At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was no more. Out of the ashes and redrawn borders the Republic of Turkey was born. Under the strong hand of Mustafa Kemal, he forced a redesign of many aspects of Turkish life and culture. He wanted the Republic and it's people to face Westward and engage Europe culturally, politically, and in commerce. Mustafa Kemal forced Turks to take last names. As odd as it may sound today, most Turks did not have last names. To set the example, he changed his name to Kemal Ataturk. He went on the push for Westernization of music and clothing including banning the wearing of the traditional fez.
Traditionally, Arabic script was used for Turkish. The script was not the best match for the Turkish language for a litany of reasons but was presumably adopted since it was the alphabet and script most widely used in the Islamic World. Thus, another key part of Ataturk's transformation was to create an alphabet that was modern, Western, and facilitated the teaching and learning of Turkish in the Republic and to foreigners. Ataturk gave this task to the person most suited for the job; an Armenian named Hagop Martayan a prominent
linguist and man of letters at Robert College in Istanbul.
Martayan worked and created a Latin rooted alphabet that perfectly suited to Turkish. He created an alphabet of 28 letters modifying some with cedilla's and others with umlauts to create a system that was consistent, free of special rules, diphthongs, and other such things were bothersome when using Arabic letters to write Turkish.
Martayan labors were a great success. Ataturk was pleased and bestowed a new, modern, and more suitably Turkish last name on Hagop. Hagop Martayan became Agop Dilaçar. Dilaçar means the revealer of language, a most appropriate moniker.
Martayan lived all of his life in Turkey. He was a citizen of that country and a significant contributor to that society. Yet, he was a proud Armenian and carried on, in a way, the legacy of Mesrob Masdots. His alphabet which is easily learned is actually is the best at transliterating Armenian, case in point: Çidem İnç.
He was a family friend of my friend Sonia Derman Harlan who speaks very highly of him. There is a Turkish website that refers to him as one of the "good Armenians." Armenians native to Istanbul know of him. To us in the diaspora, he is not so well known and an oddity because he stayed, contributed, and thrived in the Republic of Turkey. We have a hard time processing and digesting how all of this was possible. In a Civilnet interview with Rober Haddeciyan, editor-in-chief of Marmara newspaper, related a story of how Martayan sang a Tashnag anthem in front of Ataturk. To the amazement of all in attendance, Attaturk not only left him alone but supported his right to do so.
With the new alphabet and his new name in place, Attaturk next wanted an appropriate signature. Again he turned to an Armenian. Hagop Vahram
Amazing two Armenians, two Hagops, played a role Ataturk's modernization efforts.
Çidem İnç indeed.
For Further Reading:
- Other links from the 100 Years 100 Facts page:
- Vercihan Ziflioğlu. “Atatürk’s signature came from hand of Armenian-Turkish master”, Hürriyet Daily News, 29 October, 2010
- Dil Derneği. “A. Dilâçar” (in Turkish)
- Wikipedia: “Agop Dilaçar”
- Wikipedia: “Hagop Vahram Çerçiyan”