Ali Kemal Bey

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Ali Kemal Bey

Ali Kemal Bey (1867 – 6 November 1922) was a liberal Ottoman journalist, newspaper editor and poet[1] who was for some three months Minister of the Interior in the government of Damat Ferid Pasha, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. He was murdered during the Turkish War of Independence. He is the paternal grandfather of the British politician Stanley Johnson and great-grandfather of the current Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Rachel Johnson, and Jo Johnson.

Life and career[edit]

Ali Kemal's mother was a Circassian, reputedly of slave origin.[2] Ali Kemal was a journalist who travelled 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.[3] They were married in Paddington, London, on 11 September 1903.[4]

Early in his life Kemal had acquired strong liberal democratic convictions, which caused him to be exiled from the Ottoman Empire under Abdulhamit 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 İkdâm newspaper and a leading member of the Liberal Union.[5]

In The Times dated 9 March 1909, on speculating that he would contest the seat of the late Minister of Justice Refik Bey, Ali Kemal was described as among the "leading men of letters in Turkey, an excellent speaker, and personally very popular".[6] Ali 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.[7]

After the murder of the editor-in-chief of the Serbestî newspaper, Hasan Fehmi Bey, in April 1909, Ali Kemal Bey stated that he had warned Ismail Qemali Bey and Rifsat, the assistant editor of Serbestî that they had been condemned by extremists in Salonika.[8] A media storm between the liberal paper İkdam and the conservative Tanin followed, with İkdam accusing Ahmed 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 Ali Kemal accused Rahmi Bey and Dr. Nâzım Bey of the Committee of Union and Progress of proposing his murder.[9] 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 a monarchy 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.

Ali Kemal fled to exile in England, where in late in 1909, his wife Winifred gave birth to a son, Osman Wilfred Kemal, at Bournemouth, Hampshire. Shortly after giving birth his wife died of puerperal fever. They already had a daughter named Selma. Ali 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 Hanim, the daughter of an Ottoman pasha. They had one son, Zeki Kuneralp, who was born in October 1914.

On his return from exile, Ali Kemal made a speech in favour of a war against the Balkan League in Stambul on 3 October 1912.[10] 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 Ali Kemal was backing Ahmed Tevfik Pasha to be grand vizier, with the support of the Naval and Khoja parties.[11] A later report in The Times dated 19 May 1919, stated that Ali Kemal had been appointed Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Damat Ferid Pasha, replacing Mehmed Ali Bey who had retired.[10] Ali Kemal was one of the members of the Ottoman delegation to the Paris peace conference in June 1919.[1] In an article dated 25 June 1919, The Times reported that Ali 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 Ismid 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, Ali Kemal had resigned between the filing of the report and its publication in The Times on 3 July 1919.[12]

With unequalled passion, Ali 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, Ali 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, Ali 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. Ali Kemal was lynched by a mob set up by the General. His head was smashed by cudgels and he was stoned to death. As described by Nureddin personally to Dr. 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, "Artin Kemal"". This bestowal of a fictitious Armenian name administered a final indignity to the victim.[13]

Descendants and legacy[edit]

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 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)[14] 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, Kemal's great-grandson, is Boris Johnson, who was editor of The Spectator and a Conservative Member of Parliament for Henley on Thames. Since 4 May 2008 he has held the office of Mayor of London.[15]

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, Ali 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.[16]

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.



  1. ^ a b "Turk Mission Leaves For Paris". The Times. 1919-06-11. p. 14. 
  2. ^ Andrew Gimson, Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson, 2012, p. 1957
  3. ^ Zeki Kuneralp,, Ali Kemal: (1869 - 1922) ; a Portrait for the Benefit of His English Speaking Progeny (1993), p. 7
  4. ^ Stanley Johnson, Stanley I Presume (2009), p. 88
  5. ^ "Turkey. Banquet Of Ottoman Liberals". The Times. 1909-01-27. p. 5. 
  6. ^ "Turkey. Refik Bey's Constituency". The Times. 1909-03-09. p. 5. 
  7. ^ "The Turkish Parliament". The Times. 1909-03-10. p. 5. 
  8. ^ "The Murder Of A Turkish Editor". The Times. 1909-04-09. p. 3. 
  9. ^ "Turkish Internal Affairs. Parties And Politics". The Times. 1909-04-13. p. 3. 
  10. ^ a b "War Demonstrations In Constantinople". The Times. 1912-10-04. p. 6. 
  11. ^ "Turkey's Internal Politics. Enver Pasha's Legacy". The Times. 1918-11-19. p. 5. 
  12. ^ "C.U.P. Intrigue". The Times. 1919-07-03. p. 14. 
  13. ^ Harry James Cargas: An Interview with Vahakn N. Dadrian: An Expert on the Armenian Genocide. in: Samuel Totten (Editor): Genocide. Issues, Approaches, Resources, Social Science Record. The Journal of the New York State Council for the Social Studies, Vol 24, Issue 2, Fall 1987, p. 24
  14. ^
  15. ^ Who do you Think you Are?: Boris Johnson, BBC, screened 20 August 2008; available on BBC iPlayer
  16. ^ Genç, Kaya (September 3, 2013). "Ali Kemal: Martyred Journalist and Iconic Traitor". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 

Primary sources[edit]

  • M. Kayahan Özgül (ed.), Ali Kemâl, Ömrüm (Hece yayınları, Ankara, 2004)
  • Zeki Kuneralp, ed., Ali Kemal, Ömrüm (İsis Publications, Istanbul, 1985)

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Osman Özsoy, Gazetecinin İnfazı ["The Execution of a Journalist", biography] (Timaş Yayınları, Istanbul, 1995)

External links[edit]