Afghan Princess Naciye Dogan, the youngest daughter of King Amanullah Khan, has been living in Turkey since 1957. In an exclusive interview with TRT World, she talks about her life, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
King Amanullah is the sovereign who led Afghanistan to total independence in 1919, the year he came to power. After proclaiming Afghanistan’s independence, he initiated a series of reforms including a new constitution, the equality of men and women under the civil law, and compulsory education for boys and girls. In the words of Princess Naciye, “he strived to make Afghanistan a strong, developed, modern nation.”
Nevertheless, King Amanullah Khan had to step down in 1929 after his official visit to Europe. According to Princess Naciye’s insight, the force behind her father’s abdication was the British Government. “They refused to make peace with their loss of Afghanistan and feared the impact of my father’s reforms. They carried out propaganda against him among Afghan chieftains, inciting a rebellion. My father renounced his throne voluntarily because he did not want violence and turmoil. However, they forced him to leave the country as well. He had hoped that his reforms would be continued, but instead, the progress he had achieved was reversed. He could not be consoled.”
After the departure of King Amanullah Khan, his family settled in Rome, Italy, where Princess Naciye was born and raised. However, the family never left Afghanistan behind. “Their hearts were always there. My parents would always talk about Afghanistan and show us pictures of the motherland. My grandmother would teach me Afghan songs and prayers.”
The family longed for their home, such that even though Princess Naciye had never been there, she had a great love for Afghanistan and felt the sorrow of her family’s exile. “In middle school, my class was told to write a composition about our motherlands. My composition began with the words I have a motherland that I have never seen. I wrote about the love I felt for the home I knew only through pictures and my family’s memories. I remember that when I read the composition, everyone was moved.”
When World War II began, Princess Naciye was only 10 years old. “During the war, we had difficulty finding food to eat and were mostly left in the cold.” Princess Naciye and Princess India struggled the most because they were children. Their father sent them to Switzerland for a while to keep them safe. There, they felt homesick, this time for Italy. When the war ended, they returned to Italy and Princess Naciye resumed her education there.
In 1954, Princess Naciye graduated from the Modern Languages and Literature Department of the University of Rome and started teaching French and English.
Princess Naciye came to Turkey upon her older sisters’ invitation. “My mother’s family had also left Afghanistan. They had settled in Istanbul with the help of Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal). My oldest siblings often visited them and eventually moved there.” When Princess Naciye came to Istanbul, she met Ilter Dogan, a Turkish businessman. They got married in 1957 and had two children, Omer Fazil and Humeyra.
The family lived in Istanbul and Ayvalik, and the Princess worked as a lecturer in Istanbul’s Italian Culture Center and taught Italian Philology at the University of Istanbul. They traveled to Italy often, but the Princess had gotten used to Turkey and never thought about leaving permanently. “Living in Turkey was easy for me. I had family here and felt close to Turkish people. We are similar in our thoughts, beliefs, and way of life.” The Princess is currently 91-years-old and living in Ayvalik.
Princess Naciye has a unique perspective when it comes to Afghanistan-Turkey relations as the daughter of King Amanullah Khan, a close friend of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. “They would write to each other often, and addressed one another as ‘birader’ (brother) in their letters.”
During the reign of Amanullah Khan, Turkey and Afghanistan were simultaneously fighting against imperialism and cooperated through this struggle. “Afghanistan was the first Muslim state to recognise the Republic of Turkey, and my father was the first foreign ruler to visit Turkey. He also had the Afghan embassy moved to Ankara. These were done at a time when major powers refused Turkey’s sovereignty and wouldn’t recognise Ankara as the capital.”
Similarly, Turkey helped Afghanistan in preparing the constitution, female students were sent to Turkey, and the Turkish parliament formed an embassy for Kabul. In 1921, they signed the Turkey-Afghanistan Alliance Agreement. “Ataturk gave great importance to the prosperity of Afghanistan and supported the modernisation of the country.”
Amanullah Khan’s family has always had a remarkable relationship with Turkey and though they visited several countries in Europe, they always found Turkey to be different. “They found the Turkish people more sincere, hospitable and loving,” Princess Naciye says. She says that even today, despite the Taliban’s take over, the main staff of the Turkish embassy remains in Kabul. “I believe that Turkey will continue to stand with the Afghan people as always.”
Princess Naciye visited Afghanistan five times. Her first visit was for her mother’s funeral in 1968. She went to Afghanistan as a daughter who had lost her mother and was greeted by thousands as a Princess who had returned with their long-lost Queen. “I was so moved by the heartfelt love they showed me. It is indescribable.”
With the beginning of the US war in Afghanistan, the Princess could return to her homeland with more ease. “During my visits, I could not help but think about my family’s life before exile, and the pain that being away from home brought them. I could only visit my parents’ graves once after the funeral, in 2010, because they were buried in Jalalabad where it wasn’t completely safe.”
Princess Naciye’s last visit to Afghanistan was in 2019, for the 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, with her sister Princess India and children. “We saw posters of my parents everywhere. The people flocked around us for pictures and wanted to embrace us. Many people told us that they wished my father had stayed king because then Afghanistan would have been stronger.”
Afghanistan and its people have a special place in the Princess’ heart. “The love and closeness they showed me are reciprocated, and I feel a sense of responsibility for the Afghan people.” The Princess has extended aid to Afghanistan on multiple occasions. According to her reports, her sister India especially helped a lot and went to Afghanistan many times. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Princess India had opened her home to children that were injured at war. The family especially cared for women, children and disabled people. “Afghanistan is our motherland. We do the best we can to help; I wish we could do more.”
Watching her motherland from afar, Princess Naciye’s prayers are with the Afghan people. Her diagnosis for the turmoil in Afghanistan and the presence of foreign major powers is that the country has rich resources. “But the Afghan people are fighting each other as well. There are many ethnic groups, and they are divided. My father used to say that whoever was born there was Afghan; he did not discriminate among his people.”
Princess Naciye agrees with her father, and states that Afghanistan would only be strong in unity. “There is always conflict in my motherland, the people are miserable. The whole world is watching Afghanistan for the moment but I fear that as time goes by, they will forget.”
Her biggest fear is that the country and its women will be harmed, and she hopes that things will change for the better.
Source: TRT World