Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's Life
"There are two Mustafa Kemals. One the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now
stands before you and who will pass away. the other is you, all of you here who
will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be
defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation's dreams, and my
life's work is to make them come true."
Atatürk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who dedicated their
lives totally to their nations.
He was born in 1881 (probably in the spring) in Salonica, then an Ottoman city,
now in Greece. His father Ali Riza, a customs official turned lumber merchant,
died when Mustafa was still a boy.His mother is Zübeyde, a devout and strong-willed
woman, raised him and his sister. First enrolled in a traditional religious
school, he soon switched to a modern school. In 1893, he entered a military high
school where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal (meaning
perfection) in recognition of young Mustafa's superior achievement. He was
thereafter known as Mustafa Kemal.
In 1905, Mustafa Kemal graduated from the War Academy in Istanbul with the rank
of Staff Captain. Posted in Damascus, he started with several colleagues, a
clandestine society called "Homeland and Freedom" to fight against the Sultan's
despotism. In 1908 he helped the group of officers who toppled the Sultan.
Mustafa Kemal's career flourished as he won his heroism in the far corners of
the Ottoman Empire, including Albania and Tripoli. He also briefly served as a
staff officer in Salonica and Istanbul and as a military attache in Sofia.
In 1915, when Dardanelles campaign was launched, Colonel Mustafa Kemal became a
national hero by winning successive victories and finally repelling the invaders.
Promoted to general in 1916, at age 35, he liberated two major provinces in
eastern Turkey that year. In the next two years, he served as commander of
several Ottoman armies in Palestine, Aleppo, and elsewhere, achieving another
major victory by stopping the enemy advance at Aleppo.
On May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha landed in the Black Sea port of Samsun to
start the War of Independence. In defiance of the Sultan's government, he
rallied a liberation army in Anatolia and convened the Congress of Erzurum and
Sivas which established the basis for the new national effort under his
leadership. On April 23, 1920, the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected to its Presidency.
Fighting on many fronts, he led his forces to victory against rebels and
invading armies. Following the Turkish triumph at the two major battles at Inonu
in Western Turkey, the Grand National Assembly conferred on Mustafa Kemal Pasha
the title of Commander-in-Chief with the rank of Marshal. At the end of August
1922, the Turkish armies won their ultimate victory. Within a few weeks, the
Turkish mainland was completely liberated, the armistice signed, and the rule of
the Ottoman dynasty abolished.
In July 1923, the national government signed the Lausanne Treaty with Great
Britain, France, Greece, Italy, and others. In mid-October, Ankara became the
capital of the new Turkish State. On October 29, the Republic was proclaimed and
Mustafa Kemal Pasha was unanimously elected President of the Republic.
Atatürk married Latife Usakligil in early 1923. The marriage ended in divorce in
The account of Atatürk's fifteen year Presidency is a saga of dramatic
modernization. With indefatigable determination, he created a new political and
legal system, abolished the Caliphate and made both government and education
secular, gave equal rights to women, changed the alphabet and the attire, and
advanced the arts and the sciences, agriculture and industry.
In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament gave him the
name "Atatürk" (Father of the Turks).
On November 10, 1938, following an illness of a few months, the national
liberator and the Father of modern Turkey died. But his legacy to his people and
to the world endures.
Atatürk's body was re-interred in this splendid mausoleum in 1953.