Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938),
Turkey's national hero,
was a military commander of
genius and a statesman with
If you visit Turkey you'll want to
know at least the basics about Atatürk
because his image is everywhere and his
influence is still alive generations
after his death (in 1938).
What did he do? He took a defeated,
demoralized, poverty-stricken medieval
theocratic monarchy and reshaped it
into a vibrant, progressive, democratic
secular republic. In other words, he
turned black into white almost
A boy named Mustafa was born
into the family of a minor official
in Ottoman Salonika (Thessaloniki)
in 1881. Excelling at mathematics in
school, his teacher gave him the nickname Kemal (Excellent).
He went on to attend the Ottoman military
staff college (Harbiye) in Istanbul.
He joined other "Young Turks" to
reform Turkey's government and society
in the last years of the 19th century.
Unfortunately, it was his far less
talented colleagues who took power
from the sultan and led the empire
into a disastrous alliance with
the German Empire during World War
During the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916),
Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal was
instrumental in stopping the advance
of the Allied forces intent on seizing
Istanbul. He commanded from the front
lines with incredible courage,
and was hailed as a war hero.
After the war, the Allies tried to
seize most of Turkey's territory and
resources, leaving little for the Turks.
Kemal fled from occupied Istanbul to Anatolia and
rallied the population in defense of
their homeland. He summoned representatives, organized
a republican government and army and,
while serving as head of goverment
also commanded the army against several
powerful invading forces. By 1923 the
republican armies had driven all the
invaders out, and the new government
in Ankara was secure—if poverty-stricken.
Granted the surname Atatürk ("Father
of the Turks") by a grateful parliament, Kemal
made peace—and even established
friendly relations—with Turkey's erstwhile
enemies. Before his untimely death
in 1938, he spearheaded his country's
economic recovery and laid the foundations
for Turkey's neutrality in World War
It may well be said that without Atatürk, there
would be no modern Turkish
Republic, well ahead of its
Islamic neighbors in democratic, social,
cultural and commercial progress.
His principles, still revered
by most Turks, include:
Equality for women
Freedom of religion
Free public co-educational
"Peace at Home, Peace
in the World"
No dreams of territorial expansion
(despite the Ottoman Empire's former
Atatürk's memory and
legacy are revered and protected
by law. Nobody in Turkey jokes about
Atatürk. During your visit,
refrain from any light-hearted or
disrespectful references to the national
here for biographies of Atatürk.
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