Mustafa Kemal’s love life was one of turbulence, pain and sometimes tragic.
With the Ottoman empire constantly at war from the Tripolitanian war in 1911, the Balkan wars in 1912, WW1 and in particular the war of independence from 1919 to 1923 his determination, courage and thinking, was way ahead of his times, helped to propel him to that of a national hero and international stature that few in history attained. Loved by his people and respected by all he fought.
Sadly he was never able to achieve the same success in his personal life. In parts 1 and 2, I wrote about some of his lesser known but important relationships, while the 3rd was a better known affair that ended in tragedy. Mustafa finally married Latife Ussaki/Usakizade (Ushaki in English) on 29 January 1923. Sadly it was a short lived marriage that ended in August 1925.
Mustafa Kemal and Latife first met at Latife’s family mansion in Izmir in the immediate aftermath of the recapture of Izmir from the Greek army. According to Andrew Mango ”he was impressed by her easy and direct manners and her European accomplishments”. Latife did her best to accommodate the Gazi during his 3 weeks stay at her family home. The first signs that she had more than just normal affections for the Gazi was when he had to leave Izmir for Ankara. She requested to go with him in any capacity possible, to work as a staff member, but without success. Latife did leave a great impression on Kemal however. Her confident, elegant and well spoken manner with a European education was something that Kemal hoped to see in the Turkish women of the future. In addition in-spite of her obvious infatuation with him she was definitely self controlled enough to resist his possible advances.
It was very soon after on January 29 1923 that Mustafa and Latife married. Their wedding was a glimpse of what was to come. On their wedding day Latife did not wear the veil. She was an emancipated woman and Mustafa would go one further when on February 18 1923 it was reported by the Daily Mail correspondent that ”The Ghazi was dressed in a tweed suit, breeches and cycling stockings, while Latife was wearing riding breeches, with high boots and spurs. and had a bright silk handkerchief over her hair”. The nation was shocked but their God like love for him meant they accepted the new image he was starting to portray.
Latife and Ataturk and family. Early 1923 Visiting Mersin 1923 From the Book Atatturk by Andrew Mango
Though Latife’s love for her husband was strong, cracks soon began to appear. Latife was used to a modern and luxurious family mansion. The villa where they lived in Cankaya was by comparison much smaller and simple, above all it seemed they were hardly ever alone. Mustafa’s career and constant drive for reform and new ideas meant he also enjoyed the company of friends who had fought by his side for years. Every evening Mustafa would have large a gathering. Initially Latife’s patience and adoration for her husband seemed an adventure, but eventually she began to tire of the constant gatherings. When Mustafa’s fatigue and health began to show signs that his body was beginning to suffer, she doted and began to lay some rules on his work routine but he started to become irritated.
With constant meetings at Cankaya privacy was a rare occurrence. Latife was an independent and confident of her own ideas which Kemal admired, she was also a great host seeing herself as an equal.
Latife and Ataturk
Kemal often listened to her ideas about the emancipation of women in Turkish politics and every walk of life he found her advice useful and practical. But when she began to interfere in his lifestyle of almost nightly entertainment of his friends the strains began to show.
Latife began to put pressure on his drinking, in particular at dinner meetings, occasionally walking into meetings and saying ”what’s this Kemal, drinking again”. She began to put pressure to cut down these meetings to more reasonable hours. These were not unreasonable from normal family perspectives, this however was no ordinary family and the period in Turkish history was no ordinary period. According to Lord Kinross, in the rebirth of a Nation she became too overconfident and tried to change Mustafa himself. Her tactfulness began to wain and she tried to show signs of controlling Mustafa. The world could not control him however let alone an individual. Perhaps the straw that broke the camels back was when Mustafa having been offered a house in Konya to reside in. At a lunch gathering where men and women unveiled gathered together. After the event Mustafa walked together to a local hotel, no sooner had they settled down for a coffee and Latife showed up unexpectedly. She said ”Kemal, I have come to take you home”. According to Lord Kinross, Mustafa did not like being called ”Kemal”, she knew this and her attempts at controlling him in public began to humiliate him. At a gathering with guests she even claimed she broke up her education to come to Izmir to meet the Gazi, Mustafa told her, she was free to pursue her education anytime she wanted. Witnesses claimed that while he was talking to sentries one day she walked to the balcony and ordered him to come in. At a public tour of Erzurum in 1925 the situation reached boiling point. They quarreled in public and Mustafa asked her to go back to Ankara. The public outbursts especially in Erzurum convinced Mustafa that the marriage had to end.
She was accompanied by his trusted ADC Salih Bozok. He handed him a sealed letter to give to Ismet Inonu. It read
Mme Latife is preceding me to Ankara. I decided that it would be wrong for us to continue the trip together, as the experience of the last two years has convinced me that we cannot live together. I have informed her of my decision. She is desperately sad and may ask you or Fevzi Pasa to bring us together again, but my decision is final. However I do not wish to harm the honour and standing of herself and her family. for whom I retain my respect, and my feelings of true friendship. The manner of separation will be decided in Ankara. She must be made to agree to return quietly to Izmir.
From the book ”Ataturk”, by Andrew Mango. page 414.
The divorce became official on 5th August 1925. Mustafa felt that marital outbursts in public undermined his public authority at a time when his aim was to change Turkey’s future. This was no easy task. He argued and did away with the Ottoman Capitulations to the West which was crippling to Turkey, He had plans to outlaw the veil, do away with the Caliphate, do away with the Oriental fez, and even give women equal voting rights, and above all to separate religion and affairs of state with secular laws, and even change the written script from Arabic to Latin so as to help overcome the immense illiteracy of over 90% prevailing in those days. Most Turks spoke a different language to that of the Arabic script, if the country was to progress this had to be changed. Frankly even in 2018 most Islamic countries do not have the courage to attempt such far reaching reforms. These subjects however are not part of this article. Suffice it to say that perhaps Latife’s genuine care for Mustafa’s indifference to his own health and well being did eventually cause his untimely death in 1938 at the age of only 57. Latife also never remarried and died in 1975 at the age of 77.
Ataturk’s gigantic efforts to change his country from backwardness to the modern era no doubt contributed to his drinking, and drained him physically. Only his spirit was never broken. It can be said that the only marriage he really had was to his country. Amen to that.
Photos and sources used in this article are from the books of
Atatürk. By Andrew Mango 1999
Atatürk. The Rebirth of a Nation. By Lord Patrick Kinross. 1964
Basinda Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. By Beylikdüzü Belediyesi IV Print 2017. Courtesy of Cengiz Özkarabekir