Boris Johnson has become the UK’s new Prime Minister and the Turkish press is going wild over Johnson’s Ottoman roots from his grandfather. Locals from his great-grandfather’s home town have also jumped on this ludicrous bandwagon, in which a known enlightened liberal intellectual that abhorred the, then, nascent Turkish Republic and was assassinated because of this.
Ali Kemal Bey (Ottoman Turkish: عَلِي كمال بك; 1867 – 6 November 1922) was an Ottoman journalist, newspaper editor, poet and a politician of liberal signature, who was for some three months Minister of the Interior in the government of Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. He was murdered during the Turkish War of Independence.
Kemal is the paternal grandfather of the British politician Stanley Johnson and great-grandfather of Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson, MP for Orpington Jo Johnson, and journalist Rachel Johnson.
Kemal’s mother was a Circassian, reputedly of slave origin. Kemal was a journalist who traveled widely and took his holidays in other countries. On one of several visits to Switzerland, he met and fell in love with an Anglo-Swiss girl, Winifred Brun, the daughter of Frank Brun by his marriage to Margaret Johnson. They were married in Paddington, London, Middlesex, on 11 September 1903.
Early in his life, Kemal had acquired strong liberal democratic convictions, which caused him to be exiled from the Ottoman Empire under Abdul Hamid II, but immediately after the end of the Sultan’s personal rule in July 1908, he became one of the most prominent figures in Ottoman journalistic and political life. Because of his opposition to the Young Turks who had made the revolution, he spent most of the following decade in opposition.
He was at one time, editor of the liberal İkdam newspaper and a leading member of the Liberal Union.
In The Times dated 9 March 1909, on speculating that he would contest the seat of the late Minister of Justice Refik Bey, Kemal was described as amongst the “leading men of letters in Turkey, an excellent speaker, and personally very popular”. Kemal was unanimously adopted as the candidate to represent the parliamentary constituency of Stambul at a meeting of the Liberal Union on 9 March 1909.
After the murder of the editor-in-chief of the Serbestî newspaper, Hasan Fehmi, in April 1909, Kemal stated that he had warned Ismail Qemali and Rifsat, the assistant editor of Serbestî that they had been condemned by extremists in Salonica. A media storm between the liberal paper İkdam and the conservative Tanin followed, with İkdam accusing Ahmet Rıza Bey of having been in favour of enlightened absolutism, and Tanin, the organ of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) accusing the Liberal Union of being a subversive body, conspiring with Armenians. At that time Kemal accused Rahmi Bey and Dr Nazım Bey of the Committee of Union and Progress of proposing his murder. These events became known as the 31 March Incident and were followed by the countercoup of 1909, an effort to dismantle the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire and replace it with an autocracy under Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Soldiers from Salonica deposed Abdul Hamid on 27 April 1909 and his brother Reshad Efendi was proclaimed as Sultan Mehmed V.
Kemal fled to exile in England, where in late 1909, his wife Winifred gave birth to a son, Osman Wilfred Kemal, at Bournemouth. Shortly after giving birth his wife died of puerperal fever. They already had a daughter named Selma. Kemal stayed with his mother-in-law Margaret Brun (née Johnson) and with his children, first in Christchurch, near Bournemouth, and then in Wimbledon until 1912, when he returned to the Ottoman Empire, soon marrying again. His second wife was Sabiha Hanım, the daughter of an Ottoman pasha. They had one son, Zeki Kuneralp, who was born in October 1914.
On his return from exile, Kemal made a speech in favor of a war against the Balkan League in Stambul on 3 October 1912. Montenegro started the First Balkan War by declaring war against the Ottomans on 8 October 1912.
On a report dated 11 November 1918 (Armistice Day) speculating on the successor to Ahmed İzzet Pasha, The Times reported that Kemal was backing Ahmet Tevfik Pasha to be grand vizier, with the support of the Naval and Khoja parties. A later report in The Times dated 19 May 1919, stated that Kemal had been appointed Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Damat Ferid Pasha, replacing Mehmet Ali Bey who had retired. Kemal was one of the members of the Ottoman delegation to the Paris peace conference in June 1919. In an article dated 25 June 1919, The Times reported that Kemal had accused agents of the Committee of Union and Progress of impeding the restoration of order in the Ottoman provinces, specifically accusing Talat Pasha of organizing Albanian brigand bands in the İzmit and Enver Pasha of doing the same in the Panderma, Balikesir, and Karasi districts. He also alleged that the CUP had £700,000 of party funds available for propaganda as well as numerous fortunes made by profiteering during the Great War. In fact, Kemal had resigned between the filing of the report and its publication in The Times on 3 July 1919.
With unequalled passion, Kemal condemned the attacks on and massacres of the empire’s Armenians during the First World War and inveighed against the Ittihadist chieftains as the authors of that crime, relentlessly demanding their prosecution and punishment. He campaigned also against the Kemalist movement. Along with other conservatives serving under the Sultan in Istanbul, Kemal also set up an organisation known as the İngiliz Muhipler Cemiyeti (“The Anglophile Society”), which advocated British protectorate status for Turkey. This, combined with his past opposition to the Committee of Union and Progress, made him anathema to the nationalist movement gathering strength in Ankara and fighting the Turkish War of Independence against the attempts between Greece and the Entente Powers to partition Anatolia.
On 4 November 1922, Kemal was kidnapped from a barber shop at Tokatliyan Hotel in Istanbul, and was carried to the Asiatic side of the city by a motor boat en route to Ankara for a trial on charges of treason. On 6 November 1922, the party was intercepted at İzmit by General Nureddin Pasha, then the Commander of the First Army, which was aligned with Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Kemal was attacked and lynched by a mob set up by Nureddin with sticks, stones and knives, and hanged from a tree. His head was smashed by cudgels and he was stoned to death. As described by Nureddin personally to Riza Nur, who with Ismet Inönü was on his way to Lausanne to negotiate peace with the Allies, “his blood-covered body was subsequently hanged with an epitaph across his chest which read, ‘Artun Kemal'”. This bestowal of a fictitious Armenian name administered a final indignity to the victim.
Descendants and legacy
During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was one of the Central Powers allied with the German Empire, and Kemal’s son and daughter living in England adopted their maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Johnson. His son Osman also began to use his middle name of Wilfred as his first name. (Osman) Wilfred Johnson later married Irene Williams (the daughter of Stanley F. Williams of Bromley, Kent, by his marriage to Marie Luise, Freiin von Pfeffel, born in 1882 and their son Stanley Johnson became an expert on the environment and population studies and a member of the European Parliament representing the Conservative Party. His son Boris Johnson, Kemal’s great-grandson, was editor of The Spectator and a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Henley on Thames from 2001 until 2008. From 4 May 2008 to 8 May 2016, he held the office of Mayor of London, and has been MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015 and was Foreign Secretary from July 2016 until his resignation in July 2018.
After the First World War, Kemal’s half-English daughter Selma returned to her Turkish surname of Kemal and also took Turkish nationality. Her son Anthony Battersby spent most of his career working as a public health consultant for various UN agencies.
Sabiha, Kemal’s second wife, went into exile in Switzerland with her son Zeki Kuneralp. He returned to Turkey after the death of Atatürk and was admitted—with the personal approval of President İsmet İnönü—into the Turkish Diplomatic Service, serving twice as its Permanent Under-secretary in the 1960s and serving as ambassador to London from 1964 to 1966 and again from 1966 to 1972. His wife and her brother were killed when an unidentified Armenian gunman opened fire on his car while he was serving as ambassador in Madrid in 1978.
Zeki Kuneralp wrote an account of his father’s life in English for the benefit of the British side of the family. Zeki’s sons Sinan and Selim both live in Turkey. The former is a publisher in Istanbul and the latter followed his father into the diplomatic service.