Ali Okumuş investigates an unexpected meeting at the Çankaya Mansion in 1925, and the hopes one Unionist saw realized in Kemal Atatürk.

Ali is a member of Bilecik University’s History Department.

In the early days of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Cevdet, a physician who had been one of the founders of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) organization, paid a visit to President Mustafa Kemal at Çankaya Mansion. Following this December 1925 visit Cevdet wrote a long account of the meeting “At Gazi’s Mansion” in his newspaper İdjtihad. By his account Çankaya Mansion was a small and modest residence. He was led to Gazi Pasha’s office without waiting. The chamber was lit by electricity and lined with elegantly-bound books. This was Cevdet’s first encounter with Mustafa Kemal, and he was struck by his charismatic persona. The newspaper report recounted the Pasha’s military record at length, from the desperate war years through Çanakkale to the War of Independence. After conversing for an hour, Mustafa Kemal proposed continuing the discussion. The pair ended up talking for more than three hours. In Mustafa Kemal we had, Cevdet concluded, found the man “we had been waiting and calling for for thirty years,” the man who would realize visions of Westernisation and secularisation. [1]

In this, the bright dawn of the newly-formed republic, it was not unusual for journalists and politicians to visit Mustafa Kemal at Çankaya. It was, however, somewhat surprising in the case of someone like Abdullah Cevdet, given his role in establishing the Society of the Friends of England (İngiliz Muhipleri Cemiyeti) and his strong support for the British during the armistice. Cevdet was also a member of the Society for the Elevation of the Kurds (Kürt Teali Cemiyeti).[2]

How can we explain Cevdet’s presence in Kemal’s home?

Abdullah Cevdet’s story began in 1869, born into an ordinary Kurdish family in Arapgir, in the vilayet of Mamuret ul Aziz (Elazığ). After attending school in Arapgir he moved to Istanbul, studying at the Kuleli Military Medical High School. He subsequently enrolled in the Imperial Medical School, graduating as a medical captain after six years. It was during these years that he founded the Society of Ottoman Progress (forerunner of the CUP), in collaboration with İbrahim Temo, Mehmet Reşit, Hüseyinzade Ali and İshak Sukuti.[3] After various narrow escapes he ended up in Paris. In 1897 he travelled to Geneva, where he launched İdjtihad in 1904, whose vehement criticism of the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II eventually led to Cevdet being thrown out of the country.[4]

When he finally returned to Istanbul at the end of 1910, after almost five years in Egypt, Cevdet continued to provoke, publishing articles in which he strongly criticized Islam and promoted his modernist ideas. His periodical was once again shut down and his books were banned. In the wake of WWI he was convinced that Turkey would only survive under the protection of the Allied powers. During these armistice years he served the Ottoman government as public health officer for Istanbul.[5] A man with such a past was on the wrong side of both contemporary public opinion and the newly-formed government in Ankara. Politics was out of the question. Cevdet nonetheless sought to engage with Mustafa Kemal Pasha, particularly after the treaty of Lausanne was signed.[6] According to Cevdet, Mustafa Kemal Pasha was now carrying out, step by step, those cultural reforms Cevdet had been advocating in his journalism for over two decades. Cevdet was now inhabiting the modern Turkey he had dreamed of for years.


All this was lost on the general public. As soon as he reported his visit to Mustafa Kemal in İdjtihad, other newspapers began accusing him of being pro-British,  and severely criticized his proposal to attract migrants from Europe so as to bolster the Turkish population in Anatolia.[7] Cevdet never paid much mind to such articles. He kept sharing his modernist ideas (in a number of languages) under the rubric of “The guiding principle of the review Idjtihad”, promoting liberty, economic independence, justice; championing improvements to education, agriculture, the arts and much besides.[8] He died on November 29, 1932.

Abdullah Cevdet’s oeuvres consists of around 30 translated works and over 40 publications. While some of his personal papers are preserved by his descendants, this archive has yet to be catalogued. Scholars have tended to characterize Abdullah Cevdet and his journal Idjtihad as reflecting a positivist and materialist worldview, while his impact has yet to be fully explored. Alongside a forthcoming book chapter I am also tackling this topic in an article addressing Abdullah Cevdet’s approach to minority groups within the Ottoman Empire, investigating the tension between his Kurdish background and affiliation with the Turkism-promoting CUP. The implications for our understanding of the political and cultural transformation of Empire into Republic are potentially profound. 


[1] Abdullah Cevdet, “Gazi’nin Köşkünde”, İdjtihad 194 (15 Jan. 1925), pp. 3813-3816.

[2] Ahmet Şeyhun, Competing Ideologies in the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic: Selected Writings of Islamist, Turkist, and Westernist Intellectuals (Leiden: I.B. Tauris, 2021), p. 148.

[3] Ahmet Bedevi Kuran, İnkılâp Tarihimiz ve Jön Türkler (Istanbul: Tan Matbaası, 1945), p. 30.

[4] Ottoman Imperial Archives [hereafter BOA] BEO, 2188/164074; BOA, HR.SYS., 1790/27; BOA, HR.SYS., 1790/24.

[5] BOA, İ. DUİT., 60/68, 15 Nov. 1919.

[6] Abdullah Cevdet, “Anadolu Harbinin Ruhiyatı”, İdjtihad 150 (24 Nov. 1922), pp. 3112-3114.

[7] Şükrü Hanioğlu, Bir Siyasal Düşünür Olarak Doktor Abdullah Cevdet ve Dönemi (Istanbul: Üçdal, 1981), pp. 338-339.

[8] For an example see, İdjtihad 208 (1 July 1926), pp. 4031-3.