted to destroy the new Turkish national assembly in Ankara as it also attempted to prevent the Irish democracy from functioning. It had forced a treaty reluctantly on the Turks as it had done on the Irish. But then Atatürk came along. He overthrew the punitive treaty of Sèvres dictated by the imperialists at the point of a gun. He defeated and humiliated the most powerful empire in the world and it’s Army at the height of its power, along the other victors of the Great War. He then negotiated a new treaty at Lausanne which turned Turkey into an independent democracy.

The one great positive development of the Great War on Turkey was the achievement of Atatürk’s in leading the Turkish nation to independence from the Imperialist Powers and the establishment of the Turkish State. This was an event that Republican Ireland could only marvel at, from the confines of the 1921 Treaty which ended the Irish Republic and created an Irish state within the British Empire again.

However, the British Empire’s ultimate demise was set in motion by the successful Turkish war of independence and the humiliation of Britain at Chanak. And that had important ramifications for the Irish who wished to overturn the Treaty in the event of a decline in British power.

What Atatürk achieved became an inspiration to the Republicans in Ireland who did not accept the restrictions of the Treaty imposed upon them by Britain. And in the coming decades they gained power under the leadership of DeValera and Fianna Fail and began to challenge and undermine the Treaty in the knowledge that Britain was no longer the power it once was since it came up against Atatürk and Turkey.

There was an early contact between the independent Irish Parliament (the Dáil) and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, established by Mustafa Kemal at Ankara. This contact was made through the Dáil’s ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ delivered to the revolutionary Grand National Assembly at Ankara, on a date following 10 August 1921. The Dáil, in its first act of foreign affairs, sent out this message to the other free nations of the world (including Turkey) declaring the existence of an independent Irish Government. It was read out, in Irish, to the Dáil by J.J.O’Kelly, the editor of The Catholic Bulletin in January 1919.

A Department of Foreign Affairs Report of 10 August 1921 suggests that although the message was read to the Dail in January 1919, the difficult circumstances in which the Irish Deputies worked, under constant risk of arrest and internment from the British, did not lead to its delivery to other nations, with supporting information, until 1921

The last Ottoman Monarchical Parliament was dissolved by Britain on 18 March 1920 and the only elected body in Turkey was the Turkish Grand National Assembly which was inaugurated on 23 April 1920. In early 1919 Britain began to suppress the Irish democracy which came into being after the 1918 election. About a year later it did the same in Turkey. The Ottoman Sultan, a virtual prisoner of the British in Constantinople, had been persuaded to send Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk) to Eastern Anatolia, to control Turkish forces that were preparing to resist the establishment of an Armenian State, to get him out of the way. But having got there Kemal resigned from the Army, united with these forces, and signed the Amasia Protocol on June 9th 1919 declaring the intention to resist the occupation and also the Sultan, as its instrument. This was a rival source of power to the puppet regime in Constantinople and became the nucleus of a new Turkish national development.

Ataturk presided over a National Congress at Erzurum, in Eastern Anatolia, held in July; and then in Sivas in September 1919. From these conferences was issued the Milli Misak or National Pact. This pact proposed a settlement with the British on the basis of self-determination for the Arabs south of the Armistice line; the opening of the Straits to free commerce; full rights for non-Turkish minorities; the retention of all non-Arab Moslem-majority areas of the Empire (Anatolia, Eastern Thrace and Mosul included); and abolition of the Capitulations.

In January 1920 the Ottoman Parliament in Constantinople, which conducted its business within range of the Royal Navy’s guns, declared support for the National Pact. The British occupying power viewed this development with concern and told the Sultan to repress it. As Churchill candidly put it: The Allies were loyal to the principle of representative government: accordingly the Turks had voted. Unhappily, they had almost all of them voted the wrong way (David Walder, The Chanak Incident, p.76)

To force the Ottoman government to submit to Allied demands and to control events in Turkey the British authorised a full military occupation of Constantinople on March 16th 1920 – against the terms of the Mudros armistice. British forces marched into Constantinople, arrested Turkish nationalist leaders in the city and occupied the various Ottoman Ministries. The leading Deputies and leaders in the Constantinople Parliament were arrested by British Intelligence Officers and it was shut down. Many of the representatives of the Turkish democracy were sent to internment in Malta.

A week later Mustapha Kemal opened the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, which was attended by, amongst others, those Deputies who had managed to escape the Allied repression of its parliament in Constantinople.

So in 1920/1 both assemblies, in Dublin and Ankara, were assailed by British occupying forces, determined to shut them down, and prepared to use military force to do so.

The Dáil, in its first act of foreign affairs, sent out this message to the other free nations of the world (including Turkey’s new national development) declaring the existence of an independent Irish Government. It was read out, in Irish, to the Dáil by J.J.O’Kelly, the editor of The Catholic Bulletin, which was subsequently to publish the sympathetic accounts of Ataturk and the Turkish struggle for independence:


To the Nations of the World! Greeting.

The Nation of Ireland having proclaimed her national independence, calls through her elected representatives in Parliament assembled in the Irish Capital on January 21st, 1919, upon every free nation to support the Irish Republic by recognising Ireland’s national status and her right to its vindication at the Peace Congress.

Nationally, the race, the language the customs and traditions of Ireland are radically distinct from the English, Ireland is one of the most ancient nations in Europe, and she has preserved her national integrity, vigorous and intact, through seven centuries of foreign oppression: she has never relinquished her national rights, and throughout the long era of English usurpation she has in every generation defiantly proclaimed her inalienable right of nationhood down to her last glorious resort to arms in 1916.

Internationally, Ireland is the gateway of the Atlantic. Ireland is the last outpost of Europe towards the West: Ireland is the point upon which great trade routes between East and West converge: her independence is demanded by the Freedom of the Seas: her great harbours must be open to all nations, instead of being the monopoly of England. To-day these harbours are empty and idle solely because English policy is determined to retain Ireland as a barren bulwark for English aggrandisement, and the unique geographical position of this island, far from being a benefit and safeguard to Europe and America, is subjected to the purposes of England’s policy of world domination.

Ireland to-day reasserts her historic nationhood the more confidently before the new world emerging from the War. because she believes in freedom and justice as the fundamental principles of international law, because she believes in a frank co-operation between the peoples for equal rights against the vested privileges of ancient tyrannies, because the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people, and the existing state of war, between Ireland and England, can never be ended until Ireland is definitely evacuated by the armed forces of England.

For these among other reasons, Ireland—resolutely and irrevocably determined at the dawn of the promised era of self-determination and liberty that she will suffer foreign dominion no longer—calls upon every free nation to uphold her national claim to complete independence as an Irish Republic against the arrogant pretensions of England founded in fraud and sustained only by an overwhelming military occupation, and demands to be confronted publicly with England at the Congress of the Nations, in order that the civilised world having judged between English wrong and Irish right may guarantee to Ireland its permanent support for the maintenance of her national independence.” (From Dáil Éireann Debates – Volume 1 – 21 January, 1919)

Of course, Versailles and the peace conference were to prove a great disappointment to the Irish and the Turkish. Ireland found its representations vetoed by England and the Turks got the punitive Treaty of Sèvres, which partitioned Turkey and the Moslem lands of the Ottoman Empire amongst the Western Christian Powers.

Some background to the Dáil declaration – and the subsequent establishment of a Foreign Affairs Department, a prerequisite of independence – is given in a Department of Foreign Affairs Report of 10 August 1921. It suggests that although the message was read to the Dail in January 1919, the difficult circumstances in which it operated did not lead to its delivery to other nations, with supporting information, until 1921:

“On his return from America, the President having in view the importance of strengthening and increasing our representation in foreign countries, the co-ordination of the work of our Foreign Representatives and the necessity of getting these representatives in closer touch than was hitherto possible, deemed it wise to establish a separate office for the department of foreign affairs.

The work of this department had hitherto been centred in the office of the General Secretary, who had done splendid work in spite of the fact that he could only give the Department a fraction of his time. The new office was established in February of this year and since then a good deal has been done in the matter of co-ordinating the work or our Foreign Representatives and of keeping them closely informed on the situation at home. Special envoys have been sent to Germany, Russia, South America and South Africa, an accredited representative has been appointed in Germany; press bureaux have been established in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Rome and the organisation of similar bureaux in South Africa, Australia, Chile and the Argentine is under way. In addition the organisation in the United States has been put on a new basis…

One of the first duties of the Department was the preparation of the material accompanying the ‘Address to the Representatives of Foreign Nations’, which was adopted at the January Session of An Dail. This document was forwarded to our Foreign Representatives with instructions to have it translated into the different languages and delivered to each elected representative in the following countries: – France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, Czecho Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Switzerland, Turkey, Jugo Slavia, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Japan, China, Philippines, the British Colonies and all countries on the American Continent. A great deal of this work has already been done. Arrangements have been made to have the Address read before the United States Senate and it is hoped that the same may be done in many other countries.”

The Irish Republican view of Ataturk contained in the Catholic Bulletin is important because it was written to counter the British view of the Great War on Turkey – which was still being repeated in Ireland and which has today undergone something of a revival with the First World War fanfare.

There is little debate today in Ireland as to the true nature of Irish-Turkish relations during the period of the foundations of the two states, and how they should be perceived today. The focus has been the contact between soldiers at Gallipoli. But there are more important and substantial points of contact between the two nations that should be paid attention to.

In view of the above, there is now a decision to be made and this involves either denying or honouring the most significant past – in ‘commemorating’ an isolated point of conflict between Ireland and Turkey at Gallipoli when the Irish Party at Westminster sacrificed young Irishmen (and young Turks) for their miserable Home Rule pact with Liberal England, or celebrating the substantial points of contact between two nations fighting and establishing their independence and democracy against a common Imperialist enemy – a much more honourable and world-historic event.



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