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Encyclopedia > Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881November 10, 1938), Turkish soldier and statesman, was the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey.


Early career

Atatürk was born in the Ottoman city of Selânik (now Thessaloníki, Greece), where his birthplace is within the Turkish Consulate and is also preserved as a museum. In accordance with the then prevalent Turkish custom, he was given the single name Mustafa. His father, Ali Rıza (Efendi) was a customs officer who died when Mustafa was a child, his mother was Zübeyde (Hanım).

Atatürk studied at the military secondary school in Selânik, where he was given the additional name Kemal ("perfection") by his math teacher in recognition of his academic brilliance. As Mustafa Kemal he entered the military academy at Monastir (now Bitola) in 1895. He graduated as a lieutenant in 1905 and was posted to Damascus. He soon joined a secret society of reform-minded officers called Vatan (Fatherland) and became an active opponent of the Ottoman regime. In 1907 he was posted to Selânik and joined the Committee of Union and Progress commonly known as the Young Turks.

The Young Turks seized power from the Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908, and Atatürk became a senior military figure. In 1911 he went to the province of Libya to take part in the defence against the Italian invasion. During the first part of the Balkan Wars Atatürk was stranded in Libya and unable to take part, but in July 1913 he returned to Istanbul and was appointed commander of the Ottoman defences of the Gallipoli area on the coast of Thrace. In 1914 he was appointed military attache in Sofia, partly to remove him from the capital and its political intrigues.

War commander

Statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk above the battlefield of Gallipoli, where he made his name as a military commander in 1915

When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of Germany, Atatürk was posted to Rodosto (now Tekirdag) on the Sea of Marmara. He commanded a division in the Gallipoli area, and he played a critical role in the battle against the invading allied forces during the Gallipoli landings by British, French and ANZAC forces in April 1915. Here he made his name as a brilliant military commander by defending Çanakkale, and became a national hero, awarded the title Pasha (commander).

Contrary to popular belief, however, he was not the overall commander of the Turkish forces at Galipoli, but merely a subordinate officer to General Otto Liman von Sanders, a German. Some have contended that Ataturk's role in the Battle of Gallipoli, while certainly very important, has been exagerrated by the cult of personality which grew up around him after the war.

During 1917 and 1918 Atatürk was posted to the Caucasus front fighting the Russian forces with some success, and then to the Hejaz, where the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule was in progress. He became increasingly critical of the incompetent conduct of the war by the Sultan's government, and also of German domination of the Empire. He resigned his command, but eventually agreed to return to serve in the unsuccesful defense of Palestine.

In October 1918 the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies, and Atatürk became one of the leaders of the party which favoured a policy of defending the Turkish-speaking heartlands of the Empire, while agreeing to withdraw from all the non-Turkish territories. Turkish nationalist sentiment was aroused by the Greek occupation of Izmir (Smyrna) in May 1919, in accordance with the Treaty of Sevres (this Treaty was signed by the Sultan under Allied duress but never ratified by the Ottoman parliament.)

Nationalist leader

Political consolidation

The government sent Atatürk to eastern Anatolia to suppress a so-called riot which turned out to be a false claim, but he seized this opportunity to leave the capital and found a Turkish nationalist movement based at Ankara. In April 1920 a provisional Parliament at Ankara offered Atatürk the title President of the National Assembly. This body repudiated the government and the Treaty of Sevres.

The Greeks understood the threat posed to their position in western Anatolia by Atatürk's forces and advanced inland to meet them. After advancing most of the way to Ankara, the Greeks were defeated by Atatürk and his lieutenant Ismet Inönü (also known as Ismet Pasha) at the battles of Sakarya (August 1921) and Dumlupinar (August 1922).

Atatürk's victory in the War of Independence saved Turkey's sovereignty. The Treaty of Lausanne superceded the Treaty of Sevres and Turkey recovered all of Anatolia and eastern Thrace from the Greeks.

Ataturk spent the next several years consolidating his control over Turkey and pushing strong political, economic and social reforms. Although he claimed to be fostering a democracy, many Turks who opposed his policies were banished from the country. Ataturk also ensured that the Turkish political process remained firmly under his personal control, with little or no dissent from his own goals and policies.

In March of 1925, Ataturk pushed through the Maintence of Order Law, which allowed the government to shut down organizations it deemed to be subversive. This law was immediately applied to Progressive Republican Party, the main political party opposing Ataturk's reforms. Unsurprisingly, Ataturk won the next election.

Cultural reform

Kemal regarded the fez (the Ottoman hat) as a symbol of feudalism and banned it, instead he encouraged Turkish men to wear modern hats. He wore a European-style suit and hat himself. The hijab for women was banned and women were encouraged to wear western dresses and enter the work force. In 1928 the government decreed that the Arabic script be replaced by a modified Latin alphabet, which was easier to learn and teach for Turkish language and made publishing much easier. All citizens from six to fourty years of age were made to attend school and learn the new alphabet. The literacy has increased dramatically in his term. Thanks to his reforms, Turkish population started to take part in literature. The Turkish language was purified by the removal of many Arabic and Persian words that most of the public was unfamiliar with and they were replaced by Turkish ones or new Turkish words which are easier for Turkish people to pronounce.

Visual representation of human forms was banned during Ottoman times following the Islamic faith. Kemal opened new schools to teach art to boys and girls. Atatürk also lifted the Islamic ban on alcohol: he had a great appreciation for the national liquor, raki, and consumed vast quantities of it. In 1934 he promulgated a law requiring all Turks to adopt surnames. He was given the name Atatürk by the parliament, meaning "father of Turks", and use of that name by other persons is still forbidden by law.

Seeking to eliminate the influence of Islam on the political institutions of Turkey, Ataturk imposed a Western-style separation of church and state on Turkey. He himself was probably an agnostic and personally regarded Islam as one of the main forces holding back Turkish development.


Statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphorus

Atatürk's successor, Ismet Inönü, fostered a posthumous Atatürk cult which has survived to this day, even though the introduction of a genuine democratic system after World War II saw the Republican People's Party lose power in 1946. Atatürk's face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey: his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, on all Turkish banknotes, and even in the homes of many Turkish families. Giant Atatürk statues loom over Istanbul and other Turkish cities. He is comemmorated by many memorials all over Turkey, like the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul and the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn.

Few countries have been as genuinely and permanently changed by a single ruler as Turkey was by Atatürk. His reforms proved more lasting than the revolutionary changes of many other regimes. Tentative reforms had started at the first half of the 19th century and they were expanded and finalised by him. Although he was by nature an authoritarian, he was farsighted enough to create a political system which could adapt to the introduction of democracy fairly easily. His secularist and modernising reforms proved permanent to this day, and gave Turkey domestic and international peace and a measure of prosperity even in his lifetime. But Kemalism has also left Turkey with a divided identity — Europeanised but not quite European, alienated from the Islamic world but still a Muslim country.

Anitkabir, Kemal Ataturk's mausoleum at Ankara

Atatürk's legacy also survives in the Turkish military, which sees itself as the guardian of Turkish independence, nationalism and secularism.

External links

  • ataturk.net (http://www.ataturk.net)
  • Quotes of and quotes on Atatürk (http://tadevrimi.sitemynet.com/ingilizce.htm)
  • www.kultur.gov.tr/portal/default_en.asp?belgeno=4600
Preceded by:
President of Turkey
Followed by:
Ismet Inönü
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Kemal Atatürk

  Results from FactBites:
ataturk (4670 words)
One of the chief tasks in the political and social reforms during the personal rule of Ataturk was laying the foundation of a modern industry as a primary factor contributing for the prosperity and the economic sovereignty of the Turkish republic.
Ataturk was specifically insistent on that point, and that is the reason one can view the theoretical fundament of Kemalism as a set of principles, but not necessarily an ideology.
In that sense, the principles of Kemalism are to be understood as the essential guidelines in the agenda for modernization.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1843 words)
Mustafa Kemal was stationed at Tobruk and Derne regions with a group of his friends during the war which started with the Italian attack on Tripoli.
Mustafa Kemal was stationed at Edirne and Diyarbakır after the Çanakkale wars and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on 1 April 1916.
Mustafa Kemal was elected as the head of the national assembly as well as the head of the government.
  More results at FactBites »



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