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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 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.

Emerging as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919. He blazed across the world scene in the early 1920s 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. He put an end to the antiquated Ottoman dynasty whose tale had lasted 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 in any other country.

His achievements in Turkey are an enduring monument to Atatürk. Emerging nations admire him as a pioneer of national liberation. The world honors 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".

"There are two Mustafa Kemals. One is the flesh-and-bone Mustafa Kemal who now stands before you and who will pass away. The other is you, all of you here who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation's dreams, and my life's work is to make them come true."

Atatürk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who dedicated their lives totally to their nations.

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Ataturk’s Life in Brief

He was born in 1881 (probably in the Spring) in Selanik, then an Ottoman city, now in Greece. His father, Ali Riza, a customs official turned timber merchant, died when Mustafa was still a boy. His mother, Zubeyde, a devout and strong-willed woman, raised him and his sister. 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 Military 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 despotism. Mustafa Kemal's career flourished as he won fame and promotions because of his heroism in the farflung corners of the Ottoman Empire, including Albania and Tripoli. He also briefly served as a staff officer in Selanik and Istanbul and as a military attache in Sofia.

When the Dardanelles campaign was launched in 1915, Colonel Mustafa Kemal became a national hero by winning successive vistories and finally repelling the invaders. Promoted to general in 1916, at age 35, he liberated two major provinces in eastern Antalia that year. In the next two years, he served as commander of several Ottoman armies in Palestine and Aleppo, achieving anotherr major victory by stopping the enemy advance at Aleppo.
On May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal 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 Congresses 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 was elected to its Presidency.

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 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 advanced the arts, sciences, agriculture and industry.
In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament gave him the name "Atatürk" (Father of Turks).

On November 10, 1938, following an illness of a few months, the national liberator and the Father of modern Turkey died. His legacy to his people and to the world endures.

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Some of the Important Reforms

  • Sultanate was abolished in 1922.
  • With the proclomation of the Republic on the 29th October, 1923, Caliphate was abolished. This gave the pave to the disbandment of other theocratic institutions on which Caliphate was founded.
  • In place of the traditional head garment, the fez, introduced under the rule of Sultan Mahmut II, the Western style of hat was introduced together with an overall revolution in dress (1925).
  • The international calendar and time were adopted (1925).
  • Within a series of legal reforms Swiss civil law was adapted to the conditions and needs of the country (1926). The Civil Code, Penal Statute Book and the Trade Law Book were introduced.
  • The Latin alphabet was adopted (1928).
  • The legal position of women and their place in society in the new republic was greatly improved (for example the active and passive voting right at national and local elections before many European Countries.)
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