Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) was the founder of the Republic of Turkey and the consummator of the Armenian Genocide. Kemal was an officer in the Turkish army whose defense of Gallipoli in 1915-1916 defeated the Allied campaign to breach the Dardanelles and quickly eliminate the Ottoman Empire from World War I. A supporter of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), he stayed out of politics until 1919 when he organized the Turkish Nationalist Movement in the drive to oust the Allies who had placed strategic portions of the country under occupation after its defeat. Kemal established headquarters in Ankara, amnestied CUP members who joined his movement, and regrouped the remaining Ottoman army and other irregular units under his general command.

Kemal first directed his forces against the French in Cilicia with fatal consequences for the Armenians. With Allied encouragement and promises of protection, most surviving Armenians had repatriated to their hometowns in Cilicia in 1919. The attack by Kemalist units against the city of Marash in January 1920, which was accompanied by large-scale slaughtering of the Armenians, spelled the beginning of the end for the remnant Armenian population. The Armenians of Hajen (Hadjin) put up a last desperate fight for seven months only to be reduced by October 1920 to less than five hundred survivors who fled from a city completely torched by the besieging Turks. When the French formally agreed to evacuate Cilicia in October 1921, the debacle signified a second deportation for the Armenians of the region. In the meantime, the Turkish Nationalist forces had gone to war against the Republic of Armenia. With secret instructions from the Ankara government to proceed with the physical elimination of Armenia, General Kiazim Karabekir seized half the territories of Armenia in November 1920 as Red Army units Sovietized the remaining areas. Once again the Armenian population was driven out at the point of the sword with heavy casualties as the city of Kars and its surrounding region were annexed by Turkey.

The final chapter of the Armenians in Anatolia was written in Smyrna (Izmir) as Kemalist forces routed the Greek army and entered the city in September 1922. Soon after, a fire begun in the Armenian neighborhood consumed the entire Christian sector of the city and drove the civilian population to the shore whence they sailed into exile bereft of all belongings. With this exodus from the mainland, Mustafa Kemal completed what Talaat and Enver had started in 1915, the eradication of the Armenian population of Anatolia and the termination of Armenian political aspirations in the Caucasus. With the expulsion of the Greeks, the Turkification and Islamification of Asia Minor was nearly complete.

With the restoration of Turkish sovereignty over Anatolia, Kemal turned his attention to the modernization of the country. Designated President of the newly proclaimed Republic of Turkey in 1923, he embarked upon a thorough-going process of Westernization while promoting a secular Turkish national identity. This effort was epitomized in the adoption of the Latin alphabet for the modern Turkish language. In 1934 the Turkish Grand National Assembly hailed Kemal with the surname of Ataturk, meaning the father of the Turks, in tribute to his singular contribution in forging modern Turkey. With an eye toward securing his legacy, in 1931 Kemal founded the Turkish Historical Society, which was charged with the guardianship of the state's official history. In 1936 Kemal began to pressure France to yield the Sanjak of Alexandretta, or Iskenderun, a district on the Mediterranean under French administrative rule whose inhabitants included 23,000 Armenians. Preoccupied with the deteriorating situation in Europe, France yielded when Turkey send in its troops in 1938. Kemal died that year having prepared the annexation of the district. His action precipitated the final exodus of Armenians from Turkey in 1939 as most opted for the French offer of evacuation to Syria and Lebanon rather than risk mistreatment yet again.

--Rouben Paul Adalian