Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in hot water over the recent “partygate” scandal, with many calling for his resignation over claims of him breaking lockdown rules.
A limited version of the Sue Gray report which looked into No 10 and Whitehall parties during lockdown has criticised a “serious failure” to observe the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government.
In this period of threats to his political future, the prime minister may seek inspiration and guidance from his ancestors, who like him enjoyed long careers in politics.
His father Stanley was also a Conservative politician, having served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Wight and Hampshire East from 1979 to 1984. But a slightly lesser-known forefather of the prime minister is a certain Ali Kemal, who was born in 1869 in Cankiri, a small and out-of-the-way landlocked town in what is today central Turkey.
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Ali Kemal was Boris Johnson’s great-grandfather. This in effect makes Britain’s incumbent premier one-eighth Turkish. Like his descendant, Ali Kemal also started off as a journalist before launching his political career.
He was the editor of a newspaper called Ikdam, which was known for its opposition to the rulership of then-Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. At its height, it was one of the most popular publications in the Ottoman Empire. Due to his staunch opposition to the Sultan, Ali Kemal spent a significant amount of his life in exile.
While living in Switzerland, he met Winifred Brun, whose mother Margaret Johnson was British. Ali and Winifred fell in love, and the couple were eventually married in Paddington, London in 1903. Five years later, Ali was to return to Turkey after the Sultan was deposed in a coup by a group of Ottoman military generals called The Young Turks.
But the leaders of the new regime were no more friendly towards Ali Kemal and his views than the previous, and Ali once again found himself in opposition with his Liberal Union party. The party elected him as their Istanbul representative in 1909, and that same year, The Times newspaper speculated that Ali Kemal would challenge for the seat of Justice Minister.
The Times described him as one of the “leading men of letters in Turkey, an excellent speaker, and personally very popular”. But his return to Turkey only lasted a year before he was once again forced to flee to England when loyalists of the deposed Sultan Abdulhamid II launched a counter-revolution against the Young Turks.
His second spell in England was a mixed experience of joy and tragedy. Ali Kemal witnessed the birth of his son Osman Wilfred, who was Boris Johnson’s paternal grandfather, but shortly afterwards he suffered the loss of his beloved wife Winifred who died of illness.
In 1912, after the Young Turks managed to reconsolidate their power and once again oust Sultan Abdulhamid II, Ali Kemal decided to give life in his home country one last shot. This time he enjoyed a relatively less troublesome return, even briefly becoming the Empire’s Interior Minister in 1919.
But Ali Kemal at the same time continued to develop a notorious reputation as somewhat of a political rebel, spending much of his time criticising the Young Turk-led establishment for corruption and suppression. He called them out on atrocities they had allegedly committed against the Empire’s ethnic Armenian population in 1915 during the First World War, thus making himself a target of the military regime.
Ali Kemal was also an open Anglophile, and in 1919 established The Anglophile Society. Again, this did him no favours considering that just four years earlier the Turkish nation sacrificed tens of thousands of lives defending the city of Gallipoli from a failed British invasion, not to mention that Istanbul was under British occupation at the time.
After Turkish nationalist forces successfully expelled foreign invaders from most of Turkey following a two-year war for independence led by their national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Ali Kemal was once again to find out his views were no longer welcome in his homeland.
However, this time he wasn’t given the opportunity to flee like he was before.
On one cold November day in 1922, Ali Kemal was kidnapped from a barbershop on the European side of Istanbul and taken across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city. The initial plan was to take him to the new capital Ankara to face trial for treason, but while passing by the city of Izmit he was set upon by paramilitary forces loyal to Ataturk.
The group battered and bludgeoned Ali Kemal to death with sticks, stones and knives before hanging him from a tree.
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The lynch mob then placed an epitaph on his body that read ‘Artin Kemal’, intended as an insult to highlight his treachery due to his pro-Armenian stance.
A popular poet by the name of Nazim Hikmet at the time wrote of Ali Kemal’s fate in the following verses: “I saw the blood run down into his moustache. Someone yelled: ‘Get him!’
“It rained sticks, stones and rotten vegetables. They hung his body from a branch over that bridge.”
Ali Kemal was survived by his son Wilfred, who was father to Boris Johnson’s dad Stanley. He also had a daughter named Cemla, and another son called Zeki Kuneralp from a second marriage to a woman called Sabiha.
Zeki, who was Boris Johnson’s great uncle, went on to become Turkey’s ambassador to Switzerland. In 1978, Zeki survived an Armenian-orchestrated assassination attempt in Madrid that tragically claimed the life of his wife and brother-in-law.
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