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Turkey - Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal was born in Salonika, a province of the Ottoman Empire, in 1881 as the son of Ali Riza Efendi and Zübeyde Hanim. Atatürk was the son of a minor government official in a city where Turks outnumbered Greeks. His father died when Mustafa Kemal was a young boy. He attended primary school at the Semsi Efendi School in Salonika. He continued his education at the Salonika Military Middle School and the Monastir (Bitola) Military Preparatory School. His ardent Turkish nationalism dated from his early days as a cadet in the military school at Monastir (in the present-day Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) during a time of constant conflict between Ottoman troops and Macedonian guerrillas, who attacked the Turkish population in the region. In 1899 he entered the Istanbul War College and graduated with the rank of infantry second lieutenant in 1902 and completed his education at the War Academy graduating as a staff captain in 1905.

Following graduation from the military academy in Istanbul, Atatürk held various staff positions and served in garrisons at Damascus and Thessaloniki, where he became involved in nationalist activities. Mustafa Kemal was assigned to the 5th Army in Damascus and the 3rd Army in Macedonia in in 1905 and 1907 respectively. While he was on duty in Monastir and Salonika, he served in the Operations Army, which suppressed the rebellion (31 March Incidents) in Istanbul Similarly, he also participated in the operation to fight against the rebellion in Albania. He took part in the coup that forced Abdül Hamid II's abdication in 1909.

Atatürk organized irregular forces in Libya during the war with Italy in 1911 and subsequently held field commands in the two Balkan wars (1912-13). In 1911, upon the occupation of Tripoli by Italy, he was sent to Tobruk. He successfully led the Turkish Forces in Tobruk and Darnah. He participated in the Balkan War with the rank of major in 1912 and 1913 and served in the army corps which recaptured Edirne from Bulgaria.

In 1915, during the World War I, he faught in the Çanakkale (Dardanelles) Battle as the 19th Division Commander. He successfully stopped the enemy attacks at Gelibolu (Gallipoli), a victory which brought him fame as the "Hero of the Anafarta Heights.''

He was appointed as the Army Corps Commander to the Eastern Front in 1916 and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He stopped the Russian attacks and recaptured Bingöl and Mus from the enemy. In 1917 he was appointed to the 7th Army Command that was in charge of Palestine and Syria. The same year he went to Germany with the Heir Prince Vahideddin. He made obvervations at the German General Headquarters as well as the German battle fronts. As he was serving in the Syrian front as the 7th Army Commander in 1918, the World War I ended and he returned to Istanbul following the Armistice of Moudros. He departed from Istanbul as an army inspector although his secret objective was to end the occupation of the country by the Allied Forces.

Atatürk returned to Istanbul at the end of the war, his military reputation untarnished by the defeat of the empire that he had served. Revered by his troops as well as the Turkish masses, Atatürk soon emerged as the standard-bearer of the Turkish nationalist movement. After arriving in Samsun on 19 May 1919 via the Black Sea, Mustafa Kemal issued the Amasya Circular on 22 June 1919 in which he announced the Turkish Nation that "the integrity of the country and the independence of the nation are in danger and a congress will be convened in Sivas in order to save the country with determination and decisiveness." Subsequently, he resigned from the duties that were assigned by the Otoman government as well his military post. Mustafa Kemal chaired the conventions held in Erzurum and Sivas on 23 July 1919 and 4 September 1919 respectively.

The most important decisions made at these conventions stipulated that the nation would defend the country against the occupation and towards that aim a temporary government would be formed after a national parliament is convened and no mandate or protection would be accepted for that matter. Thanks to his efforts, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) convened for the first time on 23 April 1920 in Ankara. Mustafa Kemal was elected as the head of the parliament and the government and his first job was to announce the world that the Turkish nation does not recognize the Sèvres Treaty, which was signed between the Ottoman Government and the Allied Forces.

The advancement of the Greek army which had occupied Izmir with the help of the Allied Forces was stopped in the First and Second Inönü battles in 1921 and the Greeks were vigorously repulsed. The Turkish Army, led by Commander-in-Chief Mustafa Kemal Pasa won a victory in the Battle of the Sakarya River. The Greek Army suffered severe losses in this battle which lasted for 22 nights and days. Mustafa Kemal was promoted to the rank of "Marshal" and given the title of "Gazi" (war veteran) by the TBMM due to this victory.

The Turkish Army started to counter-attack the Allied Forces on 26 August 1922 to end the enemy occupation completely. The Greek Army was largely defeated under the command of Mustafa Kemal in the Battle of the Commander-in-Chief (30 August 1922). The Turkish Army chased the defeated enemy forces and entered Izmir on 9 September 1922. Consequently, the Mudanya Armistice was signed on 11 October 1922 as a result of which the Allied Forces withdrew from the Turkish territories.

Following the Turkish War of Independence, not only the modern Turkish Republic was established,but also Mustafa Kemal was elected as the first President of the new Republic on 29 October 1923. Until he passed away in 1938, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk served as the President of Turkey which makes him the only person to hold this distinguished post for the longest period. He was elected to the Presidency for four consecutive terms.

On assuming office, Atatürk initiated a series of radical reforms of the country's political, social, and economic life that were aimed at rapidly transforming Turkey into a modern state. A secular legal code, modeled along European lines, was introduced that completely altered laws affecting women, marriage, and family relations.

Atatürk also urged his fellow citizens to look and act like Europeans. Turks were encouraged to wear European-style clothing. Surnames were adopted: Mustafa Kemal, for example, became Kemal Atatürk, and Ismet Pasha took Inönü as his surname to commemorate his victories there. Likewise, Atatürk insisted on cutting links with the past that he considered anachronistic. Titles of honor were abolished. The wearing of the fez, which had been introduced a century earlier as a modernizing reform to replace the turban, was outlawed because it had become for the nationalists a symbol of the reactionary Ottoman regime.

The ideological foundation of Atatürk's reform program became known as Kemalism. Its main points were enumerated in the "Six Arrows" of Kemalism: republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, etatism (statism), and secularism. These were regarded as "fundamental and unchanging principles" guiding the republic, and were written into its constitution. The principle of republicanism was contained in the constitutional declaration that "sovereignty is vested in the nation" and not in a single ruler. Displaying considerable ingenuity, Atatürk set about reinventing the Turkish language and recasting Turkish history in a nationalist mold. The president himself went out into the park in Ankara on Sunday, the newly established day of rest, to teach the Latin alphabet adapted to Turkish as part of the language reform. Populism encompassed not only the notion that all Turkish citizens were equal but that all of them were Turks. What remained of the millet system that had provided communal autonomy to other ethnic groups was abolished. Reformism legitimized the radical means by which changes in Turkish political and social life were implemented. Etatism emphasized the central role reserved to the state in directing the nation's economic activities. This concept was cited particularly to justify state planning of Turkey's mixed economy and large-scale investment in state-owned enterprises. An important aim of Atatürk's economic policies was to prevent foreign interests from exercising undue influence on the Turkish economy.

Of all the Kemalist reforms, the exclusion of Islam from an official role in the life of the nation shocked Atatürk's contemporaries most profoundly. The abolition of the caliphate ended any connection between the state and religion. The Islamic religious orders were suppressed, religious schools were closed, public education was secularized, and the seriat was revoked. These changes required readjustment of the entire social framework of the Turkish people. Despite subsequent protests, Atatürk conceded nothing to the traditionalists.

In 1924 the Grand National Assembly adopted a new constitution to replace the 1876 document that had continued to serve as the legal framework of the republican government. The 1924 constitution vested sovereign power in the Grand National Assembly as representative of the people, to whom it also guaranteed basic civil rights. Under the new document, the assembly would be a unicameral body elected to a four-year term by universal suffrage. Its legislative authority would include responsibility for approving the budget, ratifying treaties, and declaring war. The president of the republic would be elected to a four-year term by the assembly, and he in turn would appoint the prime minister, who was expected to enjoy the confidence of the assembly.

Throughout his presidency, repeatedly extended by the assembly, Atatürk governed Turkey essentially by personal rule in a one-party state. He founded the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi--CHP) in 1923 to represent the nationalist movement in elections and to serve as a vanguard party in support of the Kemalist reform program. Atatürk's Six Arrows were an integral part of the CHP's political platform. By controlling the CHP, Atatürk also controlled the assembly and assured support there for the government he had appointed. Atatürk regarded a stage of personal authoritarian rule as necessary to secure his reforms before he entrusted the government of the country to the democratic process.

Atatürk's foreign policy, which had as its main object the preservation of the independence and integrity of the new republic, was careful, conservative, and successful. The president enunciated the principle of "peace at home and peace abroad." This guideline, whose observance was necessary to the task of internal nation building, became the cornerstone of Turkey's foreign relations.

By the end of 1925, friendship treaties had been negotiated with fifteen states. These included a twenty-year treaty of friendship and neutrality signed that year with the Soviet Union that remained in effect until unilaterally abrogated by the Soviet Union in 1945. Turkey subsequently joined Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia in the Balkan Pact to counter the increasingly aggressive foreign policy of fascist Italy and the effect of a potential Bulgarian alignment with Nazi Germany. Turkey also entered into a nonaggression treaty with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran in 1937.

Atatürk attained his greatest diplomatic success in 1936, when Turkey persuaded the signatory powers of the Treaty of Lausanne to allow Turkish control and remilitarization of the straits as part of the Montreux Convention. Under its terms, merchant vessels were to continue to have freedom of navigation of the straits, but Turkey took over the functions of the international commission for registry, sanitary inspection, and the levying of tolls. Turkey was permitted to refortify the straits area and, if at war or under imminent threat of war, to close them to warships.

Mustafa Kemal was given the last name 'Atatürk' on 24 November 1934 with the law numbered 2587 and the right to adopt the same last name was reserved for him only.

Atatürk was not only a commander-in-chief who led the War of Independence successfully, but also a genius statesman given the reforms that he realized. During most of his 57 year-long life, Atatürk tirelessly worked for the happiness of the nation and the independence of the country and he emerged victorious from every battle he fought. The founder of the Republic of Turkey and unforgettable and brave leader passed away in Istanbul on 10 November 1938.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:06:39 ZULU