Boris Johnson’s Ottoman Ties Spark Hope in Turkish Village
His Turkish great-grandfather was lynched as a traitor, but Turks who proudly claim Boris Johnson as a distant relative are hoping his appointment as U.K. prime minister will be good news for his ancestral homeland.
While Johnson wants his country to leave the European Union and Turkey would like to join it, villagers in Kalfat, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of the Turkish capital, Ankara, see opportunities for common ground.
“If he ever remembers his Ottoman genes, that may help him forge closer ties with Turkey,” said Adem Karagac by phone from Kalfat, where Johnson’s paternal ancestors were known as “Sarioglangiller,” or “the blond ones.”
“If I was still the village leader, I would celebrate his rise with fireworks,” he said.
Johnson, also known for his yellow moptop, was appointed Britain’s leader on Wednesday, promising to deliver the break with the EU he has long championed.
He recalled his Turkish heritage at a public event as the U.K. neared its initial deadline of leaving the bloc by the end of March, a time when immigration was at the front and center of British political debate.
“I’m a beneficiary of the policies of this country in the sense that my Turkish great-grandfather came to Wimbledon, for some reason, shortly before he was assassinated,” Johnson said in London. “This is a great, welcoming, open country and we can do that when we leave the EU.”
Yet as the leading face of Vote Leave ahead of the referendum on EU membership, he was also associated with its false claim that Turkey was about to join the grouping, allowing millions of Turks to legally settle in the U.K.
Johnson’s great-great-grandfather, Ahmet Hamdi Haci, left Kalfat in the 19th century for Istanbul, where he became a businessman, according to a book by the prime minister’s father, Stanley, titled “Stanley, I Resume.” He sent one son, Ali Kemal, to study abroad and a year later his British wife died in England right after giving birth to another, Andrew Gimson wrote in a biography titled “Boris.”
Like Johnson a journalist-turned-politician, Kemal served as the interior minister under Turkey’s last sultan in the early 20th century. His fatal mistake was advocating turning Turkey into a British colony in the waning days of the Ottoman empire, when the modern republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was fighting to defeat invading troops of Britain, France, Italy and Greece.
In November 1922, Kemal was kidnapped by nationalists in Istanbul and taken by boat to the nearby town of Izmit, where he was killed and then hanged from a tree.
Johnson has challenged the narrative of Kemal as traitor, his father wrote in his book.
“Is it not possible that Ali Kemal just had the best interests of Turkey at heart? Maybe he thought, look, this guy - Mustafa Kemal - is trouble. All he wants to is take on the French and the Brits, he’s going to cause us no end of bother,” Stanley Johnson cited his son as saying.
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