Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


In office
October 29, 1923 – November 10 1938
Succeeded by İsmet İnönü

In office
3 May 1920 – 24 January 1921
Succeeded by Fevzi Çakmak

Born 1881
Selânik (Thessaloniki)
Died November 10, 1938
Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul
Political party Republican People's Party
Spouse Latife Uşaklıgil (1923-1925)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881November 10, 1938), until 1934 Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkish army officer and revolutionary statesman, was the founder and the first President of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal established himself as a successful military commander while serving as a division commander in the Battle of Gallipoli. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Allies, and the subsequent plans for its partition, Mustafa Kemal led the Turkish national movement in what would become the Turkish War of Independence. His successful military campaigns led to the liberation of the country and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. As the Republic's first president, Mustafa Kemal introduced a range of far-reaching reforms which sought to create a modern, democratic and secular state. According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish National Assembly presented Mustafa Kemal with the name "Atatürk" (meaning "Father Turk" or "Ancestor Turk") on November 24, 1934.


Early life

Image:Time Ataturk.JPG
Atatürk on the cover of TIME magazine, the title reads "Where is a Turk his own master?". March 24, 1923

Atatürk was born in 1881, in the Ottoman city of Selânik (Thessaloniki in present day Greece), the son of a minor official who became a timber merchant. In accordance with the then prevalent Turkish custom, he was given a single name, Mustafa. His father, Ali Rıza Efendi, was a customs officer who died when Mustafa Kemal was seven and it was left to his mother Zübeyde Hanım, to raise the young Mustafa.

When Atatürk was 12 years old, he went to military schools in Selânik and Manastır (now Bitola, Republic of Macedonia), centres of Greek discontent towards the Ottoman administration. Mustafa studied at the military secondary school in Selânik, where the additional name Kemal ("perfection" or "maturity", not an uncommon name) was given to him by his mathematics teacher in recognition of his academic excellence. Mustafa Kemal entered the military academy at Manastır in 1895. He graduated as a lieutenant in 1905 and was posted to Damascus under the command of the 5th Army. In Damascus, he soon joined a small secret revolutionary society of reform-minded officers called Vatan ve Hürriyet (Motherland and Liberty) and became an active opponent of the Ottoman regime. In 1907, he attained the rank of captain and was posted to the 3rd Army in Manastır (Bitola in present day Republic of Macedonia). During this period he joined the Committee of Union and Progress commonly known as the Young Turks. The Young Turks seized power from the Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II in 1908, and Mustafa Kemal became a senior military figure.

In 1910, he took part in the Picardie maneuvers in France, and in 1911, he served at the Ministry of War in Istanbul. Later in 1911, he was posted to the province of Trablusgarp (Libya) to participate in the defense against the Italian invasion, participating in the battles fought in the Tobruk and Derne regions. Following the successful defense of Tobruk on December 22, 1911, he was appointed the commander of Derne on March 6, 1912.

He returned to Istanbul following the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in October 1912, and later took part in the defense with forces from Gallipoli and Bolayır on the coast of Thrace (Turkish: Trakya), playing a crucial role in the recapture of Edirne and Dimetoka (Didymoteicho). In 1913 he was appointed military attaché to Sofia, partly to remove him from the capital and its political intrigues, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1914.

Military career in World War I

When the Ottoman Empire joined World War I on the side of the German Empire in October 1914, Mustafa Kemal was still serving in Sofia. However, in January 1915, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and reassigned to Tekirdağ (on the Sea of Marmara) with the task of commanding and organizing the 19th Division.

Image:Mustafa Kemal at Gallipoli.jpg
Mustafa Kemal in Gallipoli, 1915

Gallipoli (Gelibolu)

The newly-formed 19th Division was stationed in the Gallipoli (Turkish: Gelibolu) area, under the command of the German Marshal Otto Liman von Sanders. Mustafa Kemal played a critical role in the battle against the allied British, French and ANZAC forces during the Battle of Gallipoli in April 1915, where he held off allied forces at Conkbayırı and on the Anafarta hills. For this success, he was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, thus acquiring the title of Pasha and gained increasingly greater degrees of influence on the war effort.

Words of Atatürk at the Anzac Cove commemorating the loss of thousands of Turkish and Anzac soldiers in Gallipoli

Mustafa Kemal gained much respect from his former enemies for his chivalry in victory; the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Memorial has an honoured place on ANZAC Parade in Canberra, Australia. It includes his words:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Final WWI years

Following the Battle of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal served in Edirne and Diyarbakır during 1916, until he was sent to the Caucasus (Turkish: Kafkasya) front to fight against Russian forces during the Caucasus Campaign where he succeeded in recapturing Muş and Bitlis. He was given the rank of Major General on April 1, 1916.

Mustafa Kemal was appointed to the command of the 2nd Army on March 16, 1917, and after a short period, the 7th Army. He returned to Istanbul on October 7, 1917, and joined the crown prince Mehmed Vahdettin on a visit to Germany, falling ill during this trip and staying in Vienna until August 2, 1918 for medical treatment. He returned to Aleppo on August 28, 1918 to resume his command of the 7th Army and defend the region from the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule organized by Great Britain. He was later appointed to the command of Yıldırım Orduları, replacing Liman von Sanders.

In October 1918 the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies with the Armistice of Mudros, and the Yıldırım Orduları was dissolved. Mustafa Kemal returned to Istanbul on November 13, 1918 to take an administrative position at the Ministry of War. He became one of the leaders of the group in favour of defending the area roughly occupied by present day Turkey, declared with the Misak-ı Milli decisions, while agreeing to withdraw from all the other territories.

Turkish Independence

See also: Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire
For more details on this topic, see Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922).

At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire suffered the loss of a large amount of territory. Following the end of the war, the Treaty of Sèvres signed between the Ottomans and the Allies further set up the occupation of Anatolia, the remaining core of the Ottoman state, by English, Italian, French and Greek forces, leaving only a part of Central Anatolia as Turkish territory.

The occupation was met with opposition by Turkish revolutionaries, including numerous local militant resistance groups and organized unions of opposition. Public meetings with significant participation were organized, like the Sultanahmet Meetings of 1919 and 1920, during which Halide Edip Adıvar addressed her renowned speech to a crowd of 200,000. Under these circumstances, Mustafa Kemal became the leading figure of the most successful of several "Kuva-i Milliye" (National Force) movements that blossomed into the Turkish War of Independence.

Mustafa Kemal's revolution began with his assignment in Samsun, where he was given emergency powers as Inspector of the 9th Army. Once in Anatolia, interpreting his powers liberally, he contacted and started issuing orders to provincial governors and military commanders - calling on them to resist occupation. In June 1919 he and his close friends issued the Declaration of Amasya which described why Istanbul's authority was illegitimate. The Young Turks politically promoted the idea that a government-in-exile should be formed in Anatolia. Istanbul's order for the execution of Kemal came too late. He resigned from the Ottoman Army in Erzurum which had been the gateway and portal to Turkish tribes migrating to Eastern Anatolia. He was declared a "Honorary Native" and freeman of the city, which issued him the first citizenship registration and certificate (Nufus Cuzdani) of the new Republic.

A new parliament, the Grand National Assembly, was formed in Ankara in April 1920. It conferred upon Mustafa Kemal Pasha the title 'President of the National Assembly', repudiated the Sultan's government in Istanbul and rejected the Treaty of Sèvres. (For more details on this topic, see Jurisdictional Conflict)

Generals Mustafa Kemal and İsmet İnönü before the Battle of Dumlupınar. August 1922

Meanwhile, the conflict between the nationalist movement and Triple Entente powers continued on three fronts. One of these was the western front with Greece, where Turkish forces fell back in good order to the Sakarya river, eighty kilometres from the Grand National Assembly. Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greeks in the twenty-day Battle of Sakarya in August and September 1921. Final victory over the Greeks came in the Battle of Dumlupınar on August 30, 1922. (For more details on this topic, see Theatres of the War)

On the political front, Mustafa Kemal Pasha signed the Treaty of Kars (October 23, 1921) with the Soviet Union - a treaty of friendship in which Turkey ceded the city of Batumi, in present-day Georgia - to Lenin's Bolsheviks in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardahan, which were lost to Tsarist Russia in Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878. (For more details on this topic, see Stage for Peace)

Post-war life and reforms

Mustafa Kemal Pasha's victory in the Turkish War of Independence assured Turkey's sovereignty. Through the Treaty of Lausanne signed on July 24, 1923, after a disastrous decade of warfare and heavy losses started with the Balkan Wars in 1912, immediately followed by World War I in 1914 and the invasion of Anatolia posed by the Treaty of Sèvres, Turkey finally entered a period of peace despite irredentist opposition in the National Assembly and elsewhere.

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Atatürk introducing the new Turkish alphabet to the people of Sivas. September 20, 1928


Main article: Atatürk's Reforms

Mustafa Kemal spent his following years, up until his death in 1938, instituting a variety of wide-ranging political, economic, and social reforms, transforming Turkish society from seeing itself as a group of Muslim subjects of a vast Empire into defining itself as the citizens of a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state.

The reforms included, foremost, the proclamation of the new Turkish state as a republic on October 29, 1923, giving the Turkish nation the right to exercise popular sovereignty by representative democracy. Paving the way for the proclamation of the republic was the abolishment of the powers of the Ottoman Dynasty which had ruled since 1218, and ordering the last members of the dynasty to leave the country, on November 1, 1922. Also during this process, the post of Caliphate (the leader of all Muslims in the world) held by the Ottoman Sultan since 1517 was abolished on March 3, 1924.

The leading legal reforms instituted by Mustafa Kemal included the complete separation of government and religious affairs and the adoption of a strong interpretation of the principle of laïcité in the constitution. This was coupled with the closure of Islamic courts and the replacement of Islamic canon law with a secular civil code modeled after Switzerland and a penal code modeled after the Italian Penal Code. The reforms also included the recognition of the equality between the sexes and the granting of full political rights to women on December 5, 1934, well before several other European nations.

Another important part of Atatürk's reforms encompassed his emphasis on the Turkish language and history, leading to the establishment of Turkish Language Association and Turkish Historical Society for research on Turkish language and history, during the years 1931 - 1932. On November 1, 1928, the new Turkish alphabet was introduced by the Language Commission at the initiative of Atatürk, replacing the previously used Arabic script. The adoption of the new alphabet, combined with the opening of Public Education Centers throughout the country and the active encouragement of people by Atatürk himself with many trips to the countryside teaching the new alphabet, succeeded in achieving a substantial increase of the public literacy rate from 20% to over 90%. The literacy reform was also supported by strenghtening the private publishing sector with a new Law on Copyrights and congresses for discussing the issues of copyright, public education and scientific publishing.

Reforms in the field of economy included the establishment of many state-owned factories throughout the country for agriculture, machine, and textile industries, many of which grew into successful enterprises and became privatized during the latter half of 20th century. Atatürk considered the development of a national rail network as another important step for industrialization, and this was addressed by the foundation of Turkish State Railways in 1927, setting up an extensive rail network in a very short timespan.

Mustafa Kemal regarded the fez (in Turkish "fes", which Sultan Mahmud II had originally introduced to the Ottoman Empire's dress code in 1826) as a symbol of feudalism and banned it, encouraging Turkish men to wear European attire. Notwithstanding the strong Islamic prescription against alcoholic beverages, he encouraged domestic production of alcohol and established a state-owned spirits industry. He was known to have an appreciation for the national beverage, rakı, and enjoyed it in vast quantities.<ref>[1]</ref>

Atatürk's reforms were regarded as being too rapid by some. In his quest to modernize Turkey, he effectively abolished centuries-old traditions by means of reforms to which much of the population was unaccustomed but nevertheless willing to adopt. In some cases, these reforms were seen as benefiting the urban elites rather than the generally illiterate inhabitants of the rural countryside<ref>Kinross p.503</ref>, where religious sentiments and customary norms tended to be stronger. In particular, Atatürk's strict religious reforms met with some opposition; and to this day, they continue to generate a considerable degree of social and political tension. In the future, political leaders would draw upon dormant forces of religion in order to secure positions of power, only to be blocked by the interventions of the powerful military (as in 1960 when Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was overthrown by the military)<ref>Kinros p.504</ref>, which has always regarded itself as the principal and most faithful guardian of secularism.

Kurds also criticise Atatürk of disregarding their cultural distinctions in pursuing a Turkish national identity. In 1925, an uprising for an independent Kurdistan led by Seyh Sait was put down quickly, and Sait and 36 of his followers were executed soon thereafter. Kurds accuse succesive Turkish governments of suppressing their identity through such means as the banning of Kurdish language in print and media. Atatürk believed the unity and stability of a country lay in a unitary political identity, relegating cultural and ethnic distinctions to the private sphere. Many Kurds did not relinquish their identities however, eventually giving rise to large-scale armed conflict between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK throughout the 1980's and 1990's, leaving over 35,000 dead. Recent moves by Ankara have provided Kurds with greater rights and freedoms, particularly in such sensitive areas as the Kurdish language, education, and media given.

Political consolidation

Mustafa Kemal's reforms caused some opposition in the Republican People's Party ("Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası" in Turkish) which was founded by Mustafa Kemal himself in September 9, 1923. Then Mustafa Kemal directed General Kazım Karabekir to establish the Progressive Republican Party ("Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Fırkası" in Turkish) for opposition in Turkish National Assembly. This party opposed state socialism of the Republican People's Party and suggested liberalism. But after some time, the new party was taken over by people Atatürk considered fundamentalists. In 1925, partly in response to the provocations of Sheikh Said, the Maintenance of Order Law was passed, giving Atatürk the authority to shut down subversive groups. The Progressive Republican Party was quickly disestablished under the new law, an act he claimed was necessary for preserving the Turkish state. The closure of the party was seen by some later biographers, such as Harold C. Armstrong, as an act of dictatorship.<ref>Armstrong, Harold Courtenay (1972), Grey Wolf, Mustafa Kemal: An Intimate Study of a Dictator. Beaufort Books; Reprint edition. ISBN 0836969626.</ref>

On August 11, 1930, Mustafa Kemal decided to try a democratic movement once again. He assigned Ali Fethi Okyar to establish a new party. In Mustafa Kemal's letter to Ali Fethi Okyar, laicism was insisted on. At first, the brand-new Liberal Republican Party succeeded all around the country. But once again the opposition party became too strong in its opposition to Atatürk's reforms, particularly in regard to the role of religion in public life. Finally Ali Fethi Okyar abolished his own party and Mustafa Kemal never succeeded in democratising the parliamentary system. He sometimes dealt sternly with opposition in pursuing his main goal of democratizing the country. One of the criticisms which persists today is that Atatürk did not promote democracy, yet as his biographer notes "Between the two wars, democracy could not be sustained in many richer and better-educated societies. Ataturk's enlightened authoritarianism left a reasonable space for free private lives. More could not be expected in his lifetime."<ref> Andrew Mango, Ataturk. p.536</ref>

Culture and the arts

Atatürk once stated: "Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic." His view of culture included both his own nation's creative legacy and what he saw as the more admirable values of world civilization, and he put an emphasis on humanism above all. He once described modern Turkey's ideological thrust as "a creation of patriotism blended with a lofty humanist ideal."

To assist in the creation of such a synthesis, Atatürk stressed the need to utilize the elements of the national heritage of the Turks and of Anatolia, including its ancient indigenous cultures as well as the arts and techniques of other world civilizations, both past and present. He emphasized the study of earlier Anatolian civilizations, such as the Hittites, Phrygians, and Lydians. The pre-Islamic culture of the Turks became the subject of extensive research, and particular emphasis was laid upon the fact that, long before the Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations, the Turks had had a rich culture. Atatürk also stressed the folk arts of the countryside as a wellspring of Turkish creativity.

The visual and the plastic arts, whose development had on occasion been arrested by some Ottoman officials claiming that the depiction of the human form was idolatry, were highly encouraged and supported by Atatürk, and these flourished in the new Turkish republic. Many museums were opened; architecture began to follow modern trends; and classical Western music, opera, and ballet, as well as the theatre, also took greater hold. Several hundred "People's Houses" and "People's Rooms" across the country allowed greater access to a wide variety of artistic activities, sports, and other cultural events. Book and magazine publications increased as well, and the film industry began to grow.

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Atatürk hosts kings and presidents during a reception at the USSR Embassy in Ankara, on November 7, 1927
Atatürk and the Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos at the Republic Day's Ball in Ankara, on October 29, 1932

International relations

During Atatürk's later years, the newly-founded Republic of Turkey hosted visits of many foreign monarchs and heads of state to Ankara and Istanbul including, in chronological order, King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan (May 1928), Prime Minister of Hungary Count István Bethlen (October 1930), King Faisal I of Iraq (June 1932), Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos of Greece (October 1932), King Alexander I of Yugoslavia (October 1933), Shah Reza Pahlavi of Persia (June 1934), King Gustav V Adolf of Sweden (October 1934), King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom (September 1936), and King Abdullah I of Jordan (June 1937). General Douglas MacArthur called him his best friend.(ref:handnote by McArthur on display at Anitkabir) Many of the visits meaningfully coincided with the Republic Day, October 29, the anniversary of the declaration of the new Turkish Republic by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, in 1923.

Mustafa Kemal participated in forging close ties with the former enemy, Greece, culminating in a visit to Ankara by Greek premier Eleftherios Venizelos, in 1932. Venizelos even forwarded Atatürk's name for the 1934 Nobel Peace Prize<ref>Nobel Foundation. The Nomination Database for the Nobel Prize in Peace, 1901-1955.[2]</ref>, highlighting the mutual respect between the two leaders.

Family and personal life

On January 29, 1923, Atatürk married Latife Hanım (Uşaklıgil), which lasted until August 5, 1925.

Atatürk adopted his daughters Afet (İnan), Sabiha (Gökçen), who later became the first female combat pilot in the world, Fikriye, Ülkü, Nebile, Rukiye, Zehra and his son Mustafa.<ref>Terra Anatolia - Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938)</ref> Additionally, he had two children under his protection, Abdurrahim and İhsan.


Atatürk died in 1938 at age 57 from cirrhosis of the liver. His lifestyle had always been strenuous. Alcohol consumption during dinner discussions, smoking and very long hours hard at work with little sleep, and working on his projects and dreams had been his way of life. As the historian Will Durant had said, men devoted to war, politics, and public life wear out fast, and all three had been the passion of Atatürk.

His successor, İsmet İnönü, fostered a posthumous Atatürk personality cult which has survived to this day, even after Atatürk's own Republican People's Party lost power following democratic elections in 1950. Atatürk's face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey: his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in schools, in all kinds of school books, on all Turkish banknotes, and in the homes of many Turkish families. It is common even after so many years, that at 09:05 a.m. on the 10th of November (the exact time of death), there are commemorative ceremonies. Many vehicles and people will pause for one minute in remembrance all over the country at this time.

He is commemorated by many memorials all over Turkey, like the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn (Haliç), Atatürk Dam, Atatürk Stadium, and Anıtkabir, the mausoleum where he is now buried. Giant Atatürk statues loom over Istanbul and other Turkish cities, and practically any larger settlement has its own memorial to him. There are also several memorials to Atatürk internationally, such as his statue in Havana, Cuba, Atatürk Memorial in Wellington, New Zealand (which also serves as a memorial to the ANZAC forces that died at Gallipolli) and the Atatürk Memorial in the place of honour on ANZAC drive in Canberra, Australia .

Atatürk sought to modernize and democratise a new Turkish Republic from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. In his quest to do so, Atatürk had implemented far-reaching reforms, the consequence of which has led Turkey towards the European Union today. The emphasis placed on secularism and nationalism had also led to a degree of conflict within society. Some practicing Muslims found the idea of secularism as being against the teaching of Islam, and criticise the state for not allowing full freedom of religion. In Turkey to this day Islam is still curbed and women are not allowed to wear their headscarves in public buildings. Ethnic minorities such as Kurds have also sought to gain more cultural rights, which in the past, has been limited by the promotion of Turkish nationalism. Despite these conflicts, Atatürk continues to be revered throughout Turkey and his principles remain the backbone of modern Turkish politics.


In 1981, the centennial of Atatürk's birth, the memory of Atatürk was honored by the United Nations and UNESCO by declaring it The Atatürk Year in the World and adopting the Resolution on the Atatürk Centennial as follows<ref>Unesco. Executive Board, 113th session, 1981. Publ: 1982, (272 p. in various pagings). 113 EX/SR.1.21</ref>:

Convinced that personalities who worked for understanding and cooperation between nations and international peace will be examples for future generations,

Recalling that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, will be celebrated in 1981,

Knowing that he was an exceptional reformer in all fields relevant to the competence of UNESCO,

Recognizing in particular that he was the leader of the first struggle given against colonialism and imperialism,

Recalling that he was the remarkable promoter of the sense of understanding between peoples and durable peace between the nations of the world and that he worked all his life for the development of harmony and cooperation between peoples without distinction of color, religion and race,

It is decided that UNESCO should collaborate in 1981 with the Turkish Government on both intellectual and technical plans for an international colloquium with the aim of acquainting the world with the various aspects of the personality and deeds of Atatürk whose objective was to promote world peace, international understanding and respect for human rights.

Images of Atatürk

See also



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Political offices
Preceded by:
Leader</br>of the Republican's People Party
Succeeded by:
İsmet İnönü
Preceded by:
Speaker of the Parliament of Turkey
Succeeded by:
Ali Fethi Okyar
Preceded by:
Prime Minister of Turkey
Succeeded by:
Fevzi Çakmak
Preceded by:
President of Turkey
Succeeded by:
İsmet İnönü

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