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Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey and its first elected president, was born as Mustafa on March 12, 1881 in Salonika or Thessaloniki, in Greece which was then under the Ottoman Empire. His father, Ali Reza Efendi, was a customs official who wanted his son's education to take place in a secular school. However, his father died while he was still a child. It was his mother Zubeyde Hanim who brought him up at his uncle's home in the countryside and later in his aunt's house in Salonika. While in primary school, one of his teachers gave him the surname "Kemal" meaning "perfect, by which we know him today. Mustafa Kemal joined military school in Salonika and later on in Manastir from where he finished his high school. In 1899, he joined the infantry division of the Military Academy at Istanbul. On completion of his training in 1902, Mustafa Kemal joined the General Staff College from where he graduated with the rank of captain. He was sent to Damascus in 1906 where he established a society called "Vatan ve Hurriyat" or "Fatherland and Freedom." He also became a member of the CUP or nationalist Committee of Union and Progress as well as the Young Turk Movement.
Mustafa Kemal along with other army officers received the support of the Young Turks to lead a movement against the sultan of the Ottoman Empire for the restoration of the constitution in 1908. In 1911, he joined the war in Libya against Italy on his own initiative and fought for the defense of Derne and Tobruk. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire declared its alignment with Germany and Austria-Hungary. At that time, Mustafa Kemal was serving on the Gallipoli peninsula where he successfully thwarted a British invasion in 1915 and instantly became a national hero. However, the Ottoman Empire along with its allies was defeated in the war. The Ottoman Empire got an unfair deal in the Treaty of Sevres and lost major parts of its territories except for the ethnic Turk enclave which later formed the present-day Turkey. The Turks protested against the terms of the Treaty by fighting back against the Allied forces. The nationalist movement was headed by Mustafa Kemal and it was because of his exceptional military skills that in 1922 the Turks emerged victorious in the war. In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne confirmed the victory of the Turks and frustrated the efforts of the Kurds for obtaining autonomy. The sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who had proclaimed his alignment with the Allied powers, was overthrown and the Empire was abolished. In 1923, the birth of the new Turkish Republic was proclaimed by Mustafa Kemal before the world. Mustafa Kemal was voted as the first President of this new country.
Mustafa Kemal, as the head of state and chief of the recently formed Republican People's Party, now embarked on his mission to reform his country into a new, modern and westernized state. Kemal's reforms were radical in nature and helped to transform a multiethnic empire built on Islamic traditions to a more tolerant and secular nation. The Turkish government took over the key economic sectors of the country and promoted industrialization. Kemal was extremely pro-Western and most of his policies reflected this mindset. He decided to implement those policies which he believed to comprise the strengths of the Western world. In 1926, a legal system based on Western-style was adopted. In 1928, the country adopted the Latin alphabet. Mass education was introduced in the country and in 1934; women got the right to vote. In 1934, the government made it compulsory for all Turkish nationals to adopt surnames as prevalent in the Western countries. It was at this time that Mustafa Kemal was given the name "Ataturk" which meant "father of the Turks." Kemal Ataturk's radical and far-reaching reforms converted Turkey into an exemplary nation which provided a model for newly emerging countries confronting similar problems in the 20th century.
The ideological basis of Kemal Ataturk's reform initiatives came to be known as "Kemalism." Kemalism's main points were illustrated through the "Six Arrows" depicting nationalism, populism, republicanism, etatism, secularism, and reformism. These principles of Kemalism were enshrined into the Turkish constitution and were perceived as "fundamental" and "unchanging" doctrines that would guide their nation. Republicanism, as mentioned in the Turkish constitution, reiterated that sovereignty was not the privilege or possession of a single ruler but was "vested in the nation." Populism not only included the idea that all citizens of Turkey are equal but also that every one of them are Turks. The communal autonomy given to other minor ethnic groups was stopped. Reformism gave a legal and legitimate face to the reforms that were implemented in the social and political life of the country. Etatism reiterated the pivotal role which was the prerogative of the government in steering the economic activities of the nation. This particular concept was incorporated specifically to justify the government's planning of large-scale investment and mixed economy in government-owned institutions.
One important goal of the economic policies initiated by Ataturk was to thwart attempts by foreign powers to exercise excessive and unwarranted influence on the economy of the country. Secularism brought in a total separation of the state from religion with the abolition of the caliphate. Ataturk replaced the "Seriat Kanunu" -- the theological religious law or Canonical law with the Swiss Civil Code and the existing penal code with the Italian Penal Code. Islam was totally excluded from Turkey's official life and this particular reform outraged many of his contemporaries. All religious schools were shut down, secularization of public education was initiated and Islamic religious orders were curbed. The overall social framework of the people of Turkey had to be restructured for the adoption of such dramatic changes. There were protests by the traditionalists but Ataturk was firm and suppressed all forms of dissent.
Ataturk introduced various educational reforms based on Western prototypes. He introduced a new university reform in 1933. He also initiated various reforms for the emancipation of the Turkish women who had been treated as inferior or second class citizens for hundreds of years. Their rights in family and social life were increased and brought to the same status as that enjoyed by women in the olden Turkish family times. A civil code was passed which gave Turkish women the same rights as those of men, the right to vote, the right to get appointed to official posts, and the right to contest elections. The law also required citizens to have monogamous relationships. People were called on to discard the traditional attire and go in for European-style dresses. The fez hat, which reminded Ataturk of the old caliphate system, was banned and men were encouraged to wear western style hats. Women were also encouraged to give up the "carsaf" and veil. The progressive reforms for the emancipation of women changed the entire nature of the Turkish society. Ataturk's foreign policy was not only carefully crafted but also very diplomatic in nature. It was based on his principle of "Peace at home, peace in the world."
This principle became an important guideline in the relations of Turkey with other foreign nations. He signed friendship treaties with fifteen countries including a 20-year friendship and neutrality treaty with the erstwhile USSR which was unilaterally terminated by the U.S.S.R. In 1945. Turkey also entered into the Balkan Pact with other countries like Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece to counter the influence of a possible alignment of Bulgaria with Germany and the hostile and fascist foreign policy of Italy. A nonaggression treaty was also signed with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in 1937. One of the greatest diplomatic successes that Ataturk achieved was when Turkey was able to influence the signatory authorities of the Treaty of Lausanne as part of the Montreux Convention to allow Turkey to take control and remilitarize the straits.
Ataturk often had to use force to suppress dissident movements. The conflict between Ataturk's authoritarian manner of implementing modernizing reforms and his liberal-democratic ideals resulted in political instability as well as increased democracy. However, the fact remains that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was instrumental not only in establishing the Republic of Turkey and initiating a drastic set of wide-ranging reforms which altered the political, legal, economic, social and cultural fabric of the Turkish society but also paved the way for the modernization of Turkey and served as a role model for many other countries. Ataturk died on 10th November, 1938, as a result of cirrhosis of liver. He was truly the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
Comparing the two leaders, their influence and what they achieved
Now we shall look at a comparison of the two leaders -- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Reza Shah Pahlavi. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Reza Shah Pahlavi and their attempts at modernizing their countries have often been compared with each other. Both the leaders were…[continue]
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