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Kemal Atatürk

Kemal Atatürk (March 12, 1881 - November 10, 1938), Turkish soldier and statesman, was the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. Some consider him one of the most progressive reformist figures in Turkish history; others, especially many conservative Muslims, remember him as a traitor to the Islamic faith.

Born in Salonika (Thessaloniki) as Mustafa Kemal (later given the title Pasha), he entered the military secondary school in Salonika in 1893 and the military academy at Monastir (now Bitola) in 1895. After playing a minor role in the Balkan Wars of 1912 - 1913, he gained a major victory by repulsing the Allied invasion of Gallipoli in 1915.

Kemal organized the Turkish Nationalist Republican Party in 1919 from local resistance groups. This group overthrew the incumbent Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI and the Allies in Anatolia, and he and his lieutenant Ismet Pasha (later Ismet Inönü) presided over the defeat of the Greek invasion of 1920 - 1922. They subsequently founded the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.

He was elected Turkey's first president in 1923. The name "Atatürk", meaning father of Turks was then bestowed on Kemal by the national parliament.

Atatürk began a variety of Westernizing reforms by abolishing the Caliphate (March 1924). The theological schools were closed, the Sharia law of Islam was replaced by the Swiss Civil Code -- importantly for the politics of the region, this officially separated the functions of Church and state in Turkey. Also the Italian Penal Code and the German Commerce Code were also adopted.

He attacked the fez (the head dress) and made its use illegal. He made his public appearances in a European-style hat and made that the new head dress. He was also impressed with European dance and encouraged women to learn it.

He was also responsible for the conversion of written Turkish from an Arabic script to a modified Latin alphabet. (A date was fixed and it was made illegal by law to use the old Arabic script.)This resulted in the increased use of the typewriter and a long-term increase in literacy. Also, the mass introduction of typewriters brought more stenographic jobs and thus more employment for women. It also made it impossible for even educated Turks to read any of the Ottoman history or manuscripts or literature, except as translated by a tightly controlled academia and media. All the citizens from six to forty year old were made to attend school and learn the new alphabet.

Drawing any kind of Human forms was banned in Islamic faith. Kemal opened new schools to teach the new art form for boys and girls .

He wanted to cut off Turkey from the Arabic nations as much as possible and so he even forced the moulvis (Men of Mosque) to change the azan (Call to prayer) from Arabic to Turkish. This act made him look like a traitor of the Islamic faith to many conservative Muslims, as well as his alleged comment calling the islamic prophet Muhammad an "immoral camel driver".

Atatürk gave Turkey a new prestige in the international field by his achievements in both military and political fields, crowned (July 1936) by the restoration of Turkish sovereignty over the Straits under the Montreux Convention. He died in 1938 of complications of cirrhosis.

The vast personality cult Atatürk established around himself during his rule has remained influential in Turkey into the 21st century. Some see its remains, especially the strong political role of the military, the extremely detailed teaching of his Biography in the schools to the detriment of other subjects, and the general setting in stone of what is to be considered "Western", as an obstacle to true westernization of Turkey nowadays.

Atatürk has an international airport named after him, the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.

see also Young Turks