Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


The Ottoman Empire is founded during the 14th Century. From a small geographical base the empire quickly expands. At its height it incorporates Anatolia, the Balkan states, Bulgaria, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, North Africa up to the Moroccan frontier, Kurdistan and Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Fortune turns at the end of the 17th Century when the Ottomans are forced to relinquish Hungary. The empire's long slide to oblivion has begun. By the middle of the 19th Century it has become the "sick man of Europe".

Abdül Hamid II becomes sultan of the empire in 1876. He quickly implements political reforms but within a year has the newly introduced constitution suspended and the empire's first parliament dissolved. Dissatisfaction with his reign starts to mount in the empire's colonial outposts and at home. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 12 March 1881 in Salonika, now Thessaloníki, in present-day Greece. He is given the single name Mustafa. His father, Ali Riza Efendi, is a minor official in the Ottoman Government. Atatürk is one of six children, although four of his five siblings die at early ages. His one surviving sister, Makbule (Atadan), lives until 1956.

Following his father's death in 1888, Atatürk enrols at the Salonika military cadet school. While at this school he is given the second name Kemal (perfection), and is thereafter known as Mustafa Kemal.

In 1896 he is accepted into the military high school at Monastir (now Bitola in the present-day Macedonia). In 1899, after completing his training at Monastir, Atatürk enters the military college in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

1902 - Atatürk graduates from the Istanbul military college with the rank of captain. He then enters the Istanbul military academy.

1905 - Atatürk graduates from the military academy with the rank of major on 11 January. He is assigned to a succession of staff positions, starting in 1905 with a post in the 5th Army at Damascus, the capital of Syria. In 1907 he is promoted to senior major and posted to the 3rd Army in Salonika.

While serving in these positions he becomes involved in the growing Turkish nationalist movement, organising a secret society of like-minded fellow officers.

1907 - Atatürk's group merges with others opposed to Abdül Hamid's reign to form the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), popularly known as the Young Turks.

1908 - Abdül Hamid is forced to yield when army units in Macedonia rebel. The 1876 constitution and parliamentary rule are reinstated on 24 July. At elections held in November the CUP wins all but one of the Turkish seats.

Political instability in the empire following the election of the Young Turk government gives foreign powers the opportunity to seize Ottoman territory. Austria annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bulgaria proclaims its complete independence. Italy invades Libya in 1911, taking the capital Tripoli and other port towns. In 1912 the empire loses all its European territory except Eastern Thrace.

1911 - After serving briefly on the general staff in Istanbul, Atatürk travels to Libya to organise irregular forces in the war with Italy. He successfully defends Tobruk and on 6 March 1912 is made the commander of the region around the Libyan city of Darnah.

1912 - The CUP wins an overwhelming majority in fresh elections held in April but military losses to Italy see its support quickly dwindle. In July it is forced to yield office to a political coalition called the Liberal Union.

Atatürk holds field commands in the two Balkan wars (1912-1913). During the Second Balkan War in 1913 he is made the chief-of-staff of the army in the Gallipoli Peninsula. On 27 October 1913 he is assigned as a military attaché to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. While in this post he is promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

1913 - The Liberal Union government is overthrown on 23 January in a coup d'état engineered by CUP leaders Ahmet Cemal Pasha and Ismail Enver Pasha. The CUP takes control of the empire, introducing a military dictatorship headed by the so-called Three Pashas - Cemal, Enver and Mehmet Talat Pasha.

Between them they hold the key ministries of the empire, using their position to promote Turkish nationalism and the replacement of the multicultural Ottoman Empire with a homogeneous pan-Turkish state encompassing Turkish-speaking regions extending into Iran, Russia and Central Asia.

The empire's Christian minorities (Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians) are seen as an obstacle to the realisation of this goal. Over the next 10 years they are forcibly removed from the empire, either by mass deportations or acts of genocide.

At the turn of the century the Christian population of Turkey had numbered about five million. When the Christian Asia Minor Holocaust finally ends in 1923 only about 200,000 Greeks, 100,000 Armenians, and 200,000 Assyrians remain.

1914 - The countdown to the First World War begins on 28 June with the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In its ensuing dispute with Serbia, Austria-Hungary refuses to be placated. Germany backs Austria-Hungary when the situation deteriorates.

On 3 August Germany declares war on France. Britain in turn declares war on Germany on 14 August. The First World War has begun.

The Ottomans side with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) against the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) but suffer a disastrous defeat almost immediately. Most of the 3rd Army is lost in eastern Anatolia in December during an abortive offensive led by Enver against Russia.

1915 - The Triple Entente launches an operation to seize Istanbul and open a route to Russia by forcing a fleet through the Dardanelles Strait (Çanakkale Boiazi), the entry to the Sea of Marmara and a gateway to Istanbul. The naval attack fails and is quickly called off.

On 25 April the Triple Entente begins a new assault to secure the Dardanelles. Troops are landed on the narrow beach at Gallipoli and ordered to move forward. On the hills above, the main reserve of the Turkish 5th Army lies in wait. They are commanded by Atatürk. The future of the Ottoman Empire is at stake.

Atatürk rallies the Turkish soldiers and is able to hold the Triple Entente forces at bay. "I am not giving you an order to attack," he tells his troops. "I am ordering you to die!"

The ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, which includes troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs), results in the deaths of about 48,000 Triple Entente soldiers for no effective gain. It is abandoned by the Triple Entente in the autumn.

The Turkish victory has come at the cost of about 87,000 lives.

Referring to the campaign, Atatürk later says, "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."

Atatürk is promoted to the rank of full colonel and given the honorific title Pasha - the highest official title of honour in the Ottoman Empire.

1916 - Though the Turkish heartland has been saved by the victory at Gallipoli, the Arab Revolt spells the end of Ottoman influence in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Atatürk is promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general on 1 April. He takes command of the Eastern Front, checking the advance of the Russian forces. When Russia leaves the war following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 the Ottoman Empire regains its eastern provinces.

1917 - British forces drive the Ottomans out of Mesopotamia (Iraq) and capture Syria. Atatürk takes command of the Ottoman forces in Syria and withdraws many units to Anatolia. He also heads the 7th Army in Palestine during the final British offensive that defeats the Ottoman forces there in 1918.

1918 - The First World War is drawing to a close. The Ottoman Empire capitulates on 30 October. The CUP Cabinet resigns en mass on 1-2 November.

The First World War ends on 11 November with the signing of a general armistice. Atatürk returns to Istanbul on 13 November and is assigned to a post in the Ministry of Defence.

British, French, Italian, and Greek forces begin to occupy the empire. The reigning sultan, Mehmet VI, is taken into custody to ensure the cooperation of what remains of the Ottoman Government.

1919 - As the occupying forces start to press for the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire based on agreements made between them during the war, a new nationalist Turkish movement begins to coalesce around Atatürk.

On 15 May the Greek Army lands at the Turkish port of Izmir (Smyrna), on the Anatolian coast. Atatürk leaves Istanbul for Anatolia the next day. On 19 May he arrives at Black Sea port of Samsun, 300 km northeast of Ankara. The date marks the unofficial beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.

Working with others committed to Turkish independence, Atatürk begins to recruit a nationalist army to drive the occupying forces from Anatolia.

On 22 June Atatürk issues the Amasya Declaration calling for national resistance against invasion by foreign powers. "The freedom of the nation shall be restored with the resolve and determination of the nation itself," the declaration states.

The next day the Ottoman Government strips him of all his official functions.

Atatürk resigns from the army on 8 July and declares himself "a private individual". On 30 July the Ottoman Government orders his arrest.

At congresses held in Erzurum from 23 July to 7 August and at Sivas from 4-11 September the nationalists formulate a National Pact setting out their objectives. Principal among these is the objective of ensuring that all Ottoman territory inhabited by a Turkish Muslim majority is held together in an independent Turkish state.

1920 - Atatürk begins the year by calling for a national protest against the Greek attempt to annex Izmir, and against atrocities allegedly carried out by the French and Armenians in Turkey's southern provinces.

When the Ottoman parliament agrees to the National Pact on 28 January the occupying forces crack down, arresting and deporting many nationalists and dismissing the parliament. Istanbul is occupied on 16 March. The Ottoman parliament is abolished on 11 April. Atatürk is condemned to death by a religious decree. The Ottoman Military Court also sentences Atatürk to death.

On 23 April the nationalists found the Grand National Assembly, the body destined to become the Turkish parliament. Atatürk is elected as its leader and the head of its provisional government. The assembly proclaims sovereignty over the Turkish nation, placing it in direct opposition to the existing Ottoman Government.

The War of Independence now begins in earnest, centring on Anatolia, where Greek troops have moved inland from Izmir.

At the same time, the Atatürk nationalists and the Russian Bolshevik government target the newly proclaimed Armenian republic on Turkey's eastern border. Armenian resistance is broken and the Kars region occupied by the Turks. What remains of Armenia is absorbed into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

1921 - By the middle of the year the Atatürk nationalists have stopped the Greek advance into Anatolia. By October French and Italian troops in Anatolia have withdrawn.

On 5 August Atatürk is appointed by the Grand National Assembly as commander-in-chief of the entire Turkish forces.

On 23 August the Turks launch an attack against the Greeks at Sakarya, 80 km southwest of Ankara. Atatürk takes personal command of the Turkish forces. At the end of the 22-day battle the Greeks have been defeated and forced to retreat to Izmir.

In recognition of his military achievements, Atatürk is given the rank of marshal and title Ghazi (victorious) by the Grand National Assembly.

1922 - The most controversial campaign of the War of Independence occurs in early September when the nationalists move into Izmir during their final push against the Greeks.

Much of the city, which is home to the last intact Armenian community in Anatolia, is burnt to the ground in fires variously reported to have been lit by either the retreating Greeks and Armenians or by the advancing Turks. Thousands of Greeks and Armenians die and thousands more flee into permanent exile.

The theatre of the war against the Greeks now moves to Eastern Thrace, however fighting is avoided when Atatürk accepts a British-proposed truce. On 11 October the occupying forces sign an armistice with the Turkish military.

On 1 November the Grand National Assembly effectively abolishes the Ottoman Empire, opening the way for the final negotiations on the shape of the new Turkish state.

1923 - On 30 January Greece and Turkey sign an agreement for the exchange of the remaining ethnic populations within their respective territories. Under the agreement over one million ethnically Greek Turks are forced to leave regions they have occupied for generations and return to their homeland.

The negotiations on the shape of Turkey conclude on 24 July with the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne and the recognition of Turkey's present-day borders. Signatories to the treaty include Turkey, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Serbo-Croat-Slovenian Union.

The occupying forces leave Istanbul on 2 October.

On 29 October the Grand National Assembly proclaims the Republic of Turkey. Atatürk is named president and Ankara the capital. Atatürk now moves to implement a series of far-ranging reforms designed to transform Turkey into a modern, secular state.

"Following the military triumph we accomplished by bayonets, weapons and blood, we shall strive to win victories in such fields as culture, scholarship, science, and economics," he states. "The enduring benefits of victories depend only on the existence of an army of education."

Islamic Sharia law is abolished (1924) and a European-style legal system introduced (1926). Women are granted equal status (1934). Polygamy and divorce by renunciation are ended and civil marriage allowed (1926).

A new Turkish alphabet based on Latin replaces Arabic script (1928). Arabic and Persian words are dropped from the vocabulary and replaced with Turkish equivalents. The Western calendar is adopted (1925). The Western numeric system is introduced (1928), followed by the metric system (1931). Turks are encouraged to abandon traditional clothing for Western styles (1925), and to adopt surnames (1934).

Turkey is declared a secular state without an official religion (1928). Islam is suppressed, religious schools are closed (1924), public education is secularised and made coeducational, and the day of rest is changed from Friday to Sunday (1935). The Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul is converted into a museum.

Education to primary level is made compulsory. Atatürk himself leads some classes. In 1923 the level of literacy had been less than 9%. By 1938 the level has risen to more than 33%.

As well as political reforms, Atatürk also encourages reforms to the economic system, stating, "National sovereignty should be supported by financial independence. The only power that will propel us to this goal is the economy. No matter how mighty they are, political and military victories cannot endure unless they are crowned by economic triumphs."

The ideology behind the reforms comes to be know as Kemalism (later known as Atatürkism). Its basic principals - republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, etatism (statism), and secularism - are know as the Six Arrows.

Together with the basic principals of Kemalism are the complimentary principles - national sovereignty, national independence, national unity and togetherness, peace at home peace abroad, modernisation, scientificism and rationalism, and humanitarianism.

The Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi - CHP) founded by Atatürk in August 1923 provides a political foundation for the ongoing Kemalist reforms. It will be Turkey's sole political party for over 20 years.

Meanwhile, Atatürk's mother dies on 14 January 1923.

On 29 January Atatürk marries Latife Hanim, the daughter of a prosperous merchant from Izmir. A well-educated and outspoken woman, she is 20 years his junior. The marriage ends in divorce in on 5 August 1925.

Atatürk also adopts eight children - seven girls and a boy.

1924 - The Grand National Assembly introduces a new constitution establishing it as a unicameral parliament elected to four-year terms by a universal vote. The president, who is to be elected to a four-year term by the assembly, will appoint the prime minister.

On 1 March Atatürk tells the assembly, "There is a need to separate Islam from its traditional place in politics and to elevate it in its appropriate place. This is necessary for both the nation's worldly and spiritual happiness. We have to urgently and definitively relieve our sacred and holy beliefs and values from the dark and uncertain stage of political greed and of politics. This is the only way to elevate the Muslim religion."

Two days later, the Sharia legal system is abolished, along with the religious education system.

1925 - On 25 February the Grand National Assembly prohibits all religious activities in politics.

In March, after an uprising against the "godless" government in Ankara breaks out in the Kurdish region in southeastern Turkey, Atatürk hastily organises the passage of the Maintenance of Order Law.

The law, which gives the government emergency powers for the next four years and allows it to outlaw organisations it deems to be subversive, is used to suppress opponents of Atatürk's reforms.

1926 - Atatürk oversees the dissolution of the CUP after some its remaining members are accused of plotting his assassination. Following an investigation into the plot, 15 of Atatürk's political opponents are hanged. Others are sent into exile.

1927 - Atatürk is reelected as president. He remains in the position right up to his death, with his term being extended in 1931 and 1935.

1928 - Turkey is declared a secular state on 10 April. Islam is dropped as the state's official religion.

1932 - Turkey joins the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations (UN), on 18 July. In 1945 Turkey becomes one of the 51 original members of the UN.

1934 - Women are given the vote and the right to hold office.

Speaking at a meeting of the International Women's Congress in Istanbul on 22 April 1935, Atatürk says, "I am convinced that the exercise of social and political rights by women is necessary for mankind's happiness and pride. You can rest assured that Turkish women together with world's women will work towards world peace and security."

On 24 November 1934 Atatürk is given his new surname (meaning Father of the Turks or Father Turk) by the Grand National Assembly in recognition of his contribution to the formation of the modern Turkish state. He is now known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, or Kemal Atatürk.

1938 - Atatürk dies from cirrhosis of the liver at 9:05am on 10 November at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. The entire country mourns his passing. On 21 November his body is transported to Ankara and placed in a temporary tomb at the Ethnography Museum. On 10 November 1953 Atatürk's remains are interred in a newly completed mausoleum on a hill overlooking Ankara.


Atatürk knew there is no place for religious fundamentalists in the governance of a tolerant, modern state. Religious fanatics from all nations and faiths would do well to heed of his observations. For example this:

"It is claimed that religious unity is also a factor in the formation of nations. Whereas, we see the contrary in the Turkish nation. Turks were a great nation even before they adopted Islam. This religion did not help the Arabs, Iranians, Egyptians and others to unite with Turks to form a nation. Conversely, it weakened the Turks' national relations; it numbed Turkish national feelings and enthusiasm. This was natural, because Mohammedanism was based on Arab nationalism above all nationalities."

And this:

"I am not leaving a spiritual legacy of dogmas, unchangeable petrified directives. My spiritual legacy is science and reason. ... What I wanted to do and what I tried to achieve for the Turkish nation is quite evident. If those people who wish to follow me after I am gone take the reason and science as their guides they will be my true spiritual heirs."

And this:

"You know there is an unforgiving enmity between the societies of the Muslim world and the masses of the Christian world. Muslims became eternal enemies of Christians, and Christians those of Muslims. They viewed each other as nonbelievers, fanatics. The two worlds coexisted with this fanaticism and enmity. As a result of this enmity, the Muslim world was distanced from the Western progress that took a new form and colour every century. Because, Muslims viewed progress with disdain and disgust. At the same time, the Muslim world had to hold on to its arms as a result of this enmity that lasted for centuries between the two groups. This continuous occupation with arms, enmity, and disdain for Western progress constitute another important cause of our regression."

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