12 Major Accomplishments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) was a Turkish politician, writer and soldier who became the founder and first president of Turkey (1923 – 1938) shortly after the demise of the Ottoman Empire post World War I (WWI).
Kemal Atatürk began his career as a brave army commander in the Ottoman Empire’s army. He uplifted the men who served under him and led them to some significant battle wins during WWI. After fighting against the puppet Ottoman Sultanate in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Kemal’s effort, along with his nationalist associates in Ankara, led to the Ottoman Emperor fleeing. Kemal then went on to became the leader the Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923.
During his presidency, his sweeping reforms and programs had (and still have) an enormous impact on modern Turkey, turning the country into a beacon of secularism over the years.
Owing to his numerous contributions, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk remains the most honored personality in his country with his image, busts and statutes in every nook and cranny of Turkey. Outside the political arena, Atatürk was a renowned orator and author.
Delve right into the extraordinary life and major accomplishments of Mustapha Kemal Atatürk , founding father and first president of Turkey. But first here is a quick look at his major facts.
Quick Facts about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Birth Date and Place – 1881; Salonica, Ottoman Empire (present -ay Thessaloniki, Greece)
Death Date and Place – November 10, 1938; Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Born – Ali Rıza oğlu Mustafa
Parents – Ali Rıza Efendi and Zubeyde Hanim
Education – Şemsi Efendi School, War College in Istanbul (1899 – 1902), General Staff College (1902 – 1905)
Spouse – Latife Uşaklıgil
Children – None
Offices held: Prime Minister of the Government of the Grand National Assembly (1920 – 1921); Speaker of the Grand National Assembly (1920 – 1923); Leader of the Republican People’s Party (1923 – 1938); President of Turkey (1923 – 1938)
Successor – İsmet İnönü (first Prime Minister of Turkey)
Political Party – Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi )
Other names – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Mustafa Kemal Pasha
Famous for – Founder of the Republic of Turkey, First President of Turkey (1923 – 1938)
Ideologies – Secularism and Nationalism
Major Accomplishments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
He was a very distinguished soldier in the Ottoman Empire
Mustafa Kemal’s military journey began at quite an early age, graduating from a number of military academies with flying colors. There was no doubt whatsoever that he was going to play a crucial part in the then Ottoman Empire. From very small beginning in the early 15th century, the Empire had grown to vast, covering provinces on three separate continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Although he was introduced to secular ideas right from his high school days, Mustafa Kemal, who was by the way an anti-monarchist, still showed a high sense of loyalty and patriotism to the Ottoman during his time in the military. He volunteered to serve in several provinces across the Empire, including in present-day Libya, Albania and Syria. For example, he and his men fought very hard to overpower a far larger Italian force in Libya in the Battle of Tobruk in December 1911. Prior to the start of WWI, he featured in the first and second Balkan Wars (1912-1913).
Military victory at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915
After the outbreak of WWI, Mustafa Kemal, then stationed at Sofia, Bulgaria, was put in charge of the 19th Division at the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Ottoman Empire had chosen to join forces with the Central Powers that included Germany, Austria-Hungry, and Bulgaria. Their forces were pitted against the Allied nations of Italy, Great Britain, France and Greece.
Kemal’s post at Gallipoli was a very strategic place because it allowed the Allies to make an effective landing. However, the sheer bravery and quick thinking of Mustafa Kemal proved crucial in pushing the Allies out of Gallipoli.
Although the Ottomans eventually lost the war to the Allies, the only name that the soldiers sung of was Mustafa Kemel’s. His heroic displays and leadership at Gallipoli won the trust of many junior officers. Many even called him “Istanbul’s Savior”.
Shortly after Gallipoli, he rose quickly through the various ranks in the military – first a colonel and later a general (i.e. Pasha).
Did you know: Mustafa Kemal was the only Turkish general to secure any meaningful battle win against the Russians?
Leader of the Turkish National Movement
After the defeat of the Ottomans, along with the Central Powers, Sultan Mehmed VI went on to become the puppet of the Allies. The Sultan received enormous criticism, with many claiming that he had sold the empire to the Allies. Mehmed VI’s inability to resist the Allies or even force a peace treaty proved very damaging to his reputation across the Empire.
To add insult to injury, Mustafa Kemal and his unit in the armies were disbanded in November 1919. He could no longer bear the continued occupation by the Allies (i.e. Britain, France, Italy and Greece).
Kemal, along with the likes of Ali Fuat and Rauf Orbay, set out to wrestle his nation out of the invaders’ hands. They picked Ankara as their base. From there, the group linked up with several army officers in various parts of Anatolia. Unaware of the group’s intention, the Sultan appointed Mustafa Kemal to the position of inspector general for the Anatolia region. He was tasked to bring order to Anatolia. However, Kemal immediately sided with the resistance. He received the support of many military generals, including General Kazim Karabekir who had close to 20,000 men under his command.
Shortly after, a congress was set up at Erzurum in July 1919. Kemal was made the president of the congress. Ignoring the orders of the Sultan in Istanbul, he proceeded to lead the newly established provisional government in Anatolia. Upon the ratification of a pact, the Sivas Congress was born. It was full of patriotic nationalists.
President of the Grand National Assembly (GNA) in Ankara
Mustafa and a number of Anatolian nationalists responded to European Forces’ intention to partition the Ottoman Empire by establishing the Grand National Assembly and army in present-day Ankara. After local elections, the first meeting was held on April 23, 1920 with Mustafa Kemal as the body’s speaker.
After the Sultan signed the Treaty of Sevres in August 1920, a treaty which proceeded to split up the Turkish land, Kemal led the GNA to safeguard the interest of Turks against the occupying forces.
Fought bravely during the Turkish War of Independence
To the east, the GNA engaged in a fierce battle against the Armenians. With support from the Bolsheviks in Russia, Kemal’s nationalists were able to drive out the Armenians from the eastern provinces*.
Shortly after, the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed between the Armenians and the Turks on December 3, 1920. Kemal then turned his attention to the western part of the country, where he faced off the Greeks, who were closing in on Ankara.
After assuming the powers of the Grand National Assembly, Kemal was able to defeat the Greeks at the Battle of Sakarya in September 1921. His gallant efforts during the battle earned him the rank of marshal of the army (Maresal). The following September saw the GNA secure vital win at the Battle of Dumlupinar, forcing the Greeks out of Izmir.
Founded the Republic of Turkey
The win over the Greeks was followed by the abolishing of the Sultanate on November 1, 1922. Sultan Mehmed VI then committed himself to exile on November 17. Realizing that the Sultan had fled, the Allies and the GNA signed the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923.
After majority of the Allies and their forces were completely driven out of Turkey, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on October 29. Kemal went on to serve as the country’s first president from 1923 up until his death in 1938.
A remnant of the vanquished Ottoman Empire, Turkey carved a new path for itself and its people. At the heart of the country’s journey was none other than Mustafa Kemal.
Introduced a series of sweeping reforms
Kemal Atatürk set for himself a daunting goal to reform the entire political, social and economic system of the Turks. His ideology came to be known as Kemalism – a blend of republicanism, populism, nationalism, and secularism.
He desired nothing than to make Turkey a modernized economy with similar ideals as that of the West. During the dying years of the Ottoman Empire, technological advancements and political reforms had sharply stagnated. Kemal hoped to roll back the glory days of the defeated Empire. Instead of look for solutions in religion, he underpinned those sweeping reforms with strong democratic systems, religious tolerance and love for the nation.
Protected the rights of Turkish women
Post the independence of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal looked to the West to incorporate their values into the Turkish society. He even married Latife Hanim – a western-educated woman – in 1923. The couple became a model of the environment they were trying to create in Turkey. They also advocated the protection of women and the end of violence against women and children.
Starting in the early 1930s, Turkish women were given enormous political and civil rights. For example, the GNA Act # 1580 of April 1930 granted voting rights to women in local elections. By 1934, the country could boast of being one of the first few nations in the world to grant universal suffrage.
Kemal Mustafa’s strong advocacy for women resulted in the opening of the Turkish Parliament to women. In the 1935 general election, a whopping 18 women won seats in the Turkish parliament. It was a truly remarkable accomplishment of President Kemal Mustafa.
He basically drew on legal codes from a number of European countries such as Italy, Germany and Switzerland. The codes were adopted to offer more protection to women, something that was a bit lacking during the Ottoman era under Islamic law. For example, he outlawed polygamy. Divorce came to be recognized in the courts. And marriage in Turkey had greater recognition under the law.
He developed a new Turkish language from scratch
Another significant accomplishment of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk came in the form of a completely new Turkish language. In 1928, he replaced Arabic script with Latin alphabets. Overnight, educated people who could read and write all of a sudden became illiterates. Realizing how daunting the task was, Kemal worked very hard, offering incentives for people to learn the new language.
His efforts paid off eventually. After about a decade or so, Turkey could boast of having one of the highest literacy rates among former Ottoman era countries.
Kemal even took the habit of personally teaching people in the villages (Koy) everything about the new language, i.e. pronunciation of the letters, grammar, and vocabulary.
He passed the law that encouraged people to take western-style names
The law passed by the Turkish Parliament in 1934 called on all Turks to take up surnames. Many Turks were also encouraged to select western-style names and clothes. And as for Kemal Mustafa, his surname “Ataturk” was particularly chosen for him by the Turkish Parliament. The name translates into “Father of the Turks”. He is undoubtedly the greatest reformer Turkey has ever seen.
He moved Turks’ attention and loyalty from religion to the state
In a bid to reduce the extensive power religious leaders had on the people, Kemal closed a number of religious schools and courts. People’s loyalty started to move from religion to the state.
He also abolished the wearing of head covering at public institutions with his wife Latife Hanim leading the reforms for gender issues.
As it was expected, Kemal was met with some pockets of resistance from the religious community. Bear in mind, the country was an extremely homogenous group that now had to embrace secularism and statism. It was quite a hard pill to swallow for many traditionalist and religious leaders. Some of these leaders had their organizations banned in order to make way for the reforms.
President of the Republican People’s Party
To help him carry out his daunting task of reforming the entire country, Mustafa Kemal set up the Republican People’s Party on August 9, 1923, a party which he would serve as the president until his death in 1938.
His ideas of reforms were beautifully captured in the party’s tenets – “Six Arrows”, which were republicanism, nationalism, statism and industralization, populism, secularism, and revolution.
He was successful at creating a system that ensured that the country remained in perpetual revolution. He hoped this would enable Turkey remain an economic and political powerhouse in region for the foreseeable future.
Other memorable accomplishments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
- He helped draft the Turkish constitution in 1937
- He adopted a friendly stance towards European countries. For example, he signed treaties with Great Britain and Greece in 1926 and 1930 respectively.
- Atatürk worked hard to resolve all border and maritime disputes with neighboring countries. He also allowed minority Greek populations to move to Greece.
- Kemal Mustafa quashed any attempt to destabilize the country. This included the time when plotters wanted to assassinate Kemal. He also put down the Kurds’ revolt of 1925.
- He made primary education free and compulsory as well. Huge investments were made in the educational sector.
- Kemal allowed for the creation of an opposition party, which was led by his longtime friend Ali Fethi in 1930.
- He created a homogeneous Turkish identity and culture that still lives on to this day.
His images appear virtually everywhere in Turkey – in homes, schools, offices, factories, government buildings, etc. His image is plastered on every bank note and coin in Turkey. And his words are often committed to memory by school children across the country. Owing to his numerous accomplishments and dedication to his country, he remains an ever-present figure in the Turkey, even after close to a century since his death. He is an unquestioned national hero – truly one of the greatest leaders that graced the 20th century.
How did Mustafa Kemal Atatürk die?
Historians have stated that his overindulgence in alcohol and cigarette did not augur well for him in his later life. On November 10, 1938 at 9:05, the “Father of the Turks” passed away at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. He was 57. It is believed that he died of cirrhosis of the liver. His final resting place is at the Anitkabir, the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Ankara, Turkey.
*The conflict between the GNA and the Armenians to this day raises a lot of controversy over the exact number of Armenians that died. Some claim more than a million Armenians died. Ankara however puts the figure in the tens of thousands.