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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Ataturk, President Mustafa Kamal (1881-1938)
"I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men. "

-- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, until 1934 Mustafa Kemal, Turkish army officer and revolutionist statesman, was the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal established himself as a brilliant military commander while serving as a division commander in the Battle of Gallipoli. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Allies, and the subsequent plans for its partition, Mustafa Kemal led the Turkish national movement in what would become the Turkish War of Independence.

His successful campaigns led to the liberation of the country and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. As the Republic's first president, Mustafa Kemal introduced a range of far reaching reforms which sought to create a modern and democratic state. According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish Grand Assembly presented Mustafa Kemal with the name "Atatürk" (meaning "Ancestor Turk" or "Father Turk") on 24 November 1934.

Atatürk was born in 1881, in Selânik (which was part of the Ottoman Empire, and is now Thessaloníki in Greece), the son of a minor official who became a timber merchant. In accordance with the then prevalent Turkish custom, he was given the single name Mustafa. His father, Ali Riza, was a customs officer who died when Mustafa was seven. As such, it was left to his mother Zübeyde Hanim to bring the young Mustafa up.

When Atatürk was 12 years old, he went to military schools in Selânik and Manastir, centres of anti-Turkish Greek nationalism. Mustafa studied at the military secondary school in Selânik, where the additional name Kemal ("perfection") was bestowed on him by his mathematics teacher in recognition of his academic brilliance. Mustafa Kemal entered the military academy at Manastir (now Bitola) in 1895. He graduated as a lieutenant in 1905 and was posted to Damascus. In Damascus, he soon joined a small secret revolutionary society of reform-minded officers called Vatan ve Hürriyet (Motherland and Liberty), and became an active opponent of the Ottoman regime. In 1907 he was posted to Selânik and joined the Committee of Union and Progress commonly known as the Young Turks.

The Young Turks seized power from the Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908, and Mustafa Kemal became a senior military figure. In 1911, he went to the province of Libya to take part in the defence against the Italian invasion. During the first part of the Balkan Wars Mustafa Kemal was stranded in Libya and unable to take part, but in July 1913 he returned to Istanbul and was appointed commander of the Ottoman defences of the Çanakkale (Gallipoli) area on the coast of Trakya (Thrace). In 1914 he was appointed military attaché in Sofia, partly to remove him from the capital and its political intrigues.

When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of Germany, Mustafa Kemal was posted to Tekirdag (on the Sea of Marmara).

He was later promoted to the rank of colonel and assigned the command of a division in the Gallipoli (Turkish: "Gelibolu") area. He played a critical role in the battle against the allied British, French and ANZAC forces during the Battle of Gallipoli in April 1915, where he held off allied forces at Conkbayiri and on the Anafarta hills. For this success, he was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, thus acquiring the title of pasha and gained increasingly greater degrees of influence on the war effort.

Mustafa Kemal gained much respect from his former enemies for his chivalry in victory, the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Memorial has an honoured place on ANZAC Parade in Canberra. It includes his words:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

During 1917 and 1918 Mustafa Kemal was sent to the Caucasus (Kafkaslar) front to fight against Russian forces, against which he had some success. He was later assigned to the Hejaz (Hicaz), to suppress the Arab Revolt (which was supported by Great Britain) against Ottoman rule. After resigning his commission, he eventually returned to serve in the unsuccessful defense of Palestine. In October 1918 the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies, and Mustafa Kemal became one of the leaders of the party in favour of defending the area roughly occupied by present day Turkey, while agreeing to withdraw from all the other territories.

As the Allies started to occupy the Ottoman Empire, Turkish Revolutionaries began to show resistance. Mustafa Kemal organized the most successful of several "Kuva-i Milliye" (National Force) movements that blossomed into the Turkish War of Independence.

Mustafa Kemal's revolution began with his assignment in Samsun, where he was given emergency powers as Inspector of the XIXth Army. Once in Anatolia, interpreting his powers liberally, he contacted and started issuing orders to provincial governors and military commanders - calling on them to resist occupation. In June 1919 he and his close friends issued the Declaration of Amasya which described why Istanbul's authority was illegitimate. The Young Turks politically promoted the idea that a government-in-exile should be set up somewhere in Anatolia. Istanbul's order for the execution of Kemal came too late. A new parliament, the Grand National Assembly, was formed in Ankara in April 1920. It conferred upon Mustafa Kemal Pasha the title 'President of the National Assembly', repudiated the Sultan's government in Istanbul and rejected the Treaty of Sèvres.

On the military front, the conflict between nationalist movement and Triple Entente powers went on three fronts. Which one of them with the Greece (west front), where Turkish forces fell back in good order to the Sakarya river, eighty kilometres from Grand National Assembly. Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greeks in the twenty day Battle of Sakarya in August-September 1921. Final victory over the Greeks came in the Battle of Dumlupinar in August 1922.

On the political front, Mustafa Kemal Pasha signed the Treaty of Kars (October 23, 1921) with the Soviet Union, a treaty of friendship in which Turkey ceded the city of Batumi, in present-day Georgia, to Lenin's Bolsheviks in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardahan, which were lost to Tsarist Russia in Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha's victory in the Turkish War of Independence assured Turkey's sovereignty. He ushered the Treaty of Lausanne, through which Turkey finally entered a period of peace after a disastrous decade of warfare, despite irredentist opposition in the National Assembly and elsewhere.

Mustafa Kemal spent the next several years consolidating his control over Turkey and instituting a variety of wide-ranging political, economic and social reforms. These reforms caused some opposition in the Republican People's Party ("Cumhuriyet Halk Firkasi" in Turkish) which was founded by Mustafa Kemal in September 9th 1923. Then Mustafa Kemal directed General Kazim Karabekir to establish the Progressive Republican Party ("Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Firkasi" in Turkish) for opposition in Turkish National Assembly. This party opposed state socialism of the Republican People's Party and suggested liberalism.

But after some time, the new party was taken over by people Ataturk considered fundamentalists. In 1925, partly in response to the provocations of Sheikh Said, the Maintenance of Order Law was passed, giving Ataturk the authority to shut down subversive groups. The Republican People's Party was quickly disestablished under the new law, an act seen by some as necessary for preserving the Turkish state, but seen by others as the act of a dictator.

On August 11th, 1930 Mustafa Kemal decided to try a democratic movement once again. He charged Ali Fethi Okyar with establishing a new party. In Mustafa Kemal's letter to Ali Fethi Okyar, laicism was insisted on. At first, the brand new Liberal Republican Party succeeded all around the country. But once again the opposition party became too strong in its opposition to Atatürk's reforms, particularly in regard to the role of religion in public life. Finally Ali Fethi Okyar abolished his own party and Mustafa Kemal never succeeded in democratising the parliamentary system. He sometimes dealt sternly with opposition in pursuing his main goal of democratizing the country.

Kemal regarded the fez (in Turkish "fes", which Sultan Mahmud II had originally introduced to the Ottoman Empire's dress code in 1826) as a symbol of feudalism and banned it, encouraging Turkish men to wear European attire.

Atatürk once stated: "Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic." His view of culture included both his own nation's creative legacy and what he saw as the more admirable values of world civilization, and he put an emphasis on humanism above all. He once described modern Turkey's ideological thrust as "a creation of patriotism blended with a lofty humanist ideal."

So as to assist in the creation of such a synthesis, Atatürk stressed the need to utilize the elements of the national heritage of the Turks and of Anatolia—including its ancient indigenous cultures—as well as the arts and techniques of other world civilizations, both past and present. He emphasized the study of earlier Anatolian civilizations, such as the Hittites, Phrygians, and Lydians. The pre-Islamic culture of the Turks became the subject of extensive research, and particular emphasis was laid upon the fact that—long before the Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations—the Turks had had a rich culture. Atatürk also stressed the folk arts of the countryside as a wellspring of Turkish creativity.

The visual and the plastic arts—whose development had on occasion been arrested by some Ottoman officials claiming that the depiction of the human form was idolatry—flourished during the presidency of Atatürk. Many museums were opened; architecture began to follow more modern trends; and classical Western music, opera, and ballet, as well as the theatre, also took greater hold. Several hundred "People's Houses" and "People's Rooms" across the country allowed greater access to a wide variety of artistic activities, sports, and other cultural events. Book and magazine publications increased as well, and the film industry began to grow.

Anitkabir, Kemal Ataturk's mausoleum at AnkaraAtatürk died in 1938 of cirrhosis. His lifestyle had always been strenuous. Alcohol consumption during dinner discussions, smoking and very long hours hard at work with little sleep, working on his projects and dreams, had been his way of life. As the historian Will Durant had said, men devoted to war, politics, and public life wear out fast, and all three had been the passion of Ataturk.

His successor, Ismet Inönü, fostered a posthumous Atatürk personality cult which has survived to this day, even after Atatürk's own Republican People's Party lost power following democratic elections in 1950. Atatürk's face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey: his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in schools , in all kind of school books, on all Turkish banknotes, and even in the homes of many Turkish families - who often seem to consider him a secular sort of saint.

He is commemorated by many memorials all over Turkey, like the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn (Haliç), Atatürk Dam (The biggest dam in the world) as well as the Ataturk Stadium. Giant Atatürk statues loom over Istanbul and other Turkish cities, and practically any larger settlement has its own memorial to him. In 1951, the Turkish Parliament issued a law (5816) outlawing insults to his legacy or attacks to objects representing him. This law is sometimes criticised as it applies solely to Atatürk, thus resembling leader-protecting laws of dictatorial regimes.

 
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