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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 10:54 GMT
Turkish heroine's roots spark row
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC, Istanbul

A row has broken out in Turkey over reports that a national heroine might in fact have been Armenian by birth.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Ataturk's legacy still looms large in Turkey
Twelve-year-old Sabiha Gokcen was adopted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - the founder of the modern Turkish state - in 1925.

Gokcen, who went on to become Turkey's first woman combat pilot, has long been acclaimed as the epitome of progressive Turkish womanhood.

Almost all Turkish schoolgirls grow up learning the story of Sabiha Gokcen off by heart.

Adopted by Ataturk, Gokcen subsequently trained as a pilot and took part in bombing missions over the city of Dersim in the mainly Kurdish east.


She was regarded by the state as the exemplary modern Turkish woman and flags flew at half mast when she died three years ago.

Now, newspaper speculation that her father might have been Armenian - killed in the mass slaughter of Armenians in 1915 - has provoked uproar.

Turkey's General Staff reacted angrily to the suggestion, saying that the debate mocked national values and was not conducive to social peace.

Despite recent legislation designed to improve the status of Turkey's ethnic minorities, estimated to be around 100,000, this latest exchange illustrates the acute sensitivity that many here - particularly the army - continue to feel about issues to do with the Turkey's national and ethnic identity.

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