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Turkish Generals: Mustafa Kemal Before the Battle of Gallipoli

Military History

Turkish Generals: Mustafa Kemal Before the Battle of Gallipoli

In 1934, the Turkish Assembly bestowed the surname Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”) upon Gallipoli veteran Mustafa Kemal for his contributions to his country.

In 1934, the Turkish Assembly bestowed the surname Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”) upon Gallipoli veteran Mustafa Kemal for his contributions to his country.

by Victor J. Kamenir

The product of a cosmopolitan society, Mustafa Kemal was born in 1881 in Salonica, then a Greek city in the Ottoman Empire. At birth, Mustafa, an ethnic Turk, was given only a first name, as was common. At the age of 12, he entered military school, where one of his teachers gave him the second name Kemal, meaning “perfection,” in recognition of his scholastic abilities and achievements.

In 1905, Kemal graduated from a military academy in Istanbul with the rank of staff captain. While stationed in Damascus, he became one of the founding members of the clandestine “Fatherland and Freedom” society established by military officers opposed to Sultan Abdul Hamid. In 1907, Kemal’s movement merged with other opposition parties to form the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). With majority of its members being in their 20s and 30s, the new organization became popularly known as the “Young Turks.”

Turkish Instability and the Battle of Gallipoli

The movement steadily gained momentum, and in 1908 national elections brought the Young Turks, headed by another prominent member, Mehmed V, to power. However, internal upheaval tempted other countries to take advantage of the instability in Turkey. In 1911, Italy invaded the Ottoman province of Libya, and by 1912 Turkey had lost the majority of its European possessions.

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Between 1911 and 1913, Kemal served in several combat field command positions from Libya to Bulgaria. The Gallipoli campaign launched his political career, although after the campaign ended, Kemal was still virtually unknown to the general Turkish public. However, his accomplishments were quite familiar to the Turkish officer corps, which helped him win more prominence among the Young Turks.

After World War I

After Turkey capitulated at the end of World War I, British, French, Italian, and Greek forces occupied large portions of the former Ottoman Empire. As the foreign powers began carving up the humiliated empire, nationalistic Turks began to rally around Kemal. In mid-1919, due to his inflammatory oratory against occupying powers, Kemal was posted away from Istanbul to the eastern part of the country. Once there, he lost no time establishing an army to resist the foreign occupation of Turkey. The War of Turkish Independence began in 1920 (a misnomer, since the Allies never had any intention of occupying the whole of Turkey), with the majority of fighting taking place between the Turkish and Greek forces.

Mustafa Kemal as President

Kemal’s efforts attracted attention from far abroad—his picture was featured on the cover of the March 24, 1923, issue of Time magazine. By the end of 1923, the Western powers agreed to leave Turkey, and on October 29 the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, with Mustafa Kemal as its first president. After coming to power, Kemal launched a series of far-ranging political, economic, religious, and social reforms intended to transform Turkey from the “sick man of Europe” into a modern state. His efforts ranged wide, from adapting European-style surnames and dress codes to religious tolerance, literacy campaigns, and granting women voting rights.

On November 24, 1934, the Turkish Grand National Assembly bestowed the surname Ataturk (meaning “Father of the Turks”) upon Mustafa Kemal for his immense contributionsto his country. Kemal Ataturk, remained in his position as president until his death on November 10, 1938, from cirrhosis of the liver. His passing was mourned by an entire grateful nation. To this day, Ataturk’s portraits can be seen in a majority of Turkish public buildings, many private homes, and on all banknotes. There is hardly a town in Turkey without an Ataturk statue. Each year on November 10 at 9:05 am (the exact time of his death), commemorative ceremonies are held throughout the country to honor the man who did so much to modernize his nation.

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