The founder of the Turkish
Republic and its first President, stands as a towering figure of the 20th
Century. Among the great leaders of history, few have achieved so much in so
short period, transformed the life of a nation as decisively, and given such profound
inspiration to the world at large.
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. 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
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
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.
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. He
was buried with a ceremonial funeral in a temporary place of rest at the
Ethnographical Museum in Ankara on 21 November 1938. After the building of
Anitkabir (Atatürk Mausoleum) he was taken to his permanent place of rest with
a grand ceremony on 10 November 1953.But his legacy to his people and to the
"This nation has never lived without independence. We cannot
and shall not live without it. Either independence or death."
As the national struggle ended, the
heroic leader proclaimed:" Following the military triumph we accomplished
by bayonets, weapons and blood, we shall strive to win victories in such fields
as culture, scholarship, science, and economics," adding that " the
enduring benefits of victories depend only on the existence of an army of
It is for his military victories and
his cultural and socio-political reforms, which gave Turkey its new life, that
the Turkish nation holds Atatürk in gratitude and reverence.
"Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the people."
October 29, 1923 is a fateful date
in Turkish history. On that date. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the liberator of his
country, proclaimed the Republic of Turkey. The new homogeneous nation-state
stood in sharp contrast to the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire out of whose ashes
it arose. The dynasty and theocratic Ottoman system, with its Sultanate and
Caliphate, thus came to and end. Atatürk's Turkey dedicated itself to the
sovereignty of the national will - to the creation of, in President's words,
"the state of the people ".
The New Turkey's ideology was, and
remains, "Kemalism", later known as "Atatürkism".
Its basic principles stress the republican form of government representing the
power of electorate, secular administration, nationalism, mixed economy with
state participation in many of the vital sectors, and modernization. Atatürkism
introduced to Turkey the process of parliamentary and participatory democracy.
The first Moslem nation to become a
Republic, Turkey has served since the early 1920s as a model for Moslem and
non-Moslem nations in the emerging world.
"The major challenge facing us is to elevate our national
life to the highest level of civilization and prosperity."
Atatürk's aim was to modernize
Turkish life in order to give his nation a new sense of dignity, equality, and
happiness. After more than three centuries of high achievement, the Ottoman
Empire had declined from the 17th to the early 20th Century: With Sultans
presiding over a social and economic system mired in backwardness, the Ottoman
state had become hopelessly outmoded for the modern times. Atatürk resolved to
lead his country out of the crumbling past into a brave new future.
In his program of modernization,
secular government and education played a major role. Making religious faith a
matter of individual conscience, he created a truly secular system in Turkey,
where the vast Moslem majority and the small Christian and Jewish minorities
are free to practice their faith. As a result of Atatürk's reforms, Turkey
-unlike scores of other countries- has fully secular institutions.
The leader of modern Turkey aspired
to freedom and equality for all. When he proclaimed the Republic, he announced
that " the new Turkish State is a state of the people and a state
by the people." Having established a populist and egalitarian system,
he later observed: "We are a nation without classes or special
privilidges." He also stressed the paramount importance of the
peasants, who had long been neglected in the Ottoman times: " The
true owner and master of Turkey is the peasant who is the real producer."
To give his nation a modern outlook,
Atatürk introduced many reforms: European hats replaced the fez; women stopped
wearing the veil; all citizens took surnames; and the Islamic calendar gave way
to the Western calendar. A vast transformation took place in the urban and
rural life. It can be said that few nations have ever experienced anything
comparable to the social change in Atatürk's Turkey.
"In order to raise our new Turkey to the level that she is
worthy of, we must, under all circumstances, attach the highest importance to
the national economy."
When the Turkish Republic came into
being in 1923, it lacked capital, industry, and know-how. Successive wars had
decimated manpower, agricultural production stood at a low level, and the huge
foreign debts of the defunct Ottoman state confronted the new Republic.
President Atatürk swiftly moved to
initiate a dynamic program of economic development. " Our nation,"
he stated, " has crushed the enemy forces. But to achieve
independence we must observe the following rule: National sovereignty should be
supported by financial independence. The only power that will propel us to this
goal is the economy. No matter how mighty they are, political and military
victories cannot endure unless they are crowned by economic triumphs."
With determination and vigor,
Atatürk's Turkey undertook agricultural expansion, industrial growth, and
technological advancement. In mining, transportation, manufacturing, banking,
exports, social services, housing, communications, energy, mechanization, and
other vital areas, many strides were taken. Within the decade, the gross
national product increased five-fold.
Turkey's economic development during
Atatürk's Presidency was impressive in absolute figures and in comparison to
other countries. The synthesis that evolved at that time -state enterprises and
private initiative active in both industrial and agricultural growth- serves as
the basis of the economic structure not only for Turkey but also in dozen
"The cornerstone of education is an easy system of reading
and writing. The hey to this is the new Turkish alphabet based on the Latin
The most difficult change in any
society is probably a language reform. Most nations never attempt it; those who
do, usually prefer a gradual approach. Under Atatürk's Leadership, Turkey
undertook the modern world's swiftest and most extensive language reform. In
1928, when he decided that the Arabic script, which had been used by the Turks
for a thousand years, should be replaced with the Latin alphabet. He asked the
experts: " How long would it take ?" Most of them
replied: " At least five years." " We shall
do it," Atatürk said," within five months"
As the 1920s came to an end, Turkey
had fully and functionally adopted, with its 29 letters (8 vowels and 21
consonants), has none of the complexities of the Arabic script, which was
ill-suited to the Turkish language. The language reform enabled children and
adults to read and write within a few months, and to study Western languages
with greater effectiveness.
Thousands of words, and some
grammatical devices, from the Arabic and Persian, held a tight grip over
Ottoman Turkish. In the early 1930s, Atatürk spearheaded the movement to
eliminate these borrowings. To replace the loan words from foreign languages,
large number of original words, which had been in use in the earlier centuries,
where revived, and provincial expressions and new coinages were introduced. The
transformation met with unparalleled success: In the 1920s, the written
language consisted of more than 80 percent Arabic, Persian, and French words;
by the early 1980s the ratio had declined to a mere 10 percent.
Atatürk's language reform
-encompassing the script, grammar and vocabulary- stands as one of the most
far-reaching in history. It has overhauled Turkish culture and education.
"Everything we see in the world is the creative work of
With abiding faith in the vital
importance of women in society, Atatürk launched many reforms to give Turkish
women equal rights and opportunities. The new Civil Code, adopted in 1926,
abolished polygamy and recognized the equal rights of women in divorce,
custody, and inheritance. The entire educational system from the grade school
to the university became coeducational. Atatürk greatly admired the support
that the national liberation struggle received from women and praised their
many contributions: " In Turkish society, women have not lagged
behind men in science, scholarship, and culture. Perhaps they have even gone
further ahead." He gave women the same opportunities as men, including
full political rights. In the mid-1930s, 18 women, among them a villager, were
elected to the national parliament. Later, Turkey had the world's first women
supreme court justice.
In all walks of life, Atatürk's
Turkey has produced tens of thousands of well-educated women who participate in
national life as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, writers,
administrators, executives, and creative artists.
"The governments most creative and significant duty is
Atatürk regarded education as the
force that would galvanize the nation into social and economic development. For
this reason, he once said that, after the War of Independence, he would have
liked to serve as Minister of Education. As President of the Republic, he
spared no effort to stimulate and expand education at all levels and for all
segments of the society.
Turkey initiated a most ambitious
program of schooling children and adults. From grade school to graduate school,
education was made free, secular, and co-educational. Primary education was
declared compulsory. The armed forces implemented an extensive program of
literacy. Atatürk heralded "The Army of Enlightenment". With
pencil or chalk in hand, he personally instructed children and adults in
schoolrooms, parks, and other places. Literacy which had been less than 9
percent in 1923 rose to more than 33 percent by 1938.
Women's education was very close to
Atatürk's hearth. In 1922, even before proclaiming the Republic, he vowed:
" We shall emphasize putting our women's secondary and higher
education on an equal footing with men."
To give impetus to science and
scholarship, Atatürk transformed the University of Istanbul (founded in the
mid-15th century) into a modern university in 1933. A few years later, the
University of Ankara became into being. Today, Turkey has major universities
all over the country. Except for Europe and North America she has one of the
world's highest ratios of university graduates to population.
"We shall make the expansion and rise of Turkish culture in
every era the mainstay of the Republic."
Among the prominent statesmen of the
20th Century few articulated the supreme importance of culture as did Atatürk
who stated: " Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic."
His view of culture encompassed the nation's creative legacy as well as the
best values of world civilization. It stressed personal and universal humanism.
" Culture," he said, " is a basic element in
being a person worthy of humanity," and described Turkey's ideological
thrust as " a creation of patriotism blended with a lofty humanist
To creat the best synthesis, Atatürk
underlined the need for the utilization of all the viable elements in the
national heritage, including the ancient indigenous cultures, and the arts and
techniques of the entire world civilization, past and present. He gave impetus
to the study of the earlier civilizations of Anatolia - including Hittite,
Phrygian, Lydian, and others. Pre-islamic culture of the Turks became the
subject of extensive research which proved that, long before their Seljuk and Ottoman
Empires, the Turks had already created a civilization of their own. Atatürk
also stressed the folk arts of the countryside as the wellspring of Turkish
The visual and plastic arts (whose
development had been arrested by some bigoted Ottoman officials who claimed
that the depiction of the human form was idolatry) flourished during Atatürk's
Presidency. Many museums were opened. Architecture gained new vigor. Classical
Western music, opera and ballet as well as the theater took impressive strides.
Several hundred "People's Houses" and the " People's
Rooms" all over Turkey gave local people and youngsters a wide variety
of artistic activities, sports, and other cultural affairs. Book and magazine
publication enjoyed a boom. Film industry started to grow. In all walks of
cultural life, Atatürk's inspiration created an upsurge.
Atatürk's Turkey is living proof of
this ideal - a country rich in its own national culture, open to the heritage
of world civilization, and at home in the endowments of the modern
Home, Peace in the World
"Mankind is a single body and each nation a part of that
body. We must never say 'What does it matter to me if some part of the world is
ailing?' If there is such an illness, we must concern ourselves with it as
though we were having that illness."
A military hero who had won victory
after victory against many foreign invaders, Atatürk knew the value of peace
and, during his Presidency, did his utmost to secure and strengthen it
throughout the world. Few of the giants of the modern times have spoken with
Atatürk's eloquence on the vital need to create a world order based on peace,
on the dignity of all human beings, and on the constructive interdependence of
all nations. He stated, immediately after the Turkish War of Independence, that
"peace is the most effective way for nations to attain prosperity and
happiness." Later as he concluded treaties of friendship and created
regional ententes, he affirmed: " Turks are the friends of all
civilized nations." The new Turkey established cordial relations with
all countries, including those powers which had tried a few years earlier to
wipe the Turks off the map. She did not pursue a policy of expansionism, and
never engaged in any act contrary to peaceful co-existence. Atatürk signed
pacts with Greece, Rumania and Yugoslavia in the Balkans, and with Iran, Iraq
and Afghanistan in the East. He maintained friendly relations with the Soviet
Union, the United States, England, Germany, Italy, France, and all other
states. In the early 1930s, he and the Greek Premier Venizelos initiated and
signed a treaty of peace and cooperation.
In 1932, the League of Nations
invited Turkey to become a member. Many of Atatürk's ideas and ideals presaged
the principles enshrined in the League of Nations and the United Nations." As
clearly as I see daybreak, I have the vision of the rise of the oppressed
nations to their independence... If lasting peace is sought, it is essential to
adopt international measures to improve the lot of the masses. Mankind's
well-being should take the place of hunger and oppression... Citizens of the
world should be educated in such a way that they shall no longer feel envy,
avarice and vengefulness."
In recognition of Atatürk's untiring
efforts to build peace, the League of Nations paid tribute to him at his death
in November 1938 as " a genius international peacemaker".
In 1981, on the occasion of the Centennial of his birth, the United Nations and
UNESCO honored the memory of the great Turkish Statesman who abhorred war -
" Unless the life of the nation faces peril, war is a crime,"
- and expressed his faith in organized peace:" If war were to
break out, nations would rush to join their armed forces and national
resources. The swiftest and most effective measure is to establish an
international organization which would prove to the aggressor that its
aggression cannot pay."
His creation of modern Turkey and
his contribution to the world have made Atatürk an historic figure of enduring
"Convinced that personalities who worked for understanding
and cooperation between nations and international peace will be examples for
"Recalling that the hundredth
anniversaryof the birth of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish
Republic, will be celebrated in 1981,
"Knowing that he was an
exceptional reformer in all fields relevant to the competence of UNESCO,
"Recognizing in particular that
he was the leader of the first struggle given against colonialism and
"Recalling that he was the remarkable
promoter of the sense of understanding between peoples and durable peace
between the nations of the world and that he worked all his life for the
development of harmony and cooperation between peoples without distinction of
color, religion and race,
"It is decided that UNESCO
should colloborate in 1981 with the Turkish Government on both intellectual and
technical plans for an international colloquium with the aim of acquainting the
world with the various aspects of the personality and deeds of Atatürk whose
objective was to promote world peace, international understanding and respect
for human rights."