The Inspiring Legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (c.1881 – 1938)

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
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Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century due to his military and political accomplishments. He is the first founding president of the Republic of Turkey and his ideas, which were secularist and nationalist, came to be known as Kemalism.

1. Who was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal implemented extensive progressive changes that transformed Turkey into a secular, developing country. He modernised the nation’s legislative and academic structures and promoted the embrace of a European lifestyle by encouraging the use of Latin-based Turkish writings and the use of European names among the public.

1.1. Early Life and Education

In 1881 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in Salonika, which is in present-day Greece. The diversity and contrast of Atatürk’s ancestry are astounding. His father, Ali Riza, had served in a military unit briefly and Mustafa’s mother, Zübeyde Hanm, was from an agricultural community west of Salonika.

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He was briefly enrolled in a conventional Islamic religious school, but on his father’s insistence, he was admitted to a secular school with a more modern approach. Mustafa’s father died when he was just seven years old.

His mathematics instructor at the Army High School gave him the nickname Kemal, in honour of the young Mustafa’s superior achievement, which means perfection in Turkish. He went on to join the Istanbul War College and completed his studies there, earning the rank of infantry second lieutenant. Mustafa Kemal further graduated from War Academy as a staff captain. He was among one the top young officers in the empire there.

Mustafa Kemal’s career abruptly ended when an undercover government agent revealed that his group was involved in mobilising efforts against political injustices done by the empire. Their group was dispersed, and its members were given jobs in distant regions of the empire.

1.2. Life in Military Corps

Mustafa had a remarkable and struggling life while serving his nation.

1.2.1. Early Life

In 1908, he assisted a gang of officers that overthrew Sultan Abdülhamid II and restored the constitutional monarchy. He proposed the depoliticisation of the army, which was resisted by the CUP (Committee of Union Progress) leaders. As a result, he was deployed to Tripolitania Vilayet to put down a local insurrection at the end of 1908.

1.2.2. During the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12)

The Italo-Turkish War and the Balkan Wars helped flourish Mustafa Kemal’s career. He also worked as a military attache in Salonica, Istanbul, and Sofia, Bulgaria.

During the Italo-Turkish war, he fought bravely beside his comrades, and even lost some sight in his left eye, when two Italian planes dropped bombs on the Ottoman forces. He was made the commander of Ottoman forces in Derna and successfully guarded the city’s surroundings till the end of the Italo-Turkish war.

1.2.3. During Balkan Wars (1913) 

After taking part in both Balkan Wars, commanded by Kaymakam Enver Bey, Turkey recovered the most part of the eastern region from the ruling Bulgarians. 

Later, he was also appointed as the Ottoman military attache of all Balkan states. During this time, he even fell in love with the daughter of Stiliyan Kovachev. However, he was denied marriage twice which broke his heart during this time.

1.2.4. First World War (1914-18)

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The Ottoman Empire entered World War I in 1914, fighting alongside Germany and Austria as one of the Central Powers against the Allies of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia.

When the Dardanelles/Gallipoli war began in 1915, Mustafa Kemal rose to fame due to his string of successes over the invading British, French, and ANZAC troops that forced them to retreat from the Gallipoli peninsula in January 1916. In June 1915, he was elevated to the rank of colonel and honoured as the “Savior of Istanbul.”

Mustafa Kemal was sent to the Russian border in 1916. He was the only Turkish commander to record a win over the Russians. To reward his achievements he was promoted to the position of Brigadier General and was given the designation of Pasha. He also assumed control of the Second Army in southeast Anatolia. There he met Colonel Ismet, who played an important role as his closest friend in the establishment of the Turkish Republic.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha was appointed to command an Army unit in Syria during the Russian Revolution in March 1917. Nevertheless, he was startled by the deplorable state of the Ottoman army, prompting him to resign and return to Istanbul without authorisation. As a result, he was sent on leave for three months before being given the responsibility of travelling to Germany with Crown Prince Mehmed Vahideddin.

Crown Prince Vahideddin succeeded his father Mehmed VI after his death. In June 1918, Mustafa Kemal was called back to Istanbul. The New Sultan appointed Mustafa Kemal to lead the disintegrating Ottoman armies in Syria.

Most CUP officials departed for Germany, leaving the Sultan in charge of the administration. Mehmed VI was willing to collaborate with the Allies to retain his power, who instead took over the control of administration in the Turkish nation.

1.3. Turkish National Movement and War of Independence

The Turks War for complete Independence was initiated by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, against the Greek armies, upon his arrival at the Black Sea port of Samsun. He organised a liberation force in Anatolia against Sultan’s government and held the Congress of Erzurum and Sivas, which laid the groundwork for the new national movement under his direction.

The Grand National Assembly was formed and elected Mustafa Kemal as its president in Ankara. He led his troops to victory against rebels and the Greek forces while fighting on several fronts.

In August 1922, the Turkish armed forces achieved their resounding victory. The Ottoman dynasty’s control was ended, an agreement with the Greek army was reached, and the Turkish territory was entirely liberated within a few weeks.

1.4. The Republic of Turkey

Turkish Grand National Assembly (GNA) dissolved the Sultanate in November 1922. The Lausanne Treaty, which recognised the new nation of Turkey, was signed by the Turkish government in July 1923.

The Republican People’s Party was established in August 1923, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was unequivocally selected as the President of the Republic in October 1923. Mehmed VI retreated to Malta on a British vessel. Turkey now had total authority and control over its land.

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Atatürk initiated reforming his nation with the goal of taking it into the twenty-first century. He oversaw extensive changes that laid the foundation for the new Republic’s legal, juridical, and political institutions.

The national parliament was given ultimate authority, and Ankara was designated as the capital. The caliphate’s control over Turkey was officially abolished in March 1924 and passed to the GNA.

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To symbolise the transition from old Ottoman territory to the modern Turkish republic, Atatürk designed a banner, and an arrow was used in this banner to represent each change. Mustafa Kemal’s ideas of practicality and reality served as the foundation for Kemalism.

1.4.1. Adoption of New Laws

The entire body of Islamic law was rejected, and the German Commercial Code, the Italian Penal Code, and the Swiss Civil Code were all completely adopted between February and June 1926.

1.4.2. Women’s Rights

Polygamy was outlawed, marriage was legalised, and the dissolution of marriage was accepted as a legal lawsuit, all of which increased the independence of Turkish women. Women were granted the right to vote for parliamentary representatives and were deemed eligible to occupy parliamentary seats in December 1934.

1.4.3. New Script

The Arabic script, which was used for centuries to write the Ottoman Turkish language, was replaced. In November 1928, the official adoption of the Latin-based Turkish alphabet was done, putting Turkey on the route to reaching one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East.

1.4.4. New Education System

To sway them away from the previous religious emphasis, Turkish youth were encouraged to adapt to the educational reforms that offered them access to a western rational and pragmatic outlook.

1.4.5. Adaption of Last Name

Another significant change introduced was the embracing of western attire by the new republic. The Surname Law, which required the Turkish people to acquire permanent, hereditary surnames and barred names that held associations of foreign cultures, nationalities, tribes, and faiths, is another manifestation of Mustafa Kemal’s nationalisation. The Grand National Assembly honoured Mustafa with the title “Atatürk,” or “Father of the Turks”  due to his persistent efforts toward the Nation’s progress.

There was violence and struggle involved in completing this ambitious agenda of enforced modernisation. Law enforcement agencies were involved, but Atatürk relentlessly guided the nation towards modernisation while maintaining a low level of persecution.

2. Legacy of Mustafa Kemal

Mustafa Kemal suffered liver and renal issues in his final years, as he was a heavy drinker throughout his life which lead to his death in November 1938.

Image by Sefa Yıldırım from Pixabay

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk worked relentlessly for the happiness of the people and the country’s independence, and he triumphed in every war he waged. In Turkey, Atatürk is constantly present. Every residence, place of commerce, as well as the postal and currencies, have his portrait. His remarks are inscribed on significant structures. Many statues of him exist there.

3. Final Thoughts

“The National Liberator” and “The Father of Modern Turkey” is no longer alive yet his legacy to his countrymen and humanity lives on to this day.

The last time Atatürk employed his military force to deal with other nations was during the Turkish War of Independence. During his leadership, foreign disputes were resolved peacefully.


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