A great peacemaker
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the democratic Turkish Republic, was a great leader and a champion of democracy, equality and peace. During his 15 year term as president he introduced a wide range of dramatic social and political reforms to modernize Turkey.
He was born on the 19th of May, 1881 to his mother Zübeyde Haným, who was a housewife and his father Ali Rýza Efendi, a militia officer, title deed clerk and lumber trader. Only one of his siblings survived childhood, his sister Makbule Atadan, who died in 1956. In his earlier years, Atatürk briefly and reluctantly attended a religious school at his mother’s wishes before attending the Emsi Efendi School, a private school with a more secular curriculum. In 1896, he enrolled at the Monastir Military High School and on March 14 of 1899 Atatürk enrolled in the Ottoman Military Academy from which he graduated from in 1902. He later graduated from the Ottoman Military College on January 11th, 1905. Atatürk had a very successful military career and over the course of his life he would completely rebuild Turkey as an independent and democratic state, changing its system of government, making social reforms, and promoting peace and understanding between nations.
Atatürk sought to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular republic. He wanted Turkey to be an independent country where religion and politics were separated. After the first world war, the Allies (Britain, Italy, France and Greece,) were occupying Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir) and attempting to parcel parts of Turkey off to other countries. In May of 1919 Atatürk established an organized resistance movement against the occupying forces. Atatürk went against the existing Ottoman government and created the opposing party known as the “Grand National Assembly” or GNA. He proposed a national election in order to establish a new Turkish parliament seated in Ankara. The GNA opened with Atatürk as their speaker on April 23rd 1920. The Ottoman Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha signed the Treaty of Sèvres on the 10th of August 1920. This finalized the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by the Allies, the tearing apart of the Turkish peoples’ homeland. This instigated the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk was determined to ensure his country’s freedom and insisted upon the complete independence of Turkey. He persuaded the GNA to form a National Army to face the Caliphate army, the Armenian forces and Greek forces. In August of 1922, Atatürk launched a full attack on the Greek forces at Afyonkarahisar in the Battle of Dumlupinar. Turkish forces regained possession of Smyrna on September 9th 1922. On the 29th of October 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed. After the establishment of the republic, the government became a democracy and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was elected as the first president of Turkey. He had achieved his goal of separating religion from politics and making Turkey its own republic. He continued to make reforms in order to modernize the country.
During his time in office, Atatürk continued to modernize the country through social and legal reforms. Some of these reforms included introducing western clothing and the adoption of the western calender, women’s rights and the introduction of surnames. When surnames were introduced in 1935, he was given the name “Atatürk,” meaning “Father of the Turks.” The more dramatic and important reforms consisted of changes in Penal Code, Civil Law, Business Law, language and education that were implemented between 1926 and 1930. The changes made in the Penal Code, Civil Law and Business law insured the separation of law and religion, allowed all people to be viewed as equal by the law and enforced equality of genders. Another key reform was the complete restructuring of the Turkish language. Atatürk believed that for a nation to function, all people must be educated and literate. In order to accomplish this, Atatürk implemented a new alphabet for the written Turkish language based on a modified Latin alphabet and abolished the use of the complicated Arabic script. When he gathered a group of experts and asked them how long it would take to implement a new alphabet, most thought that it would take between 3-5 years. To this Atatürk replied, “We shall do it within five months.” By November 1st, 1928 Atatürk introduced the new Turkish alphabet. He himself travelled the countryside, teaching citizens the new alphabet. People adapted to the language reform fairly quickly and within a span of two years, the literacy level in Turkey leaped from 10% to over 70%. Turkish education became an integrative system aimed to reduce poverty and use the education of women to establish and enforce gender equality. This sense of equality enabled women in Turkey to vote long before women in North America did. Because of all these reforms in such a short period of time, the League of Nations invited Turkey to become a member. Many of his views of peace, equality and human rights preceded the UN’s governing principles.
Atatürk was an incredible peacemaker and his vision of humanism and united humanity was, and still is truly inspiring. Immediately after the Turkish war of Independence, Atatürk stated that “peace is the most effective way for nations to attain prosperity and happiness.” Atatürk never wished for his country to engage in war, even with those powers that had tried to wipe it out. On the contrary, he hoped Turkey could have a peaceful co-existence with all its neighbouring countries. Atatürk signed peace treaties with Greece, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and maintained friendly relations with many other states. Atatürk was later nominated for the 1934 Nobel Peace Prize by Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece. Following Atatürk’s death on November 10th 1938 the League of Nations payed tribute to him by declaring him “a genius international peacemaker” for his untiring efforts to build peace among nations. In 1981, on the centennial of Atatürk’s birth, the UN and UNESCO, declared it The Atatürk Year in the World and honoured his memory by adopting the resolution on the Atatürk Centennial.
As the founder of the democratic Turkish Republic and its first President, Atatürk is an enduring hero of national liberation and will forever be an inspiring figure of leadership to the people of Turkey. Atatürk was a truly exceptional human being and he makes me very proud to be half Turkish. I am, however, very worried for Turkey’s future under the current government. One of Atatürk’s strongest beliefs was that religion and politics should remain separate for a true democracy to exist. Now the existing government strives to undermine that principle and seems bent on going backwards. Atatürk’s “Address To Youth”, given in 1920, remains a prophetic warning today. Atatürk continues to be honoured world wide as a peacemaker who upheld the principles of equality, international understanding and the vision of a united humanity. I believe the world today needs him more than ever.
A military hero who had won victory after victory against many foreign invaders, Atatürk knew the value of peace and, during his Presidency, did his utmost to secure and strengthen it throughout the world. Few of the giants of the modern times have spoken with Atatürk’s eloquence on the vital need to create a world order based on peace, on the dignity of all human beings, and on the constructive interdependence of all nations. He stated, immediately after the Turkish War of Independence, that “peace is the most effective way for nations to attain prosperity and happiness.” Later as he concluded treaties of friendship and created regional ententes, he affirmed: ” Turks are the friends of all civilized nations.” The new Turkey established cordial relations with all countries, including those powers which had tried a few years earlier to wipe the Turks off the map. She did not pursue a policy of expansionism, and never engaged in any act contrary to peaceful co-existence. Atatürk signed pacts with Greece, Rumania and Yugoslavia in the Balkans, and with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in the East. He maintained friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the United States, England, Germany, Italy, France, and all other states. In the early 1930s, he and the Greek Premier Venizelos initiated and signed a treaty of peace and cooperation.
In 1932, the League of Nations invited Turkey to become a member. Many of Atatürk’s ideas and ideals presaged the principles enshrined in the League of Nations and the United Nations.” As clearly as I see daybreak, I have the vision of the rise of the oppressed nations to their independence… If lasting peace is sought, it is essential to adopt international measures to improve the lot of the masses. Mankind’s well-being should take the place of hunger and oppression… Citizens of the world should be educated in such a way that they shall no longer feel envy, avarice and vengefulness.”
In recognition of Atatürk’s untiring efforts to build peace, the League of Nations paid tribute to him at his death in November 1938 as ” a genius international peacemaker”. In 1981, on the occasion of the Centennial of his birth, the United Nations and UNESCO honored the memory of the great Turkish Statesman who abhorred war – ” Unless the life of the nation faces peril, war is a crime,” – and expressed his faith in organized peace:” If war were to break out, nations would rush to join their armed forces and national resources. The swiftest and most effective measure is to establish an international organization which would prove to the aggressor that its aggression cannot pay.”
His creation of modern Turkey and his contribution to the world have made Atatürk an historic figure of enduring influence.