Following his studies, he was drafted as a staff Captain in the Fifth Army based in Damascus. No sooner he was promoted to the rank of Senior Captain and eventually Inspector of the Ottoman Railways in Eastern Rumelia
While continuing his service, he became an active member of the Young Turks, a revolutionary movement of the intellectuals. In 1908, he even went on to participate in the Young Turk Revolution, which successfully seized power from Sultan Abdulhamid II and established the constitutional monarchy.
For a period of about 9 years from 1909 to 1918, he held a number of posts in the Ottoman army. He actively contributed in the Italo-Turkish War from 1911 to 1912 where he fought against Italy and later in the Balkan War from 1912 to 1913.
In 1913, he was appointed as the Ottoman military attache to all Balkan states and promoted to the rank of Kaymakam (Lieutenant Colonel) in 1914. In the First World War, he was given the task of commanding the 19th Division.
As a commander of the 19th Division, he became quite famous and was known all through for his astute sense, bravery and strategic powers. These capabilities helped him thwart the Allied invasion of the Dardanelles in 1915.
During the battle, he received repeated promotions until the Armistice of Mudros ended the fighting in 1918. Despite the conclusion of World War I, the treaty gave the Allies the right to occupy forts that controlled major waterways. It was then that he organized a resistance movement for complete independence.
He then engaged himself completely in the Turkish war of Independence. The Turks engaged in a series of battle against the Greek and Armenian forces until the Treaty of Lausanne was signed on October 29, 1923, leading to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
He was appointed as the first president of the Republic of Turkey. In the new role, he instituted several political, social and economic reforms, banking on the reputation he had gained from his military background.
His first key step as the president was to secularise the country from being a Muslim state to a modern, democratic and secular nation-state. He studied and adapted the Western government structure for the same. He successfully established a constitution that separated the government from religion and professed state secularism.
Continue Reading Below
Other than constitutional changes, he brought about a major change in the social and cultural arena and established the backbone of legislative, judicial and economic structures.
He eradicated the Arabic alphabet, giving way for the Latin to rule the nation. He even insisted that no prayers should be made in Turkish and Arabic should be used instead.
Furthermore, he introduced the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic calendar followed and urged people to accept the westernized ways. He insisted on wearing western clothes, thus abandoning the sartorial tradition of the Middle East. He forbade wearing fez hats, turbans and headscarves.
Under his rule, the gender difference ceased to almost zero as he established equality between the sexes in a legal manner. Women were provided equal civic and political rights. They were bereft of veiling laws as well.
He established thousands of new schools, providing free and compulsory primary education. He banned the religious schools and instead appointed the secular schools which came under the governance of the Ministry of National Education.
He abolished the Caliphate to reform the political system and promote national sovereignty. Its powers were transferred to the GNA. Though other countries debated on confirming or discouraging Turkish nation, they could not come to a single conclusion.
His foreign policy rested on his motto of ‘peace at home and peace in the world’. During his presidency, he resolved all foreign issues in a peaceful manner, not once using military might to solve problems.
The economic policies under his rule helped develop small and large scale businesses. During the Great Depression, he established the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, the main purpose of which was to control exchange rates. He even supervised the first and second five year economic plan.
Awards & Achievements
The Turkish government bestowed upon him several high-profile decorations such as Fifth Class Knight Order of the Medjidie, Silver Imtiyaz Medal, Silver Liakat Medal, Golden Liakat Medal, Second Class Knight Order of Osmanieh, Second Class Knight Order of the Medjidie, Golden Imtiyaz Medal, First Class Knight Order of the Medjidie, Gallipoli Star, Medal of Independence and Murassa Order
Continue Reading Below
Other countries that honoured him include France’s National Order of the Legion of Honour, Bulgaria’ Commander Grand Cross Order Of Saint Alexander, Germany’s 1st and 2nd Class Iron Cross, Prussia’s 1st Class Order of the Crown Prussia, Afghanistan’s Aluyulala Order of Kingdom of Afghanistan and so on.
Personal Life & Legacy
Before being in a nuptial relationship, he was speculated to be in a romantic relationship with two women - Eleni Karinte and Fikriye Hanim. He married Latife Usakligil on January 29, 1923. The unison was not a happy one and the two separated in 1925.
Though he had no biological children, he is said to have adopted thirteen children, 12 daughters and one son of which Sabiha Gokcen became famous for being world's first female fighter pilot and Turkey's first female pilot
His health deteriorated starting 1937. He suffered from serious illness in 1938 while on a trip to Yalova. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of liver.
He finally breathed his last on November 10, 1938, at the age of 57, in the Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul. His funeral was a moment of sorrow and pride for Turkey. Representatives from 17 countries attended his funeral.
His remains were first laid in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara - 15 years later, they were transferred in a 42-ton sarcophagus, to a mausoleum that overlooks Ankara, Anıtkabir.
His centennial birth year was honoured by the UN and UNESCO as The Atuturk Year in the World and adopted the Resolution on the Ataturk Centennial.
Several monuments, memorials and squares have been constructed in his honour. Roads and avenues throughout the world bear his name