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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Edit Profile

Military , politician , Revolutionary

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and founder of the Republic of Turkey, serving as its first President from 1923 until his death in 1938.


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born (under the name Ali Rıza oğlu Mustafa) in the early months of 1881, either in the Ahmed Subaşı neighbourhood or at a house (preserved as a museum) in Islahhane Street (now Apostolou Pavlou Street) in the Koca Kasım Pasha neighbourhood in Salonica (Selanik), Ottoman Empire (Thessaloniki in present-day Greece), to Zübeyde Hanım, a housewife, and Ali Rıza Efendi, a militia officer, title-deed clerk and lumber trader. Only one of Mustafa's siblings, a sister named Makbule (Atadan) survived childhood; she died in 1956. According to Andrew Mango, his family was Muslim, Turkish-speaking and precariously middle-class. His father Ali Rıza is thought to have been of Albanian origin by some authors; however, according to Falih Rıfkı Atay, Vamık D. Volkan, Norman Itzkowitz, Müjgân Cunbur, Numan Kartal and Hasan İzzettin Dinamo, Ali Rıza's ancestors were Turks, ultimately descending from Söke in the Aydın Province of Anatolia. His mother Zübeyde is thought to have been of Turkish origin and according to Şevket Süreyya Aydemir, she was of Yörük ancestry.

Due to the sizeable minority of Jews in Selanik during the Ottoman period, many of Atatürk's Islamist opponents have eagerly claimed that he may have had Dönmeh ancestors (Jews who converted to Islam during the Ottoman period). However, his grandparents were not native to Selanik, and his family had moved to this city (the largest metropolis in Ottoman Rumelia after Istanbul) in the late 19th century, from other provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Others have speculated that his light skin complexion, blond hair and blue eyes could stem from Slavic ancestry.


In 1896, he enrolled into the Monastir Military High School. On 14 March 1899, he enrolled at the Ottoman Military Academy in the neighbourhood of Pangaltı within the Şişli district of the Ottoman capital city Constantinople (now Istanbul) and graduated in 1902. He later graduated from the Ottoman Military College in Constantinople on 11 January 1905.


Like many young officers, Kemal was drawn into conspiratorial politics. His first duty after completing the War Academy in 1905 was a post in the remote city of Damascus; it was punishment for his subversive interests. The young captain responded by founding a revolutionary political group. In 1906 he took unauthorized leave to form a second branch of his group in the strategic and centrally located city of Salonika. The movement grew speedily. When Kemal, by then a major, returned to Salonika in 1907, he discovered other leaders had pushed him aside. These men, notably Enver, sparked the Young Turk Revolution of 1908.

Kemal immersed himself in his military career. During the Italo-Turkish War of 1911/12, he led Turkish forces in eastern Libya; there his desert bands pinned Italian soldiers and marines to the coastal cities of Cyrenaica. Kemal's success in mobile warfare did not blind him to a more useful lesson: Italian naval gunnery exposed the entire Libyan littoral to new landings. For the immediate future, however, Kemal's prickly personality combined with the spectacular political rise of his rival Enver to ensure the young colonel a quiet career. After brief service in the Balkan Wars of 1912/13, Kemal was packed off to Bulgaria as Turkish military attaché. He rusticated there until the final months of 1914.

Kemal opposed Turkey's entry in the Great War alongside the Central Powers; but the conflict soon elevated him to national prominence. His great military gifts came to the fore in early 1915. The Allied attack on the Dardanelles found Kemal in command of the Nineteenth Division, the main Turkish reserve on the Gallipoli Peninsula. German military commanders anticipated an Allied landing on the Asiatic side of the Straits; and most Turkish commanders saw the western shores of Gallipoli to be effectively guarded by barbed wire emplacements. The confident young Kemal he was only thirty-four years old rejected such ideas. He expected the assault to the south at Cape Helles and on the western shore near Gaba Tepe. Cyrenaica had taught him that barbed wire constituted no barrier to a determined assault with heavy naval guns. Those guns woke him on April 25, 1915. He threw all available reserves into headlong counterattacks. Australian infantry advancing from the beaches near Gaba Tepe were overwhelmed. This lightning response contained the Allied landing, saved the day, and perhaps decided the entire Gallipoli campaign in favor of the Turks. By July Kemal was arguing the probability of a new landing to the north at Suvla Bay. He was ignored. When his predictions proved on the mark, he was advanced to a corps command and assigned to meet the threat. Once again his fierce counterattacks with little view to the cost in Turkish lives dashed British hopes.

In 1916 Kemal commanded first a corps, then an army against the Russians in eastern Anatolia. With these responsibilities, he finally reached the rank of general. The poorly conceived Turkish summer offensive involved two field armies, vainly trying to cooperate with each other. Weather, logistical problems, and the harassment conducted by skilled Rus-sian opponents destroyed any chance of success. Kemal alone emerged with any credit. His reward was an army command in Syria for the 1917 Yilderim offensive. This imaginative plan envisioned a sweeping advance eastward from Aleppo to recapture Baghdad from the British. Kemal considered it absurd. When his army was diverted to Palestine instead to meet the menacing British offensive out of Egypt, Kemal stayed with it briefly, then sent a blistering letter to the government in September 1917. Economic decay, government corruption, and plummeting morale such factors dictated a defensive strategy centered on Turkey's Anatolian provinces. To leave Turkish troops to fight in Europe was as dangerous as trying to retain the indefensible Arab provinces of the empire. This sage advice ignored, Kemal resigned.

In the closing months of the war, the young general gave a final display of his skills on behalf of the Young Turk regime. In August 1918, he took charge of the skeletal remains of the Seventh Army in Palestine. Harried by Arab insurgents and British cavalry, Kemal conducted a fighting retreat from central Palestine to Damascus, and finally to Aleppo. By the close of the war, Kemal, then an army group commander, held the southern gateway to Anatolia. A recent historian's judgment has him "the greatest Ottoman military hero to emerge from the war."

Kemal's subsequent career was more spectacular still. The Young Turks were gone. The absence of any potent political authority offered Kemal a free stage on which to demonstrate his gifts as a leader. With Turkey close to partition at the hands of the war's victors, Kemal set out to defend the nation. Between 1920 and the start of 1923, he defeated Greek efforts to slice away parts of Asia Minor, drew internationally respected borders, and abolished the sultanate. Turkey then became a republic, with Kemal its first president, 1924-38. He prodded his nation into modernization and secularization. In 1934 Kemal required all Turks to adopt Western style sur-names. For himself, he chose "Atatiirk," father of the Turks. He died in Istanbul (the name Constantinople had been discarded in 1930) on November 10, 1938.


Mustafa Kemal instigated economic policies to develop small and large scale businesses, but also to create social strata (industrial bourgeoisie along with the peasantry of Anatolia) that were virtually non-existent during the Ottoman Empire. The primary problem faced by the politics of his period was the lag in the development of political institutions and social classes which would steer such social and economic changes. Mustafa Kemal's vision regarding early Turkish economic policy was apparent during the İzmir Economic Congress of 1923 which was established before the signing of the Lausanne Treaty. The initial choices of Mustafa Kemal's economic policies reflected the realities of his period. After World War I, due to the lack of any real potential investors to open private sector factories and develop industrial production, Kemal established many state-owned factories for agriculture, machinery, and textile industries.


Mustafa Kemal's name is associated with four women: Eleni Karinte, Fikriye Hanım, Dimitrina Kovacheva and Latife Uşaklıgil. Little is known of Mustafa Kemal's relationship with Eleni, who fell in love with him while he was a student in Bitola, Macedonia (Manastır in Turkish) but the relationship inspired a play by the Macedonian writer Dejan Dukovski, later filmed by Aleksandar Popovski. Fikriye was a nominal cousin of Mustafa Kemal, though not related by blood (his stepfather Ragıp Bey's sister's daughter). Fikriye grew passionately attached to Mustafa Kemal; the full extent of his feelings for her is unclear but it is certain that they became very close after Fikriye divorced her Egyptian husband and returned to Istanbul. During the War of Independence, she lived with him in Çankaya, Ankara as his personal assistant.

However, after the Turkish army entered İzmir in 1922, Mustafa Kemal met Latife while staying at the house of her father, the shipping magnate Muammer Uşakizade (later Uşaklı). Latife fell in love with Mustafa Kemal; again the extent to which this was reciprocated is unknown, but he was certainly impressed by Latife's intellect: she was a graduate of the Sorbonne and was studying English in London when the war broke out. On 29 January 1923, they were married. Latife was jealous of Fikriye and demanded that she leave the house in Çankaya; Fikriye was devastated and immediately left in a carriage. According to official accounts, she shot herself with a pistol Mustafa Kemal had given her as a present; however,it was rumoured that she was murdered.

The triangle of Mustafa Kemal, Fikriye and Latife became the subject of a manuscript by his close friend, Salih Bozok which remained unpublished until 2005. Latife was briefly and literally the face of the new Turkish woman, appearing in public in Western clothing with her husband. However, their marriage was not happy; after frequent arguments they were divorced on 5 August 1925.

During his lifetime, Atatürk adopted thirteen children: a boy and twelve girls. Of these, the most famous is Sabiha Gökçen, Turkey's first female pilot and the world's first female fighter pilot.

Eleni Karinte

Fikriye Hanım

Dimitrina Kovacheva

Latife Uşaklıgil