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Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey - Famous and Infamous Rulers
1313    Dibyendu Banerjee    09/09/2019

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born as Ali Rıza Oğlu Mustafa, in the early months of 1881, in the city of Salonica, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire. His family was middle-class and Turkish-speaking Albanian Muslim. According to Turkish historian Afet Inan, he was born Mutafa and his second name Kemal, meaning perfection, was given to him by his mathematics teacher, Captain Üsküplü Mustafa Efendi, in admiration of his merit and maturity.

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Without consulting his parents, Mustafa appeared for the entrance examination at the Salonica Military School in 1893 and attended a series of military schools, including the Ottoman Military College in Constantinople, from where he graduated in 1905. However, shortly after graduation, he was arrested by the police for his anti-monarchist activities and was released after several months with the support of Rıza Pasha, his former school director. Immediately after his release, he was assigned to the Fifth Army based in Damascus as a Staff Captain and joined a small secret revolutionary society of reformist officers, called Motherland and Liberty. Within a short time, he was promoted to the rank of Senior Captain on 20 June 1907 and was subsequently assigned to the headquarters of the Third Army in Manastir on13 October 1907. He played a role in the Young Turk Revolution in July 1908, which seized power from Sultan Abdulhamid II and restored the constitutional monarchy and was also instrumental in suppressing the counter- revolution of a group of soldiers in Istanbul in the month of April 1909.

In 1911, Mustafa was assigned to the Ottoman Tripolitania Vilayet, present-day Libya, to fight in the Italo-Turkish War and despite all the hardships, his forces managed to repel the Italians on a number of occasions, including the Battle of Tobruk on 22 December 1911. Unfortunately, as two Italian planes dropped bombs on the Ottoman forces during the Battle of Derna on 16–17 January 1912, a piece of limestone from a damaged building's rubble entered Mustafa’s left eye, causing a permanent damage in his left eye's tissue, but not total loss of sight.

Ataturk with young Turks - 19 May 1919
Ataturk with young Turks - 19 May 1919

During World War I, as the Ottoman Empire allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Mustafa was given the task of organizing and commanding the 19th Division attached to the Fifth Army, during the Battle of Gallipoli. As the front-line commander, he correctly assessed the move of the enemy force and held his position to successfully stop a large force of the British and French troops. Finally, they retreated, leaving the intention to take over Istanbul. Nevertheless, after his grand success at Gallipoli, Ataturk was hailed as the ‘Saviour of Istanbul’ and was promoted to colonel on the 1st day of June 1915.

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In 1916, Mustafa Kemal was assigned to the Russian front and promoted to the rank of a general, acquiring the title of ‘Pasha’. Later that year, after the massive Russian offensive had reached the key Anatolian cities, he was assigned to the command of the XVI Corps of the Second Army and sent to the Caucasus Campaign. Kemal, in his turn, mounted a counteroffensive on 7 August and captured Bitlis and Mus, upsetting the calculations of the Russian Command.

Smiling Mustafa Kemal Pasha in 1922
Smiling Mustafa Kemal Pasha in 1922

At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in March1917, as the British forces captured Jerusalem in December, Mustafa was appointed to the command of the Seventh Army in Syria. However, he was shocked at the appalling condition of the army and the lack of adequate resources in the Palestinian front. Since his suggestion to form a stronger defensive line in Ottoman Syria was rejected, he resigned his post and returned to Istanbul without permission. Consequently, he was sent on leave for three months and thereafter was assigned to accompany Crown Prince Mehmed Vahideddin on a state visit to Germany. However, as he came back to Istanbul, Mustafa Kemal fell sick with kidney problems, probably relating to gonorrhea and went to Vienna for treatment and then to Carisbad for recuperation. Meanwhile, as Prince Mehmed Vahideddin assumed the throne after the death of Sultan Mehmed V, he was called back to Istanbul in June 1918 and was assigned to command the collapsing Ottoman forces in Syria. Mustafa arrived in the city of Aleppo in Syria on 26 August 1918 and found the situation worse than he had imagined. The Seventh Army, which retired towards the Jordan River, was destroyed by the British bombardment during its retreat from Nablus on 21 September 1918. Nevertheless, Kemal Ataturk managed to form a strong line of defense to the north of Aleppo.

mustafa kemal ataturk

Finally, the war ended with the Armistice of Mudros, signed on 30 October 1918 between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies of WW I and all German and Austro-Hungarian troops in the Ottoman Empire were granted sufficient time to withdraw. However, the Allies planned to incorporate the provinces of eastern Anatolia into an independent Armenian state. Early in December 1918, they occupied parts of Istanbul and set up an Allied military administration. Apart from that, the French troops also advanced into Cilicia in the southeast. On the other hand, the Italians occupied Marmaris, Antalya, and Burdur, while the Greek troops landed at Izmir on 15 May1919 and began a drive into the interior of Anatolia, killing thousands of Turkish inhabitants and ravaging the countryside.

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Mustafa Kemal returned to Istanbul on 13 November 1919 and the city’s occupation by British, French, and Italian troops, left a lasting impression in his mind, which sparked him to establish the Turkish National Movement. With the intention to establish an organized national movement against the occupying forces, Mustafa Kemal reached Samsun, on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia on the morning of 19 May1919 and headed inland for Amasya. While cheered by the waiting crowd, he openly said that the sultan was the prisoner of the Allies and action should be taken immediately to prevent the country from slipping through the fingers of its people. In June 1919, he issued the Amasya Circular, declaring the independence of the country, as it was in danger and to avoid dismissal from the army, resigned from the Ottoman Army in the evening of 7th July. Sensing trouble, the Allies pressured the sultan to recall Mustafa Kemal. The Sultan in his turn, issued a warrant for his arrest and later, he was condemned to death in his absence.

mustafa kemal ataturk

At that critical moment, when Mustafa Kemal had no military support or official status, General Kâzim, commander of the XV Army Corps of 18,000 men, joined with Kemal, which was a crucial turning point in the struggle for independence. Kâzim called for a congress of all defense-of-rights associations in Erzurum on 23 July1919, where Mustafa Kemal was elected head of the Erzurum Congress and thereby gained an official status. The congress also created a provisional government and set up a steering committee, which elected Mustafa Kemal as the head. With the intention to extend the National Pact to the entire Ottoman-Muslim population of the Empire, Mustafa called a national congress in Sivas on 4 September 1919 and established the seat of his provisional government in Ankara, 480 km (300 miles) from Istanbul. Though he remained in Ankara, the Association for Defense of Rights for Anatolia and Roumelia, headed by him won the last election of the Ottoman Parliament held in December 1919 by a sweeping majority. The parliament opened in Constantinople on 12 January 1920, only to be dissolved by British forces on 18 March 1920, shortly after it adopted the National Pact. In retaliation, Mustafa Kemal called for a national election to establish a new Turkish Parliament seated in Ankara and accordingly the Grand National Assembly (GNA) was opened on 23 April 1920, with Mustafa as the Speaker.

Meanwhile, Ferid Pasha, the Ottoman Grand Vizier Damat, signed the Treaty of Sevres on 19 August 1920 and by the provisions of the treaty, Armenia was declared independent and the Ottoman state was drastically reduced in size, with Greece one of the major beneficiaries. Mustafa Kemal refused to accept the treaty and with military aid from the Soviet Union, he set out to drive the Greeks from Anatolia and Thrace and to subdue the new Armenian state. In the meantime, as France and Italy negotiated with the nationalist government in Ankara, they withdrew their troops from Anatolia and General Kazim, assisted by the Bolsheviks, moved against the unprotected Armenian state. The combined force crushed the Armenians in October and they surrendered early in November 1920.

Smiling Mustafa Kemal Pasha in 1922
Mustafa Kemal (no 4) on observation Hill, Battle of Sakarya 1921

On the other front, the Greek army was steadily advancing toward Ankara since June 1920 and after a series of battles during the Greco-Turkish war, they advanced as far as the Sakarya River. On 5 August 1921, Mustafa Kemal was promoted to Commander in chief of the forces by the GNA and in the subsequent Battle of Sakarya, fought from 23 August to 13 September 1921, the Greeks were completely routed. Consequently, the Grand National Assembly honoured Mustafa Kemal with the rank of Maresal and the title of Gazi, on 19 September 1921. In spite of everything, the Allies intended to impose a modified version of the Treaty of Sèvres as a peace settlement on Ankara, but the proposal was rejected outright. The Turkish force, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal launched an all-out attack on the Greek lines at the Battle of Dumlupinar in August 1922 and Turkish forces regained control of Smyrna on 9 September 1922. As the nationalists occupied Istanbul on October 2, Ankara was named the capital and on 29 October 1923, the Republic of Turkish was proclaimed.

Smiling Mustafa Kemal Pasha in 1922
Atatürk in Istanbul University 31 May 33

Since the establishment of the Republic, Mustafa Kamel had devoted his time in instituting social, political and economic reforms of the country and establishing the new Republic's backbone of legislative, judicial, and economic structures, with the ultimate aim of building a modern, progressive, and secular state. He deposed the caliphate, the theoretical successor to the prophet Muhammad and the spiritual leader of the worldwide Muslim community, on 3 March 1934 and the abolition of religious courts followed on 8 April. While the religious schools were closed, Kamel made primary education free and compulsory and opened thousands of new schools all over the country. In 1925, wearing the fez was prohibited and the western-style hat was made compulsory for the civil servants. Women’s emancipation was strengthened by the abolition of polygamy. Marriage was given the status of a civil contract and divorce was recognized as a civil action. Voting rights were also granted to the women in local elections on 3 April 1930 and full suffrage in 1934, earlier than most other countries in the world. Perhaps most importantly, Kamel replaced the Arabic script in the Turkish language, by the Latin alphabet, which officially took place in November 1928 and adopted the Gregorian calendar in place of the Islamic calendar. In recognition of his role in building the modern Turkish Republic, the Turkish Parliament honoured him with the title ‘Ataturk’, meaning Father of the Turks.

Smiling Mustafa Kemal Pasha in 1922

In his foreign policy, he settled the old issues with Great Britain in a treaty signed on 5 June 1926, which called for Turkey to renounce its claims to Mosul in return for a 10 percent interest in the oil produced there. Apart from that, he also signed a treaty of friendship with Greece on 30 December1930, by which the minority populations were exchanged on both sides, border and military problems such as naval equality in the eastern Mediterranean were solved.

However, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s implementation of modernization in the country was not accomplished without bloodshed. The Kurds of southwestern Anatolia raised the banner of revolt in the name of Islam in February 1925, which was suppressed within two months and its leader Şeyh Said was hanged. There was also a plot by several disgruntled politicians to assassinate Atatürk, which was uncovered in June 1926 and the 13 ringleaders were tried and hanged.

Since the adoption of the 1924 constitution, the Peoples Party, founded by Atatürk on 9 September 1923, was the only political party in the country, which was renamed the Republican People’s Party on 10 November 1924. However, as many Turks wished to see a more democratic regime, Atatürk initiated to create an opposition party in1930, led by his longtime associate Ali Fethi, though it did not last long. In November 1930, Ali Fethi Okyar dissolved his own party and a more lasting multi-party period of the Republic of Turkey began in 1945.

Latife and Ataturk, with her family
Latife and Ataturk, with her family

Kemal Ataturk married Latife Uşakizade, a multilingual and self-confident woman, educated in Europe. She was the daughter of a shipping magnate Muammer Uşakizade in Izmir and they met during the recapture of occupied Smymaon on 8 September 1922, while Kemal was staying in Izmir and invited by Uşakizade at his residence. Later, Mustafa arranged for the permission to marry from her family and they were married on 29 January 1923. However, Latife could not tolerate and was jealous of Fikriye, a cousin of Atatürk, who was passionately attached to Kemal. In fact, they became very close after Fikriye divorced her Egyptian husband and returned to Istanbul. She willingly became Kemal’s personal assistant and lived with him in Çankaya, Ankara, during the War of Independence. As Latife determinately wanted her to leave the house in Çankaya, Fikriye was devastated and immediately left in a carriage. According to official accounts, she shot herself with a pistol, which was a gift from Atatürk. However, it was rumoured that she was the victimized to be murdered.

Ataturk with Fikreye
Ataturk with Fikreye

For a short time, Latife became the face of the new Turkish woman, appearing in public in Western clothing with her husband. However, their marriage was not happy and after frequent arguments they were divorced on 5 August 1925.

In his later years Atatürk grew remote from the Turkish people. He refurbished the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, formerly a main residence of the sultans, and spent more time there. Throughout most of his life, he had been a heavy drinker and it was steadily telling upon his health. In early 1938, he suffered from a serious illness, while he was on a trip to Yalova. Immediately, he returned to Istanbul, where he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. He died on 10 November 1938, at the age of 57, in the Dolmabahçe Palace at 9.05 in the morning.

Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey that he founded, served the country as a President until his death in 1938. He was the only Turkish general in the war, who never suffered a defeat and transformed Turkey into a westernized country. After his death, his body was transported through Istanbul to Ankara, where his body was originally laid to rest in the Ethnography Museum until 10 November 1953, when 15 years after his death, a 42-ton sarcophagus containing his remains was shifted to a newly built mausoleum that overlooks Ankara and housed a museum devoted to his memory.

Ethnography Museum of Ankara
Ethnography Museum of Ankara
Mausoleum of Ataturk
Mausoleum of Ataturk
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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