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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was an army officer who founded an independent Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. He then served as Turkey’s first president from 1923 until his death in 1938, implementing reforms that rapidly secularized and westernized the country. Under his leadership, the role of Islam in public life shrank drastically, European-style law codes came into being, the office of the sultan was abolished and new language and dress requirements were mandated. But although the country was nominally democratic, Atatürk at times stifled opposition with an authoritarian hand.
Atatürk: The Early Years
Mustafa, who became Mustafa Kemal as a teenager and then Mustafa Kemal Atatürk late in life, was born around 1881 in the city of Salonica (now Thessaloniki, Greece), which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire. His family was middle-class, Turkish-speaking and Muslim. A good student, Mustafa Kemal attended a series of military schools, including the War College in Istanbul. He was then stationed in Syria and Palestine for a few years before securing a post back in Salonica. In 1911 and 1912, the hard-drinking Mustafa Kemal fought against the Italians in Libya.
During World War I (1914-18), the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany and Austria-Hungary. By this time, the aging empire had lost almost all of its territory in Europe and Africa. Moreover, the so-called Young Turk Revolution of 1908 had stripped autocratic powers from the sultan and ushered in an era of parliamentary government. In 1915 Mustafa Kemal distinguished himself throughout the nearly yearlong Gallipoli Peninsula campaign, in which he helped stop a large force of British and French troops from taking Istanbul. He was soon promoted from colonel to brigadier-general and sent to fight in eastern Turkey, Syria and Palestine. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died and others were expelled during the war and its aftermath, but Mustafa Kemal has not been linked to the perpetration of the genocide.
Atatürk Takes Power
Under a punitive postwar peace treaty signed in August 1920, the Allied powers stripped all Arab provinces from the Ottoman Empire, provided for an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan, put the Greeks in charge of a region surrounding Smyrna (now Izmir) and asserted economic control over what little country remained. However, Mustafa Kemal had already organized an independence movement based in Ankara, the goal of which was to end foreign occupation of the Turkish-speaking areas and to stop them from being partitioned. The sultan’s government in Istanbul sentenced Mustafa Kemal to death in absentia, but it failed to prevent him from building up both military and popular support. With the help of money and weapons from Soviet Russia, his troops crushed the Armenians in the east and forced the French and Italians to withdraw from the south. He then turned his attention to the Greeks, who had wreaked havoc on the Turkish population during their march to within 50 miles of Ankara.
In August and September 1921, with Mustafa Kemal at the head of the army, the Turks stopped the Greek advance at the Battle of Sakarya. The following August, they launched an offensive that broke the Greek lines and sent them into a full-scale retreat all the way back to Smyrna on the Mediterranean Sea. A fire soon broke out in Smyrna, which, along with looting and rampaging Turkish soldiers, claimed the lives of thousands of Greek and Armenian residents. Roughly 200,000 additional Greeks and Armenians were forced to evacuate on nearby Allied warships, never to return.
Mustafa Kemal next threatened to attack Istanbul, which was being occupied by the British and other Allied powers. Rather than fight, the British agreed to negotiate a new peace treaty and sent invitations to both the sultan’s government in Istanbul and Mustafa Kemal’s government in Ankara. But before the peace conference could begin, the Grand National Assembly in Ankara passed a resolution declaring that the sultan’s rule had already ended. Fearful for his life, the last Ottoman sultan fled his palace in a British ambulance. A new peace treaty was then signed in July 1923 that recognized an independent Turkish state. That October, the Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first president.
Atatürk as President
Even before he became president, Greece agreed to send some 380,000 Muslims to Turkey in exchange for over 1 million Greek Orthodox practitioners. Meanwhile, under Mustafa Kemal, the forced emigration of Armenians continued. Although Turkey was now almost homogeneously Muslim, Mustafa Kemal deposed the caliph, the theoretical successor to the prophet Muhammad and spiritual leader of the worldwide Muslim community. He also closed all religious courts and schools, prohibited the wearing of headscarves among public sector employees, abolished the ministry of canon law and pious foundations, lifted a ban on alcohol, adopted the Gregorian calendar in place of the Islamic calendar, made Sunday a day of rest instead of Friday, changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic letters to Roman ones, mandated that the call to prayer be in Turkish rather than Arabic and even forbade the wearing of fez hats.
Mustafa Kemal’s government espoused industrialization and adopted new law codes based on European models. “The civilized world is far ahead of us,” he told an audience in October 1926. “We have no choice but to catch up.” Eight years later, he required all Turks to choose a surname, selecting Atatürk (literally Father Turk) as his own. By that time, Atatürk’s government had joined the League of Nations, improved literacy rates and given women the right to vote, though in practice he essentially imposed single-party rule. He also closed opposition newspapers, suppressed leftist workers’ organizations and bottled up any attempts at Kurdish autonomy.
Turkey After Atatürk
On November 10, 1938, Atatürk, who never had any children, died in his bedroom at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. He was replaced by İsmet İnönü, prime minister during most of Atatürk’s rule, who continued his policies of secularization and westernization. Even though Atatürk retains iconic status in Turkey today—in fact, insulting his memory is a crime—Islam has reemerged in recent years as a social and political force.
The Turkish republic of Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal then embarked upon the reform of his country, his goal being to bring it into the 20th century. His instrument was the Republican People’s Party, formed on August 9, 1923, to replace the defense-of-rights associations. His program was embodied in the party’s “Six Arrows”: republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism (state-owned and state-operated industrialization aimed at making Turkey self-sufficient as a 20th-century industrialized state), secularism, and revolution. The guiding principle was the existence of a permanent state of revolution, meaning continuing change in the state and society.
The caliphate was abolished on March 3, 1924 (since the early 16th century, the Ottoman sultans had laid claim to the title of caliph of the Muslims) the religious schools were dismantled at the same time. Abolition of the religious courts followed on April 8. In 1925, wearing the fez was prohibited—thereafter Turks wore Western-style headdress. Mustafa Kemal went on a speaking tour of Anatolia during which he wore a European-style hat, setting an example for the Turkish people. In Istanbul and elsewhere there was a run on materials for making hats. In the same year, the religious brotherhoods, strongholds of conservatism, were outlawed.
The emancipation of women was encouraged by Mustafa Kemal’s marriage in 1923 to a Western-educated woman, Latife Hanım (they were divorced in 1925), and was set in motion by a number of laws. In December 1934, women were given the vote for parliamentary members and were made eligible to hold parliamentary seats.
Almost overnight the whole system of Islamic law was discarded. From February to June 1926 the Swiss civil code, the Italian penal code, and the German commercial code were adopted wholesale. As a result, women’s emancipation was strengthened by the abolition of polygamy, marriage was made a civil contract, and divorce was recognized as a civil action.
A reform of truly revolutionary proportions was the replacement of the Arabic script—in which the Ottoman Turkish language had been written for centuries—by the Latin alphabet. This took place officially in November 1928, setting Turkey on the path to achieving one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East. Once again Mustafa Kemal went into the countryside, and with chalk and a blackboard he demonstrated the new alphabet to the Turkish people and explained how the letters should be pronounced. Education benefited from this reform, as the youth of Turkey, cut off from the past with its emphasis on religion, were encouraged to take advantage of new educational opportunities that gave access to the Western scientific and humanistic traditions.
Another important step was the adoption of surnames or family names, which was decreed by the GNA in 1934. The assembly gave Mustafa Kemal the name Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”).
After having settled Turkey firmly within its national borders and set it on the path of modernization, Atatürk sought to develop his country’s foreign policy in similar fashion. First and foremost, he decided that Turkey would not pursue any irredentist claims except for the eventual incorporation of the Alexandretta region, which he felt was included within the boundaries set by the National Pact. He settled matters with Great Britain in a treaty signed on June 5, 1926. It called for Turkey to renounce its claims to Mosul in return for a 10 percent interest in the oil produced there. Atatürk also sought reconciliation with Greece this was achieved through a treaty of friendship signed on December 30, 1930. Minority populations were exchanged on both sides, borders were set, and military problems such as naval equality in the eastern Mediterranean were ironed out.
This ambitious program of forced modernization was not accomplished without strain and bloodshed. In February 1925 the Kurds of southwestern Anatolia raised the banner of revolt in the name of Islam. It took two months to put the revolt down its leader Şeyh Said was then hanged. In June 1926 a plot by several disgruntled politicians to assassinate Atatürk was discovered, and the 13 ringleaders were tried and hanged.
There were other trials and executions, but under Atatürk the country was steadfastly steered toward becoming a modern state with a minimum of repression. There was a high degree of consensus among the ruling elite about the goals of the society. As many of those goals were achieved, however, many Turks wished to see a more democratic regime. Atatürk even experimented in 1930 with the creation of an opposition party led by his longtime associate Ali Fethi, but its immediate and overwhelming success caused Atatürk to squash it.
In his later years Atatürk grew more remote from the Turkish people. He had the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, formerly a main residence of the sultans, refurbished and spent more time there. Always a heavy drinker who ate little, he began to decline in health. His illness, cirrhosis of the liver, was not diagnosed until too late. He bore the pain of the last few months of his life with great character and dignity, and on November 10, 1938, he died at 9:05 am in Dolmabahçe. His state funeral was an occasion for enormous outpourings of grief from the Turkish people. His body was transported through Istanbul and from there to Ankara, where it awaited a suitable final resting place. This was constructed years later: a mausoleum in Ankara contains Atatürk’s sarcophagus and a museum devoted to his memory.
Atatürk is omnipresent in Turkey. His portrait is in every home and place of business and on the postage and bank notes. His words are chiseled on important buildings. Statues of him abound. Turkish politicians, regardless of party affiliation, claim to be the inheritors of Atatürk’s mantle, but none has matched his breadth of vision, dedication, and selflessness.
Kemal Atatürk - HISTORY
The evolution of Turkey in the early 1900s is one of the most baffling cultural and social changes in Islamic history. In a few short years, the Ottoman Empire was brought down from within, stripped of its Islamic history, and devolved into a new secular nation known as Turkey. The consequences of this change are still being felt today throughout the Muslim world, and especially in a very polarized and ideologically segmented Turkey.
What caused this monumental change in Turkish government and society? At the center of it all is Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk. Through his leadership in the 1920s and 1930s, modern secular Turkey was born, and Islam took a backseat in Turkish society.
The Rise of Atatürk
The decision of the Ottoman Empire to enter the First World War in 1914 turned out to be a horrible mistake. The empire was run by a dictatorship led by the “Three Pashas” who unilaterally entered the war on the German side, against the British, French, and Russians. The Ottoman Empire was invaded from the south by the British, from the East by the Russians, and by the Greeks in the West. By 1918 when the war ended, the empire was divided and occupied by the victorious allies, leaving only the central Anatolian highlands under native Turkish control.
Mustafa Kemal in 1918
It was in central Anatolia where Mustafa Kemal would rise to become a national hero for the Turks. As an Ottoman army officer, he displayed great leadership in battle, especially at Gallipoli, where the Ottomans managed to turn back a British invasion aimed at the capital, Istanbul. After the war, however, Kemal made clear what his priorities were. His main goal was the establishment of Turkish nationalism as the unifying force of the Turkish people. Unlike the multi-ethnic and diverse Ottoman Empire, Kemal aimed to create a monolithic state based on Turkish identity.
In Mustafa Kemal’s own words, he describes the importance of Turkish identity and the insignificance of Islam as he sees it:
“Even before accepting the religion of the Arabs [Islam], the Turks were a great nation. After accepting the religion of the Arabs, this religion, didn’t effect to combine the Arabs, the Persians and Egyptians with the Turks to constitute a nation. (This religion) rather, loosened the national nexus of Turkish nation, got national excitement numb. This was very natural. Because the purpose of the religion founded by Muhammad, over all nations, was to drag to an including Arab national politics.”
- Mustafa Kemal, Medenî Bilgiler
Mustafa Kemal’s skewed [and quite frankly, factually incorrect] views of Islamic history helped push his nationalist agenda. Using Turkish identity as a rallying point, he managed to unite former Ottoman officers under his command in the Turkish War of Independence in the early 1920s and expel the occupying forces of the Greeks, British, and French, who had encroached on Turkish land after WWI. By 1922, Kemal managed to completely free the Turks of foreign occupation and used the opportunity to establish the modern Republic of Turkey, led by the Grand National Assembly, the GNA, in Ankara. At the head of the new Turkish government was a president, elected by the GNA. The natural choice was Mustafa Kemal, the hero of the War of Independence, who now took on the title of “Atatürk”, meaning “Father of the Turks”.
Abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate and the Caliphate
At first, the new Turkish government seemed to inherit the role of the Ottoman government as the upholder of Islam. A new constitution drawn up by the GNA declared that Islam was the official state religion of Turkey and that all laws had to be vetted by a panel of Islamic law experts, to make sure they do not contradict the Shari’ah.
This new system of government could not work, however, so long as there continued to be a rival government in Istanbul, led by the Ottoman sultan. The Ankara and Istanbul governments both claimed sovereignty over Turkey, and had frankly conflicting goals. Atatürk eliminated this problem on November 1, 1922, when he abolished the Ottoman sultanate, which had existed since 1299, and officially transferred its power to the GNA. He did not immediately abolish the caliphate, however. Although the sultanate was no more, he allowed the Ottoman caliphate to continue to exist, although with no official powers, only as a symbolic figurehead.
Abdülmecid II, the last caliph who held the office from 1922 to 1924.
Knowing that this move would be very unpopular among the Turkish people, Atatürk justified it by claiming he was simply going back to a traditional Islamic form of government. From the 900s to the 1500s, the Abbasid caliphs were mostly figureheads, with real power being in the hands of viziers or warlords. Atatürk used this example to justify his creation of a powerless caliphate.
The caliphate had existed since the days following the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, when Abu Bakr was elected as the first leader of the Muslim world. For Muslims outside of Turkey, Atatürk’s actions clearly put the office of the caliphate itself in danger. In India especially, Muslims expressed outrage at Atatürk’s actions and organized the Khilafat Movement, which sought to protect the caliphate from danger, whether by foreign invaders or the Turkish government itself.
For Atatürk, the expressions of support for the caliphate from Muslims outside Turkey were seen as interference in internal Turkish affairs. Citing this supposed international interference, on March 3rd, 1924, Atatürk and the Grand National Assembly abolished the caliphate itself and sent all remaining members of the Ottoman family into exile.
Attacks on Islam
With the caliphate out of the way, the Turkish government had more freedom to pursue policies that attacked Islamic institutions. Under the guise of “cleansing Islam of political interference”, the educational system was completely overhauled. Islamic education was banned in favor of secular, non-dogmatic schools. Other aspects of religious infrastructure were also torn down. The Shari’ah council to approve laws that the GNA had established just two years earlier was abolished. Religious endowments were seized and put under government control. Sufi lodges were forcefully shut down. All judges of Islamic law in the country were immediately fired, as all Shari’ah courts were closed.
Atatürk’s attacks on Islam were not limited to the government, however. Everyday life for Turks was also dictated by Atatürk’s secular ideas:
- Traditional Islamic forms of headdress such as turbans and the fez were outlawed in favor of Western-style hats.
- The hijaab for women was ridiculed as a “ridiculous object” and banned in public buildings.
- The calendar was officially changed, from the traditional Islamic calendar, based on the hijrah – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s flight to Madinah – to the Gregorian calendar, based on the birth of Jesus Christ.
- In 1932, the adhan – the Muslim call to prayer – was outlawed in Arabic. Instead, it was rewritten using Turkish words and forced upon the country’s thousands of mosques.
- Friday was no longer considered part of the weekend. Instead, Turkey was forced to follow European norms of Saturday and Sunday being days off from work.
After all of these changes, the GNA gave up the charade in 1928 and deleted the clause in the constitution that declared Islam as the official state religion. Islam had been replaced with Atatürk’s secular ideologies.
Atatürk knew these secular reforms would be futile if the Turkish people could manage to rally together to oppose them. The biggest danger to this new order was the history of the Turks, which since the 900s had been intertwined with Islam. In order to distance the new generations of Turks from their past, Atatürk had to make the past unreadable to them.
Atatürk introducing the new Latin script in 1928.
With the excuse of increasing literacy among Turks (which was indeed very low in the 1920s), Atatürk advocated the replacement of Arabic letters with Latin letters. Much like Persian, Turkish was written in Arabic letters for hundreds of years after the conversion of the Turks to Islam in the 900s. Because Turkish was written in the Arabic script, Turks could read the Qur’an, and other Islamic texts with relative ease, connecting them to an Islamic identity – which Atatürk saw as a threat.
In addition to the introduction of the Latin letters, Atatürk created a commission charged with the replacement of Arabic and Persian loanwords in Turkish. In keeping with his nationalist agenda, Atatürk wanted a language that was purely Turkish, which meant old Turkish words, that had become obsolete during the Ottoman era, came back into use instead of Arabic words. For example, the Turkish War of Independence, formerly know as the Istiklal Harbi, is now known as Kurtuluş Savaşı, because “istiklal” and “harb” are Arabic loanwords in Turkish.
From Atatürk’s perspective, the language reform was wildly successful. Within a few decades, the old Ottoman Turkish was effectively extinct. The newer generations of Turks were completely cut off from the older generations, with whom simple conversations were difficult. With the Turkish people illiterate to their past, the Turkish government was able to feed them a version of history that they deemed acceptable, one that promoted the Turkish nationalistic ideas of Atatürk himself.
All of these reforms worked together to effectively erase Islam from the lives of the everyday Turks. Despite the best efforts of religious-minded Turks (such as Said Nursi) to preserve their heritage, language, and religion, the government’s pressure to adopt secular ideas was too much. For over 80 years, Turkish government remained vehemently secular. Attempts to bring back Islamic values into government have been met with resistance by the military, which views itself as the protector of Atatürk’s secularism.
In 1950, Adnan Menderes was democratically elected prime minister of Turkey on a platform of bringing back the Arabic adhan. Although he was successful, he was overthrown by a military coup in 1960 and executed after a hasty trial. More recently, in 1996, Necmettin Erbakan was elected prime minister, while remarkably openly declaring himself an “Islamist”. Once again, the military stepped in, and overthrew him from power after just one year in office.
Modern Turkey’s relations with Islam and its own history are complicated. Portions of the society strongly support Atatürk’s ideology and believe Islam should have no role in public life. Other segments of society envision a return to a more Islam-oriented society and government, and closer relations with the rest of the Muslim world. Most troubling, however, is that the ideological conflict between these two opposing sides shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon.
Fighting for a New Turkey
Atatürk had a distinguished military career, serving all over the vast Ottoman Empire and advancing to the rank of pasha, or general. He played a major role in defending the Ottoman Empire during World War I, becoming a beloved war hero. In April 1915, he led a brilliant defense of the Turkish seaport of Gallipoli against an Allied invasion. Though defeated by the British at Megiddo in September 1918, he regrouped his forces and faced Allied troops again in October, holding a defensive line at Aleppo until an armistice (peace treaty) was signed with the British on October 30. He did not forget his early dislike of the corrupt Ottoman government, however. (The sultan was the ruler of the Ottoman Empire.)
His skill on the battlefield went hand in hand with his rebellion. Early in his career he helped form a secret organization of officers called "Homeland and Freedom" to plot against the sultan. During World War I, Atatürk angered his superiors by suggesting that the army should withdraw its support from the non-Turkish parts of the empire.
Although the armistice dissolved the Ottoman army, Atatürk kept the Turkish armies together to defeat the Greeks who, encouraged by the other Allies, were invading Turkey's west coast. In 1919, Atatürk landed in the Black Sea port of Samsun to launch Turkey's War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. On April 20, 1920, Mohammed VI, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, signed the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allies. This treaty gave large parts of Turkey to various Allied nations, leaving only a tiny, powerless nation that would be under Allied control. Atatürk was determined to resist the terms of the treaty and gain international recognition for a new Turkey. On April 23, 1920, the first Grand National Assembly took office with Atatürk as president. By 1923, under Atatürk's leadership, the assembly had created the Republic of Turkey, replacing the absolute monarchy of the sultan with a democratic parliamentary form of government. The Treaty of Sèvres was replaced by the more acceptable Treaty of Lausanne, which the new nationalist government signed on July 24, 1923.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 - 1938) was the founder and the first President of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal was born in 1881 in Salonika (Thessaloniki, today in Greece, then under the Ottoman rule). His father's name was Ali Riza Efendi. His father was customs official.
His mother's name was Zübeyde Hanim. For his primary education, he went to the school of Semsi Efendi in Salonika. But Mustafa lost his father at an early age, he had to leave school. Mustafa and his mother went to live with his uncle in the countryside. His mother brought him up. Life continued like this for a time. Mustafa worked on the farm but his mother began to worry about his lack of schooling. It was finally decided that he should live with his mother's sister in Salonika.
He entered the Military Middle School in Salonika. In 1895, after finishing the Military Middle School, Mustafa Kemal entered the Military High School (Askeri Idadisi) in Manastir.
After successfully completing his studies at the Manastir Military School, Mustafa Kemal went to Istanbul and on the 13th of March 1899 he entered the infantry class of the Military Academy (Harbiye Harp Okulu). After finishing the Military Academy, Mustafa Kemal went on to the General Staff College in 1902. He was graduated from the Academy with the rank of captain on the 11th of January, 1905.
In 1906, he was sent to Damascus (Sam). Mustafa Kemal and his friends founded a society which they called "Vatan ve Hürriyet" (Fatherland and Freedom) in Damascus. On his own initiative, he went to Tripoli during the war with Italy in 1911 and took part in the defense of Derne and Tobruk. While he was still in Libya, the Balkan War broke out. He served in the Balkan War as a successful Commander (1912-1914). At the end of the Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal was appointed military attaché in Sofia.
When Mustafa Kemal was in Sofia, the First World War broke out. He was made Commander of the Anafartalar Group on 8th of August, 1915. In the First World War he was in command of the Turkish forces at Anafartalar at a critical moment. This was when the Allied landings in the Dardanelles (today's Canakkale Strait) took place and he personally saved the situation in Gallipoli. During the battle, Mustafa Kemal was hit by shrapnel above the heart, but a watch in his breast pocket saved his life. Mustafa Kemal explained his state of mind as he accepted this great responsibility: "Indeed, it was not easy to shoulder such responsibility, but as I had decided not to live to see my country's destruction, I accepted it proudly". He then served in the Caucasus and in Syria and just before the armistice in 1918 he was placed in command of the Lightning Army group in Syria. After the armistice (peace agreement), he returned to Istanbul.
After the Armistice of Montreux, the countries that had signed the agreement did not consider it necessary to abide by its terms. Under various pretexts the navies and the armies of the Entente (France, Britain and Italy) were in Istanbul, while the province of Adana had been occupied by the French, and Urfa and Maras by the British. There were Italian soldiers in Antalya and Konya, and British soldiers in Merzifon and Samsun. There were foreign officers, officials and agents almost everywhere in the country.
On the 15th of May 1919 the Greek Army landed in Izmir with the agreement of the Entente. Under difficult conditions, Mustafa Kemal decided to go to Anatolia. On 16th of May 1919, he left Istanbul in a small boat called the "Bandirma". Mustafa Kemal was warned that his enemies had planned to sink his ship on the way out, but he was not afraid and on Monday19th May 1919, he arrived in Samsun and set foot on Anatolian soil. That date marks the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence. It is also the date that Mustafa Kemal later chose as his own birthday. A wave of national resistance arose in Anatolia. A movement had already begun in Erzurum in the east and Mustafa Kemal quickly placed himself at the head of the whole organization. The congresses in Erzurum and Sivas in the Summer of 1919 declared the national aims by a national pact.
When the foreign armies occupied Istanbul, on 23rd of April 1920 Mustafa Kemal opened the Turkish Grand National Assembly and hence established a provisional new government, the centre of which was to be Ankara. On the same day Mustafa Kemal was elected President of the Grand National Assembly. The Greeks, profiting by the rebellion of Cerkez Ethem and acting in collaboration with him, started to advance towards Bursa and Eskisehir. On the 10th of January 1921, the enemy forces were heavily defeated by the Commander of the Western Front, colonel Ismet and his troops. On the 10th of July 1921, the Greeks launched a frontal attack with five divisions on Sakarya. After the great battle of Sakarya, which continued without interruption from the 23rd of August to the 13th of September, the Greek Army was defeated and had to retreat. After the battle, the Grand National Assembly gave Mustafa Kemal the titles of Ghazi and Marshal. Mustafa Kemal decided to drive the enemies out of his country and he gave the order that the attack should be launched on the morning of the 26th of August 1922. The bulk of the enemy forces were surrounded and killed or captured on the 30th of August at Dumlupinar.
The enemy Commander-in-Chief, General Trikupis, was captured. Or the 9th of September 1922 the fleeing enemy forces were driven into the sea near Izmir. The Turkish forces, under the extraordinary military skills of Kemal Atatürk, fought a War of Independence against the occupying Allied powers and won victories on every front all over the country.
On the 24th of July 1923, with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the independence of the new Turkish State was recognized by all countries. Mustafa Kemal built up a new, sturdy, vigorous state. On the 29th of October 1923, he declared the new Turkish Republic. Following the declaration of the Republic he started to his radical reforms to modernize the country. Mustafa Kemal was elected the first President of the Republic of Turkey.
Atatürk made frequent tours of the country. While visiting Gemlik and Bursa, Atatürk caught a chill. He returned to Istanbul to be treated and to rest, but, unfortunately Atatürk was seriously ill. He spent his last days of life on the presidential yacht named Savarona. At 9.05 AM on the 10th of November 1938, Atatürk died, but he attained immortality in the eyes of his people. Since the moment of his death, his beloved name and memory have been engraved on the hearts of his people. As a commander he had been the victorious of many battles, as a leader he had influenced the masses, as a statesman he had led a successful administration, and as a revolutionary he had striven to alter the social, cultural, economic, political and legal structure of society at its roots. He was one of the most eminent personalities in the history of the world, history will count him among the most glorious sons of the Turkish nation and one of the greatest leaders of mankind.
Events in Ataturk's Life in Chronological Order
Mustafa born in Salonika (Thessaloniki).
Mustafa enters the Military Preparatory School in Salonika and is given the second name "Kemal" by his teacher.
Mustafa Kemal enters the Military High School at Manastir.
Mustafa Kemal enters the infantry class of the Military Academy in Istanbul.
Mustafa Kemal graduates from the Military Academy and goes on to the General Staff College.
January 11, 1905
Mustafa Kemal graduates from the General Staff College with the rank of Staff Captain and is posted to the Fifth Army, based in Damascus.
Mustafa Kemal and his friends from the secret society "Fatherland and Freedom" in Damascus.
Mustafa Kemal transferred to Third Army and goes to Salonika.
September 13, 1911
Mustafa Kemal transferred to General Staff in Istanbul.
January 9, 1912
Mustafa Kemal successfully leads the Tobruk offensive in Libya.
November 25, 1912
Mustafa Kemal appointed Director of Operations, Mediterranean Straits Special Forces.
October 27, 1913
Mustafa Kemal appointed Military Attaché in Sofia.
April 25, 1915
Allies land at Ariburnu (Gallipoli) and Mustafa Kemal stops their progress with his division.
August 9, 1915
Mustafa Kemal appointed Commander of Anafartalar Group.
April 1, 1916
Mustafa Kemal promoted to Brigadier-General.
August 6-7, 1916
Mustafa Kemal takes Bitlis and Mus back from the enemy.
October 31, 1918
Mustafa Kemal becomes Commander of Lightning Group of Armies.
April 30, 1919
Mustafa Kemal appointed Inspector of 9th Army based in Erzurum with wide powers.
May 16, 1919
Mustafa Kemal leaves Istanbul.
May 19, 1919
Mustafa Kemal lands in Samsun. This date was recorded as the start of War of Independence.
July 8, 1919
Mustafa Kemal resigns from the post of Inspector of 3rd Army and from the army.
July 23, 1919
Mustafa Kemal elected Chairman of Erzurum Congress.
September 4, 1919
Mustafa Kemal elected Chairman of Sivas Congress.
December 27, 1919
Mustafa Kemal arrives in Ankara with the Executive Committee.
April 23, 1920
Mustafa Kemal opens the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara.
May 11, 1920
Mustafa Kemal is condemned to death by the government in Istanbul.
August 5, 1921
Mustafa Kemal appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army by the Grand National Assembly.
August 23, 1921
The battle of Sakarya begins with Turkish troops led by Mustafa Kemal.
September 19, 1921
The Grand National Assembly gives Mustafa Kemal the rank of Marshal and the title Gazi.
August 26, 1922
Gazi Mustafa Kemal begins to lead the Great Offensive from the hill of Kocatepe.
August 30, 1922
Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha wins the battle of Dumlupinar.
September 10, 1922
Gazi Mustafa Kemal enters Izmir.
November 1, 1922
The Grand National Assembly accepts Gazi Mustafa Kemal's proposal to abolish the Sultanate.
January 14, 1923
Mustafa Kemal's mother Zübeyde Hanim dies in Izmir.
October 29, 1923
Proclamation of the Turkish Republic and Gazi Mustafa Kemal is elected as the first President.
August 24, 1924
Gazi Mustafa Kemal wears a hat for the first time at Sarayburnu in Istanbul.
August 9, 1928
Gazi Mustafa Kemal speaks at Sarayburnu on the new Turkish Alphabet.
April 12, 1931
Gazi Mustafa Kemal founds the Turkish Historical Society.
July 12, 1932
Gazi Mustafa Kemal founds the Turkish Linguistic Society.
June 16, 1934
The Grand National Assembly passes a law granting Gazi Mustafa Kemal the surname "Atatürk" Father of the Turks.
November 10, 1938
Atatürk dies at 09:05 AM in Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul, at the age of 57.
THE TREATY OF LAUSANNE ANDTHE BIRTH OF MODERN TURKEY
In order to counter the maneuverings of the Allies, Kemal directed his offensive against the remainder of the Ottoman Empire and its institutions. He denounced the sultanate before the Grand National Assembly, which led to a vote for its abolition on 2 November 1922. Sultan Mehmed VI (r. 1918–1922) fled Constantinople and the Kemalists proclaimed his downfall. The ghazi then picked up the pace of his transformation of the old empire by creating a sizable political party known as the Republican People's Party, whose lines of support began with his Anatolian clients. The Republican People's Party handily won the general elections organized for the following June, and Kemal himself was elected head of state by the Grand National Assembly.
The extent to which his victory was complete was then measured by the concluding of the Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the War of Independence. Opened at the beginning of 1923, the treaty's negotiations were quickly cut short by Kemalist intransigence.Theyresumedon23AprilandtheTreaty wassignedon23July, constituting a bitter reversal of the Treaty of Sèvres, but also the concretization of the ghazi's political and military crusade. At that point the National Pact was entirely completed. The young Kemal regime, sole interlocutor with the Allies, was legally recognized and given full sovereignty over the Turkish territories of the former empire up to and including Thrace in the east, excluding the islands bordering Asia Minor. The sole concession granted was for the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, who obtained official status as "minorities." The Lausanne Treaty emerged out of a series of other treaties delineating the demographic and territorial map of modern day Turkey, most notably involving a large-scale population exchange of 900,000 Orthodox Christians who moved to Greece, and 400,000 Muslims transferred to Turkey.
On 6 October 1923, Kemalist troops entered Constantinople, which would assume the name Istanbul and lose its status as capital in favor of Ankara. The Republic of Turkey was officially declared on 29 October 1923. The makeup of the government highlighted a profound shift away from the form of an empire, and by designating the entire country "Turkiye" (ratified by the Constitution of 1924), the Kemalist regime was rejecting Ottoman and pan-nationalist solutions in order to affirm a nationalist Turkish identity that was incorporated into the state institutions and the territory itself.
Allied Defeat At Gallipoli
The CUP-led Ottoman Empire fared badly in both the Balkan Wars and World War I. The only major victory was at Gallipoli, where Mustafa Kemal soundly defeated the British invasion. In 1915 the British army and navy valiantly fought to open the Dardanelles in a plan created by Winston Churchill. It was essential for the Allies to take Istanbul in order to reopen the Bosphorus Strait. The Allied defeat in Gallipoli compromised that situation and possibly lengthened the war.
Mustafa Kemal was heralded as a hero among the Turks during a war that saw few victories and many defeats for the Ottomans. At the conclusion of the war, the remaining Ottoman territories were divided amongst the Allied powers. France was given control of southern Turkey (near the Syrian border), Italy was given the Mediterranean region, and Greece was given Thrace and the Aegean coast of Turkey. Istanbul was to be an internationally controlled city (mainly French and British). The Kurds and Armenians were also granted territory under the Treaty of Sèvres. The Turks would have only a small, mountainous territory in central Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal was outraged, as were most Turks. Of all the occupying armies, he viewed the Greek army as the most dangerous threat. Greek nationalism was at an all-time high, and many wanted to reclaim all of ancestral Greece (which extended well into Asia Minor). This fear was confirmed by the Greek invasion of Smyrna (present day Izmir) in 1919.
In May 1919 Mustafa Kemal secretly traveled to Samsun (on the Black Sea coast) and journeyed to Amasya, where he issued the first resistance proclamation. He then formed a national assembly, where he was elected chairman. Next he organized a resistance army to overthrow foreign occupation and conquest. Under his leadership the Turkish resistance easily drove out the British, French, and Italian troops, who were weary of fighting and did not want another war. The real conflict was with the Greek troops and culminated in horrible atrocities committed by both sides. In September 1922 the Turkish army drove the Greek army into the sea at Izmir as the international community silently observed.
In 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and replaced the Treaty of Sèvres. This treaty set the borders of modern-day Turkey. On October 29, 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, with Mustafa Kemal as president and Ismet Inönü as prime minister. Even though the government appeared democratic, Mustafa Kemal had almost absolute power. However, he differed from several rising dictators of the time in several respects. He had no plans or ideology pertaining to expansionism. His primary focus was the modernization and domestic reform of his country. He wanted to make Turkey self-sufficient and independent.
He believed that the only way to save his country was to modernize it, and by force if necessary. He moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara, a centrally located city. He then abolished both the sultanate and the caliphate, and his fight against religion became one of his most contested reforms. He believed that Islam’s role in government would prevent the country from modernizing. He was not antireligion but against religious interference in governmental affairs. He closed the religious schools and courts and put religion under state control. He wanted to lessen the religious and ethnic divisions that had been encouraged under the Ottoman system. He wanted the people of Turkey to identify themselves as Turks first. He established political parties and a national assembly based on the parliamentary system. He also implemented the Swiss legal code that allowed freedom of religion and civil divorce and banned polygamy.
Atatürk banned the fez for men and the veil for women and encouraged Western-style dress. He replaced the Muslim calendar with the European calendar and changed the working week to Monday through Friday, leaving Saturday and Sunday as the weekend. He hired expert linguists to transform the Turkish alphabet from Arabic to Latin script based on phonetic sounds and introduced the metric system. As surnames did not exist until this time, Mustafa Kemal insisted that each person and family select a surname. He chose Atatürk, which means “father of the Turks.”
Some of his most profound reforms, however, were in regard to women. Atatürk argued that no society could be successful while half of the population was hidden away. He encouraged women to wear European clothing and to leave the harems. Turkey was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote and hold office in 1930. He also adopted several daughters. One of them, Sabiha Gokcen, became the first woman combat pilot in Turkey.
These reforms did not come easily and in many cases garnered little support. Many religious and ethnic groups such as the Sufi dervishes and Kurds staged rebellions and were ruthlessly put down. Other minority groups suffered or were exiled as a result of the new government.
A heavy drinker, Atatürk died of cirrhosis of the liver in November 1938. As he had no children he left no heirs and instead bequeathed to his country the democracy that he created, which would survive him to the present day. Although Atatürk forbade many basic concepts of democracy such as free press, trade unions, and freedom of speech, he paved the way for the future addition and implementation of these ideals.
My history hero: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938)
Mustafa Kemal was born in Salonika, then part of the Ottoman empire. He received a military training and rose to prominence for his role in combatting the Allied attack on Gallipoli in 1915.
After the First World War Kemal led a nationalist resistance campaign against the peace terms imposed on the Ottomans. His military nous enabled him to rebuff Greek expansionist plans and helped to secure a more favourable settlement in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. When the Ottoman empire disintegrated, Kemal was installed as president of the new republic of Turkey. In this role he spearheaded the modernisation and secularisation of the country. He was given the name Atatürk (meaning ‘father of the Turks’) in 1935, three years before his death.
When did you first become aware of Atatürk?
In my generation there was still a backwash from the interwar period, so everybody knew about Atatürk in a vague way as someone who had westernised Turkey. I had also heard the legends about his actions in Gallipoli and about the law in 1925 that made people in Turkey wear hats. That was all I knew before I first went to Turkey, nearly 16 years ago.
What kind of a man was he?
It is very difficult to pin him down. He obviously had absolutely enormous charisma, which grew the older he got. Women noticed his translucent blue eyes and he could terrify people without actually saying very much. He was an excellent man manager, able to get the best out of his subordinates and then, when they became too big for their boots, he knew how to get rid of them. His rhetoric was also very powerful. People could listen to him for quite a long time and not be bored.
What makes him a hero?
In the run-up to the First World War the Ottoman empire was falling apart. By the time they entered the war, more or less everybody had written them off. So the Allies sailed in and this is where Atatürk made his reputation, commanding the brigade that faced the British at Suvla Bay in August 1915. The Turks had been taken by surprise, but he was able to put up a defence.
Then after the war Lloyd George encouraged the Greeks and to a lesser extent the Armenians to divide up their parts of Anatolia. The Turkish sultan would probably have gone along with it, but Atatürk took charge of a national resistance. He established himself with no real base – just a telegraph, a German car (which constantly broke down) and about 12 disciples. Yet he managed to make an alliance with the Bolsheviks who supplied him with weapons and gold and on that basis he was able to defeat the French, then the Greeks and then the British. It was a remarkable performance.
Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about him?
Anybody in a statesmanlike position is bound to make mistakes, get tired and oversimplify things. The sheer strain of running the place was such a lot I think. He was a lonely man who drank too much and that eventually killed him, far too young. He had a tendency to promote people who weren’t very good, meaning that after he died his successors did not have the same qualities that he did.
Do you see any parallels between your life and his?
Not really. I’ve got away from my past as a heavy drinker now, although I suppose one does have a certain amount of fellow feeling with the man. But no, I don’t see much parallel at all. I’m essentially a writer, not a man of action.
If you had the chance to meet Atatürk, what would you ask him?
I would like to know why there are so many statues of him up and down Turkey, because he never strikes me as a man who had that kind of vanity. He might have thought that he had his achievements but I can’t imagine he would have wanted to be remembered in that kind of adulatory way.
I would also like to ask him if the various quotes attributed to him were genuinely his. I discovered one at the Federation of Turkish Truck Drivers building on the way to Cappadocia. There was a statue of Atatürk and underneath it read: “The Turkish driver is a man of the most exquisite sensitivity of temperament.” I’d love to have asked him if this was really his words or if it was just a joke.
Norman Stone is one of Britain’s most distinguished historians. He is the author of a number of books, the latest being Turkey: A Short History (Thames & Hudson, 2011).
Ataturk’s Speech about Gallipoli
He made many speeches throughout his life however one is more famous than the others are.
The heartfelt tribute stems from the battle of Gallipoli that started on 25 April 1915. This battle lasted for eight long months.
Foreign forces were attempting to capture an area now known as Anzac cove in an effort to pave the way to capturing Constantinople. They failed and thousands of men from both sides lost their lives.
It was an ugly battle resulting in the death of husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers.
In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk wrote the famous words that reached out to the mothers of his former enemies.
“Those heroes that shed their blood
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was a great military leader, a social reformer, a persuasive and brilliant diplomat, a shrewd economist and the first president of the modern Turkish Republic. He was reelected fifteen years in a row, and the only reason he was not reelected for a sixteenth time was that he had drunk himself to death by the age of fifty-seven.
"A man born out of due season, an anachronism, a throwback to the Tartars of the steppes, a fierce elemental force of a man. With his military genius and ruthless determination, in a different age he might well have been a Genghis Khan, conquering empires."
Never in doubt of his abilities, the man excelled at every task he took on. Time and again he developed battle plans that succeeded against impossible odds. His triumph at Gallipoli against the British and Australians was nothing short of a miracle. As well, his powers of persuasion were legendary. I quote a speech he made to those whose family members or loved ones had lost their lives and lay buried on Turkish soil:
"Those heroes (who) shed their blood and lost their lives. you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us – where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent (your) sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
Amazing, no? The Turkish War of Independence, which ended in 1922, was the last time Atatürk used his military might in dealing with other countries. Ensuing foreign issues were resolved by peaceful methods during his presidency.
During his days as a Military Attaché in Sofia, Bulgaria (1914-1915), he adopted western European dress for the first time, usually wearing a business suit with a vest, since he had been ridiculed for his fez and Turkish military attire. He was astonished that neighboring Sofia, so near to Turkey’s doorstep, boasted an opera house, theatre, national library and a ballet company. He determined then and there that Turkey’s future must be forged upon Western European models, and that it must shed its backward, Islamic traditions. A staunch agnostic, Macedonian-born Atatürk turned the Islamic Turkish nation upside down. After seizing control of the country he abolished centuries of Shari’ah (Islamic) law, eliminated the Caliphate, implemented the Western European calendar, sent the Sultan into permanent exile and ordered Islamic religious schools closed. He cracked down harshly on once-powerful religious orders, such as the dervishes.
But he was just getting warmed up. He opposed the Turkish government's decision to surrender to the Allies after WW I, so he organized an army of resistance, which successfully defeated the Allied occupation forces. Atatürk changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul and established a Republic with a new capital in Ankara, a more centrally located city. Atatürk became the Republic's first president. He once more set his sights on reform by banning the veil and fez, leading by example he strutted around in Panama hats and western business suits before a shocked public. He gave women the right to vote, thus making Turkey the first Muslim country to do so. He ordered men to appear in public with their wives – even to dance with them prior to this decree most Turkish men had never before met each other's wives. In his spare time Kemal banned polygamy. Oh, I nearly forgot – he forced everyone to take a surname. His own surname, Atatürk (meaning "Father of the Turks"), was granted to him, and forbidden to any other person, in 1934 by the Turkish parliament. He abolished the use of Arabic script and replaced it with a Latin (West European) alphabet, at the same time making secular public education compulsory, even for women, thus thumbing his nose at centuries of Islamic segregation of the sexes.
"Fellow countrymen," he declared, "you must realize that the Turkish Republic cannot be a country of sheikhs or dervishes. If we want to be men, we must carry out the dictates of civilization. We draw our strength from civilization, scholarship and science and are guided by them. We do not accept anything else."In a span of less than ten years he had resurrected a people with “Loser” stamped upon their foreheads into a force to be reckoned with, deserving of respect. He had the populace in his pocket and was nearly universally beloved by his people and respected by his enemies. To this day it is against the law to insult his memory or destroy anything that represents him. There is even a government website that polices and denounces those who violate this law, which has been in force since 1951.
“Women, for Mustafa, were a means of satisfying masculine appetites, little more nor, in his zest for experience, would he be inhibited from passing adventures with young boys, if the opportunity offered and the mood, in this bisexual fin-de-siècle Ottoman age, came upon him.” (Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross)
In short, this man engaged in occasional sexual dalliances with young men, yet he was briefly married to a woman.* In the two biographies I have read, Atatürk comes across as an omnisexual, using sexual prowess as just another tool of intimidation, a man obsessed by conquest. If he had been a guest in my home, I’d have feared for my larger houseplants. His libidinous influence is felt today – Turkey is the only Muslim country where homosexuality is not against the law.
* He had seven adopted children: six daughters and one son. Ulku Adatepe, just nine months old when adopted by Atatürk, died last summer in an automobile accident at age 79. As a young girl she had traveled with her adoptive father as he traversed the entirety of Turkey to teach the new alphabet to his people. She was just six years old when Atatürk died.
All that off towards one side, Atatürk’s veneration has been constant since his death in 1938, nearly 75 years ago. His photograph appears on the walls of restaurants, shops, schools and government offices. His image is on banknotes, and nearly every Turkish town sports a statue or bust of the man. Your blogger knows this first-hand, since I have just returned from my second trip to Turkey this calendar year. At the exact time of his death, on every November 10, at 9:05 a.m., most vehicles and people in the country's streets stop for a minute of remembrance.
In response to several readers' requests for specific resources attesting to Atatürk’s bisexuality:
Atatürk (1962) Irfan and Margaret Orga:
“He had never really loved a woman. He was used to the camaraderie of the mess, the craze for handsome young men, [and] fleeting contacts with prostitutes, … His body burned for a woman or a boy. ”
Mustafa Kemal, An Intimate Study (1933) by H.C. Armstrong
“After divorcing Latife, . he went back to the long nights in smoke-filled rooms with his drinking friends. after that he became shameless. He drank deeper than ever. He started a number of open affairs with women, and with men. Male youth attracted him...”
Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals – by Keith Stern (pub. 2009)
Achilles to Zeus (pub. 1987) by Paul Hennefeld
Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation (2001) by Patrick Kinross, a former British Diplomat