Guide to SKOPJE

Love story of Ataturk and Eleni – a tourist attraction

The story of unfulfilled love between Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and a beautiful girl from Bitola Eleni Karinte, called Balkan Romeo and Juliet by many, happened at the end of XIX century but still attracts attention and is an inevitable tourist attraction in Bitola. Tourists from Turkey travel thousands of kilometers to visit the Memorial Room of Ataturk in Bitola Museum, take photos under Karinte’s balcony where this huge love saga took place, and read the letter she wrote to Ataturk.

Eleni’s letter to Ataturk

“Somewhere, sometime,

Many years have passed, I am still waiting to hear from you. If you ever receive my letter, remember me, see my tears on the paper. Years and events pass, there are many things said about you. If you love another woman when you read my letter, tear it up and ask her if she believes that one Eleni Karinte from Bitola wasted all her life waiting for a man with whom she only spent a day. If you love that woman as much as I love you, don’t tell her anything, I wish her to be happy as you are. But if you remember the girl on the balcony, and don’t love any other woman, I want you to know that I am waiting for you and will wait until the end of my life. I know that you won’t forget me and will be back…”

the famous love letter

This is an excerpt from a letter believed to have been written over a century ago by Eleni Karinte to young Mustafa Kemal who attended Bitola Military Academy. The Memorial Room in honour of the great Turkish reformist is situated in Bitola Museum and Institute, the same building where the Military Academy used to be. Photographs, sketches from battles, a library, a bust, a wax figure  – room full of secrets from the life of Ataturk, the great reformist.

Ataturk Museum in Bitola

Ataturk museum

The letter by Eleni Karinte takes a central place and the love story of Balkan Romeo and Juliet, he being a Muslim and she a Christian, was doomed because of religious and social prejudice. Nowadays, it is a main tourist attraction. People read the letter with sighs, take photos in front of Karinte’s house on Sirok Sokak where the balcony tells its sad love story…

Family Karinte’s house in Bitola

Legend or truth…

Young cadet Mustafa came from Thessaloniki to Bitola in 1896 to study at the Military Academy. He often went strolling down Sirok Sokak, so one afternoon, just before Easter in 1897, he noticed beautiful Eleni sitting on the balcony of her father’s house, the rich merchant Eftim Karinte. Their house still stands on the corner of the street opposite Epinal Hotel. The young girl, his peer, was not indifferent and she looked upon the tall, handsome, blue-eyed cadet. Mustafa went past their house every day and young Eleni waited for him on the balcony. They were burning with strong, yet forbidden love. One day Eleni ran away from the house through the basement and they left Bitola together but her father, Eftim, found them and locked the girl in the house. Later he bought another house in Lerin (Florina), took her there by force and was determined to marry her to another man.

Eleni’s house

“It has been a year since he grabbed me from you, locked me in the house and wouldn’t let me out for a whole month. I didn’t cry because I knew that all those locks and prison are in vain. I saw the man he wants me to marry only once and he asked if I could love him. I said no, I can only love my first love. I haven’t seen him since then. My father hasn’t forgiven me and I haven’t forgiven him either. Your Eleni Karinte who will always love you and wait for you forever.”

Old photography of the house

Eleni never married. She lived well into old age and every year she received several cheques from abroad  until the end of her life. She died at the age of 80 in Lerin.

Mustafa Kemal became the first President of Turkey, founder of the new modern state and was given the name Ataturk – father of the nation. He married Latife Hanam but their marriage only lasted for two years. Ataturk and Karinte never met again.

Photo of Ataturk in the Museum in Bitola

the great canakkale battle

Balkan Romeo and Juliet love saga is passed down from generation to generation. Some say Karinte’s original letter is in the history archives, some say it is only a legend, but for the citizens of Bitola this love still lives.

Ataturk museum – photos on the wall

Photos on the wall in Ataturk museum

“This love story is a magnet for tourists. They travel thousands of kilometers from Turkey to Bitola wishing to read the letter in the Memorial Room, see Sirok Sokak and take photos under the balcony where Eleni first saw Mustafa. Tourists are delighted, whereas high state and military delegations never ask about this love story. It isn’t mentioned in Ataturk’s biography, no written document was found to support the story. In scientific circles in Turkey it was even suggested not to pay much attention to it because there are no other documents except the letter believed to have been written by Eleni to Ataturk.” – says Senol Memis, President of Macedonian-Turkish Association Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Bitola.

The famous Shirok sokak street in Bitola today

The love saga is an inspiration to film and theatre artists. A short TV documentary was filmed in 2006, a musical was written recently, and Aleksandar Popovski’s latest film “Balkan is not dead”, whose premiere is announced for this year’s edition of Manaki Brothers Film Festival, tells the love story of Ataturk and Karinte.

Emilija Misirlievska