Kemal Atatürk (kĕmäl´ ätätürk´), 1881–1938, Turkish leader, founder of modern Turkey. He took the name in 1934 in place of his earlier name, Mustafa Kemal, when he ordered all Turks to adopt a surname; it is made up of the Turkish words Ata and Türk [father of the Turks].
Born at Thessaloníki, he secretly applied to a military academy, where his excellence at mathematics won him the surname Kemal [the perfect]. As an officer he joined the Young Turks, a liberal movement that sought to establish a constitutional government for the Ottoman Empire, although he disagreed with its pro-German policy, because he considered Turkish interests to be paramount. In 1908 he took part in the successful Young Turk revolution as chief of staff of Enver Pasha, whom he later opposed over the German issue.
He served in Libya (1911–12) and in the Second Balkan War (1913). In World War I his efficient work in the Dardanelles, on the Armenian front, and in Palestine, though it merely helped to postpone disaster, won him the title pasha. After the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies, Sultan Muhammad VI sent Kemal to E Anatolia, hoping to limit his influence.
Arriving in May, 1919, Kemal organized the Turkish Nationalist party and began to form an army. When the Turks were aroused by the Greek landing at Smyrna (now Izmir) he convened nationalist congresses at Erzurum (July, 1919) and Sivas (Sept.). Outlawed by the sultan, who was in the hands of the Allies in Constantinople, he set up a rival government at Ankara. The signing of the Treaty of Sèvres by the Constantinople government made the split with Ankara final.
With the tacit consent of Soviet Russia, Kemal retook Kars and Ardahan from Armenia (1920). Then, taking advantage of disagreements among the Allies, he expelled the Greeks from Anatolia in a brilliant campaign (1921–22). For his victory he received the official name Ghazi [victorious]. On Nov. 1, 1922, Kemal proclaimed the abolition of the sultanate, and Sultan Muhammad VI fled to a British warship. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923; see Lausanne, Treaty of) was a triumph for the nationalist cause; an independent and sovereign Turkey was recognized by the European powers.
President of Turkey
In 1923 Kemal was elected president of the new Turkish republic. He was reelected in 1927, 1931, and 1935—always by a unanimous parliament. With enormous energy he set out on a program of internal reform and "Westernization" ; 15 years of his rule changed Turkey in the essential as well as the most minute aspects of its life (see Turkey). Although a dictator, Kemal tolerated limited opposition; but he was ruthless toward those he considered extremists. Regarding Islam as a conservative force, he abolished (1924) the caliphate (thereby disestablishing Islam as the state religion) and crippled religious opposition to reform.
Abroad, he pursued a policy of conciliation and neutrality. He established friendly relations with Turkey's neighbors, particularly the Soviet Union, helped to bring about the Balkan Entente, and freed Turkey from foreign influence, though it meant refusing capital investment for industrialization of the country. On his death he was succeeded as president by Ismet Inönü. In 1953 his remains were transferred to a new mausoleum in Ankara. He remains the object of cultlike devotion by many Turks.
See biographies by H. E. Wortham (1931), H. Froembgen (tr. 1937), Lord Kinross (1966), V. D. Volkan and N. Itzkowitz (1984), F. Tachau (1987), A. Mango (2002), and M. S. Hanioglu (2011); G. Renda and C. M. Kortpeter, ed., The Transformation of Turkish Culture: The Atatürk Legacy (1986).