Modern Turkish Period (1923-Present)

1923 Establishment of the Turkish Republic with Ataturk as its first president
1924 Abolition of Caliphate
1925-38 Ataturk’s program of reforms to modernize Turkey
1938 Death of Ataturk; Ismet Inonu becomes the Republic’s second president
1939-45 Despite the alliance with Britain and France, Turkey remains neutral during World War II
1946 Turkey becomes a charter member of United Nations
1950 Turkey enters Korean War as a part of United Nations force; change from a single-party to a multi-party system
1952 Joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The attempt of the victorious Allies to control the Anatolian territory led to the Turkish War of Independence (1918-23).

Following the occupation of Istanbul in 1920 by the British, Italian and French, a Greek army advanced from Izmir deep into Anatolia.

While the sultan offered no resistance, under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Nationalists overturned the postwar settlement embodied in the Treaty of Sévres (1920) and established the Republic of Turkey, formally recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Mustafa Kemal retired his military uniform and inspired the people to an even greater task: Transformation of the country into the democratic, secular Republic of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

1881 Birth of Mustafa in Salonika
1893 Enters Military Secondary School where he is given the name of Kema
1899 Enters War College in Constantinople
1902 Graduates as lieutenant
1905 Posted to 5th Army in Damascus
1907 Posted to 3rd Army in Salonika
1908 “Young Turk” Revolution in Salonika
1911 Posted to General Staff in Constantinople; goes to Tobruk and Derna with Turkish Forces, promoted to Major
1912 Balkan War; severe defeat, returns home
1913 Appointed Military Attaché in Sofia
1914 Promoted Lieutenant-Colonel; Turkey signs secret alliance with Germany; Russia, Britain and France declare war on Turkey
1915 Appointed to reorganize 9th Division, in Thrace; unsuccessful allied naval attack on Dardanelles; allied military landing at Ariburnu (Anzac); promoted to colonel; appointed to command 16th Army Corps
1916 Allied evacuation of Gallipoli Peninsula; transferred to Caucasus front; promoted to General and Pasa
1917 Returns to Constantinople
1919 Appointed Inspector-General in Anatolia; lands in Samsun; issues “Declaration of Independence” at Amasya; ordered by Government to return; resigns from the army; Nationalist Congress at Sivas and Erzurum; National Pact; new parliament elected; headquarters at Angora
1920 (April 23) First Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) at Ankara
1921 Consecutive battles against different enemies; given title of Gazi and rank of Marshal by TGNA
1922 Izmir is retaken; proclaims abolition of Sultanate
1923 Treaty of Lausanne; People’s Party; Second GNA; Angora (Ankara) becomes capital; proclamation of the Republic; becomes President; marries Latife in Izmir
1925 Divorces Latife
1938 Death of Ataturk; succession of Ismet Inonu as President of the Republic

Thousands of his statues or busts and millions of his photos have been erected or hung all over the country. His name has been given to countless institutions, buildings, streets, parks and suchlike.

Foreigners unaware of his accomplishments might think that the Turks are a bit obsessed with a man now dead for approximately 60 years.

No other nation on earth has loved a leader as much as the Turkish nation loves Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“Mustafa Kemal Ataturk differed from the dictators of his age in two significant respects; his foreign policy was based not on expansion but on retraction of frontiers; his home policy on the foundation of a political system which could survive his own time. It was in this realistic spirit that he regenerated his country, transforming the old sprawling Ottoman Empire into a compact new Turkish Republic.

….I don’t act for public opinion. I act for the nation and for my own satisfaction…..

It was a restless mind, nurtured on those principles of Western civilization which had influenced Turkish liberal thought since the nineteenth century; continually refueled by the ideas of others, which he adapted and adopted as his own; but always grounded in a common sense mistrustful of theory…”

His life

He was born in Salonika in 1881 and named Mustafa. Kemal was a nickname meaning “perfection” given by a tutor. He was a good student and did well at the military academy.

He was one of the early members of the Young Turks movement and a front-runner in the revolution which demanded a constitutional government for the Ottoman Empire.

During the First World War, he fought on many fronts. In 1915, then a Lieutenant Colonel, Mustafa Kemal was commanding a division of troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. His actions in the Dardanelles as a soldier of determination, bravery and brilliance gave him great standing amongst the soldiers. His successes against the Allies were well received by the civilian population and he was acclaimed as the “Hero of Gallipoli”.

This man, a military genius, soon showed himself as a great statesman too. After calling national congresses, he was elected President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in April 1920. From then until his death in 1938, he remained in power in Turkey.

In 1934 everyone had to take a surname and Mustafa Kemal received the surname ATATURK which means “Father of the Turks”. With all that he did for his country, he really deserved this title.


1924 Abolition of the Caliphate
1925 Abolition of the fez; suppression of religious brotherhoods; closing of sacred tombs as places of worship
1926 Adoption of new Civil Law code
1928 Introduction of Latin alphabet
1934 Kemal takes name of Ataturk when a new law required Turks to adopt surnames; women made eligible to vote in elections and to become members of Parliament

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s reforms can be summarized as follows:

  • Abolition of the Sultanate and Caliphate; establishment of the Republic.
  • Implementation of secularism nationwide.
  • Abolition of the religious courts.
  • Suppression of religious brotherhoods; closing of sacred tombs as places of worship.
  • Replacement of traditional clothing by Western styles; abolition of the fez.
  • Abolition of Medreses, unification of education, renovations of school programs according to contemporary and national needs, opening of new universities.
  • Adoption of new Civil Law code.
  • Adoption of the solar calendar and changing of the Moslem holy day of the week, Friday, into a weekday with Sunday becoming the official day of rest.
  • Introduction of Latin alphabet.
  • Purification of Turkish language from foreign words.
  • Implementation of “Peace at home, Peace in the world” as Turkish foreign policy.

Ismet Inonu

The statesman and career military officer Ismet Inonu, (1884-1973), became the principal lieutenant of Kemal Ataturk in the post-World War I struggle for Turkish independence. Inonu was the Turkish representative at the Lausanne Conference which overturned the wartime settlement and established the Turkish Republic in 1923.

He was twice prime minister during Ataturk’s presidency. As the second president (1938-50), Inonu kept Turkey neutral during World War II and prepared the country for democratic elections, which resulted in the removal of his Republican People’s party from power (1950). He then led the opposition to the Democratic party’s regime until its overthrow by a coup in 1960.

The military coup of 1960

Relatively neglected from 1923 to 1939, the army during the war had undergone a rapid expansion and a considerable modernization subsequently with the aid of US advisers. Many officers feared that the Democratic Peak (DP) threatened the principles of the secular, progressive Kemalist state. Some younger officers saw the army as the direct instrument of unity and reform. On May 3, 1960, the commander of the land forces, General Cemal Gursel, demanded political reforms and resigned when they were refused. On May 27 the army acted; an almost bloodless coup was carried out by officers and cadets from the Istanbul and Ankara War colleges. The leaders established a 38-man “National Unity Committee” with Gursel as chairman. The Democrat Party leaders were imprisoned. Most of the senior officers wanted to withdraw the army from politics as soon as possible and in November 1960 the decision was taken. The main work of the National Unity Committee was to destroy the DP and to prepare a new constitution. The DP was abolished and many Democrats were brought to trial on charges of corruption, unconstitutional rule and high treason. Three former ministers, including Menderes, were executed; 12 others, including Bayar, had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The new constitution was completed and approved by 61% of the votes at a referendum. The first elections were held in October 1961. The army then withdrew from direct political involvement.

The military coup of 1980

In 1980 the military, which had watched the growing violence and the government’s ineffectiveness with alarm, intervened, precipitating a bloodless coup on September 12. A National Security Council composed of the military high command took over governmental duties, naming General Kenan Evren head of state, quickly dissolved the Assembly, political parties and the trade unions. The constitution was suspended and martial law imposed. In November 1982 a new constitution won overwhelming approval in a national referendum. In April 1983 the National Security Council lifted its ban on political parties and the following November it transferred power to an elected unicameral parliament.

In 1989 Turgut Ozal was chosen by parliament to succeed Evren. In 1993, Suleyman Demirel succeeded Ozal after his death. Since then coalition governments have been effective in the Turkish Grand National Assembly.