Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in 1881 in the Kocakisim District of Salonika. His father, Ali Riza Efendi, married his mother, Zübeyde Hanim, in 1871. They had six children, but only Mustafa Kemal and his sister Makbule Atadan survived childhood. He began his primary education at the local school but soon transferred to Semsi Efendi School. In 1888, his father died and Mustafa Kemal moved to Rapla to live on his uncle’s farm. A few years later he returned to Salonika to complete his primary education. In 1893, he enrolled in military junior high school. It was during this time that a math teacher added Kemal, meaning “perfection”, to Mustafa’s name in recognition of his academic achievement. He graduated from Military College in 1902 with the rank of Lieutenant and continued his education at the Military Academy. He completed the Academy in 1905 as a Captain.
Upon graduation, Mustafa Kemal was immediately assigned to a post with the army and began his distinguished career. In the years leading up to World War I he quickly moved up in rank while serving throughout the Ottoman Empire. However it was his service during World War I that elevated him to the status of national hero. In key battles of Anafartalar, Kirectepe and Canakkale, Mustafa Kemal led Turkish troops in defending the Empire from invading British and French troops in the Dardanelles. This struggle culminated with the martyrdom of 253,000 Turkish soldiers at Gallipoli who had been motivated to defend the honor of the Turkish nation by Mustafa Kemal’s famous order: “I do not order you to attack, I order you to die.”
Mustafa Kemal continued his military service for the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I when Ottoman troops were demobilized and occupation of the country began. In the year that followed, Mustafa Kemal emerged as a leader in the movement for Turkish independence. On June 22, 1919, he issued the Amasya Circular, calling for a national Congress to convene and determine the future freedom of the nation. On April 23, 1920, the Turkish Grand National Assembly met for the first time to plan for the success of the Independence War. Mustafa Kemal was appointed Speaker of the House and head of government. Mustafa Kemal again proved his military prowess and during the Independence War was given the title of Gazi the Victorious Fighter.
On October 29, 1923, the Turkish Grand National Assembly officially made the declaration of Republic and unanimously voted Mustafa Kemal as its first President. As President, Mustafa Kemal quickly began to make sweeping political, economic, and social reforms. Dedicated to his duty, he kept in close contact with local authorities and received respected foreign officials. In 1934, the Turkish Grand National Assembly granted Mustafa Kemal the surname Atatürk, meaning “father of the Turks”, in accordance with the new surname law.
Privately, Atatürk led a very modest life. He was a great lover of children, but was married only briefly, so he adopted several daughters. He spent a great deal of time outdoors riding his horse, Sakarya, and swimming. He also enjoyed dancing, reading, backgammon and billiards.
On November 10, 1938, near the end of his fourth term as President of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died of liver disease.