Politics is people, and political influence is greatly facilitated by having access to key political leaders. Access is, of course, far from the only factor which contributes to political influence, but in a system such as Turkey’s during the presidency of Kemal Atatürk (1923-1938) contact with the central power-holder is certainly a crucial dimension. This article will analyze the partial record of contacts with Atatürk from November, 1931 through his death in November, 1938 (as reflected in the list of official appointments kept by his receptionists and published in Turkish), and seek to assess the significance of the contacts.
The shortcomings of the data must be pointed out immediately. First, it covers only official appointments, whereas it is known that Atatürk almost nightly held dinners at which vital issues were debated among many influential persons. Second, the appointment calendar does not show the length of appointments, the subjects discussed, whether the visits might have been for ceremonial reasons only, etc. Third, it is very difficult to measure “influence” even if we had more complete data such as just mentioned. Nevertheless, I feel that certain tentative conclusions can be drawn and general patterns delineated which will supplement other data previously published and data still unresearched.
During the last 6 1/2 years of his life Atatürk seldom was else-where than Ankara or Istanbul. In each of these years he spent at least four months in Istanbul (except 1934 when he was there 94 days), residing there almost half of 1937 (188 days, covering most of Febru-ary, half of May and June, most of July, all of August and September). He made only nine trips of more than a days duration outside these two cities (Aegean, Mediterranean, Çukurova Jan. 15-Feb. 7, 1933; Yozgat, Kayseri, Konya Feb. 1-7, 1934; Îzmir-Çanakkale area April 7-16, 1934; Aegean region with the Shah of Iran, June 20-26, 1934; Antalya-Izmir Feb. 17-25, 1935; no trips 1936; Black Sea coast June 8-12, 1937; Aydın region Oct. 8-13, 1937; Malatya- Diyarbakır-Afyon-Eskişehir Nov. 12-20, 1937). I have not been able to determine with any certainty whether this was more or less than during the years before 1932.
The Nöbet Defteri confirms the widely-known fact that Atatürk was generally a “night-person”, seldom retiring before dawn or rising before early afternoon. On occasion he would go two days or more without retiring when he was working on a project. By far his favorite place to visit was his model farm on the outskirts of Ankara, where he went and dined almost daily during many periods. He also frequently took drives around the city of Ankara, stopping at numerous public places. Only rarely, however, is it recorded that he visited the homes of his acquaintances. Of these, Kılıç Ali was the only person at whose house Atatürk stopped more than about four times during the entire 6 1 /2 years. He did, however, stop frequently at Prime Minister İnönü’s official residence adjoining his own at Çankaya. The total number of visits to private homes, including those of Kılıç Ali and İnönü, is about one hundred. Most of the dinner parties appear to have been held at Çankaya, although there were also fairly frequent visits to Karpiç’s restaurant and the Ankara Palas Hotel. Atatürk was also a frequent watcher of movies.
Volume of visits. During the 61/2 years of this study Atatürk had about 15,000 official appointments. There was an unbroken upward trend, from 1,961 visits in 1932 to 2,816 visits in 1937. This is in contrast to the impression of some that his contacts decreased in the last years of his life. The sharp decrease in visitors as his final illness advanced was noticeable about mid-March, 1938. There were wide variations from month to month and quarter to quarter, with no discernible significant patterns except that the fourth quarter of the year tended to be the busiest. It is likely that this was related to Turkey’s Independence Day (October 29) and the annual opening of the National Assembly ( November 1 ). The pattern is shown in Chart I.
Frequency of individual visitors. Approximately 415 individuals appeared among Atatürk’s visitors. Of these 145 came only once, 62 twice, 25 three times, 57 made between four and ten appearances, 48 were seen 11-25 times, 21 others 26-49 times, 31 more made 50-99 visits. Considering that we are dealing with a span of more than 2300 days and more than 72 months, I think it is not being unduly restrictive to say that those who visited less than 100 times are relatively insignificant, at least insofar as using official appointments as a channel of contact with Atatürk. Some of these people, of course, undoubtedly had frequent dinner table contact with Atatürk. My analysis, therefore, concentrates on the 40 individuals who appeared on too or more dates, or an average of approximately twice a month if spread out over the six years. A few others are referred to if they appeared 25 or more times within a single year.
Table I shows data for the 40 most frequent visitors. Table II shows their frequency pattern by years. Table III lists the next most significant group, those with 50-99 appearances. Most of the visitors in the over-100 group appeared more or less regularly throughout the period. I have indicated the few cases where a high number of total visits alone hides an unusually heavy concentration in one year or one period.
Several significant points emerge from the analysis.
1 — Those whom Atatürk saw officially most frequently were almost without exception of his own age group. There are data for 38 of the 40 most frequent visitors and for 29 of 31 in the 50-99 group. Of these 67, 33 were within three years of Atatürk’s own age, and only eleven were as much as ten years Atatürk’s juniors. The average age of these men in 1935 was 50. On this dimension it is notable that they were quite representative of the membership of the National Assembly, being in fact just a little younger than the average age of 51.8 of all deputies elected to the 5th Assembly in 1935.
2 — Almost all of Atatürk’s most frequent official visitors were acquaintances of long standing. Listed in Table I is the time of first confirmed contact which I have been able to find for 35 of the 40 men. Five were acquaintances from school days in Salonica (school-mates Conker, Bozok, Bulca, Somer, and Atatürk’s teacher Ziya Naki Yaltrum) ; six more were his contemporaries at the Military Academy and General Staff College between 1899 and 1904 (Özdeş, Cebesoy, Çambel, İnanç, Özalp, Düzgören) ; five others first made his acquaintance during clandestine political activities in Salonica prior to the Young Turk revolution of 1908 (Üzer, Tör, Dilmen, Aras, İnönü) ; five most likely had their first contact with the future President when connected with the Committee of Union and Progress and the Ottoman Parliament in Istanbul between 1908 and 1914 (Mayakon, Kaya, Bayar, Saka, Galip) and three others were important or rising journalists during that period (Atay, Talay, Ünaydın); two were army colleagues prior to the World War (Peker, Çetinkaya), and Atatürk met one during his diplomatic sojourn in Sofia in 1913 (Kavalalı); for only eight of the 35 is there no confirmable contact before 1914 (Kılıç Ali, Gürer, Bayur, Uran, Arsal, Arıkan, Köprülü, Özer). This continuity of leadership leaves little doubt that the experiences of the Young Turk period (1908-1914) had a very strong influence on the policies of Atatürk and of virtually all those who advised him and whose ideas when spoken to others undoubtedly carried the implied weight of being almost the President’s own.
3 — Of the 40 most frequent visitors, only six were not deputies in the Assembly during the period covered in this analysis (i.e. the 4th and 5th Assemblies). Further, most had been deputies for a considerable time : ten had served continually since the convening of the 1st Assembly in 1920; fifteen others since the 2nd Assembly elected in 1923; only six had first become deputies as late as the 3rd (1927) and 4th (1931) Assemblies; and three, a doctor and two prominent language and history reformers (Dilmen, Yaltrum, Köprülü) were made deputies in the 5th Assembly (1935), i.e. at the time when they began to be among Atatürk’s most frequent visitors. This certainly supports Frey’s finding that the Assembly was “the focal position in (the Turkish) governmental structure”.
Quite the opposite situation was true in regard to holding executive office in either the government, the Republican People’s Party, or the Assembly. Only eight of the 40 held cabinet posts during the 1931-38 period. If frequency of official visits can be a criterion of the directness of the political role which Atatürk attached to various ministries, the “key” ones were Interior (Şükrü Kaya’s frequency of visits was at least “high” in every year except 1936) ; Education (Dr. Reşit Galip was “high” during his incumbency 1932-3; Hikmet Bayur was a more frequent visitor during his 1933-4 incumbency than at any other time; Saffet Arıkan was consistently “high” or “very high” during his 1935-8 tenure); Foreign Affairs (Tevfik Rüştü Aras, high especially in 1932-4); and Economics (Bayar). Prime Minister İnönü was a “moderately frequent” visitor, although he undoubtedly had much contact with Atatürk through other channels.
Party offices were held by only five of the 40 most frequent visitors. The party Secretary-General was, not unexpectedly, always a frequent visitor, although less so in the tenure of Recep Peker (1931-6) than during that of Saffet Arıkan (1931) or Şükrü Kaya (1936-8). (Of the three Peker was the most independent and the strongest in his own right, which might account for his lower frequency of consultation than the others). The party Executive Committee elected at the 1931 party congress included from among the most frequent official Atatürk visitors only Saffet Arıkan and Hasan Cemil Çambel. None of the top 40 visitors was elected to the Executive Committee at the 1935 Congress. The other party post held by a frequent visitor was Ali Çetinkaya as head of the party Assembly Group in 1933-4.
Assembly office-holding shows a similarly low frequency pattern. Other than Kâzım Özalp’s holding the office of Assembly President up to 1935 (when he became Defense Minister), only four on our list held Assembly posts : Nuri Conker, Hasan Saka and Hilmi Uran served briefly as one of two vice-presidents, and Ruşen Eşref Onaydın was one of three Assembly secretaries in 1931-3.
Formal holding of executive office is not, of course, the only indicator of close relation to policy execution, and there İs no doubt that the network of personal relations which dominated the Atatürk period meant close watch on and influence over the execution of programs by non-office holders. The data presented here may indicate, however, a hypothesis worth further investigation, i.e. that while the formulation of overall policy was kept in the hands of Ataturk’s colleagues in the revolution, implementation of programs was to a larger extent left to others, probably mostly younger men who were increasingly products of modern, Kemalist political and professional education and experience.
4 — Sub-groups. Within the category of “old acquaintances” there are, of course, sub-groups, such as ex-army officers (see below), journalists (Atay, Ünaydın, Çambel, Talay), administrators and technical or professional specialists (Kaya, Arıkan, Bayar, Uzer, Uran, İnanç, Saka) and intellectuals (Aras, Galip). Only one distinct group exists, however, which does not closely overlap the category of old Atatürk colleagues. These were the language and history reformers, who began to appear among Ataturk’s visitors with very great frequency about 1935. The impression that Atatürk gave much time and personal attention to these activities is confirmed by the rise of leading members of the Dil Kurumu (Language Association) to high places on the list of Presidential visitors : Mayakon (Atatürk’s most frequent visitor in both 1936 and 1937, seeing him more than half the days in each of those years), Dilmen, as well as the less spectacular rise of Üstün, Onat, Tankut and Arsal of the Language Association and Köprülü and Bayur of the Tarih Kurumu (History Association) and the close identification of Arıkan and Çambel with the history program. Further, the Nöbet Defteri reveals that many of the meetings of the history and language commissions were held at the Presidential residence, and that Atatürk attended the language and history congresses almost in their entirety.
5 — The military. Two kinds of omissions from the list of most frequent official visitors are noteworthy. One is in regard to the military. Although, like Atatürk, at least twelve of the 40 here exa-mined began their public careers as army officers or made their initial reputations chiefly through military activities (Kılıç, Conker, Özdeş, Gürer, İnönü, Cebesoy, Peker, Çambel, inanç, Özalp, Düzgören, Çetinkaya), it does not seem appropriate to call them a “military bloc”. All had resigned from the army, and all had distinguished themselves in civilian, political careers since the end of the War of Independence. In contrast to the high frequency of official visits of these soldiers-turned-politicians is the notable absence from the official visit list of many whose primary reputation and association continued to be that of professional soldiers. Marshall Fevzi Çakmak appears in the Nöbet Defteri only ten times. The five major army commanders who dramatically resigned from the Assembly at Atatürk’s request when he enforced separation of the army from politics in 1924 also are very infrequent (Ali Hikmet Ayerdem, 85 visits, almost all between October 1935 and June 1936; Fahrettin Altay, 80 visits scattered throughout the six years; İzzettin Çalışlar, 59 visits; Şükrü Naili Gökberk, 51 visits before his death in 1936; Cevat Çobanlı, 9 visits). Other rather prominent officers were also very low on the list such as Salih Omurtak (29), Ibrahim Çolak (33), and Pertev Demirhan (23). None of the major army commanders of the 1930’s appeared as many as 50 times throughout the period. If there was military influence within the government, it was well- tempered by political experience of its main agents.
6 — Some other prominent figures were not found on the “most frequent” list. In addition to several being on the comparatively low 50-99 list (Table III), fewer visits than might have been expected were made by such persons as Ali Canip Yöntem (25), Ali Rana Tarhan (14), Abdülhalik Renda (15), Cemil Uybadın (48), Cevdet Kerim İncedayı (11), İbrahim Süreyya Yiğit (16), Mahmut Esat Bozkurt (17), Mazhar Müfit Kansu (15), Vasıf Çınar (46 before his death in 1935) and Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (43). Individual reasons probably account for the low frequencies in each of these cases. At least some were frequent dinner companions, several were ambassadors and thus frequently out of the country.
At least in its public image the Turkish government’s top echelon during the years 1931-38 was one of men with personal participation in many of the events of the Young Turk revolution and the stormiest years of the formation of the Republic, tied together by an intricate network of personal acquaintanceships of long standing. It is likely that Ataturk’s “dinner table academy”, his other main locus of contacts beside official appointents analyzed in this article, was made up of pretty much the same basic group. As the “dinner table academy” was frequently the scene of major debates on basic policies and issues as well as a sort of “testing ground” for younger, aspiring leaders, the influence of this relatively small Atatürk cohort on the Turkish Republic’s future was great indeed.
The findings of this analysis are not very surprising in the context of a revolution such as Turkey’s. Projects like ousting the Ottoman dynasty, fighting the War of Independence, and implementing fundamental political and social reforms against great potential resistance, all of which policies having implications and outcomes which were far from certain, were ones in which great mutual trust among leaders was rightly considered extremely important. The revolution in education that was projected under the Turkish Republic was also probably in part responsible for the marked persistence of the domination of “old revolutionaries” well into the Republican period. (They were, it should be added, not particularly old during the period of this analysis as leaders of nations go, averaging about 50 years of age in 1935). It was only after about the late 1930’s that an appreciable number of significantly younger, Republic-trained men began to be available and to aspire to power. When this did happen, they did not take long to make themselves felt, the difference in age between the newly-elected deputies and “carry-over” deputies, as one indicator, increasing markedly starting about 1939.
On the whole, Atatürk chose capable associates, whose long mutural acquaintance and common experiences probably were quite useful in giving Turkey unified and decisive leadership in a crucial period of its development. Perhaps the dominant group’s lack of executive office provided opportunities for younger men to gain experience for future political power, and close supervision by those who successfully set the course of Turkey’s transition from empire to republic. But we must know more about the men who appear in the Nöbet Defteri before we can tell precisely more about what the influences on Atatürk were, and before we can get at some intriguing dimensions like what kinds of personalities Atatürk had affinities for, and with what consequences.
On a comparative basis, although evidence is lacking it appears not unlikely that countries with recent histories in some respects similar to Turkey’s might exhibit rather similar patterns. One thinks of the initial years of the Russian Revolution, of contemporary India, Tunisia, Yugoslavia or Burma, even perhaps of John F. Kennedy’s “Irish mafia” and Harvard acquaintance contingent (which might have been the start of such a rough pattern, or might still become one). Further comparative studies in this regard would seem a promising avenue of research.
(a) Assemblies elected as follows:
b) Only government or party offices during 1931-8 listed.
c) Very high : 96 or more visits in a year, average 8 per month.
High : 60-95 visits.
Moderate : 25-59, i.e. at least twice a month on the average.
Occasional : less than 25.