Changing Planet

Remembering Gallipoli II: Resurrecting Ismail Hakki

Ataturk's Birthplace. 17 Apostolou Pavlou in Thessalonica (Selanik) Greece. (Photo by the author)

On June 23, 2006 I had been serving as a lecturer on board the cruise ship, Crystal Serenity, when the ship docked for the day in Thessalonica (the old Ottoman Turkish city of “Selanik”). With close friends from the ship, I drove to Virgina, to see the tumulus of Phillip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Then we returned to Thessalonica and found the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal, at 17 Apostolou Pavlou.

Mustafa Kemal, right after the Gallipoli Campaign

Late in the 19th century my grandfather, Ismail Hakki (1881-1916) and his close childhood friend Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938) attended the neighborhood school together, and they played soccer/football on the streets. Of course, Mustafa Kemal would go on to rescue Turkey, then set on a seemingly inexorable course to disintegration. From the smoldering ruins of the Ottoman Empire, he would create the Republic of Turkey, as a secular Republic with Western values, promoting science and reason over superstition and dogma. A grateful parliament of the republic he created would later bestow on him the honorific title, Atatürk, “Father of the Turks.”

Note: In 2002 the distinguished psychiatrist, Arnold Ludwig, now at Brown University, published an extraordinary treatise entitled, King of the Mountain. After having labored 18 years to create the Political Greatness Scale (PGS), a gauge to assess the effectiveness in leadership, he graded and ranked the leaders of the 20th century. (The scale is based on qualities, such as the size of the population, military prowess, nature of reforms, economics, durations of the leader’s rule, etc. distilled from the qualities of individuals whose names have come to define leadership –including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln etc.) Moreover, since one nation’s hero, can be another nation’s scourge, Professor Ludwig is able to factor out the “good-evil factor.” (Stalin, Hitler, Castro are high on the list.) Dr. Ludwig acknowledges that there have been over 2000 leaders during the century, but focuses on 377 on those for whom ample information exists. Among the highest ranking are F.D. Roosevelt and Mao Zedong 30 points each; Stalin 29 points; Lenin 28 points; de Gaule and Deng Xiaoping tied with 27 points; Churchill and Reagan 22 points; Clinton and Kennedy 15 points; Carter 14 points… (all of them in the top third). First in the ranking is Kemal Ataturk, the savior and visionary leader of Turkey, with 31 points.

Photo of Maj. Ismail Hakki, 1/1/1916.

For eight months, through the better part of 1915, the two close friends, Lt. Colonel Mustafa Kemal and Major Ismail Hakki, fought alongside each other in the Gallipoli Campaign of WWI. A photograph was taken of my grandfather’s company during a break in the action. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the ANZACS, he traveled briefly to Edirne (Roman Adrianople) on assignment, and while there, on January 1, 1916, had a photograph taken of himself. Inscribed on the back, the message reads in old Turkish (right-to-left), “Sevgili Teyze” (“Dear aunt”), I’ve survived eight months of action in Gallipoli. I will soon leave for the Eastern Front to face the Arabs and their recalcitrant English leader.”

Before leaving for the Eastern Front, however, he visited the small town of Biga, lying to the east of Çanakkale and Troy, there to see his young family, ensconced in the town since shortly before the war began. There were his wife and three young children, two years apart in age — the oldest, a daughter; the middle, a son; and the youngest, another son, my father, “Mustafa Kemal”— named after Ismail Hakki’s childhood friend, and in accord with his wishes. (Last names were not introduced into Turkey until 1934. It can make genealogical research a hopelessly difficult task.)

A group photo of the Turkish company, with Ismail Hakki in the back row identified by a diagonal line.

After only a day or two with his family, however, Ismail Hakki had to leave again, this time to fight on the Eastern Front.  There he would die, fighting against the Arabs and their “recalcitrant” English leader, T. E. Lawrence, who would become known as Lawrence of Arabia.  My grandfather’s body would presumably be interred somewhere in southeastern Turkey.


In October 2008, I received an email message from Bob Kerr, an artist living in Wellington, New Zealand. Mr. Kerr explained that he was working on a diorama comprised of ten horizontally conjoined panels for ANZAC Day, April 25, 2010, and planned to include a quote from Ismail Hakki that appeared in the 2005 documentary film, Frontline Experience: Gallipoli, written, produced and directed by the Turkish filmmaker Tolga Örnek. Mr. Kerr was asking me for information about my grandfather. I responded immediately, confessing that I had precious little information about him, and could only cite the tribute that I had written for my father. Then in the closing days of 2010, I received a puzzling package in the mail. To my astonishment and deep gratitude, the long and narrow package contained a scaled down version (5×26 inches) of Bob Kerr’s panorama. Emblazoned in the sky above the hills were my grandfather’s poignant words:

I do not know these British soldiers and they do not know me, what can I say to
those who made us come here and kill each other without reason!  — Ismail Hakki

In the film, Ismail Hakki continues, “I have sworn that I will not fire a single bullet without reason.”

The docudrama narrated by two celebrated actors, Sam Neill of New Zealand and Jeremy Irons of the United Kingdom, is a sobering and exquisitely balanced account of the battle fought 90-years earlier, and brought the filmmaker a distinguished award, the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Artist Bob Kerr of Wellington, New Zealand, working on a 10-panel diorama of ANZAC Cove. He is seen copying Ismail Hakki's words.
Bob Kerr, at the Ataturk Memorial Park outside Wellington, NZ (2011)


Bulent Atalay, a scientist, artist and author, has been described by NPR, PBS and the Washington Post as a “Modern Renaissance Man.” He is the author of two successful books on the intersection of art, science and mathematics, with Leonardo, the pre-eminent Renaissance man, serving as the foil. His best selling book, "Math and the Mona Lisa," (Smithsonian Books, 2004) has appeared in 13 languages. Professor Atalay's academic background is in theoretical physics. He travels around the world lecturing at academic institutions and on cruise ships on the "A-subjects," art, archaeology, astrophysics, atomic physics and Ataturk, confessing that he knows much less about the "B-subjects," business, banking, biology and botany... He is the President of the Ataturk Society of America (ASA), dedicated to promoting Ataturk's ideals of science and reason over dogma and superstition, of a secular state with full equality of genders. For more details click on Bulent Atalay
  • Jose Pires

    Why am I not surprised for having enjoyed the article so much? The way you mix your personal and family experiences with History and your “random thoughts” makes the reading really fascinating. Warm regards. Jose.

  • David Braun

    It’s a wonderful privilege that your family was so intimately linked with one of the great men of history. Thanks for this most interesting post, Bulent.

  • Linda Young

    Bulent, this is such an arresting story, it is amazing to think that your own grandfather was in the center of it, and that his neighbor and childhood playmate was Ataturk, who did, indeed, raise the Turkish nation to its fullest glory. My husband Stephen and I are pleased to have shared some of this story with you, mainly the visit to your grandfather’s house, and now the added chapter with the beautiful panorama sent you by Bob Kerr. How special!

  • Hugh Dolan

    A warming account from the Ottoman lines; Ottoman soldiers or Askers were often described in Australian diaries as both ferocious in battle and warm hearted during periods of rest. We need more stories from the Ottoman lines to complete the picture on the Gallipoli campaign. I have attempted to craft a little of the Ottoman soldiers’ narrative in: “36 Days: Th Untold Stroy of the Gallipoli Campaign” (Pan Macmillan 2010) from prisoner of war interrogations and translated diaries in Allied intelligence diaries. I enjoyed your article, Squadron Leader Hugh Dolan, RAAF.

  • Murray Lines

    Hi Bulent, it is a delight to see you spreading your wings even wider on the net. As an avid Nat Geo reader since a small boy, i still admire many of the articles. As a New Zealander who moved to Australia to work in the geosciences, the word ANZAC is doubly meaningful to me. Keep up the good work and it is always good to see your phootgraphs and thoughtful descriptions on Trekearth site. I hope we get to meet some time while we are both young men (at heart).Rgds Murray

  • I am touched by the eloquent comments from the readers of “Remembering Gallipoli.” I am especially happy to see the notes from Hugh Dolan, Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force, and from Murray Lines in Sydney. Walking along the trenches in Gallipoli can be a heart rending experience. With a pair of binoculars one can make out the ruins of ancient Troy across the Dardanelles, where another bloody skirmish took place… 3000-years earlier. Is there any doubt about the timeless dictum, “Old men start war so that young men can die in them.” Indeed, the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.

  • Rochele HC Hirsch

    Once again, I am warmed by the “heart” that comes through your words. You not only make history come alive, you infuse it with our humanness. Quite a beautiful contrast to the “bottom line” world of facts, figures — and corporate / government imperatives that reduce the contributions of so many individuals to numbers, charts and “collateral damage.” As a sensitive artist, physicist and historian, you help us remember to appreciate the meaning and personal sacrifice of human endeavor.

  • Helen Bergland Reilly

    Once again, Bulent, you have helped to awaken my interest in history. I have learned much from you. As a humble student who has finally found intellectual curiosity late in life, I hold dearly your gifts of books, thoughts, emails and friendship. May new doors readily open for you in your quest to educate “students” everywhere on these timely lessons of history, especially when they are so relevant today. Indeed, it is truly amazing that we still cease to learn from them.

  • Steve Myers

    This is a marvelous story, both informative and inspiring! Your grandfather, Ismail Hakki, and Mustafa Kemal were indeed men who lived in an age of giants, rather than the vacuous pygmies we apparently must endure today. The world today is desperate for such men of wisdom, understanding and vision.

  • T

    Very interesting read, thanks for sharing

  • Tijen Arik

    Thank you for sharing Ismail Hakki’s sad story. It is true that what we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything. It angers me think that still precious, bright individuals like Ismail Hakki are at the mercy of incompetent political leaders and their foolish decisions.

  • Mikhail

    Hi Bulent,
    This is an interesting story with lots of historical facts that are not broadly presented in the West.

  • Azer Hasanov

    My cousin’s grand-grandfather’s name is Ismayil Haqqi. He was Turkish Officer, who come to Azerbaijan in beginning of 20th century to fight together with Azerbaijan people against armenian bandits, who married here and stay in Azerbaijan. There were big problems in Soviet time with their family and they lost all connections with Turkey and did not know anything about their relatives in Turkey. Best of my knowledge he was from Istanbul. If somebody can help to find their relatives in Turkey, send me email on

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