Who was in fact this bureaucrat who had lived five generations ago and witnessed the downfall of the Ottoman Empire? He had undertaken critical appointments at a time when one decision would have an impact on many, a period full of dangers like a minefield, foggy and unclear, when right and wrong were sometimes indiscernible. Ali wanted to better know this ancestor, who had been a governor at a time of turmoil before the Republic.
Mehmet Celal Bey was appointed Governor of Erzurum, a critical region at that time, in March 1910. This is a region where, until the end of the 19th Century, Turks, Armenians, and Kurds lived in harmony and entrusted their children to one another. In his memoirs, Mehmet Celal Bey said: "Those days, there were certain disputes among the Armenians and the Kurds. The most important one was about land. In order to establish goodwill in a country offering equality among its citizens, first and foremost it was necessary to solve these disputes in accordance with the wishes of the parties, to give everyone their due, to protect the legal rights of all, to ban individuals encroaching on others' rights or ruling over them, and to establish the Rule of Law. This was my aim..."
The main purpose of the Armenian parties founded at the end of the 19th Century was to declare independence for Western Armenians, and to establish an independent Armenia by uniting eastern and western Armenians living under the sovereignty of the Russian and Ottoman Empires. At the dawn of the 20th Century, the Armenagan party, Social Democratic Hınçak Party, and Armenian Revolutionary Federation Taşnaksutyun were the Armenian parties active in Ottoman lands.
Mehmet Celal Bey sees the destitution of the Armenians in the station. He sends all the Armenians in Konya back home, and allocates daily wages from the immigrants' fund to those coming from other regions. Trains coming from the Haydarpaşa Station bring thousands of Armenians each day. Orders are given to send them further south. Mehmet Celal Bey keeps the arrivals in Konya on the pretext that there are no available wagons, and does not permit them to be sent onward.
Contrary to what was expected, Mehmet Celal Bey would prove to be a hard case for the French and the minorities collaborating with them. Right after his arrival in Adana, he caused a flag crisis that took its place in history books. When he saw that there was a French flag flying over the Governor's Office, he ordered it taken down, and the Ottoman flag flown instead. He refused to take his office unless that condition was met. Following lengthy discussions and negotiations, the French agreed to take down their flag six days of the week. However, they insisted on flying it one day of the week, Sunday. Mehmet Celal Bey found this unacceptable and stated that unless the flag was taken down completely, he would not take his office. Sunday was in fact a weekday during Ottoman times. Although it seems symbolic, Celal Bey's refusal to accept this stipulation increased the public morale. People started to visit the Governor's Office just so that they could pass under the flag. The underground resistance movement was motivated by this and increased its activities.
In the same way that Armenians were mistreated and suffering, so too were Muslim Turkish citizens who suffered under collaborating minorities, and in particular some Armenians in Adana under the occupation. Mehmet Celal Bey believed that the State's fundamental duty was to protect its citizens from such mistreatment and suffering. Because of his sense of duty, he did not care about the ethnic identity of the people, just their rights. Such was his perspective on the state, justice, and on humanity and life.
The State's duty was simply to find and punish the guilty. However, Mehmet Celal Bey saw that gangs were able to do anything, because they were outlaws and only small parts of the population. Therefore, these reasons meant the state could not, and should not justify a collective deportation. Although it was believed that deporting Armenians was necessary for the good of the country, it shouldn't have been implemented as it was proposed. It was inevitable that Armenians who were deported south would perish without any food or shelter among nomadic Arabian tribes. Armenians had been a settled nation for centuries and an Armenian nation without trees, water, and supplies was doomed to perish in alien deserts. Nevertheless, that is how the situation developed.
According to Mehmet Celal Bey, Muslims and Turks were just tools. He had witnessed how local Muslims helped displaced Armenians during his Governorship at Aleppo, and how landowners had applied to him to say that they could offer settlement on their lands to Armenians. He had never seen any Turkish people usurping the possessions of Armenians, neither in Aleppo, nor in Konya. Furthermore, he had not met a single Muslim in these cities who condoned the deportation. In this case, how could Turks and Muslims be held responsible for what happened to Armenians?
His body, exhausted after a life spent in great struggles, did not permit him to see the evolution of the Republic. He passed away in 1926. It is said that during his funeral in Istanbul, attended by tens of thousands of Armenian citizens, business life in the city stopped for several hours. Tens of thousands of Armenians offered their final respects to this brave officer, who had saved their lives or the lives of relatives in Aleppo and Konya. He was buried in the family cemetery at Istanbul Taşlık, where the Swissotel now stands. This wide area was in fact a family property, and was later donated to the Istanbul Municipality for the preservation of the cemetery, building of a mosque, and development of a park. The construction of the mosque started during the time of Sultan Abdülaziz, but according to rumors it was stopped due to concerns about whether the muezzin would be able to see into the Harem of the Dolmabahçe Palace. That is why the area is called Taşlık (Stony Ground). Later on, as became habit, the Municipality did not keep its commitment, and built a road over the tomb of this distinguished bureaucrat without even permitting the transfer of his remains. Today, Mehmet Celal Bey does not even have a tomb.