Love for Ataturk ends in tragedy.

By Ismail Veli………

Like Mustafa Kemal, Fikriye was born in Salonika in 1887, but was 6 years younger. Her uncle  Galip Bey was Mustafa’s stepfather. Mustafa and Fikriye’s relationship eventually took on an intimate nature, but only after she was married off to an Egyptian bey.

Unable to accept the virtual harem like marriage she broke it up and went on to live with Mustafa’s mother Zubeyde Hanim, who was very disapproving of the intimacy of Fikriye and Mustafa. Mustafa was not one to follow the protocols or set in stone cultural attitudes of the Ottoman traditions which to him was outdated and stuck in medieval dogmatism.

Ataturk and Fikriye exchanging poems

After her divorce from her Egyptian husband which was arranged for her,  and the end of WW1, Mustafa and Fikriye began to enjoy each other’s company. Having now settled in Istanbul she visited him often. Far from the eyes of their relatives she began to make it clear that her affections for Mustafa were more than just friendship. She began to worship his growing hero status and she made it clear to Mustafa that she was falling in love. Without the watchful eye of Mustafa’s mother Zubeyde hanim and his sister Makbule, she threw caution to the wind. Mustafa reciprocated and their turbulent relationship began to grow. Though Mustafa  Kemal had a great deal of affection for Fikriye he was unable to return the obsessive love Fikriye had for him. He enjoyed her company, friendship and relationship immensely. She was a talented woman who could speak Turkish, Greek, and French. and played the piano and oud.

In the aftermath of the war of Independence, Mustafa was suffering from fatigue. Having now moved to Chankaya in Ankara his workload was immense. Fikriye decided to move from Istanbul and the female company she offered was a welcome respite from the turmoil of military and political life all around him. She was careful not to interfere in his political circle however, she was a modern woman in many ways, she enjoyed riding, shooting, but deep inside the realization that Mustafa was not forthcoming with any proposal of marriage began to disturb her deeply. She simply went along with the flow.  However, her concern began to take its toll. In the immediate aftermath of the recapture of Izmir from the Greeks, Mustafa  declared to his  victorious generals that though victorious in battle their work of modernising Turkey would be the hardest part of their job. This in effect distracted him from Fikriye’s  constant attention which though pleasing became intolerable to him, and when she began to show extreme signs of a mental breakdown, he was advised to seek medical help for her and he sent her to Munich for treatment in the hope that she would recover from her depression, moving to Paris soon after she began to recover. They had corresponded constantly, so while Ataturk was pleased to learn of her recovery he simply could not reciprocate her love. In the meantime Ataturk met and married Latife

On learning that Mustafa Kemal was marrying, Fikriye became extremely distraught. Bemoaning her fate and uncontrollable jealousy that she had lost Ataturk to another woman she decided to travel back to Istanbul. From there she wrote to him on numerous occasions that she wanted to see him. Having no luck after 14 months  she finally decided to make her way to Ankara. Ataturk had hoped that he could reconcile her to the new reality by meeting Latife.  Fikriye had no thoughts of waiting any longer however.

The following account by Lord Patrick  Kinross on pages 391 in his book ”Ataturk, The Rebirth Of a Nation”, published in 1964 captures her desperate last attempt  to push her luck with Ataturk.  (the date was 31 May 1924)


”She came to Ankara and appeared at Chankaya one day without warning, here she was told that the Gazi was still asleep. She said she would wait, and retired to the lavatory.

She stayed there so long that the two aides who had received her grew worried. For they had noticed her distraught appearance. One of them tried the door and receiving no response, broke it open. He saw Fikriye putting a revolver into her bag. He pretended not to notice, but for Kemal’s safety explained to her that the Gazi could not see her just now, and asked her to leave. He escorted her to the gates, where she got into her carriage. She drove to a neighbouring house, where a cousin was staying. But he was not at home. She then took the revolver from her bag and shot herself dead, there in the carriage. In her desperation she had perhaps come to shoot Kemal, Latife or both of them, or to shoot herself before him, as a reproach for his treatment of her. More probably she had no clear idea of what she meant to do”.

Andrew Mango in his book ”Ataturk” published in 1999 gives a different version to Fikriye’s last moments.

”She took the carriage to Cankaya (Chankaya in English) and asked to see the president and his wife. Told that this was impossible, she returned to the carriage. On her way back, she took out a handgun from her bag and shot herself. Informed Mustafa Kemal ordered his personal doctor Refik (Saydam) to do his best to save the young woman. The surgeon of the Ankara hospital was told that Fikriye should not be allowed any visitors, and that if the treatment was successful, arrangements would be made for her recovery, in Switzerland if necessary. But the treatment was not successful. Within a week of admission, Fikriye developed pneumonia. Two days later she was dead ”.(58)

Another twist to this tragedy is given in footnote (58) on page 606 by Andrew Mango. It’s worth sharing as the story would not be complete without it.

”Ibid.,102-3. In his memoirs attacking Ataturk, Riza Nurretails rumours that Fikriye did not commit suicide, but was shot (III,281-2). According to Fikriye’s nephew, Abbas Hayri Ozdincer. this was also the conviction of his father (Fikriye’s elder brother), Ali Enver, who believed that Fikriye did not suffer from tuberculosis, but had been sent to Europe simply to remove her from Ataturks household (interview in Istanbul magazine Aktuel, No.352, 16-22 April 1998. Such rumours were encouraged by the attempts of the police to hush up the incident and remove all personal papers. But the conspiracy theory makes no sense. No one would have dared shoot Fikriye without Mustafa Kemal’s authorization. To have given it would have been out of character, but also senseless: Fikriye did not pose a threat to Mustafa Kemal. Similarly, no credence should be attached to stories according to which Fikriye stayed for some time in Ataturk’s villa in Cankaya after her return from Europe, until she was forced to leave by Latife. The telegrams exchanged between Adnan (Adivar) and Mustafa Kemal in March 1923 make it clear that Mustafa Kemal had no intention of seeing her again”. 

Kemal became extremely troubled by Fikriye’s suicide. Perhaps Fikriye’s constant doting was too much for a man who devoted more of his life to the pursuit of freeing his country from foreign invasions and modernising his country in the hope that Turkey could stand proudly alongside the main powers in the world not as adversaries but as equals. Sadly his immense energy and genius in the reforms that he had in mind left little time for family life. His marriage to Latife sadly contributed to Fikriye’s desire to end her life. The Gazi’s one and only marriage however was also doomed to failure. That however is a story for another day.

Coming soon. Part 4;