Mustapha Kemal Atatürk

Mustapha Kemal Atatürk Source : Licence Creative Commons. Public domain.

Mustafa Kemal was born in Salonika, Macedonia, on 19 May 1881.

After graduating from military high school and the military academy in Istanbul, he was appointed Staff Captain in 1905 before being assigned to the Fifth Army based in Damascus, Syria, fighting against the Druzes. At the same time, he formed a small opposition society, called Vatan ve Hürriyet (Motherland and Liberty). In Autumn 1907, he was appointed Senior Captain of the Third Army in Salonika, where he met the Committee of Union and Progress and the Young Turks who opposed the regime which re-established the Constitution in 1876. In April 1909, he became Chief of Staff under General Mahmud Shevket, commander of the army put in place by constitutionalist officers to combat the uprising in Istanbul led by the defenders of absolutism. 

He made a name for himself in December 19911, in Libya, during the Italo-Turkish war, winning the Battle of Tobruk before he took military command of Derna, in March of the following year. However, Montenegro having declared war on Turkey in October, he returned to take part in the first Balkan war which saw Turkey fighting against Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Chief of Staff in Gallipoli, he forced back the Bulgarian offensive. He was made military attaché to Sofia in 1913.

In November 1914, Turkey joined the war fighting alongside Germany. As Lieutenant Colonel, Mustafa Kemal was tasked with forming the 19th infantry division and made a reputation for himself during the German-Turkish counter-offensive which aimed to prevent the French and British troops landing in the Dardanelles Strait. Pushing back the allied assaults, he claimed a major victory on the Anafarta front in August 1915. Promoted to general, in 1916 he took command of the 16th army corps in the Caucasus then of the 2nd army in Diyarbakir. Confronting the Russian troops, he took Mus and Bitlis. Recalled to Syria, where he served under German General Erich von Falkenhayn, he was given command of the 7th army. When he returned to Istanbul in autumn 1917, he accompanied the crown prince Vahidettin on an official trip to Germany. He returned to Syria again in August 1918 where he took order of the 7th army against the British until the signing of the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918.

After the armistice and in opposition to the occupation and dismemberment of Turkey, he established an organised national resistance movement.

Appointed as general inspector of the northern and north-eastern armies in May 1919, he was tasked with assuring the security of the Samsun region, where Turkish, Greek and Armenian populations were fighting, and ordered the forces against the Greek troops which landed in Smyrna. 

Following disagreements with the Sultan’s politics, he made an announcement putting the Turkish War of Independence in motion, in the town of Amasya on 22 June 1919. He then called for national conferences to be held in Erzurum and Sivas in July and September respectively. Finally, the meeting of the Grand National Assembly in Ankara on 23 April 1920 resulted in the formation of a national government of which Assembly President Mustafa Kemal was elected as leader. 

Securing the withdrawal of the French from Cilecia and Armenia’s return of the occupied territories, he also succeeded in driving the Greeks out of Anatolia, importantly leading and winning the Battle of Dumlupinar (30 August 1922) and signing the Armistice of Mudanya on 11 October 1922.

In the meantime, the Sultan accepted on 10 August 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres which considerably shrank the Turkish Empire. Mustafa Kemal fought against this treaty and successes in having the Allies revise the terms. On 24 July 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne put an end to the Armenian and Greek claims and recognised Turkish sovereignty across the entire national territory.

Having got this far, Mustafa Kemal went even further, introducing major political, economic and social reforms to bring Turkey into the modern age. The sultanate was abolished (1 November 1922) and the Republic declared on 29 October 1923. Elected President, he made Ankara the capital, incorporated secularism into the constitution and set the country on the path to economic development. In line with the law of 1934 enforcing Turkish citizens to adopt a surname, he took the name Atatürk, meaning “Father of all the Turks”

He died on 10 November 1938 in Istanbul.