"There are two
Mustafa Kemals. One the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now stands
before you and who will pass away. the other is you, all of you here
who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals
which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the
nation's dreams, and my life's work is to make them come true."
Atatürk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who
dedicated their lives totally to their nations.
He was born in 1881 (probably in the spring) in Salonica, then an
Ottoman city, now in Greece. His father Ali Riza, a customs official
turned lumber merchant, died when Mustafa was still a boy. His
mother Zubeyde, a devout and strong-willed woman, raised him and his
sister. First enrolled in a traditional religious school, he soon
switched to a modern school. In 1893, he entered a military high
school where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal
(meaning perfection) in recognition of young Mustafa's superior
achievement. He was thereafter known as Mustafa Kemal.
In 1905, Mustafa Kemal graduated from the War Academy in Istanbul
with the rank of Staff Captain. Posted in Damascus, he started with
several colleagues, a clandestine society called "Homeland and
Freedom" to fight against the Sultan's despotism. In 1908 he helped
the group of officers who toppled the Sultan. Mustafa Kemal's career
flourished as he won his heroism in the far corners of the Ottoman
Empire, including Albania and Tripoli. He also briefly served as a
staff officer in Salonica and Istanbul and as a military attache in
In 1915, when Dardanelles campaign was launched, Colonel Mustafa
Kemal became a national hero by winning successive victories and
finally repelling the invaders. Promoted to general in 1916, at age
35, he liberated two major provinces in eastern Turkey that year. In
the next two years, he served as commander of several Ottoman armies
in Palestine, Aleppo, and elsewhere, achieving another major victory
by stopping the enemy advance at Aleppo.
On May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha landed in the Black Sea port of
Samsun to start the War of Independence. In defiance of the Sultan's
government, he rallied a liberation army in Anatolia and convened
the Congress of Erzurum and Sivas which established the basis for
the new national effort under his leadership. On April 23, 1920, the
Grand National Assembly was inaugurated. Mustafa Kemal Pasha was
elected to its Presidency.
Fighting on many fronts, he led his forces to victory against rebels
and invading armies. Following the Turkish triumph at the two major
battles at Inonu in Western Turkey, the Grand National Assembly
conferred on Mustafa Kemal Pasha the title of Commander-in-Chief
with the rank of Marshal. At the end of August 1922, the Turkish
armies won their ultimate victory. Within a few weeks, the Turkish
mainland was completely liberated, the armistice signed, and the
rule of the Ottoman dynasty abolished.
In July 1923, the national government signed the Lausanne Treaty
with Great Britain, France, Greece, Italy, and others. In mid-October,
Ankara became the capital of the new Turkish State. On October 29,
the Republic was proclaimed and Mustafa Kemal Pasha was unanimously
elected President of the Republic.
Atatürk married Latife Usakligil in early 1923. The marriage ended
in divorce in 1925.
The account of Atatürk's fifteen year Presidency is a saga of
dramatic modernization. With indefatigable determination, he created
a new political and legal system, abolished the Caliphate and made
both government and education secular, gave equal rights to women,
changed the alphabet and the attire, and advanced the arts and the
sciences, agriculture and industry.
In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament
gave him the name "Atatürk" (Father of the Turks).
On November 10, 1938, following an illness of a few months, the
national liberator and the Father of modern Turkey died. But his
legacy to his people and to the world endures.
FOUNDER OF THE REPUBLIC
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 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 so
short period, transformed the life of a nation as decisively, and
given such profound inspiration to the world at large.
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 1920s as a
triumphant commander who crushed the invaders of his country.
Following a series of impressive victories against all odds, he led
his nation to full independence. He put an end to the antiquated
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
Atatürk 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 Atatürk.
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 Atatürk 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 for Atatürk,
an extraordinary leader of modern times, who said in 1933: "I look
to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship".
"The major challenge facing us is to elevate our national life to
the highest level of civilization and prosperity."
Atatürk's aim was to modernize Turkish life in order to give his
nation a new sense of dignity, equality, and happiness. After more
than three centuries of high achievement, the Ottoman Empire had
declined from the 17th to the early 20th Century: With Sultans
presiding over a social and economic system mired in backwardness,
the Ottoman state had become hopelessly outmoded for the modern
times. Atatürk resolved to lead his country out of the crumbling
past into a brave new future.
In his program of modernization, secular government and education
played a major role. Making religious faith a matter of individual
conscience, he created a truly secular system in Turkey, where the
vast Moslem majority and the small Christian and Jewish minorities
are free to practice their faith. As a result of Atatürk's reforms,
Turkey -unlike scores of other countries- has fully secular
The leader of modern Turkey aspired to freedom and equality for all.
When he proclaimed the Republic, he announced that " the new Turkish
State is a state of the people and a state by the people." Having
established a populist and egalitarian system, he later observed: "We
are a nation without classes or special privileges." He also
stressed the paramount importance of the peasants, who had long been
neglected in the Ottoman times: " The true owner and master of
Turkey is the peasant who is the real producer."
To give his nation a modern outlook, Atatürk introduced many reforms:
European hats replaced the fez; women stopped wearing the veil; all
citizens took surnames; and the Islamic calendar gave way to the
Western calendar. A vast transformation took place in the urban and
rural life. It can be said that few nations have ever experienced
anything comparable to the social change in Atatürk's Turkey.
"Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women."
With abiding faith in the vital importance of women in society,
Atatürk launched many reforms to give Turkish women equal rights and
opportunities. The new Civil Code, adopted in 1926, abolished
polygamy and recognized the equal rights of women in divorce,
custody, and inheritance. The entire educational system from the
grade school to the university became coeducational.
Atatürk greatly admired the support that the national liberation
struggle received from women and praised their many contributions: "
In Turkish society, women have not lagged behind men in science,
scholarship, and culture. Perhaps they have even gone further ahead."
He gave women the same opportunities as men, including full
political rights. In the mid-1930s, 18 women, among them a villager,
were elected to the national parliament. Later, Turkey had the
world's first women supreme court justice.
In all walks of life, Atatürk's Turkey has produced tens of
thousands of well-educated women who participate in national life as
doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, writers, administrators,
executives, and creative artists.
STRIDES IN EDUCATION
"The governments most creative and significant duty is education."
Atatürk regarded education as the force that would galvanize the
nation into social and economic development. For this reason, he
once said that, after the War of Independence, he would have liked
to serve as Minister of Education. As President of the Republic, he
spared no effort to stimulate and expand education at all levels and
for all segments of the society.
Turkey initiated a most ambitious program of schooling children and
adults. From grade school to graduate school, education was made
free, secular, and co-educational. Primary education was declared
compulsory. The armed forces implemented an extensive program of
literacy. Atatürk heralded "The Army of Enlightenment". With pencil
or chalk in hand, he personally instructed children and adults in
schoolrooms, parks, and other places. Literacy which had been less
than 9 percent in 1923 rose to more than 33 percent by 1938.
Women's education was very close to Atatürk's hearth. In 1922, even
before proclaiming the Republic, he vowed: " We shall emphasize
putting our women's secondary and higher education on an equal
footing with men."
To give impetus to science and scholarship, Atatürk transformed the
University of Istanbul (founded in the mid-15th century) into a
modern university in 1933. A few years later, the University of
Ankara became into being. Today, Turkey has major universities all
over the country. Except for Europe and North America she has one of
the world's highest ratios of university graduates to population.
CULTURE AND ARTS
"We shall make the expansion and rise of Turkish culture in
every era the mainstay of the Republic."
Among the prominent statesmen of the 20th Century few articulated
the supreme importance of culture as did Atatürk who stated: "
Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic." His view of
culture encompassed the nation's creative legacy as well as the best
values of world civilization
It stressed personal and universal humanism. " Culture," he said, "
is a basic element in being a person worthy of humanity," and
described Turkey's ideological thrust as " a creation of patriotism
blended with a lofty humanist ideal."
To create the best synthesis, Atatürk underlined the need for the
utilization of all the viable elements in the national heritage,
including the ancient indigenous cultures, and the arts and
techniques of the entire world civilization, past and present. He
gave impetus to the study of the earlier civilizations of Anatolia -
including Hittite, Phrygian, Lydian, and others. Pre-Islamic culture
of the Turks became the subject of extensive research which proved
that, long before their Seljuk and Ottoman Empires, the Turks had
already created a civilization of their own. Atatürk also stressed
the folk arts of the countryside as the wellspring of Turkish
The visual and plastic arts (whose development had been arrested by
some bigoted Ottoman officials who claimed that the depiction of the
human form was idolatry) flourished during Atatürk's Presidency.
Many museums were opened. Architecture gained new vigor. Classical
Western music, opera and ballet as well as the theater took
impressive strides. Several hundred "People's Houses" and the "
People's Rooms" all over Turkey gave local people and youngsters a
wide variety of artistic activities, sports, and other cultural
affairs. Book and magazine publication enjoyed a boom. Film industry
started to grow. In all walks of cultural life, Atatürk's
inspiration created an upsurge.
Atatürk's Turkey is living proof of this ideal - a country rich in
its own national culture, open to the heritage of world civilization,
and at home in the endowments of the modern technological age.