By Sinem Cengiz
July 26, 2019
We Turks, like any other nationality in the Middle East, value familial bonds highly and tend to exaggerate things with the use of superlative adjectives.
Former Mayor of London and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s election as the new prime minister of the UK is a case in point.
Soon after news of his election broke, Turkish media were running headlines such as “Boris the Turk,” “Ottoman grandson becomes prime minister,” and “For England, a prime minister with roots in Cankiri,” a province in central Turkey where Johnson’s great-grandfather Ali Kemal Bey (Bey is a Turkish title used for bureaucrats and leaders in the Ottoman times) is from.
Turkish journalists flocked to the village of Kalfat, located in Cankiri, to interview residents who were overjoyed by Johnson’s success. Referring to Johnson’s family as “Sarioglangiller” or “the sons of those with blonde hair,” locals were proud that the 55-year-old politician had become the UK’s premier.
Johnson’s great-grandfather was an Ottoman journalist and politician who briefly served as the Ottoman education and internal affairs minister in 1919.
When Ali Kemal came into conflict with the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), he fled into exile and married Winifred Brun, a Swiss-Brit, in London. Brun died giving birth to their second child, Osman Wilfred Kemal.
After returning from exile, Ali Kemal married Sabiha Hanim with whom he had one son, Zeki Kuneralp, who later became the Turkish ambassador to the UK.
Meanwhile, Ali Kemal’s children from Brun, Selma and Osman, took on their maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Johnson. Osman Wilfred Johnson later married Irene Williams, with whom he had a son Stanley Johnson, a former Conservative politician and father to the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Thus, after his election, a Turkish novel from the 1960s started to circulate on social media in Turkey. According to “Wolf Law,” written by author Kemal Tahir, Johnson’s Ottoman great-grandfather was a Freemason, a belief held at that time in Turkey. As an outspoken opponent of the CUP, Ali Kemal was later assassinated.
Many in Turkey started to refer to the character in the novel that depicted the rise of Ali Kemal’s grandsons to power, such as diplomats Zeki and Selim Kuneralp and now PM Johnson.
So, what will Johnson’s premiership bring to world politics in general and Turkish-UK relations in particular?
Ankara has welcomed his success and said his premiership could strengthen ties with London.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Johnson and wished him success as prime minister. “I congratulate @BorisJohnson, who became the UK’s 77th prime minister, and wish him success in his new position. I believe Turkish-United Kingdom relations will develop further in this new era,” he tweeted on July 23.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also welcomed the appointment, sharing a video of Turkish reporters asking Johnson about his roots in Cankiri during a 2016 visit to the Turkish capital.
While Johnson once advocated for Turkey to join the EU, during the Brexit Leave campaign in 2016, he also took on anti-Turkey rhetoric despite a generally supportive state policy by the UK, warning that Turkish membership would mean millions of Turks migrating to Britain.
However, he later denied his remarks about Turkey and even paid a post-referendum visit to Ankara in his official capacity as foreign secretary and praised Turkey-UK relations.
Thus, the incoming UK prime minister’s previous remarks about Turkey on the EU makes it difficult to understand the future of Ankara-London relations.
However, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the UK and Turkey sought to boost cooperation on matters related to Syria, irregular migration and security threats. It was Johnson who said last year that, “Turkey is right to want to keep its borders secure,” and expressed that the UK would continue to support Turkey on Syria.
Part of the Treaty of Guarantee signed in 1960 for Cyprus, along with Turkey and Greece, a British stance in the recent tension over the island would also be significant.
Only time will show what impact the “Ottoman grandson” will have on world politics and Turkish-British relations.
Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.
Source: Arab News