Ataturk is the national hero of Turkey. He created the Republic of Turkey in 1923 out of the ashes ofthe Ottoman Empire, establishing a new government truly representative of the nation’s will. As its first President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 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. His modern perspective created a new nation and a country. Once you step into Turkey, you will see statues and busts of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk all over the country.
He was born in 1881 in Thessaloniki, at that time, within the Ottoman Empire’s borders, in current day Greece. His full name was Mustafa Kemal and the “Ataturk” surname, meaning “the father of Turks,” was given to him by the Turkish people (November 24, 1934) in accordance with the reforms he introduced to create a modern Turkish country.
His background was military, and he served in various posts in the Ottoman army. During the First World War, he was the colonel in charge of the Infantry at Gallipoli in 1915. It was his genious defense tactics that prevented the allied forces (British, French, Sengalese and Anzacs – Australians and New Zealanders) from capturing the Dardanelles and eventually Bosphorus.
His success and fast growing reputation initially concerned the capital. To keep him under control, he was promoted to Pasha (General). When the War ended the armies of the allied forces occupied nearly all corners of the country including Istanbul, and many of the people saw a hopeful future in the acceptance of either the British or the American mandate. Ataturk, however, had a very different vision. He left Istanbul in a small boat named “Bandirma” (a nice model of the boat can be seen at the Ataturk Museum at Ataturk’s Mausoleum in Ankara), going ashore at Samsun, a coastal town in the Black Sea, on May 19, 1919 (a date later presented by Atatürk to the Turkish Youth as “Turkish Youth Day”), the day the War of Independence began. Ataturk was determined to achieve independence. First with skirmishes, Atatürk and his army friends started fighting the enemy. Ankara was chosen to be Ataturk’s headquarters because of its central location, and the seeds of a new country were planted there. He and his friends wanted to replace the Monarchy with a Republic. The War of Independence took some three years and by the end of 1922, all of the invaders had left the country. The Ottoman Sultans fled in a British boat, and the birth of a new nation had begun.
As President of the Republic of Turkey for 15 years, until his death in 1938, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 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 Ataturk. 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. Through the decades, tributes have been offered to him 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 Ataturk 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 Atatu rk, 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.”