Dictator Mustafa Kemal Offers Turkey To Britain
Source: The Sunday Times (London), February 11, 1968,
HOW OUR MAN DECLINED TO RULE TURKEY
In November 1938 Kemal Ataturk, President of Turkey, lay dying. During the 15 years of his stern dictatorship, he had dragged a reluctant Turkey forcibly into the 20th century. He had outlawed the fez and the veil. He had broken the powers of Islam. He had introduced the Latin alphabet.
Now, on his deathbed, Ataturk feared it would be impossible to find a successor able to continue his work. He summoned Sir Percy Loraine, the British Ambassador, to the presidential palace in Istanbul. What passed between them has remained secret for nearly 30 years. It is revealed for the first time by Piers Dixon, in his life of his father, Sir Pierson Dixon (“Double Diploma,” to be published by Hutchinson this week). Among Pierson Dixon’s papers was a telegram from Percy Loraine to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. In what is surely one of the strangest of all documents of recent British history, Loraine recounts his bizarre interview with the dying dictator:
“On my arrival . . . I found His Excellency propped up by pillows with two doctors and two nurses in attendance…. On my entry the President dismissed the doctors and the nurses, telling them curtly that he would ring if he required anything…
His Excellency then spoke to me slowly but carefully. He said that he had sent for me because, while he wished in no way to place me in an unfair position, he had an urgent request to make of me to which he hoped I would return a straight reply.
I would, no doubt recall the many interviews that I had had with him in the past. This might well be the last. In the course of a long and adventurous career, he had made and lost many friends and had taken and discarded much advice. My friendship and my advice was the one which he valued most because it had been the most consistent. It was for this reason that on various occasions . . . he had consulted me as freely as though I had been a Turkish Cabinet Minister myself.
It was his prerogative as President of the Republic to nominate a successor before his demise. His most earnest wish was that I should succeed him as President, and for this reason he wished to know what my reactions would be to this proposal.
After some minutes of silent reaction I told His Excellency in reply that I was quite unable to formulate any words which adequately expressed my feelings. Indeed, I was at that moment more deeply moved than I could ever remember being at any other time in my career.
By his proposal His Excellency had paid a unique compliment not only to me personally but also to the foreign policy of His Majesty’s Government. . . . His Excellency would realize that I had spent the greater part of my life in the service of H M [His Majesty’s, HD]. . . . I hoped that I might have many years of such service still in front of me. His Excellency had asked for a straight answer and I would give him that answer. I gravely doubted whether my best qualities lay in the administrative sphere. The responsibilities of a President of the Turkish Republic were vastly different from those of a British Ambassador and I felt that my abilities and experience were best employed by continuing in the latter capacity. . . . I must therefore regretfully but firmly decline.
When I had finished speaking the President showed signs of great emotion. He sank back on the pillows and rang for his nurses, who administered a restorative.
When he was able to speak again His Excellency informed me he fully understood the reasons which had influenced my decision; he was good enough to say that, though bitterly disappointed, it was in a sense the reply he would have expected from me. He would therefore nominate Ismet Inonu in my place.
Ataturk then raised himself on his elbows and grasped my hand. He thanked me for what I had done for the furtherance of Anglo-Turkish friendship and then sank back in an unconscious state. I accordingly deemed it best to withdraw.
I shall be most grateful if I can receive from your Lordship a message of approval of the action which I have taken.
Please inform the King.”