Who is Atatürk and why is he so important to Turkish people?  

He was not only a Turkish leader who led his country's war against aggressors but also a peace lover who sent very important messages to other nations about the necessity of a peaceful and mutually respectful co-existance of all nations on the same planet.


"Peace at Home, Peace in the World." M. Kemal Atatürk  

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and it's first President, is the national hero of Turkey. He has founded the modern Turkish Republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire; which was in recession period and came to known as the "the sick man of Europe" at the end of the 18th century.

He created a secular state understanding which is unique among Islamic countries. His modern perspective created a new country and a nation with great new visions and aims to achieve ahead. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk differed from the dictators of his age in two significant respects. First of all, he was a great reformer in terms of changing a country fundamentally in every aspect and making the whole nation believe in these changes in a very short time. And secondly his strong believes in Peace, not only in his own country but all around the world, makes him the most successful leader in the world in the eyes of Turkish People and gives profound inspiration to the world at large. His foreign policy was based not on expansion but on retraction of frontiers; and his home policy was to built a political system that will regenerate his country by transforming the old sprawling Ottoman Empire into a new compact Turkish Republic. One of the best books written about Atatürk from a foreigner's point of view is the book titled " The Rebirth of a Nation" by Lord Kinross.

Once you step in Turkey, you will see his statues, busts and millions of his photos hung all over the country. His name has been given to countless institutions, buildings, streets, parks and suchlike. Foreigners unaware of his accomplishments might think that the Turks are a bit obsessed with a  man now dead for approximately 60 years but no other nation on earth has loved a leader as much as the Turkish nation loves Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Emerging as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919. As a triumphant commander who crushed the invaders of his country following a series of impressive victories against all odds, he led his nation to full independence. Neither The Turkish Republic nor the Ottoman Empire has never been a colony in the history. At the 1st world war The Ottoman Empire formed allies with Germany and Austria-Hungary so lost the war with them. The wars that are mentioned on this page were against the invading forces after the 1st world war. Mostly against France and Britain. But these forces couldn't succeed totally because Atatürk started the liberation wars right after they started the invasions and he managed to save at least the lands of today's Turkey. And although those day's Ottoman Empire is today's more than 30 countries, a compact Turkish Republic compared to the Ottoman Empire was formed with the victories of the common Turkish people who didn't hesitate to die for their country at the battle field and of course with the courage, intelligence, and most of all strong believes of their national hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in independence, peace and in Turkish people.

He also put an end to the Ottoman dynasty who had ruled the Empire for more than six centuries - and created the Republic of Turkey in 1923, establishing a new government truly representative of the nation's will.

As President for 15 years, until his death in 1938, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a broad range of swift and sweeping reforms - in the political, social, legal, economic, and cultural spheres - virtually unparalleled to any other country.

The world honours his memory as a foremost peacemaker who upheld the principles of humanism and the vision of a united humanity. Tributes have been offered to him through the decades by such world statesmen as lloyd George, Churchill, Roosevelt, Nehru, de Gaulle, Adenauer, Bourguiba, Nasser, Kennedy, and countless others. A White House statement, issued on the occasion of "The Atatürk Centennial" in 1981, pays homage to him as "a great leader in times of war and peace". It is fitting that there should be high praise for Atatürk, an extraordinary leader of modern times, who said in 1933: "I look to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship".

His life

His name was "Mustafa" and was given the name "Kemal" meaning perfection, by his teacher in the military school. Lastly in 1934 November 24th, everyone had to take a surname and the "Atatürk" surname, meaning the father of Turks, was given to him by the Turkish people in accordance with his reforms and his success in creating a modern Turkish country.

The House he was born in

He was born in l9th May 1881 of humble background in Kocakasım ward of Saloniki, within the Ottoman Empire's borders at that time but in Greece at present. His father was a customs officer, later becoming a timber merchant. Following his father's sudden death, a family having to fend for itself was left behind.

As a child Mustafa finished primary school in Saloniki, going on to secondary education at Rucholigè School. Following the death of his father, his uncle took on the responsibility of looking after Mustafa, his only sister and his widowed mother. Despite the opposition of his uncle, Mustafa succeeded in entering the Military School in Istanbul. He completed his studies with very high grades, and was accepted into the School of the General Staff. In December 1905 he was commissioned as General Staff Captain.

Throughout his studies Mustafa Kemal consistently proved himself to be a conscientious, aspiring and diligent student who was particularly interested in difficult and complex problems. Whilst at military school in Saloniki, he showed himself in mathematics and literature. At the same time, and due mainly to his own efforts he started to learn French, in which he made considerable progress. Yet another trait of character which began to show through in his early youth was Mustafa's ability to show initiative and exceptionally his ability to give orders, whilst at the same time maintaining a sense of fraternity with his comrades. In the School of the General Staff he pondered long and hard over the hardship caused by the dictatorial rule of Abdulhamit. Just like his comrades at the school, Mustafa harboured the same feelings of disgust and rebelliousness towards the political regime of the Sultan. For this reason he did not hesitate for one moment about taking part in the secret underground activities going on at the General Staff School, directed towards the overthrow of the Yildiz Regime. He was one of the early members of the Young Turks movement and a front-runner in the revolution which demanded a constitutional government for the Ottoman Empire.

In 1908 a revolution led by the Young Turks forced Abdulhamit to restore the parliament and constitution. After a few months of constitutional rule, a counterrevolutionary effort to restore the sultan's autocracy led the Young Turks to dethrone Abdulhamit completely in 1909. He was replaced by Mehmet (Resit) V (r. 1909-18), who was only a puppet of those controlling the government.

Rapid modernization continued during the Young Turk era (1908-18), with particular attention given to urbanization, agriculture, industry, communications, secularization of the state and the emancipation of women.

Between the years 1905 and 1918 Mustafa Kemal was deservedly awarded high ranking posts in the military chain of command. He proved to have special qualities in the organisation and management of this army of oppression, known as the Army of the Movement. In 1910 he lead the Turkish Forces during military manoeuvres in the Province of Picardy in France. In 1911 he fought in Tripoli against the Italians, and in 1914 whilst serving as Military Attaché in Sofia, he successfully drew the governments attention to the catastrophic results connected with Turkey's entry into the war with Germany and its allies.

During World War I Ottoman empire took sides with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Mustafa fought against the Allied Forces on many fronts including the Dardanelles, the Russians on the Mus Front in the east and against the British in today's Syria and Iraq. He was the Lieutenant colonel in charge of Infantry at Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 and it is his genius defence tactics that did not give way to the allied forces (British, French, Anzacs - Australians and New Zealenders and Senegalese) for the capture of Dardanelles and eventually Bosphorus. His successes against the Allies were well received by the civilian population and he was acclaimed as the "Hero of Gallipoli". Again during the World War I, he visited Germany as Military Adviser, together with hereditary Prince Vahdettin. At the time of signing the Armistice Declaration on the 30th October 1918 Mustafa Kemal remained at the head of his troops, a command given to him by the German General Liman von Sanders. His success and fast growing reputation disturbed the capital and to keep him under control he was promoted to the Pasha (General) position.

With some of the members of the Sivas Congress, September 1919; left to right Refet (Bele), Rauf (Orbay) and Bekir Sami

When the World War I ended however, the defeat of these Central Powers led to foreign occupation of the Ottoman Empire. Armies of the allied forces occupied nearly all of the country including Istanbul. Sultan and some people in the public were thinking of accepting either the American or British mandate. Atatürk, however, had a very different vision from them. He wanted Independence. So he left Istanbul with a small boat, namely Bandirma (a nice model of this boat can be seen at the Atatürk Museum, in Atatürk's Mausoleum, Ankara) and came to Samsun (a coastal town in the Black Sea) on 19.May.1919 (later to be presented as the Turkish Youth Day, by Atatürk). This let to the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923).

The fight against the victors of the First World War who had divided up the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Sevres signed on 10 August 1920, initially started with the militia forces called Kuva-yi Milliye. Turkish Assembly later initiated a regular army and achieving integration between the army and the militia, was able to conclude the war in victory.

In the years between 1918 and 1923 he was at the forefront of the Turkish War of Independence and involved with the eradication of the antiquated institutions of the Ottoman Empire and in laying the foundations of the new Turkish State. With the circular he published on 22 June 1919 at Amasya, he declared that "The freedom of the nation shall be restored with the resolve and determination of the nation itself" and called the meeting of the Sivas Congress. He convened Erzurum Congress during 23 July - 7 August 1919 and Sivas Congress during 4 - 11 September 1919, to organise and lift the morale of the people in its determined opposition to the Forces of the Entente who were occupying Anatolia, thus to define the path to be followed towards the freedom of the motherland. By the end of these conventions he had managed to convey the message that the idea and the ideals of outdated imperialism ought be dropped so that people within the national boundaries could make decisions in accordance with the principles and general guidelines of an effective national policy. He was met with great enthusiasm in Ankara on 27 December 1919.

Surveying the field during the Sakarya Battle in the war of  Independence (The Battle began on August 23, 1921 with Mustafa Kemal Pasha leading the Turkish troops. The Turks emerged victorious 22 days and 22 nights later, on September 13, 1921.)

The significant stages of the Turkish War of Independence under the Command of Mustafa Kemal are

When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk united the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 23rd of April 1920 in Ankara, a significant step was taken on the way to establish the Turkish Republic. With the government of the Great National Assembly, of which he was the President, Mustafa Kemal fought the Forces of the Entente and the Sultan's army which was in collaboration with the occupying forces. Finally, on the 9th September 1922 he succeeded in driving the Allied Forces back to Izmir, along with the other forces which had managed to penetrate the heartland of Anatolia. By this action he saved the country from invasion by foreign forces. On 1. November. 1922, the offices of the Sultan and caliph were severed from one another and the former was abolished. There was no longer any administrative ties with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Sultan fled with a British boat. A new nation was starting to be born.

The War of Independence came to an end with the Treaty of Lausanne signed on 24th of July 1923, when the States of the Entente were obliged to recognise the territorial integrity of Turkey. So in quite a spectacular fashion Mustafa Kemal had achieved the first step in his reform programme, the creation of a sovereign and independent state.

Mustafa Kemal retired his military uniform and inspired the people to the second, an even greater task: Transformation of the country into the democratic, secular Republic of Turkey. He was elected as the head of the national assembly as well as the head of the government. The Grand National Assembly started to put the necessary legislative measures into practice so that the Independence War achieves its final aim.

On 29 October 1923, Turkish Republic was formally proclaimed and Atatürk was unanimously elected as its first President. On 30 October 1923, the first government of the Republic was formed by İsmet İnönü. Turkish Republic started to grow on the foundations of the twin principles "Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the nation" and "Peace at home, Peace in the world".

His Reforms

Atatürk undertook a series of reforms to raise Turkey to a level of modern civilized country. These reforms can be grouped under five basic titles.

1. Political Reforms

2. Social Reforms

3. Legal Reforms

4. Reforms in the fields of education and culture

5. Economic Reforms


Dolmabahçe Palace meeting with specialists on the Turkish language (clockwise: Hasan Âli (Yücel), Celâl Sahir (Erozan), Ahmet Cevat (Emre), Resit Galip, Mustafa Kemal, Âfet Inan, Rusen Esref (Ünaydin), Ibrahim Necmi (Dilmen) and Hamit Zübeyr (Kosay)

Women's Rights

"Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women." M. Kemal Atatürk  

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 New Language

"The cornerstone of education is an easy system of reading and writing. The way to this is the new Turkish alphabet based on the Latin script." M. Kemal Atatürk

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.

To learn more about the new Turkish language, Turkish alphabet and the language reform click here

Legal Transformation

"We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and legal institutions from the bonds which hold a tight grip on us although they are incompatible with the needs of our century." M. Kemal Atatürk

Between 1926 and 1930, the Turkish Republic achieved a legal transformation which might have required decades in most other countries. Religious laws were abolished, and a secular system of jurisprudence introduced. The concepts, the texts and contexts of the laws were made harmonious with the progressive thrust of Atatürk's Turkey. "The nation", Atatürk said, "has placed its faith in the precept that all laws should be inspired by actual needs here on earth as a basic fact of national life."

Among the far-reaching changes were the new Civil Code, Penal Code, and Business Law, based on the Swiss, Italian and German models respectively.

The Principles of Atatürk ( Kemalism)

The doctrines of Atatürk or Kemalism is a system of thought based on the facts of Turkey. It is shaped with the will of the Turkish nation through a long historical background. Above all, Kemalism is the introduction and the rendering of the rights to the nation. It is the expression of the national sovereignty. It is an attempt to reach the level of the modern civilizations. It requires to experience a modern social life, to establish a secular state, and to govern with a positive science mentality.
The principles of Kemalism can be viewed in two groups: "The Basic Principles" and "The Complementary Principles".

The definition of the principles as Atatürk has expressed them:

The Basic Principles


The Complementary Principles

National Sovereignty
National Independence
National Unity and Togetherness
Peace at home Peace abroad as Turkish foreign policy.
Scientificism and Rationalism

According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish Grand Assembly gave "Atatürk" (Father of Turks) as a last name to Mustafa Kemal on 24 November 1934.

Atatürk was elected as the Speaker of the Grand Assembly on 24 April 1920 and again on 13 August 1923. This was a position equal to that of the president as well as the prime minister. Republic was proclaimed on 29 October 1923 and Atatürk was elected as the first President. Elections for President were renewed every four years according to the Constitution. In 1927, 1931 and 1935 Turkish Grand Assembly again elected Atatürk as the president.

Atatürk took frequent trips around the country and inspected locally the works undertaken by the state. As president he was host to visiting foreign presidents, prime ministers and ministers.

He read his Great Speech, which covers the War of Independence and the founding of the Republic on 15 - 20 October 1927, and his 10th Year Speech on 29 October 1933.

Only due to the efforts of this great man, which he maintained with exceptional strength of character and persistence, helped along by his ability to work methodically, was it possible to introduce all these reforms. Thanks to his great organising talent he led the country to considerable prosperity and down the path of civilisation and peace.


Atatürk's visions of peace and freedom

"Mankind is a single body and each nation is 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."

M. Kemal Atatürk laid the foundations of a truly modern Turkey, a democratic, republican and independent state based on national sovereignty. Although these ideas originated from him and were paramount in the foundation of the new state they remain today an integral part of the republican government of our country. The foundation stone, or perhaps even the very soul of Atatürk's spiritual and intellectual philosophy, was the thought of universal peace and although the biggest part of his life was taken up by war to defend his country, he always considered it a crime.

Addressing the people of Bursa, September 11, 1924

According to Atatürk war can only be just or justified if it is fought out of sheer necessity or for reasons of national defence, or pursued by a people awaiting their sovereignty, their very lives depending on it.

To live freely and be independent is both a holy right of the individual and of the nation, this right being stronger than power itself. Only by his own personal conviction was he able to frame the all inspiring guiding principle of the Republic of Turkey - "Peace in the country, peace in the world." This principle points with absolute clarity and determination the way forward for the country's future home and foreign policy.

From the ideas that Atatürk held, the idea of civilisation should not be overlooked as it is no less important. In the course of his short life he never ceased repeating the fact that views which are based broadly on regional perspective's of the West or East, or on religious perspective's be they Islam or Christianity often weaken the thoughts of civilisation, as they fail to manifest the small or special characteristics. Civilisation is something whole and exclusively human, a universal property. It therefore goes without saying, that the share every nation in the world has in civilisation is considerable.

In the view of this inspired reformer, mankind has a duty to constantly adapt himself to the needs that reason demand. His guide in life should be science. Following on from these basic beliefs Atatirk took it upon himself to provide everyone in the country with an education, at the heart of which lay the creation of citizens having special qualities, or in other words, the sense and direction of the education he wanted to give to the people was very clear in that the Republic needed to produce generations of people whose thinking, beliefs and education were totally free. Not to mention his view of egoism being wholly incompatible with the idea of civilisation "Egoism, whether individual or national is to be condemned". He reminds us that all nations of the world form one large family and that whenever a disaster strikes one of its members, then it is felt by the rest - like the pain felt from a needle penetrating a part of the body and felt throughout the whole body.

Listening to a senior citizen in Tokat, November 11, 1930

At the opening of the Nazilli Textile Factory, October 9, 1937

With the intention of spreading his ideas within the educational sector, and supported by national campaigns, Kemal continued to put forward his form of humanitarian education, with the aim of producing an enlightened people free from prejudice and intolerance. The desired objective being simply to develop citizens of the world, free from desires such as envy, revenge and conspiracy. In a world inhabited by such communities it might be possible to find an instrument, an organisation that stands above individual states, or in other words: "a body of united nations", whose main purpose is to maintain peace.

In this respect Atatürk's ideas date from the time between the World Wars, particularly that before World War II but are nevertheless topical because in a way Atatürk had predicted the concept of the United Nations.

Furthermore, it was at a time when the ideological battle had reached its climax and for this reason such views were of a prophetic nature. For a man who had set himself the task of building up a country based on the most convincing human achievements and under the banner of reason.

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 honoured 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."

Ataurk's Personal Life, his likes and his death

With shepherd boy Mustafa in Yalova, September 16, 1929

Atatürk led a very simple private life. He married Latife Hanım on 29 January 1923. They took many trips to different parts of the country together. This marriage lasted until 5 August 1925. As a great lover of children he adopted girls named Afet (Inan), Sabiha (Gokcen), Fikriye, Ulku, Nebile, Rukiye and Zehra and a shepperd boy named Mustafa. He also took two boys under his protection called Abdurrahim and Ihsan . He provided the futures of these children.

With his adopted daughter Ülkü at Florya sea resort

He donated his farms to the Treasury in 1937 and some of his real estate to municipalities of Ankara and Bursa. He divided his inheritance among his sister, his adopted children and to the Turkish History and Language Institutions. He enjoyed books and music as well as dancing, horse riding and swimming. He was extremely interested in Zeybek dances, wrestling and the Rumelia folk songs. Games of billiards and backgammon gave him great pleasure. He valued his horse Sakarya and his dog Fox. He had a rich library. He used to invite statesman, scholars and artists to dinners where the problems of the country were discussed. He enjoyed dressing well. He was also a lover of nature. He frequently used to go to the Atatürk Forest Farm and join in the work.

He knew French and German. Atatürk died on 10 November 1938 at 9.05 a.m at Dolmabahce Palace, defeated by the liver ailment he was suffering from. But his legacy to his people and to the world endures. He was taken to his temporary place of rest at the Ethnography Museum in Ankara on 21 November 1938. When his mausoleum was completed, he was taken to his permanent resting place with a grand ceremony on 10 November 1953.


Travelling with his adapted child Sabiha Gökçen, she is also the first women pilot in Turkey and Prime Minister Celâl Bayar,1937

At a wedding

 With his adopted child


Atatürk's Address to the Turkish Youth


Turkish youth!
Your first duty is to protect and preserve the Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic forever. This is the very foundation of your existence and your future. This foundation is your most precious treasure. In the future, too, there may be malevolent people at home and abroad, who wish to deprive you of this treasure. If some day you are compelled to defend your independence and your republic, you must not tarry to weigh the possibilities and circumstances of the situation before taking up your duty. These possibilities and circumstances may turn out to be extremely unfavourable. The enemies conspiring against your independence and your Republic may have behind them a victory unprecedented in the annals of the world. By violence and ruse, all the fortresses of your beloved fatherland may be captured, all its shipyards may be occupied, all its armies may be dispersed and every part of the country may be invaded. And sadder and graver than all these circumstances, those who hold power within the country may be in error, misguided and may even be traitors. Furthermore, they may identify their personal interests with the political designs of the invaders. The country may be impoverished, ruined and exhausted.

You, the youth of Turkey's future, even in such circumstances, it is your duty to save the Turkish independence and Republic. The strength you need is in your noble blood within your veins