Kemal Atatürk

Kemal Atatürk (March 12, 1881 – November 10, 1938), Turkish soldier and statesman, was the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. Some consider him one of the most progressive reformist figures in Turkish history, others, especially many conservative Muslims, remember him as a traitor to the Islamic faith.

Born in Salonika (Thessaloniki) as Mustafa Kemal (later given the title Pasha), he entered the military secondary school in Salonika in 1893 and the military academy at Monastir (now Bitola) in 1895. After playing a minor role in the Balkan Wars of 1912 – 1913, he gained a major victory by repulsing the Allied invasion of Gallipoli in 1915.

Kemal organized the Turkish Nationalist Republican Party in 1919 from local resistance groups. This group overthrew the incumbent Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI and the Allies in Anatolia, and he and his lieutenant Ismet Pasha (later Ismet Inönü) presided over the defeat of the Greek invasion of 1920 – 1922. They subsequently founded the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.

He was elected Turkey’s first president in 1923. The name “Atatürk”, meaning father of Turks was then bestowed on Kemal by the national parliament.

Atatürk began a variety of reforms by abolishing the Caliphate (March 1924). The theological schools were closed, the Sharia law of Islam was replaced by the Swiss Civil Code — importantly for the politics of the region, this officially separated the functions of Church and state in Turkey.

He was also responsible for the conversion of written Turkish from an Arabic script to a modified Latin alphabet. This resulted in a long-term increase in literacy. It also made it literally impossible for even educated modern Turks to read any of the Ottoman history or manuscripts or literature, except as translated by a tightly controlled academia and media.

Atatürk gave Turkey a new prestige in the international field by his achievements in both military and political fields, crowned (July 1936) by the restoration of Turkish sovereignty over the Straits under the Montreux Convention. He died in 1938 of complications of cirrhosis.

The vast personality cult Atatürk established around himself during his rule has remained influential in Turkey into the 21st century.

Atatürk has an international airport named after him, the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.