Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in the Mandate Palestine press

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Atatürk on a fridge magnet.

During the break I took from The Paper Dispatch this past month, I finally handed in my MA thesis (!) and took a short, celebratory trip to Istanbul. While there, it was hard to escape the figure and legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Atatürk was an important figure in the Mideast region. Not only was he credited as the father of post-Ottoman Turkey, he also transformed the country with intensive westernising and modernising reforms after the proclamation of the Turkish republic on 29th October, 1923. His death on 10th November, 1938 was a major news event for the Mandate Palestine press. (N.B. The week that he died must have been a tough one for newsrooms – it was the same week as Kristallnacht, and the publication of the Woodhead Committee’s report on the partition of Palestine.) Here is a selection of the coverage:

On 10th November, an article on page two of the Jaffa-based Arabic daily Filastin reported that “the disease befalls Atatürk a second time; poor state of health and heightened risk.” Another article from that edition compared Atatürk’s love of the good life – he died of cirrhosis of the liver as a result of alcohol consumption – to his contemporaries Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. The text pictured below reads: “Between joy and work. Atatürk makes fun of health and hygiene, and loves comfort. In contrast, are his comrades Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.”

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From Filastin, 10th November, 1938, 4.

On 11th November, under the headline “Atatürk Dies,” the Tel Aviv-based Hebrew daily Davar described the deceased leader as, “the great reformer, bold fighter against ignorance and reactionism, statesman of strength and talent, a gifted military commander, a leader of the people with enormous influence.”  

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From Davar, 11th November, 1.

The Jerusalem-based Palestine Post, meanwhile, ran an editorial lauding his achievements as “one of the few great triumphs of reason and progress over backwardness and disintegration which our age can boast.” Here is the full text of the editorial:

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From Palestine Post, 11th November, 1938, 8.

Interestingly, the religious-Zionist Tel Aviv-based Hatzofeh only ran a brief front-page article, which gave a dry overview of Atatürk’s life. The content of the article is not as interesting as the fact that it did not contain the kind of tribute that the two Hebrew newspapers mentioned above did. Two brief lines at the end list the following achievments: “Elimination of the caliphate, liberation of women, the introduction of the Latin script (under the Ottomans, Turkish was written in Arabic script), and the total Europeanisation of life.”  Was this because of his secularising reforms? Perhaps. Here is the article. The headline reads “Kemal Atatürk dies.”

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From Hatzofeh, 11th November, 1938, 1.

Aside from his ill health and front-page articles on the death itself, Filastin and the Jaffa-based Arabic broadsheet Al-Difa’ also reported on his funeral, the responses of countries around the world to his passing, and the implications of his death for the Turkish government. On 13th November, Al-Difa’ ran a translation of the Turkish government’s official statement on his death. The text pictured below from that article reads: “Turkey mourns her great leader and humanity loses a luminary. Atatürk is immortal in the hearts of the Turks and in their history.”

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From Al-Difa’, 13th November, 1938, 5.

On 16th November, Filastin ran a photograph of the deceased leader lying in state ahead of his burial in Ankara. The photo was part of a regular back-page feature of news photos from around the world.

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From Filastin, 16th November, 1938, 6.

Images of Davar, Palestine Post, and Hatzofeh are taken from the Historical Jewish Press Archive. Images of Filastin and Al-Difa’ photographed by the author at the National Library of Israel.

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3 Responses to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in the Mandate Palestine press

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