Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881 in Salonica (present-day Greece) – 10 November 1938 in Istanbul (present-day Turkey)) was the founder of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923. He is revered throughout Turkey and in an interview published on August 1, 1926 in The Los Angeles Examiner, spoke unfavorably of the former Ottoman Young Turk government that orchestrated the Armenian Genocide:

These left-overs from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule.

The Armenian Who Saved Ataturk's Life

Tufan Turenc, Hurriyet

August 2005

There were many Armenians who were loyal to the Turkish nation. Here is the story of one remarkable example, who came through when his nation needed him the most.

The Story of Berch Keresteciyan

Istanbul 1919 ... a city of suffering under the pain of Allied occupation ... Berch Keresteciyan Efendi, in those days, is the Director of the Ottoman Bank.

Mustafa Kemal knows him from Selanik, as the president of the bank's Selanik branch.

Berch Keresteciyan Efendi also happens to be the Vice President of Hilal-i Ahmer (Kizilay), the "Turkish Red-Crescent".

In the Istanbul of those days, a city teeming with spies on every corner, Berch Keresteciyan meets with Mustafa Kemal's attorney Sadettin Ferit Bey and divulges the following information:

"You are, I believe, both the attorney and a close friend of the Esteemed Pasha. The ship that the Esteemed will be taking to Samsun will be sunk by a British torpedo boat outside the Bosphorus. Please convey this warning to the Esteemed Pasha."

Sadettin Ferit showed up at Mustafa Kemal's house in Sisli with the bad news, although it happened to be a rather late hour of the night.

As soon as he boarded Bandirma, the ship that would take him to Samsun on the first leg of what would develop into the Turkish National War of Liberation, Mustafa Kemal asked Captain Ismail Hakki Bey "is it possible to cruise as close to the shore as possible?"

The captain hesitatingly admitted to the Pasha that this was his first voyage in the Black Sea, and he didn't quite know where the rocks or shallow banks were at.

Mustafa Kemal responded: "Then we'll sail with compass." When the captain replied embarrassingly that the ship's compass did not work either, Pasha smiled gently and said: "No problem. Great is Allah. You still try to hug the coastal line to the extent possible." Bandirma, by cruising as close as possible to the shore, reached Samsun without any major mishaps." Berch Keresteciyan

The bank director warned of an attack planned for Atatürk's ship

After Mustafa Kemal launched the liberation campaign in Anatolia, Berch Keresteciyan Efendi, as the Vice President of Hilal-i Ahmer Society, personally oversaw the shipment of crates of medicine from Istanbul to Anatolia on cargo barges. Through the same crates and barges, Teskilat-i Mahsusa (the National Intelligence Organization of its days) was also smuggling weapons to Anatolia as well. Mustafa Kemal and his friends were carrying on the war under great privation and difficulties, and were trying their best to stop the Greek occupation forces marching towards Ankara. The enemy was stopped at Inonu. Both armies were getting prepared for one final showdown.

The 2420th Rotary Regional Governorship has presented an honorary certificate posthumously to a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, Berc Keresteciyan Turker, who saved Atatürk's Iife in 1919. The then General Director of the Osmanli Bank, Berc Keresteciyan Turker, informed officials that the ship on which Atatürk was to board on May 19, 1919, would be attacked, and thus, saved Atatürk's Iife. The honorary certificate was received on behalf of the Iate Berc Keresteciyan who died 50 years ago by Deputy Patriarch of the Turkish-Armenians, Krikor Damadyan, during a ceremony held at the Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall on May 30.

Keresteciyan was elected as a member of the Turkish parliament

At that point, however, the Turkish side discovered to their great dismay that the firing mechanisms of the artillery pieces were in such bad shape that they were unusable. The war could not be won if the artillery could not fire. The firing mechanisms were sold in Istanbul's black market. However 15,000 liras were needed; a great fortune in the early 1920s. Nobody was able to produce the required amount.

At the end, Mustafa Kemal wrote a letter to Berch Keresteciyan Efendi, asking for the procurement of the direly needed funds.

Berch Keresteciyan's reply to the Pasha's envoys was clear and simple: "Come back at midnight and I'll have it ready for you." Keresteciyan withdrew everything he had in his personal bank account and delivered it to Mustafa Kemal's envoys. The missing firing mechanisms were purchased and sent immediately to Anatolia.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

After the victory, Berch Keresteciyan Efendi retired from the Ottoman Bank and was employed as a technical consultant at the state-owned Ziraat Bank. After the surname Law passed the Turkish Parliament, Mustafa Kemal gave the last name "Turker" to Berch Keresteciyan, a man whose services the Pasha could never forget.

In 1934, Atatürk made sure that Keresteciyan was elected as a member of the Turkish parliament from Afyon the same city from where the last and decisive Pitched Battle of the Commander in Chief was launched in August 1922. Thus Keresteciyan became the first Armenian member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Berch Keresteciyan Turker served in the Turkish parliament until 1942. He passed away in 1949.

So goes the story of Berch Keresteciyan Turker ... We have learned about his story during a presentation by the American historian Prof. Justin McCarthy, at a lecture he gave at the Rotary Club in Istanbul. The Rotary Club, in a touching gesture of homage to Berch Keresteciyan's exemplary memory, has presented a Certificate of Honor prepared in his name. This very meaningful document was delivered to the custodianship of Archbishop Mesrob II of the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate.

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