(column by Yilmaz Ozdil, Hurriyet Newspaper 17 December 2013)
//ed. note: this blog is dedicated to the late, great Irishman Peter O'Toole//
World media emperor Rupert Murdoch came to Ankara last year and
had a face to face meeting with (Prime Minister) Tayyip Erdogan.
As a memento, Murdoch presented Erdogan with John Philby's book.
Murdoch is the son of an Australian correspondent who wrote secretly
to the Australian Prime Minister from Canakkale (Gelipoli), saying that
the English commanders at the front were sending false reports to London.
Murdoch's father recommended that the Australians warn the English
that Canakkale was impassable and that they should withdraw.
The author of the book that Murdoch presented to Erdogan - The Empty
Quarter - was written by John Philby, an English spy who could speak
Arabic like a native and who became a Moslem. He even took the name
Shaikh Abdullah! While we were wrestling with the British at Canakkale,
Philby was sent to Arabia as an aid to Mecca Sherif Huseyin who had
risen up against the Ottomans.
At the same time Philby was organizing the Arabs who were stabbing us
in the back, he was obtaining concessions for oil companies and building
his own wealth by pilfering historical artifacts and selling them to British
museums. He returned to England, entered politics, wasn't elected and
pouted. During the Second World War he switched sides, started selling out
his own country and worked surreptitiously for Hitler. Philby was arrested
and put under house arrest and when the war ended he went to Lebanon,
where his heart gave out and he died. He is buried in a Moslem cemetery
This spy had a son named Kim Philby. Like his father, Kim Philby graduated
from Cambridge, spoke native-level Arabic and was a spy. He was sent to
Istanbul in 1947 as a consulate secretary and subsequently went to
Washington to work as a liaison between the CIA and MI6. He became
known as the "spy of the century" during the Cold War because he was a
double agent. Kim Philby had been coopted by the Soviet secret service
and was selling information to Moscow. He was suspected, followed but
never caught red-handed. Nevertheless he was fired.
Again, like his father, Kim Philby went to Beirut, supposedly as a journalist.
Time passed and it happened that a KGB officer named Anatoliy Golitsy
sought asylum with the U.S. and sang like a nightingale. Golitsy exposed
Kim Philby and the evidence of his syping had been found. Philby could
almost feel the British rope around his neck so he fled across Syria to
Armenia and from there to Russia. Philby had married and divorced his
English and American wives but this time married the Russian writer
Rufina Pukhova, a native of Poland. His life became a book, then a
Hollywood movie. Philby turned into an alcoholic and tried suicide twice.
He died in 1988 from heart failure. Russia issued a stamp in his memory.
In fact, after Kim Philby's death is came out that when he was working
in Istanbul, a KGB officer by the name of Konstantin Volkov, assigned to
the Soviet Consulate in Istanbul, wanted to seek asylum in England.
With expert maneuvers, Philby personally delivered Volkov to the KGB
because Volkov had a list of KGB moles, with Kim Philby's name at
the top of the list!
If we return to the father of this spy, we see that John Philby, who was
organizing the Saudis, was directing a woman named Gertrude Bell,
who was doing the same thing in Iraq. Oxford graduate Gertrude was
a spy who knew seven languages, including Turkish, Arabic, Farsi and
Kurdish. She was quite beautiful, as well, with red hair, green eyes and
a delicate figure. Anyone who saw her was struck by her appearance.
She was radiant. Gertrude roamed Mesopotamia as an archeologist,
organizing the tribes. She participated in the 1919 Paris Conference
as a delegate, produced a map that separated the Kurdish, Arab and
Turkmen regions and drew Iraq's borders, as they remain today, with
her own hands.
The Iraqi border that was signed off on by Turkey and England in 1924
was her work. Gertrude also found a king - she placed Faysal, the son of
John Philby's good buddy Sherif Huseyin, as a puppet on the Iraqi
throne. The Arabs called her "Desert Queen". Gertrude never married
but she did fall in love with Major Dick Doghty-Willie. Just her luck,
though, the Major was married. They corresponded, got together but the
Major didn't divorce his wife. Gertrude was distraught but we (the Turks)
solved the problem - we killed the Major at Canakkale so there was no
need for a family-wrecking tragedy.
Perhaps this is where Gertrude's hatred of the Turks began. When her
lover died she went to Cairo and joined the British secret service's Arab
bureau there. She then went to Iraq to take care of the matters I
summarized above. First she laid a trap there for us and then she
destroyed herself. In 1926, at the age of 58, she committed suicide with
an overdose of sleeping pills. Gertrude Bell is buried in Baghdad.
Before she killed herself, though, Gertrude came to Anatolia many times.
She knew well our weakness for beautiful women, used it to open doors
wide for her and even had us give her a guide so she could roam all over
our country to her heart's delight. Gertrude got a good return for her efforts,
visiting Diyarbakir, Adana, Konya and Capadocia. She produced lists of
Kurdish and Christian villages, discerned which tribes were loyal
to the (Turkish) government and which ones were traitorous. Gertrude
mapped every place she went to - for example, in one letter she writes
"I stayed over at the Zaho camp." I don't know, do you recall this Zaho
camp from somewhere! (Zaho camp was/is a PKK camp).
Gertrude even went to Cudi (mountain in SE Turkey) and to Antakya.
On the pretext that she was touring churches along the Syrian border,
the state of which we see today, Gertrude reported on the population's
ethnic roots and religious sects. When she died she left 16 hand-written
diaries, about 2,000 letters and 7,000 photographs.
(The real) Lawrence of Arabia
As I said, she never married but she could be considered a mother
because she had what she called her "adopted son", Lt.Col. Thomas Edward
Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia! She reared him like he
was her own son, guided and coached him, and introduced him to influential
people. Lawrence of Arabia said of this woman, who was 20 years his senior,
that she was "no different from my mother. Everything I know I learned from
The Saudi King, who demolished the Ottoman fortress Ecyad at Mecca and
who summoned our President and Prime Minister to his hotel to pin medals
on them at his feet, has had the house in Jidda where Lawrence stayed
restored, with a plaque that reads: "this house was the headquarters for
Lawrence, who helped us in our war against the Turks." In any event,
in 1935, at age 46, Lawrence of Arabia died in a motorcycle accident in
England. His life was made into a film in 1962 and won Oscars in seven
categories, including best director. The movie has been saved in the
National Film Archive by the U. S. Library of Congress because of its
And you may have read that Peter O'Toole, who played Lawrence in the
film, died the other day. But this isn't The End. On the contrary, it's
beginning again because now Gertrude Bell's life is being brought to the
screen in "Desert Queen", directed by Werner Herzog. The filming began
this month and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman is playing the role of
Gertrude Bell. Actually, British director Ridley Scott was planning to
make the film and had, in fact, agreed with Angelina Jolie but Werner
Herzog was quicker on the draw.
So in a film about Gertrude Bell, there must be a role for Lawrence and
there is, of course. Who will play Lawrence? Robert Pattinson, the
young fellow in the Twilight serious about vampires. Get your popcorn
ready. The Lawrence of our generation has died but the Y generation's
awrence is being born. Actors change but the scenario remains the same.
Making films on this land (Ottoman Empire) will never end.