Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first President, stands as a towering figure of the 20th Century. Among the great leaders of history, few have achieved so much in such a short period, transformed the life of a nation as decisively, and given such profound inspiration to the world as a whole.
Emerging as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919. He blazed across the world scene in the early 1920’s as a successful commander who crushed the invaders of his country. Following a series of impressive victories against all the odds, he led his nation to full independence. He put an end to the Old Ottoman Dynasty whose tale had lasted more than six centuries – and created the Republic of Turkey in 1923, establishing a new government truly representative of the nation’s will.
As President for 15 years, until his death in 1938, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk introduced a broad range of swift and sweeping reforms – in the political, social, legal, economic, and cultural spheres – virtually unparalleled in any other country.
His achievements in Turkey are an enduring monument to millions. Emerging nations admire him as a pioneer of national liberation. The world honors his memory as a foremost peacemaker who upheld the principles of humanism and the vision of a united humanity. Tributes have been offered to him through the decades by such world statesmen as Lloyd George, Churchill, Roosevelt, Nehru, de Gaulle, Adenauer, Bourguiba, Nasser, Kennedy, and countless others. A White House statement, issued on the occasion of “The Ataturk Centennial” in 1981, pays homage to him as “a great leader in times of war and peace”. It is fitting that there should be high praise the extraordinary leader of modern times.
Ataturk was born in 1881 at the Kocakasim ward of Salonika, in a pink house located on Islahhane Street. His father is Ali Riza Efendi and his mother Zubeyde Hanim. His paternal grandfather, Hafiz Ahmed Efendi belonged to the Kocacik nomads who were settled in Macedonia during the XIV-XVth centuries. His mother Zubeyde Hanim was the daughter of an old Turkish family who had settled in the town of Langasa near Salonika. Ali Riza Efendi, who worked as a militia officer, title deed clerk, and lumber trader, married Zubeyde Hanım in 1871. Four of the 5 siblings of him died at early ages and only one sister, Makbule (Atadan) survived, and lived until 1956.
Upon reaching school age, little Mustafa started school at the neighborhood classes of Hafiz Mehmet Efendi and later, with his own choice, was transferred to Semsi Efendi School. He lost his father in 1888 whereupon he stayed at the farm of his maternal uncle for a while and returned to Salonika to complete his studies. He registered at the Salonika Mulkiye Rustiye (secondary school) and soon transferred to the military Rustiye. While at this school, his math teacher, also named Mustafa, added the Kemal to his name. He attended the Manastir Military school between 1896 – 1899 and later the Military School in Istanbul from which he graduated in 1902 with the rank of lieutenant. He later entered the Military Academy and graduated on January 11, 1905, with the rank of major. Between 1905 – 1907 he was stationed in Damascus with the 5th. Army. In 1907 we were promoted to the rank of Kolagasi (senior major) and was posted with the III rd Army, which was stationed in Manastir. He was the Staff Officer of the “Special Troops” (Hareket Ordusu) which entered Istanbul on April 19, 1909. He was sent to Paris in 1910 where he attended the Picardie maneuvers. In 1911, he started to work at the General Staff Office in Istanbul.
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. He won the Tobruk battle on 22 December 1911 against the Italians. On March 6, 1912, he was made the Commander of Derne.
When the Balkan War started in October 1912, Mustafa Kemal joined the battle with units from Gallipoli and Bolayir. His contributions to the recapturing of Dimetoka and Edirne were considerable. In 1913 he was assigned to Sofia as a military attaché. In 1914, while still at this post, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His term as an attach ended in January 1915. By that time the First World War had started and the Ottoman Empire was inevitably involved. Mustafa Kemal was posted to Tekirdag with the assignment of forming the 19th Division.
Canakkale / WW1
Mustafa Kemal put his signature under a legend of heroism at Canakkale during the First World War, which had started in 1914, and had the Allied Powers admit to the fact that Canakkale is unpassable! On March 18, 1915, when the English and French navies in an attempt to force their way up the Canakkale Strait gave heavy loses, they decided to put units on land at Gallipoli Peninsula. The enemy forces which landed at Ariburnu on 25 April 1915 were stopped by 19th Division under Mustafa Kemal’s command at Conkbayiri. Mustafa Kemal was promoted to the rank of colonel after this victory. English forces attacked at Ariburnu once more on 6-7 August 1915. Mustafa Kemal, as the Commander of the Anafartalar Forces, won the Anafartalar Victory on 6-7 August 1915. This victory was followed by the victories of Kirectepe on August 17 and the Second Anafartalar Victory on August 21. Turkish nation who lost about 253.000 men at battle, had managed to emerge in honor against the Allied forces. Actually, the fate of trenches changed when Mustafa Kemal addressed his soldiers with the words I am not giving you an order to attack, I am ordering you to die!
Mustafa Kemal was stationed at Edirne and Diyarbakir after the Canakkale wars and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on 1 April 1916. He fought against the Russian forces and recaptured Mus and Bitlis. Following short assignments at Damascus and Halep, he came to Istanbul in 1917. He traveled to Germany with Vahidettin Efendi, the heir to the throne. He became sick after this trip and went to Vienna and Karlsbad for treatment. He returned to Halep on 15 August 1918 as the Commander of the 7th army. At this front, he fought successful defense wars. He was appointed as the Commander of Yildırim Armies one day after the signing of the armistice at Mondros. When this army was disbanded, he came to Istanbul on November 13, 1918, and started to work at the Ministry of Defense.
When, following the Mondros Armistice, the Allied forces started to take over the Ottoman armies, Mustafa Kemal went to Samsun on May 19, 1919, as 9th Army Inspector. With the circular he published on 22 June 1919 at Amasya, he declared that The freedom of the nation shall be restored with the resolve and determination of the nation itself and called the meeting of the Sivas Congress. He convened Erzurum Congress during 23 July – 7 August 1919 and Sivas Congress during 4 – 11 September 1919, thus defining the path to be followed towards the freedom of the motherland. He was met with great enthusiasm in Ankara on 27 December 1919. With the initiation of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 23 April 1920, a significant step was taken on the way to establishing the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal was elected as the head of the national assembly as well as the head of the government. The Grand National Assembly started to put into effect the necessary legislative measures so as to enable the Independence War to come to a successful conclusion.
Turkish War of Independence
Turkish War of Independence started with the first bullet shot at the enemy on 15 May 1919 during the Greek occupation of Izmir. The fight against the victors of the First World War who had divided up the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Sevres signed on 10 August 1920, initially started with the militia forces called Kuva-yi Milliye. Turkish Assembly later initiated a regular army and achieving integration between the army and the militia, was able to conclude the war in victory.
The significant stages of the Turkish War of Independence under the Command of Mustafa Kemal are:
- Recapturing Sarikamis, Kars and Gumru
- Cukurova, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, Sanliurfa defenses (1919 – 1921)
- 1st Inonu Victory
- 2nd Inonu Victory
- Sakarya Victory
- Great Attack, Battle of the Chief Commander and the Great Victory
After the Sakarya victory, National Assembly bestowed the rank of marshall on Mustafa Kemal and the Gazi (veteran) title. War of Independence came to end with the Lozanne Agreement, which was signed on 24 July 1923. Hence, there were no longer any obstacles to create a new nation on Turkish soil which Treaty of Sevres had torn to pieces leaving Turks an area the size of 5-6 provinces.
He undertook a series of reforms to “raise Turkey to the level of modern civilizations” which can be grouped into five titles:
- Abolishment of the office of the Sultan (November 1922)
- Proclamation of the Republic (29 October 1923)
- Abolishment of the caliph (3 March 1924)
- Recognition of equal rights to men and women (1926 – 1934)
- Reform of Headgear and Dress (25 November 1925)
- Closure of mausoleums and dervish lodges (30 November 1925)
- Law on family names (21 June 1934)
- Abolishment of titles and by-names (26 November 1934)
- Adoption of international calendar, hours and measurements (1925 – 1931)
- Abolishment of the Canon Law (1924 – 1937)
- Transfer to a secular law structure by adoption of Turkish Civil Code and other laws (1924 – 1937)
- Reforms in the fields of education and culture
- Unification of education (3 March 1924)
- Adoption of new Turkish alphabet (1 November 1928)
- Establishment of Turkish Language and History Institutions (1931 – 1932)
- Regulation of the university education (31 May 1933)
- Innovations in fine arts
- Abolition of tithe
- Encouragement of the farmers
- Establishment of model farms
- Establishment of industrial facilities, and putting into effect a law for Incentives for the Industry
- Putting into effect 1st and 2nd Development Plans (1933-1937), to develop transportation networks
According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish Grand Assembly gave Ataturk (Father of Turks) as the last name to Mustafa Kemal on 24 November 1934.
The Turkish Republic
The National Assembly which first convened on 23 April 1920 in Ankara was the first clue to the Turkish Republic. The successful management of the War of Independence by this assembly accelerated the founding of the new Turkish State. On 1 November 1922, the offices of the Sultan and caliph were severed from one other and the former was abolished. There was no longer any administrative ties with the Ottoman Empire. On 29 October 1923, Turkish Republic was formally proclaimed and he was unanimously elected as its first President. On 30 October 1923, the first government of the Republic was formed by Ismet Inonu. The Turkish Republic started to grow on the foundations of the twin principles of Sovereignty, unconditionally belongs to the nation and peace at home and peace abroad.
The First President
Ataturk was elected as the Speaker of the Grand Assembly on 24 April 1920 and again on 13 August 1923. This was a position equal to that of the president as well as the prime minister. Republic was proclaimed on 29 October 1923 and he was elected as the first President. Elections for President were renewed every four years according to the Constitution. In 1927, 1931 and 1935 Turkish Grand Assembly again elected him as the president.
Ataturk took frequent trips around the country and inspected locally the works undertaken by the state, giving directives were problems were faced. As president, he was the host of visiting foreign presidents, prime ministers and ministers.
He read his Great Speech, which covers the war of Independence and the founding of the Republic on 15-20 October 1927, and his 10th Year Speech on 29 October 1933.
Private Life: Marriage & Children
Ataturk led a very simple private life. He married Latife Hanim on 29 January 1923. They took many trips to different parts of the country together. This marriage lasted until 5 August 1925. A great lover of children he adopted girls named Afet (Inan), Sabiha (Gokcen), Fikriye, Ulku, Nebile, Rukiye and Zehra and a shepherd boy named Mustafa. He also took two boys called Abdurrahim and Ihsan under his protection. He provided for the futures of these children who survived.
He donated his farms to the Treasury in 1937 and some of his real estates to municipalities of Ankara and Bursa. He divided his inheritance among his sister, his adopted children and to the Turkish History and Language Institutions. He enjoyed books and music as well as dancing, horse riding, and swimming. He was extremely interested in Zeybek dances, wrestling, and the Rumelia folk songs. Games of billiards and tavla (backgammon) gave him great pleasure. He valued his horse Sakarya and his dog Fox. He had a rich library. He used to invite statesman, scholars, and artists to dinners where the problems of the country were discussed. He was particular about his appearance and enjoyed dressing well. He was also a lover of nature. He used to frequent the Ataturk Forest Farm and join in the work. He also knew French and German.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died on 10 November 1938 at 9.05 AM at Dolmabahce Palace, defeated by the liver ailment he was suffering from. He was taken to his temporary place of rest at the Ethnography Museum in Ankara on 21 November 1938. When the mausoleum (Anitkabir) was completed, he was taken to his permanent rest place with a grand ceremony on 10 November 1953.