Ghazi Mustapha Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was a Turkish nationalist and political leader who was instrumental in the fall of the Ottoman sultanate and in the creation of modern Turkey.
Mustapha Kemal devoted his life to freeing Turkey from foreign domination. Under his benevolent dictatorship as president of the republic, he instituted lasting reforms that earned him the name Atatürk (the father of the Turks).
Mustapha was born in Salonika (now Greece, but then part of Turkish Macedonia), the son of a lower-middle-class Turkish customs official. He received a military education, and a teacher dubbed him Kemal (perfection) because of the youth's demand for quality performance. Kemal graduated from the military academy in Monastir in 1899 and then attended the war and staff colleges in Istanbul.
In 1905, on the day Kemal was commissioned a lieutenant at the General Staff Academy in Istanbul, he was arrested for political agitation. Banishment to Syria failed to dampen his revolutionary ardor. He organized some officers of the 5th Army Corps in Damascus into a secret society, Vatan (fatherland). Kemal established branches during a secret visit to Salonika, where the organization became Fatherland and Liberty, then the Ottoman Society of Liberty, and subsequently part of the Committee of Union and Progress. Despite this political activity and narrow escape from a second arrest, Kemal was not active in the 1908 coup or in the Young Turk movement which toppled Abdul Hamid.
In 1911 Kemal secretly went to Libya to organize Senussi resistance against the invading Italians. A major in the Second Balkan War, he served as chief of staff to the army on Gallipoli. When World War I broke out, Col. Mustapha Kemal was serving in Bulgaria as the Ottoman military attaché. During the war he commanded armies on everyone of the several Ottoman fronts. He gained national recognition during the defense of Gallipoli. Promoted to pasha and given command of the 2d Army Corps, he led his troops and 3d Army forces in the Caucasus campaigns of 1916 and then was sent to the Hejaz. Correctly predicting the reverses to be expected in the Iraq campaign, he resigned but returned to service in 1918. Kemal was in command of the 7th Army withstanding the assault on Aleppo at war's end.
Reunification of Turkey
Peace was restored by the Mudros armistice of Oct. 30, 1918. The following May, 4 days after the Greeks landed troops in Turkey, Kemal was appointed inspector general of the 3d Army in Anatolia. From here he launched an antiforeign movement that was to unify the Turkish elements in the empire against partition. At two conferences, at Erzerum on July 23 and at Sivas on September 11, he organized the Committee for the Defense of Eastern Asia Minor.
The Ferid Pasha government fell under this pressure, and new elections returned a Nationalist parliament. Its program, however, was sufficiently independent to prompt British occupation of the capital ostensibly to protect the Sultan. On March 20, 1920, the Ottoman parliament was dissolved. Some deputies fled to Ankara, where Kemal's committee convoked the first session of a new Grand National Assembly on April 23. It undertook both legislative and executive functions, with Kemal as president. Two governments were now functioning: the Sultan's in occupied Istanbul and Kemal's in Anatolia. This anomalous condition continued until the Allies forced the Sultan's assent to the Treaty of S'res on August 10, which established foreign control over large parts of the Turkish Empire. Thereupon the last vestige of the Sultan's power disappeared in Anatolia.
Opposition to foreign occupation was the keystone of Turkish nationalism, but dissension among the Allies was to be of major benefit to the Kemalists. Kemal's first success was peace with Russia in December. This border settlement was followed by a friendship treaty in March 1921. The Italians and the French, apparently anticipating an eventual Nationalist victory, were enticed into exchanging territorial claims for economic concessions. The result was that by mid-1921 only the Greeks and British occupied Turkish territory.
Greek troops moved through Anatolia in 1921 with considerable success to enforce the rule of the Sultan. As generalissimo of Turkish forces, Kemal had unlimited power during this campaign, and he was supplied by Russia, Italy, and France. The Greeks were stopped at Sakarya in September 1921 and driven out in a big campaign the following year. The Nationalists made Kemal a marshal and designated him Ghazi (victorious). The British concluded an armistice with the Turks at Mundanya on Oct. 11, 1922.
An international gathering at Lausanne in November 1920 set about revising the Treaty of S'res. The concurrent invitations issued the Nationalists and the Sultan's government precipitated the Grand National Assembly's dissolution of the sultanate of Mehmed VI on Nov. 1, 1922. On Oct. 29, 1923, Mustapha Kemal was elected president of the newly proclaimed Turkish Republic.
The interim period had been filled with the difficult task of negotiating the new treaty. The final document, signed July 24, 1923, established the compact, homogeneous entity known today as Turkey, freed of the onerous capitulations the Allies had expected to reimpose.
It had been Kemal's image as a national military hero which had assured the Nationalists a following in 1919. It was Kemal's determined leadership which assured the victory of 1923. It was to be Kemal's dictatorial guidance which subsequently defined the new Turkey.
Throughout the 1920s reform followed reform as the Turks undertook a shift from an Eastern to a Western orientation. President Kemal and his colleagues were Western-educated; the constitution of April 20, 1924, established in the republic a democratic state with elected representatives and all the typical popular guarantees. Yet Turkey remained a dictatorship throughout Kemal's time; he was a paternalistic ruler, convinced that he knew the nation's needs and how to satisfy them. Although democratic institutions were in existence, it was not the legislature which dominated but the Peoples' (in 1923 Republican Peoples') party, an outgrowth of the 1919 national group founded at Erzerum-Sivas. Kemal was party president. Policy was made in party caucus and then enacted as legislation by the Assembly. The party also selected and placed candidates, and there was no opposition slate. Kemal was reelected president of Turkey in 1927, 1931, and 1935 by the Assembly.
The haphazard reforms of the late 1920s were systematized by President Kemal in 1931 under six topics termed collectively "Kemalism": (1) republicanism, marked by the ending of the sultanate, the new republican constitution, and adoption of Western law codes in 1926; (2) secularism, eliminating the all-pervasive aspects of Islam from daily life, including polygamy, the Moslem calendar, and dervish religious orders; (3) populism, ending special privileges characterized formerly by religious exemptions, minority distinctions, and capitulations; the ancient Turkish peasant's democratic past was rediscovered and reemphasized, education fostered, the language purified, and the script romanized; (4) nationalism, concentrating on building Turkish pride through rewritten patriotic histories, emphasis on vernacular studies, and adoption of family names; (5) statism, introducing a form of state enterprise freed from outside manipulation and the foreign concessions of the past; it provided for the development of tariff-protected industries and increased government concern over agricultural output; (6) reformism, the continual revitalization of the movement to avoid its leadership's turning conservative and stagnating.
These Kemalist principles became the party platform in the 1935 elections and were added to the constitution in 1937. Kemal was an active president. Noted for his oratorical skill while in military school, he now utilized this asset to considerable advantage, moving readily about the country, eagerly explaining new laws. In one famous speech the President spoke over a period of 6 days.
Kemalist Turkey's foreign relations involved territorial settlements on Mosul and Alexandretta, an active role in the League of Nations after admission in 1932, and neighborly alliances in the Balkan Entente (1934) and the Saadabad Pact (1937). The most notable achievement was the Montreux Convention of 1936, by which Turkey regained control of the Straits.
Despite his posts as chief of state and party leader, Kemal was not a glory-grabber. He abhorred shallow ceremony and scorned pomp. In public life he was an in-corruptible dynamo, but his riotous private life confounded many. Cirrhosis killed Atatürk on Nov. 10, 1938, his death accelerated by wild living and too much drinking.
Further Reading on Ghazi Mustapha Kemal Atatürk
Harold Armstrong, Grey Wolf (1932; published as Gray Wolf: The Life of Kemal Ataturk, 1961), and Lord Kinross, Ataturk (1965), are the two major works on Kemal's life. A good, thorough coverage of the period is in Donald Everett Webster, The Turkey of Atatürk: Social Process in the Turkish Reformation (1939).