Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


Born: May 19, 1881 in Salonica, Ottoman Empire
Died: Nov 10, 1938 (at age 57) in Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Nationality: Turkish
Famous For: First President of Turkey
Awards: Iron Cross 1915, Military Merit Medal 1916

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish military and political leader. He was the driving force behind the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey, and was the country’s first President. His stature in Turkey quickly became so high that the honorific “Atatürk,” meaning “Father of the Turks,” was reserved for his exclusive use in 1934.

He is known for his strong commitment to building a secular state to replace the Islamic Ottoman Empire that had previously ruled Turkey. His principles are generally known as Kemalism, and any perceived attempt to dilute them is still viewed with great suspicion by many Turks.

Early Years and Military Service

Atatürk, then known simply as Mustafa Kemal, was born in the Ottoman province of Salonika in 1881. After a straightforward elementary education, he transferred to military schools and in 1899, to the Istanbul War College. He graduated as a second lieutenant in the infantry in 1902, becoming a staff captain three years later.

He then served in Damascus and Macedonia, and he also helped to suppress rebellions in Istanbul and Albania. In 1911, when Italy occupied Tripoli, he was posted to Tobruk, playing an important role in the Balkans over the next two years.

By the early stages of World War One, Atatürk had become Commander of the 19th Division, winning wider fame as the man who ended the enemy advance at Gallipoli. In 1916, he was sent to the Eastern Front as Army Corps Commander. By now a Brigadier General, he recaptured several important towns from the Russians.

The following year, as well as spending some time in Palestine, he observed German headquarters. By now convinced of the need to end the Allied occupation of Turkey, he traveled to Samsun with the secret objective of setting up an independent Turkish republic. The Amasya Circular, which he issued in June 1919, spoke of the need for “determination and decisiveness.”

Leadership in Politics

Atatürk then resigned from his military positions in order to concentrate on his political aims. In late summer of 1919, he chaired two conventions, at which the decision was made that struggle should be joined against the occupation. The Turkish Grand National Assembly that resulted met for the first time in Ankara on April 23, 1920.

Atatürk himself was elected the parliament’s head, and his first act in office was to repudiate the Sèvres Treaty, which had been made between the country’s former Ottoman rulers and the Allies. Even so, military matters were not entirely neglected: 1921 saw fierce fighting to repel Greek troops which had – with Allied support – occupied Izmir.

Rise to the Presidency

The resulting battles, later collectively dubbed the War of Independence, were largely over by September of 1922 when Izmir was recaptured by Turkish forces. Atatürk had the better of the resulting armistice, which saw the withdrawal of Allied forces from Turkey and the establishment of the modern republic.

Atatürk was elected president on October 23, 1923, serving as Head of State for four terms and continuing in office until his death 15 years later. During his presidency, he encouraged the development of industry and signed non-aggression pacts with a number of other powers. He died on November 10, 1938.