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Summary Article: Atatürk, Kemal
from Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion

Turkish soldier, nationalist, and statesman. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938) was the founder of modern republican Turkey and its first president. The National Assembly bestowed the name Atatürk (Father Turk) on him in 1934 for his service to his country.

On November 30, 1918, the Ottoman government signed the armistice of Mudros, which recognized the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Allied forces in World War I. Atatürk had been serving in the Ottoman military in Syria as commander of the Special Ottoman Army Corps. After the Greeks occupied Izmir in May 1919, with the encouragment of British prime minister David Lloyd George, Atatürk joined the broad-based resistance to the occupation of Anatolia, the rump of the Ottoman Empire. Sent to the city of Samsum to disband the remnants of the Ottoman army, he instead organized a gathering of officials, the military, and notables in a congress at Erzurum, with himself as commander of the Turkish army in order to create a new Turkish government to replace the dissolved Istanbul government. Atatürk set up a provisional government at Ankara in April 1920. In 1921 Atatürk’s nationalist supporters elected him president of a new government, the Grand National Assembly. In the fall of 1922 this new government defeated the Greeks, who then evacuated Anatolia.

On October 29, 1923, the Turkish Republic was proclaimed, and Atatürk was elected president by the new nation’s Grand National Assembly. A constitution was accepted on April 20, 1924. Determined to make Turkey a secular state, Atatürk declared the truest brotherhood to be that of “civilization,” by which he meant the Western social, political, economic, and cultural systems that were the source for his drive toward secularization. Under Atatürk’s guidance, Turkey adopted a civil code based on that of the Swiss and a criminal code based on that of the Italians. Other measures followed: Turkish replaced Arabic as the language of the call to prayer; the nation adopted the Latin alphabet and the Western calendar, with “A.D.” denoting dates in the common era; the government eliminated Arabic and Persian from the schools; and Islam lost its constitutional standing as the state religion. In 1934 women gained the right to vote in national elections and to seek election to the parliament. A 1937 amendment of the constitution declared the Turkish state republican, nationalist, populist, secular, and reformist.

Atatürk distrusted the ulama, Muslim clerics, whose influence he feared. He instead promoted Turkish nationalism and the secular foundation of the republic. Secularism proved to be successful to the extent that it blended with Turkish nationalism. It was most effective while the single party that Atatürk had created held power. Later, with the transition to a multiparty system in 1946, the antisecular sentiments of a large number of Turkish citizens outside the secular vanguard began to be reflected in the parliament. National elections in 1995 and 2003 were won by Islamic movements that proclaimed the end of “Kemalist” secularism but adopted much of Atatürk’s pro-Western ideology.

See also Turkey.

  • Kinross, Lord [John Patrick Balfour]. Atatürk, the Rebirth of a Nation. 2d ed. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964.
  • Mango, Andrew. Atatürk. London: John Murray, 1999.
  • Pettifer, James. The Turkish Labyrinth: Atatürk and the New Islam. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
Şerif Mardin
Copyright CQ Press © 2006

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