Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) is considered a hero by many people of Turkish descent, and by many leaders around the world. He established democracy, under single party rule in Turkey, and created significant reforms in there. His policies championed public education in what had previously been a mostly illiterate country, extolled the virtues of Westernization, created reforms for women, and promoted peaceful relationships with Europe and America. Though he sometimes led the country in an autocratic way, he is still considered a fantastic leader. He earned the respect of people like General MacArthur, and has been honored by the United Nations, President Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, and various other world leaders as a true example of leadership, progressiveness, and social reform.
The young boy Mustafa was given the name Kemal by a teacher because of his ability to excel in his studies. The name Atatürk would come much later when he established the Republic of Turkey. After brief studies in a religious school, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk studied in military school, and joined the Turkish Army in 1905. In his military service, he fought against the Allies in World War I. After the war, much of Turkey — then considered the Ottoman Empire — was sectioned into groups occupied by other countries, leading to a national movement to fight for Turkish Independence.
He was strongly invested in and involved in the war for Independence, which Turkey won in 1923. The Turkish Republic was officially established after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, and Atatürk became its first president. Atatürk strongly believed in the importance of a secular rather than religiously based government. Some of his actions in his early years were to abolish the Sultanate and the Caliphate. Sultans were the main rulers of the Ottoman Empire. The Caliphate were yet another form of ruler, thought by divine right to be the leaders of Islam and the successors of Muhammad by the Sunni.
Turkey’s first president wanted both methods of leadership abolished in preference to leading the country to a more democratic state. This met with some resistance, particularly in his later act of abolishing the caliphate, and there were strong protests. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did not respond with purges as might have occurred in a fascist or communist state because he strongly rejected these as not a good government structure for the Republic of Turkey.
Much can be said about the accomplishments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in his role of president, which he held for 15 years. He attempted to modernize Turkey in a number of ways, calling for the equality and importance of women in the modern Turkish society, bringing in John Dewey to advise him on establishing public schools, advocating westernized forms of dress, improving the economy of Turkey, and making peace with one of Turkey’s fiercest enemies in centuries past, the Greeks. He banned polygamy, instituted a secular court, helped establish a new alphabet for Turkey which was much easier to master, and did much in the study of and advancement of Turkish culture and history.
It is said that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk loved children, and he adopted one son and seven daughters. He also took care of two other children, but did not legally adopt them. Many of his beloved daughters would continue to set precedent for new equality of education and social reform as they grew up. They became examples of the Turkish "modern woman," and were highly westernized in dress and attitude. Atatürk left a legacy that has long been admired, and his early death at the age of 57 was sincerely mourned by his own country and by the leaders of many other countries.