The Role of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the Recent History of Turkey

Essay, 2017

13 Pages



The defeat of Germany, on the side of which the Ottoman Empire fought, in the First World War, the military setbacks, and discontent in the country, and, finally, the surrender of Turkey in October 1918 put an end to the power of the Young Turks, who defended the integrity of the empire. The Allies annexed all of its external possessions. The question arose what post-war Turkey should be. In these difficult days, the Turkish people, led by new leaders, whose main goal was the independence of all Turkey, took over the decision of the issue. On the wave of national-patriotic upsurge in April 1920, in Ankara, a new Majlis was elected - the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The chairman of the Assembly was Mustafa Kemal Pasha (known as Ataturk), who proclaimed the new body the only legitimate authority in Turkey.

The problem of the role of Kemal Ataturk in the recent history of Turkey has long attracted the attention of orientalists by its relevance, complexity, and versatility. However, it is especially noteworthy that, at a critical stage in the development of the Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk found the strength, courage, and talent to re-evaluate the role of his country in the world history, lead the struggle for national liberation and independent development of Turkey. Thanks to this, Ataturk eliminated the caliphate, was the first among the Turks who turn views towards civilizational Europe, and, taking advantage of the fact that the country is fighting for national liberation, ended the Sharia, the sultanate, and the caliphate, intensified the policy of Westernization, managed to convince the Turks that the secular nature of the state with a careful attitude to the traditions of Islam is the guarantee of the country's further well-being. He is regarded as a person who sought to turn Turkey to Western culture. Thanks to him, Turkey has become the only Islamic country that has embarked on the path of democratic development and acceptance of the values of Western civilization.

Turkey is a unique country. Unlike its Arab neighbors, the Turks managed to build a secular state. The main contribution to it was made by Mustafa Kemal, later called Ataturk, i.e., ‘father of the Turkish people.’ Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is one of the most colorful and significant characters of world history of modern times. The role of Ataturk in the history of Turkey was especially pronounced and acute in connection with the realities of today, when the process of reviewing unilateral assessments of the most important events in world history is under way.

In the new and modern history of Turkey, there is no historical personality comparable to the personality of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the creator and first president of the Turkish Republic. A lot of scientific works and works of art, which reflect the life and work of this talented commander, politician, and statesman, are devoted to him.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the great Ottoman Empire came very close to its decline. Its disappearance from the map of the world was only a matter of time. What will happen next, few people imagined in the empire itself, and in the rest of the world.[1] The appearance of modern Turkey, such as we know it, on the ruins of the empire was due to the activities of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha, better known namely as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. At birth, he received the name Mustafa; the nickname Kemal (“Perfection”) he received in the military school for mathematical abilities; the name Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”) was conferred on him by the Great National Assembly of Turkey in 1934. He did not create a monarchical state but a republic. The person of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk causes fierce controversy among Muslims. Some believe that he is the savior of the Turkish nation while others accuse him of the collapse of the caliphate and the struggle against Islam.

The path of a young ambitious officer a small official, born in the family of a small officer, in the highest command of the Sultan's army, was possible thanks to personal courage, determination, mastery of the art of political intrigue, and the talent of a leader capable of rallying like-minded people, confronting the opposition, and leading a national movement.

It can be said that the appearance of such a person in the history of Turkey was due to the world processes of the early 20th century. The empires disintegrated - Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman, and national states appeared on the map. The lost territories of the Ottoman Empire and the metropolis itself became the objects of the attacks by the imperialist governments of European countries. Just like Soviet Russia and Turkey, since 1918, it has been intervened. In the west, entire regions were almost simultaneously occupied by France, England, Italy, and Greece. A complex situation developed on the Transcaucasian front, as well as in the southeast of Asia Minor occupied by the French, and in the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, where the British actively supported the anti­Ottoman armed actions of the Arab tribal chiefs.[2]

Turkey could disappear from the map of the world if the country's military and political forces were not consolidated as an alternative to the helpless Sultan's court and the government of the High Porte, dependent on the interventionists. Moreover, the peculiarity of the situation in the Ottoman Turkey was the status of the Sultan-Caliph - not only as head of state, but also as spiritual leader of Muslims. Therefore, the leader who headed the national liberation movement should, in his activity, in no less extent than to the armed resistance to the interventionists and political opponents, pay attention to the education of his people, and explain the reasons why the Sultan Caliph will not be able to provide independence for his country. Perhaps, namely, the combination of these two strategic directions in the activity of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which led to the expulsion of the invaders from the country and the creation of a secular Turkish Republic, became the main argument for European historians who called Ataturk at the end of the century, in 2000, the “Man of the 20th century.”[3]

Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha was born in 1881 in the city of Thessaloniki, owned by the Ottoman Empire, in the family of a small timber merchant, former customs officer Ali Riza-effendi and his wife Zyubeyde-khanim. His exact date of birth is unknown for certain; Kemal Pasha himself celebrated his birthday on maturity on May 19 - the day of the beginning of the struggle for Turkish independence.[4]

At the age of twelve, Mustafa Kemal Pasha entered the preparatory military school in Thessaloniki, and, in 1896, was enrolled in a military school in the Macedonian Bitola. In 1899, Mustafa, who showed great ability for military affairs, entered the Ottoman Military College in Istanbul.[5] In 1902-1905, Mustafa Kemal Pasha completed his military education, graduating from the Ottoman Academy of the General Staff.

Kemal Pasha's military career began with arrest for the unlawful criticism of Sultan Abdul-Khamid II's policy. After several months in prison, the young officer was exiled to Damascus, but he did not refuse critical thoughts about the regime existing in the Ottoman Empire.[6]

After two years of service in the Fifth Army in Damascus, Mustafa Kemal Pasha was transferred to the Third Army in the city of Monstiri with an increase in rank. In 1911, a promising officer Mustafa Kemal Pasha was transferred to the service at the General Staff in Constantinople.[7]

Kemal Pasha's “military debut” occurred in 1911 in the Italian-Turkish war that broke out in Libya. The units under the command of the young officer acted successfully: in December 1911, he defeated the Italians at Tobruk. In the spring of 1912, he was entrusted with the command of the Ottoman troops in Derna.[8]

During the Balkan war of 1912, Mustafa Kemal Pasha successfully operated against the Bulgarian troops, and, in 1913, he became the military attache of the embassy in Sofia, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel Kemal Pasha was recalled to his homeland to form the nineteenth division, which was to participate in the fighting of the First World War.

In February 1915, the Entente countries launched the Dardanelles operation, which was aimed at seizing control over the Dardanelles and the port city of Canakkale located on the shores of the strait, taking the capital of the Ottoman Empire of Constantinople, and opening the sea route to Russia for the Allies.

After the failure in March 1915 of the breakthrough of the Anglo-French squadron through the Dardanelles, the Allies decided to carry out the landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula. On April 25, 1915, the British and French units landed at Cape Aryburnu fought the 19th division of the Ottoman army under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal Pasha.

Attack of the allies was extremely powerful, and only high command skills of Kemal Pasha allowed the Ottomans to hold positions. In his address, the lieutenant colonel pronounced the phrase, which became widely known: “I do not order you to attack, I command you to die”.[9] The 57th Regiment of the 19th Division, which was in the most dangerous sector, was killed almost completely, but the Allied offensive was repulsed. For this success, Kemal Pasha was made colonel.[10] In August 1915, a group of Ottoman troops under the command of Kemal Pasha won a series of victories over the Allies - at Suva Bay, at Kirechtepe, and at Anafartalar.[11]

The success gained in the battles for the Dardanelles made Colonel Kemal Pasha widely known and popular in the country. He was appointed commander of troops in Edirne Diyarbakir, and, in April 1916, he was promoted to lieutenant-general and took command of the 2nd army.[12]

In August 1916, General Kemal Pasha, sent to the Russian-Turkish front, at the head of the 2nd Army, appeared capable of repelling Mush and Bitlis from Russian troops, but soon the tsarist army again established control over them.

After an inspection trip to Germany on the front line, along with Crown Prince Vahdettin Efendi, Mustafa Kemal Pasha became seriously ill and was sent for treatment in Baden-Baden.[13]

By the time of his return to the field army, for the Ottoman Empire, in the war everything was almost over. Despite this, General Kemal Pasha leading the 7th Army from August to the end of October 1918 reflected the attacks of British troops. After the signing of the Mudros truce, which on October 31 recorded the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, General Kemal Pasha returned to work in the Ministry of Defense.[14]

In the spring of 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who believed that the country's independence was under threat, became the leader of the revolutionary movement of his adherents who advocated against the occupation forces and the Sultan's government.[15]

In April 1920, Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Ankara convened his own parliament and formed a new government that saw as its task the formation of a new independent Turkish state.

After several years of bloody wars with Armenia and Greece, confrontation with Great Britain and France, Kemal Pasha managed to gain recognition of his government and new state borders. Under the command of Kemal, the Turkish army defeated the interventionists in 1922, forcing the Entente to sign a more just Lausanne treaty.[16]


[1] Eric J. Zurcher, Turkey: A Modern History (I.B.Tauris, 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ryan Gingeras, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: Heir to an Empire (Oxford University Press, 2015).

[4] Andrew Mango, Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (The Overlook Press, 2002).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Patrick B. Kinross and Lord Kinross, Ataturk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal, Father of Modern Turkey (Quill, 1992).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gingeras, Ryan. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 2015.

[9] §ukru Hanioglu, Ataturk.

[10] Yuksel Atillasoy, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

[11] Patrick B. Kinross and Lord Kinross, Ataturk.

[12] Ibid.

[13] §ukru Hanioglu, Ataturk: An Intellectual Biography (Princeton University Press, 2017).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Yuksel Atillasoy, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

[16] §ukru Hanioglu, Ataturk.

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The Role of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the Recent History of Turkey
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role, mustafa, kemal, ataturk, recent, history, turkey
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2017, The Role of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the Recent History of Turkey, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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