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Atatürk's signature came from hand of Armenian-Turkish master

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/29/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

Armenians experienced many tribulations during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, yet some from the community also stayed to help build the new Republic, including Hagop Vahram Çerçiyan, an Armenian-Turk who created Atatürk's iconic signature in just one night in 1934. The Daily News spoke to Çerçiyan's son about the making of the famous signature

From state buildings to official monuments and from the back of car windows to tattoos and all other points in between, the distinctive cursive signature of republican founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is ubiquitous in Turkey. But while few Turkish citizens would fail to recognize the leader’s signature, even fewer know that an Armenian Turk created the iconic  signature – in just one night.

“It was early in the morning. Someone knocked on our door. Worried, my mother came back telling my father that police was asking for him,” Dikran Çerçiyan, the 90-year-old son of the signature’s creator, Hagop Vahram Çerçiyan, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in recalling the day in 1934 when authorities came looking for a master signature maker.

Hagop Vahram Çerçiyan worked as a teacher for 55 years at Istanbul’s prestigious Robert College, overseeing the graduation of 25,000 students, including former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, former foreign ministers Selim Sarper and Turgut Menemencioğluları and former Cabinet minister Kasım Gülek.

Though teaching math and geography at Robert College at the time, Çerçiyan had also gone to the United States to learn the Palmer Method, a system of handwriting that became popular in the country. Upon his return to Turkey, Çerçiyan also taught the method at Robert College.

After the Turkish Republic was formed on Oct. 29, 1923, the country’s leaders set about trying to remake and modernize the country. As part of changes aimed at nation-building, the government decreed that all citizens should take a last name, which did not exist in Ottoman times.

Mustafa Kemal, duly, took the surname Atatürk, meaning father of the Turks.

[HH] Name needed a signature

With the 1934 adoption of the surname law, many of Çerçiyan’s former students-turned-parliamentarians, became convinced of the need for the Republic’s founder to develop a signature to accompany his new name.

“The students of my father who were then members of Parliament decided to present him with proposals for a signature. The decision was conveyed to my father by the police commissioner in Istanbul’s Bebek neighborhood,” said Dikran Çerçiyan, who still recalls the day.

After being entrusted with the task, Çerçiyan’s father set to work. “I was tired of watching him and fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning I saw five models on the table. They were handed to the police officer who came that morning,” he said.

[HH] Çerçiyan’s work later forgotten

“My father used to have great admiration for Atatürk and always feld proud of his work, so do I,” said Çerçiyan.

“Following Atatürk’s death, some wrote in the Turkish press about my father and the signature. But later on it was all forgotten. Some tried to introduce others as the creator of the signature. There were efforts to forget my father. But the truth always come to the  surface,” he said.

Although Çerçiyan lives in New York, he said he spent an important part of his life in Turkey.

“After [first] retiring in 1919, my father came to America for trade but we returned [to Turkey] when I was 2 years old,” he said, adding that although he settled back in the U.S. in 1990 he still had great love for Turkey.

Ultimately, Çerçiyan said there were no problems between Armenians and Turks but only between governments.  

“Although my lifetime will not be long enough to see it, the problems will be alleviated one day. We still need time for that but time will heal the wounds,” he said.

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