MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK (Soldier, Statesman)

Source: The Encyclopedia Britannica and The New Encyclopedia Britannica

KEMAL ATATURK, MUSTAFA (1881-1938), Turkish army officer and president of Turkiye (1923-38), was born in Salonika, Greece, the son of a customs officer. He decided early on a military career and went to the Harbiye staff college in Istanbul. He was an exceptional student in mathematics and as a tribute to his ability was given the name Kemal. In 1906 with the rank of captain, he was sent to the Damascus cavalry regiment. In Sept. 1907 he was appointed to the staff of the 3rd army in Salonika. In April 1909 he was on the staff of Mahmud Shevket Pasha, the army commander, when the army marched on Istanbul to depose the sultan AbdulHamid II. In 1911, Mahmud Shevket, then war minister, brought him to the war office. In 1911 the Italo-Turkish War broke out, and Mustafa Kemal served for some months in Libya, returning to Istanbul in Oct. 1912, when four Balkan countries attacked Ottoman State. He was then appointed chief of staff of a division at Gallipoli. When the Balkan allies started fighting among themselves, he was with the force that retook Edirne for Ottoman State. He was then sent as military attache to Sofia.

At the outbreak of World War I, Kemal considered that Ottoman State should remain neutral and doubted the possibility of German victory over Great Britain, France, and Russia. On the other hand, he did not want to see Russia strengthened. He was given command of the 19th division at Gallipoli and was put under Gen. Otto Liman von Sanders, the German inspector general. It is generally accepted that the Turkish success at Gallipoli was largely inspired by Kemal's courage.

Kemal spent the winter of 1915-16 in Istanbul. His relations with Enver Pasha, then war minister, grew steadily worse. He also made no secret of his dislike of the Germans. Enver so feared his influence that in March 1916, to get him away from Istanbul, he appointed him to command the XVI army corps in eastern Anatolia. There, in the autumn of 1916, Kemal fought a successful campaign against the Russians in the region of Lake Van.

Meanwhile, trouble was starting for Ottomans in the Arab provinces. Kemal was sent to take command of the 2nd army at Diyarbakir. In Dec. 1917 he wrote a report on the military and political situation on the eastern front. It was an outspoken piece of writing: the Germans should not, he said, be put in command of Turkish armies but should be there as advisers only- it was useless to go on trying to defend the non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman State- withdrawal to the Turkish parts was necessary to organize the defense of the motherland in Anatolia; no single Turkish soldier should be sacrificed for the Ottoman State any more but saved for Turkiye. Enver Pasha rejected the report and sent Kemal home on indefinite sick leave. As the military situation grew worse, Kemal was again appointed to command: this time the 7th army in Palestine. He succeeded in extricating this army and withdrew to Aleppo. There he prepared defense lines 10 mi. N. of the city, which he evacuated on Oct. 26, 1918. He brought all the eastern armies back to the frontiers of Anatolia.

Meanwhile Turkish resistance collapsed elsewhere, an armistice was signed at Mudros and a new Turkish government was formed to carry out the terms of this armistice. Kemal now returned to Istanbul, where he threw himself into politics. The new sultan, Mohammed VI, respected Kemal but wanted to get him out of Istanbul and so appointed him inspector general of the armies in eastern and northeastern Anatolia. May 19, 1919, Kemal arrived in Samsun. From there he moved inland to Amasya. He was joined by Rauf Bey and, along with two others, signed a declaration calling for an independent Turkish nation free from foreign control. It was decided to call a conference of all organizations sympathizing with this idea. The conference met at Erzurum and Kemal was elected chairman of it. Another conference was then held at Sivas and approved of a "national pact" to create an independent Turkiye.

Kemal with Delegates in Sivas Conference

Early in 1920, delegates to a national assembly began to arrive in Ankara, which became the center of resistance. On April 23 the assembly elected Kemal its president. During the summer of 1920 he became the dominant figure in Ankara and organized resistance to the terms of the treaty of Sevres and to the Greeks who were now invading western Anatolia. Kemal then appointed Ismet Pasha to be second-in-command under him against the Greeks. He decided to evacuate a large tract of country and withdraw to a line on the Sakarya river. His action proved effective. Ismet's army won the battle of Inonu and halted the Greek advance. In 1921 the Greeks were defeated at the battle of the Sakarya and an armistice was signed at Mudanya on Oct. 11, 1922.

Kemal with First National Assembly

On his return to Ankara, Kemal received a vociferous welcome and was given the title of ghazi (victorious). Even so, he regarded the crises as not yet over and after some difficulty, succeeded in getting the national assembly to let him have dictatorial powers renewable every three months. Meanwhile, in Nov. 1923 a peace conference had met in Lausanne, where Ismet represented Turkiye.

A new national assembly was then elected and met on Aug. 11, 1923. Kemal was again elected its president. A new constitution was passed empowering him to appoint his own prime minister. Considering that the time was ripe for further changes, he proposed to the national assembly the abolition of the sultanate and the declaration of a republic. The assembly hesitated but finally agreed, electing Kemal president of the republic (Oct. 30), an office he held until his death. He also founded at that time the Republican People's party out of various, societies, and groups that had started the National Liberation movement and became its president too. Seeing the danger of religious reaction, he got the assembly to accept a law on March 3. 1924 abolishing the caliphate and the dervish sects, declaring Turkiye a secular republic and exiling the members of the imperial family.

Kemal now became a powerful but very lonely man. He had nearly unlimited political power for which he was not well qualified, because his genius was military. Yet he tried to keep his mind open and to listen to the views of others. He was determined that the old Ottoman State should go and that the country should completely modernized and that women should be emancipated. There was much opposition, and he was all the more lonely because this mother and his cousin, Fikriye, for whom he had great affection; both died at this time; moreover he divorced his wife, Latife, woman from Izmir. Without family, without religious belief, without friends, he only had Ismet as his prime minister and confidant and his burning belief in Turkiye's future as an independent nation-as well as the unswerving support of the mass of the people including the peasants.

In 1924 Kemal passed through a severe crisis, in which he showed a certain ruthlessness in condemning to death some of his former colleagues and members of the Committee of Union and Progress; but when the immediate crisis was past, he threw himself with renewed energy into sweeping reform of Turkish politics, law, and culture. He abolished the Arabic alphabet, introduced the Latin one. He also introduced the use of surnames in the western style for Turks, taking for himself that of Ataturk ("Father of Turks") in Nov. 1934. Mustafa Kemal encouraged the adoption of a European way of life. In his ceaseless efforts he finally wore himself out. The hard life he had lived in his many campaigns and the hard drinking in which he had at times indulgence had undermined his health. On Nov. 10 1938, he died at Dolmabahce palace, in Istanbul.