The Early years
Mustafa was born in 1881 to a middle-class family in Salonica, then
a prosperous Ottoman commercial port, which is now in modern Greece.
His father Ali Rıza was a junior civil servant at the customs office
and his mother Zübeyde, daughter of a farmer, was a devoted
housewife. Upon his mother’s wish, Mustafa started studying at a
neighborhood school based on the traditional Islamic curriculum, but
his father then managed to transfer him to the Şemsi Efendi school
providing modern education. His father died when Mustafa was eight,
leaving behind a widow with two young children. They had to move to
his uncle’s farm. But after a short rural interlude, his mother
decided to send Mustafa back to Salonica to continue his education
in a state civil preparatory school. Intensely admiring the smart
uniform worn by military cadets in his neighborhood, Mustafa sat the
entrance examination without telling his mother. She tried to
dissuade him from this profession, but nevertheless gave her consent
when he was accepted to the military preparatory school.
Mustafa’s military education lasted thirteen years. It made him the
master of his own identity as he later described it, and taught this
young fatherless boy the art of getting his own way. His special
interest in mathematics led him surpass his teacher, Mustafa, who
named him Mustafa Kemal (meaning literally “perfection”) as a mark
of distinction both from his own name, and from the rest of the
class. In 1895, he went to the military high school in Monastir (now
called Bitola in Macedonia), where cadets acquired their first
political ideas. Young Mustafa Kemal was deeply inspired by
liberal-nationalist literature, in particular by Namık Kemal, known
at the time as “the poet of liberty”. In 1899, he entered the
infantry class of the War College in Istanbul. His strict adherence
to military studies distanced him from adventurers such as Enver,
his two years senior at the College, who was to lead the Empire to a
catastrophic defeat. He knew French and having read about it
extensively, he was profoundly influenced by the French
revolutionary thought. He would prove to be more consistently
inclined to this nationalist, libertarian and essentially secular
experience than most of his contemporaries in the years to come.
The Great War: An outstanding soldier
Lieutenant Mustafa Kemal was admitted to the Staff College from
where he graduated as a staff captain in 1905. He was appointed to
the Ottoman army units in Damascus and then, as an adjutant-major,
to Salonica where he revived clandestine liberal-nationalist
opposition groups. The liberal-nationalist opposition organized as
the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) ended the repressive era
under Sultan Abdulhamid II and restored the constitutional order in
1908. Mustafa Kemal was posted to the general staff in Istanbul,
before he volunteered for service against Italian invasion in Derne-Cyrenaica
(Libya) in 1911. Meanwhile the Ottoman armies were engaged in
consecutive Balkan wars. Upon his return, Mustafa Kemal was
appointed as military attaché in Sofia and promoted
lieutenant-colonel in 1913. After the Great War started Mustafa
Kemal was appointed as the 19th division commander in Gallipoli,
suppressing the landing Allied troops at Anafartalar in August 1915.
This earned him his first major battle success as a colonel and
group commander and later the rank of brigadier in 1916. He was
appointed twice as the commander of the 7th Army in Syria in 1917
and 1918, checking the British advance, before the Ottoman Empire
was forced to sign an armistice in October 1918.
By the time the armistice was signed, the CUP government had
collapsed and Mustafa Kemal was put in charge of the entire
southeastern front as the Group Commander of the Lightning Armies.
The entire army was being dissolved, to be later followed by an
invasion of the capital. On his return to Istanbul, he was asked to
go to Samsun, a major town in central Black Sea coast, as an army
inspector. Having seen that most of the Turkish heartland escaped
immediate invasion in the aftermath of the armistice, Mustafa Kemal
sought this as his chance to pass to Anatolia, where he could
organize a nationalist resistance. As he boarded Bandırma, a barely
seaworthy steamer, angry crowds were gathering at the Blue Mosque
Square, to protest the killings perpetrated by the Greek invasion
troops who landed in Izmir the previous day. Top
Meeting the nation
Mustafa Kemal arrived in Samsun on 19 May (1919), a day celebrated
as the beginning of the War of Independence and which Mustafa Kemal
himself later adopted as his birthday. Sporadic local nationalist
resistance against foreign encroachment had already started. They
had chosen to call themselves as the National Forces and were
already setting up branches of the Society for the Defence of
National Rights (SDNR), organizing local congresses to augment
national solidarity among the predominantly peasant muslim
population, who were beginning to put up guerilla attacks on the
advancing Greek troops. There were also Anti-annexation Societies,
set up to resist Greek annexation plans as part of the Megali Idea,
a historical Greek aspiration to dominate Asia Minor. Having seen
that the Greek invasion had stirred up the nationalist sentiments
considerably, Mustafa Kemal lost no time in travelling into Anatolia
to meet the nation. In June, he sent from Amasya a circular telegram
(the Amasya Circular) to all civil governors and local army
commanders stating that the government in Istanbul is powerless,
explaining the need for a “national body” free from foreign control
and inviting three delegates from each province to attend a congress
to be held in Sivas. This was the first time that the will of the
nation was called to duty to exercise its sovereignty.
In July he organized a regional congress in
Erzurum, where he was
elected as the leader of a Representative Committee of the Eastern SDNR. In order to stop him, Istanbul government was poised to strip
him from his official powers. He resigned in 9 August (1919) from
all his titles to remain as a “member” of the nation. In September,
he convened the
Sivas Congress, this time with members participating
from all corners of Anatolia. The Sivas Congress enforced the
nationalist stance against the government who had to concede to hold
elections in December. The elections were won by the nationalists
and Mustafa Kemal was elected as a deputy from Erzurum. The new
parliament adopted on 17 February 1920 a National Pact reaffirming
the declarations made by the Erzurum and Sivas congresses,
proclaiming the political boundaries to be preserved as at the time
of the armistice, rejecting invasion and foreign infringement on
national independence. The Allied governments moved to occupy
Istanbul in March and dissolved the parliament, exiling many of its
members to Malta, while the remaining 85 found their way to Ankara
to join newly elected provincial deputies, forming the Grand
National Assembly on 23 April 1920. Finally, the will of the nation
found a place to independently express itself and exercise its
sovereignty, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal as its speaker.
Meanwhile, the Sultan and his government in Istanbul yielded to
harsh terms of the Sèvres peace treaty signed on 10 August, aimed at
the partition of the Turkish homeland into Allied zones of
occupation, with prospective Armenian and Kurdish states to be
established in the east and a Greek controlled territory in the
The War of Independence: A nation and its
The Grand National Assembly in Ankara rejected the Sèvres Treaty and
was poised to wage a war of independence. Within months every effort
was spent to bring all the local resources and irregular resistance
under the control of the Assembly. The government was a
“parliamentary cabinet” of ministers appointed from within and
controlled directly by the Assembly. The British-backed Greek
invasion troops were planning to reach Ankara from the west.
Meanwhile in the eastern front, Armenian revolutionary bands who
took over Kars and Ardahan from the withdrawing Russian Army during
the Bolshevik revolution had to be confronted. In the south, the
French were entrenched around Cilicia (Adana, Hatay and Mersin). In
October 1920, Kars was re-captured and in December the Treaty of
Gümrü was signed with the Armenians. This was followed by a Treaty
of Friendship signed with the Soviet Union in March and the Treaty
of Kars in December 1921, securing Soviet aid and fixing the eastern
border. In January and April 1921, the Greek advance was checked at
Inönü, near Eskişehir. Following another offensive launched in July,
Eskişehir was captured and Greek forces were nearing Ankara about
hundred miles in the west. Resuming his military career upon his
appointment by the Grand National Assembly as the commander-in-chief
in August, Mustafa Kemal won a critical battle in Sakarya, which
threw back the Greek army. The Assembly awarded him the rank of
marshal and named him Gazi. In October, following the Turco-French
Accord signed in Ankara, the French withdrew from southern Turkey.
Ten months later, on 26 August 1922, the Turkish army launched its
final offensive and won a decisive victory against the Greek forces
who had to withdraw from Asia Minor completely by 9 September. The
Allied governments had to agree to sign an armistice with the
Turkish government in October. The Assembly abolished the Sultanate
in November. The last sultan escaped from Istanbul on board a
British warship, leaving his heir Abdulmecit the title of caliphate.
The Allies would have to negotiate a new peace with a new nation.
The Republic and its modernizing leader
Lausanne Peace Treaty, which defined the political existence and
sovereignty of the new Turkish state was signed on 24 July 1923. A
newly elected Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey on 29
October 1923 and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first president. An
extensive series of reforms were started under Mustafa Kemal’s
leadership. In 1924, the caliphate, religious courts and school
system were abolished,
Ottoman dynasty was exiled, a new Republican
constitution was adopted based on national sovereignty. In 1925, muslim brotherhoods and their lodges were closed, fez banned. In
1926, a brand new civil code granting equal civil rights to women,
and a modern criminal code were enacted. In 1928, the constitutional
reference to Islam was removed and the secular character of the
Republic was reaffirmed. In the same year, international numerals
and a new Latin alphabet was adopted, Mustafa Kemal declared as the
head teacher of the nation. These were followed, among others, by a
new commercial code (1929), voting and electoral rights to women in
local elections (1930) and later in parliamentary elections (1934),
adoption of international weights and measures (1931), first
recitation of call to prayer in Turkish (1932), banning of clerical
dress outside places of worship (1934), adoption of surnames (1935),
opening of a state conservatoire in Ankara (1936) and other
overarching reforms. Top
Chronology of Major Kemalist Reforms
||Sultanate abolished (November 1).
||Treaty of Lausanne secured (July 24).
Republic of Turkey with capital at Ankara proclaimed (October 29).
||Caliphate abolished (March 3).
Traditional religious schools closed,
Constitution adopted (April 20).
||Dervish brotherhoods abolished.
Fez outlawed by the Hat Law (November 25). Veiling of women discouraged;
Western clothing for men and women encouraged.
Western (Gregorian) calendar adopted.
||New civil, commercial, and penal codes
based on European models adopted. New civil code ended Islamic polygamy and
divorce by renunciation and introduced civil marriage.
Millet system ended.
||First systematic census.
||New Turkish alphabet (modified Latin form)
adopted. State declared secular (April 10); constitutional provision
establishing Islam as official religion deleted.
||Islamic call to worship and public
readings of the Kuran (Quran) required to be in Turkish rather than Arabic.
||Women given the vote and the right to hold
Law of Surnames adopted--Mustafa Kemal given the name Kemal Atatürk (Father
Turk) by the Grand National Assembly; Ismet Pasha took surname of Inönü.
||Sunday adopted as legal weekly holiday.
State role in managing economy written into the constitution.
A prudent statesman
Mustafa Kemal’s foreign policy during the turbulent interwar period
depended on a prudent and firm principle which he described as
“peace at home, peace in the world”. He strived to establish good
neighborly relations even with old foes such as Greece as well as
with European powers including Britain and France. During his time,
Mustafa Kemal hosted in Turkey visits by Venizelos, the Greek Prime
Minister in 1930, Reza Shah of Iran in 1934 and King Edward VIII of
the United Kingdom in 1936. He observed good relations with Soviet
Union. In 1932 the invitation by the League of Nations to Turkey to
become a member was accepted. He refrained from unilateral action to
re-establish Turkish sovereignty over the Turkish Straits which was
ensured by the signing of the Montreux Convention in 1936. Atatürk
also endeavoured to solve the
Hatay issue. In September 1938 Hatay
proclaimed a republic. In June 1939 the Hatay Parliament unanimously
resolved to join Turkey. In July 1939, Hatay was officially made a
province of Turkey.
* * *
Mustafa Kemal had a short-lived marriage between 1923 and 1925 with
Latife. In 1927, he retired from the army. He was re-elected as
president three times in 1927, 1931 and 1935. During the
presidential election held by the Assembly in 1935, there were
eighteen woman deputies who cast their vote. When surnames were made
compulsory for every Turkish citizen, the Assembly awarded him the
surname of Atatürk (literally “Father Turk”) by a law enacted on 24
November 1934. In 1938, as his health deteriorated, he left
for the last time that spring and passed away in
Istanbul on 10
November the same year. Envoys from all over the world attended his
funeral. On 10 November 1953, on the 15th anniversary of his
passing, Atatürk's remains were transferred to
“Mausoleum”) as his permanent resting place.
In 1981 on the centenary of his birth, Atatürk was commemorated both
in Turkey and abroad as a peerless leader, commander, revolutionary,
politician and statesman. It was a source of pride for the Turkish
nation when UNESCO declared 1981 as "The Year of Atatürk". Mustafa
Kemal Atatürk continues to serve as a shining beacon for the future
of both the Turkish Nation and other nations worldwide.
A selected bibliography in English
1. Lewis Bernard, “The emergence of modern Turkey”, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1961.
2. Lord Kinross, “Atatürk -The rebirth of a nation”, London,
Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1964.
3. Macfie A.L., “Atatürk”, London, Longman, 1994.
4. Mango Andrew, “Atatürk”, London, John Murray, 1999.
5. Sonyel S., “Atatürk –The founder of modern Turkey”, Ankara, TTK
6. Villalta J. B., “Atatürk”, Ankara, TTK Basımevi, 1979.
Presidancy of the Republic Of Turkey