Ataturk’s teenage lover in Bitola, Macedonia

By Ismail Veli……..

Part 2 of Ataturk’s romantic life.

While most accept that Ataturk had a turbulent private life there were some relations that had a profound impact on him. In ”part 1” I explained his great love for a Bulgarian noble girl named Dimitrina  Kocaeva ”Miti”.

Before that however he seemed to have had a romantic connection with what many Balkan people today call ”The Romeo and Juliet of Bitola”. This is a direct reference to his relationship with a beautiful girl from Bitola, in Macedonia. A memorial room in Bitola is today dedicated to Mustafa Kemal. A major tourist attraction for the area, also concentrates on his relationship with Eleni Karinte. There are letters from her to Mustafa almost pleading for him to return to Bitola to re-unite.

Mustafa Kemnal seated second from left 1902 and Sirok Sokak Bitola

In 1896 as a 15 year old cadet Mustafa, was posted to pursue his studies at the Military Academy. While taking a walk down Sirok Sokak (street) in 1897 he noticed a beautiful lady on the balcony of her house. Eleni was the daughter of a rich business merchant named Eftim Karinte. It was love at first sight. Sadly as Eleni was a Christian and Mustafa a Muslim, Eleni’s family, in particular her father, completely opposed their relationship. Their passion for each other was so strong however that Eleni took the decision to run away with Mustafa. Her father found her in short time and forced her to return. Eleni’s letter to Mustafa a year later captures the intense sadness and virtual prison conditions imposed by her family in the rejection of her feelings for the man she loved.

“It has been a year since he grabbed me from you, locked me in the house and wouldn’t let me out for a whole month. I didn’t cry because I knew that all those locks and prison are in vain. I saw the man he wants me to marry only once and he asked if I could love him. I said no, I can only love my first love. I haven’t seen him since then. My father hasn’t forgiven me and I haven’t forgiven him either. Your Eleni Karinte who will always love you and wait for you forever.”

The above letter and much more are on display at the Ataturk Musuem at Bitola. The house in which Eleni lived can still be seen near the Epinal Hotel. The love story attracts thousands of tourists to the area.   Sadly, while most Turkish writers concentrate on Ataturk’s military and political successes which are immense, they often fail to mention the amazing private life of this great man. It’s as though talking about love affairs will undermine his great achievements, and yet in my opinion his human feelings during such a momentous period of Turkish history simply brings Ataturk closer to people’s hearts.

The house of Eleni Karinte and love letter to Ataturk – Pictures courtesy of Bitola museum

Though it’s clear that Ataturk was attracted to Eleni, the evidence does not show him to have been interested in a long term relationship, after all he was only about 16-17 years old at the time. Eleni however was clearly head over heels in love with the blue eyed, fair hair person, even at this stage in his life he was a strong willed and charismatic figure, but his ambitions were elsewhere.  Years later, with no sign that Ataturk would return, she wrote him an emotionally charged letter that any impartial reader would feel for her agony. Her letter to him is still at the Bitola museum and frankly even reading this in 2018 I feel for the young Eleni. No doubt she can explain her feelings in much better terms than I can ever hope to do.

”Many years have passed, I am still waiting to hear from you. If you ever receive my letter, remember me, see my tears on the paper. Years and events pass, there are many things said about you. If you love another woman when you read my letter, tear it up and ask her if she believes that one Eleni Karinte from Bitola wasted all her life waiting for a man with whom she only spent a day. If you love that woman as much as I love you, don’t tell her anything, I wish her to be happy as you are. But if you remember the girl on the balcony, and don’t love any other woman, I want you to know that I am waiting for you and will wait until the end of my life. I know that you won’t forget me and will be back…”

Her comment  sentence ” I am waiting for you and will wait until the end of my life”. was not written on the whim of the moment. Eleni lived to to be 80 but sadly never married. In those days unmarried woman had little means of sustaining themselves but she did receive cheques from abroad all through her life. Though speculative, the conclusion in my opinion is that Ataturk sent her enough to sustain herself. She continued to receive this income until she died in the town of Lerin, which came under Greek control after the Balkan wars of 1913. It’s possible Ataturk ensured Eleni would be cared for even after his death. If he did, he no doubt had compassion for her feelings without being in the position of reciprocating her infinite love.

Ataturk’s private feelings can only be guessed on. One thing we have no doubt about however was his infinite passion in his dreams of modernising his country and people from a medieval mindset to the modern era. To that end he sacrificed his own life for that of his people. As a young boy his teacher gave him the name Kemal (meaning perfection) but a grateful nation went one further, on 25th November 1934 the Turkish Parliament awarded him the surname of, ATA TURK/ father of the Turks. On Monday 26 November 1934 his full official name became Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A legacy any leader would give their life for. Need we say more?

Part 3.  Love for Ataturk ends in tragedy…coming to CyprusScene pages very soon!