Who was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk? Information on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk biography, life story, military career, founding Türkiye (Turkey) and reforms
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; (1881-1938), Turkish soldier and statesman, the founder and first president of the Turkish republic. He was born in Salonika (now in Greece), which was then the port city of Turkish Macedonia. He entered the military secondary school in Salonika in 1893. Mustafa was strong-willed and proud even as a child. The stern patriotism that was to motivate him throughout his life was kindled by the slights to which he saw his people exposed by the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbs, who were openly preparing to expel the Turks from Europe. In 1895, Mustafa Kemal (kemal, meaning “perfection,” was a nickname given him by a teacher) entered the military academy at Monastir, graduating in 1899.
Early Military Career
He attended the war college in Istanbul and then the staff college. After graduating with the rank of captain in 1905, he spent a few months in prison because of his political activities. On his release he was assigned to the Damascus garrison, where he organized a secret revolutionary group among his brother officers. This group was almost immediately swallowed up in a more powerful movement, the Committee of Union and Progress, which launched the Young Turk revolution in 1908. After suppressing a counterrevolution in April 1909, the Committee deposed the sultan and took the reins of government into its own hands. Mustafa Kemal, distrusted because of his ambition and his outspoken criticisms of the Committee, was excluded from the center of power. In the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 he was allowed to play only a minor part, and when World War I broke out in 1914, with Turkey as an ally of the Central Powers, he was serving as military attaché to the embassy in Sofia.
Although opposed to his country’s entering the war, the disastrous outcome of which he clearly foresaw, he gained the only significant Turkish victory when the units under his command repulsed the massive Allied invasion of Gallipoli in 1915. He held the rank of general when the Ottoman government signed an armistice with the English at Mudros on Oct. 30, 1918.
Founder of the Republic
The Committee leaders fled the country, and the sultan and his ministers bowed to the demands of the Allies. But Mustafa Kemal still voiced open defiance. It was probably to rid the capital of his embarrassing presence that he was sent to Anatolia in May 1919 as inspector general, charged with disbanding still-mobilized army units. This coincided with the occupation of Smyrna by the Greeks, a move on the part of the Allies that was to revive Turkish national pride and turn resignation and despair into fierce resistance. Kemal began to organize the local resistance groups into a unified force, and in July 1919 he convened at Erzurum a congress of nationalist delegates representing the eastern provinces. From this emerged the National Pact, a manifesto proclaiming the right of self-determination for the Turkish people, defining the irreducible boundaries of its territories, and resolving to protect these at all costs.
Proclaimed a rebel by the sultan, Kemal defiantly convened a more widely representative congress at Sivas in September, at which a provisional government claiming to speak for the nation was formed under his leadership. The sultan felt obliged to respond by allowing elections for a new parliament, but when most of the delegates returned were found to be nationalists, the British occupying forces caused it to be dissolved. This gave Kemal the pretext for convening his own parliament, the Grand National Assembly, in Ankara, under his presidency. The sultan’s government betrayed its complete separation from the popular will when it assented to the crippling terms imposed by the Allies in the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
Encouraged by the British, the Greeks now launched a drive into Anatolia, hoping to win additional territory, but in June 1921 the Turkish armies under Kemal halted their advances, and in August 1922 he was again victorious. An armistice was concluded with the Allies in October.
By the new peace treaty negotiated in 1923 with the Allies at Lausanne, Switzerland, nearly all the objectives outlined in the National Pact were obtained, and Kemal directed himself to the re-creation of Turkey as a modem state in the Western pattern. Convinced that the Islamic faith and the attitudes it induced were keeping his people backward, he focused his assault on all its manifestations in civil and political life, brooking no opposition. The sultanate had been abolished in 1922, and on Oct. 29, 1923, Turkey was proclaimed a republic, with Kemal the only choice for its president.
Earlier in 1923, he had founded the country’s only political party, under his own leadership. Thus he controlled the chief sources from which organized protest might arise. Kemal began his reform campaign in March 1924 by abolishing the caliphate—the religious counterpart of the sultanate—and expelling from Turkey all members of the Ottoman dynasty. At the same time, the theological schools and the religious courts were closed. One year later the dervish orders were outlawed, and superstitious expressions of popular Islam were discouraged. To be Western one had to look Western, so the wearing of the traditional fez was prohibited.
In February 1926 the çeriat (shariat)-Holy Law of Islam—was replaced by the Swiss Civil Code. An additional link with the past was severed in November 1928, when it was made obligatory to use Latin instead of Arabic characters for writing Turkish. His last reform that changed Turkish society was the extension of the franchise to women in 1934. In the same year the Turks were compelled to adopt surnames, Kemal choosing Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”).
In the international field, Atatürk had given Turkey a new prestige, achieving her entry into the League of Nations in 1932 and bringing former enemies into friendly relations by mutual defense arrangements in 1934. On Nov 10, 1938, Ataturk died, mourned by a grateful nation that acknowledged its very survival as a dept to him.