November 10, 1938: Death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
On November 10, 1938, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, died of cirrhosis in Istanbul. Deeply inspired by the West and the French Revolution in particular, Atatürk laid the foundation for today’s Turkey.
The young Mustafa
Atatürk was born as “Mustafa” in 1881 in the Kocakasim district of Salonika (then part of Ottoman Empire), in a pink three-storey house on Islahhane Street. His father was Ali Riza Efendi and his mother was Zübeyde. Ali Riza Efendi worked as a military officer and a lumber trader. He married Zübeyde in 1871. Four of Atatürk’s five brothers died young, only one sister, Makbule (Atadan) lived until 1956.
Origins of Atatürk’s family
Atatürk’s paternal grandfather Hafiz Ahmed Efendi’s origins go back to Konya & Aydin in Turkey. His family had emirated to Macedonia back in 14th century from Anatolia. His mother Zübeyde Hanim was the daughter of an old Turkish family living in the city of Langasa near Salonika.
Young Mustafa Kemal started his education in Salonika at a religious school first but later went on to Ottoman Military Academy in Manastir, Macedonia (then part of Ottoman Empire). Due to his excellence in Mathematics, his teacher named him “Mustafa Kemal” (Kemal meaning “Perfect”). After graduating the Military academy, he proceeded his studies in Istanbul Military Academy. He received the lieutenant rank in 1902 and graduated from the academy with the rank of Captain in 1905.
Atatürk’s military career
Between 1905 – 1907 he was in Damascus, Syria (then part of Ottoman Empire) serving under the Ottoman Third Army. In 1907 he was appointed to serve in Manastir, Macedonia (then part of Ottoman Empire). He was sent to France in 1910 where he joined in the military exercises with French commander Picardy.
Organizing a resistance in Libya
The Italian army invaded Libya, which was part of Ottoman Empire at the time. However due to the ceasefire arrangements between Ottoman Empire and Italy, Ottomans couldn’t officially send military support to Libya. Therefore, Atatürk and a few young Turkish officers resigned from the military and travelled to Libya undercover posing as journalists. In Libya, they organized the local Libyan forces and stopped the invading Italian army. He won the Battle of Tobruk on December 22, 1911 against the Italians and was appointed as The Commander of Derne on March 6, 1912.
After the start of the Balkan War in October 1912, Mustafa Kemal left Libya to join Ottoman Army. In 1913 he was appointed as the Ottoman Military Attaché in Sofia, Bulgaria. While still in this post, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1914.
Atatürk spent his youth in military serving in 3 continents
Having served in Syria, Macedonia, Libya and Bulgaria; Mustafa Kemal made his name by his heroism and leadership in Gallipoli.
Atatürk and Gallipoli
During the Allied attack on Gallipoli, Atatürk was the commander of Turkish forces.
He is known to Australians mostly due to his famous words on the fallen ANZAC soldiers:
“Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,
therefore ret in peace.
There is no difference between the Jonnies
and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side.
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries
wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bossom
and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.”
After Gallipoli, Atatürk served in Diyarbakir as the Major General at the Eastern Front fighting the Russian army. He saved Mus and Bitlis, from the Russian army. After a short mission to Damascus and Aleppo, Atatürk returned to Istanbul in 1917.
The last Ottoman King, Vahdettin, appointed Atatürk as his top Aide. With Vahdettin, Atatürk travelled to Germany. However he fell ill after this trip and spent some time in Vienna for treatment. Upon his recovery, Atatürk returned to Aleppo on August 15, 1918 as commander of the 7th Army.
Organising a resistance movement in Anatolia
After Ottomans signed the Mondros Armistice with the Allied powers. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk left Istanbul, travelled to Anatolia and organized the Turkish resistance movement against the invading Allied forces. As Istanbul was under occupation, he organized the Parliament to reunite in Ankara. Under his leadership, the remaining Turkish forces in Anatolia defeated invading forces.
The new Turkish republic
After ceasefire with Allied forces, a new Turkish republic was formed replacing the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish parliament elected Atatürk as the first president of Turkish republic. Under his leadership, the new Republic introduced many social and economic laws in order to catchup with the modern world.
Atatürk’s private life
Atatürk led a very simple private life. He met his wife Latife in Izmir, after Turkish army defeated the occupying Greek forces in the region. They married in 1923 and stayed married for 2 years.
Atatürk loved children. He didn’t have any children from his marriage however he adopted 7 girls; Afet (Inan), Sabiha (Gökçen), Fikriye, Ülkü, Nebile, Rukiye, Zehra and a boy named Mustafa. He also took two boys named Abdurrahim and Ihsan under his protection.
Before he died, he left his farms to the Treasury and some of his real estate to the municipalities of Ankara and Bursa in 1937. He divided his estate between his sister, his adopted children and some foundations and charities.
Atatürk’s deteriorating health
Having spent most of his life in battles in various parts of the multinational Ottoman Empire, Atatürk had little time to pay attention to his health. Despite the doctors’ recommendations, he didn’t take time off to rest. That’s why he had to spend some time in Vienna in a special hospital to recover. This is where doctors first found out about his kidney problems. In 1927 he suffered from several coronary spasms. Later, his kidney problems caught up with him, but he kept working despite doctor advice. Following an important trip to Adana, where he was organizing the unification of Antakya with Turkey, his health started deteriorating.
He died of cirrhosis on November 10, 1938, at 9:05 am, at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul .
His last words were “Goodbye” before plunging into a deep coma.
He was buried at the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara on November 21, 1938.
His tomb was transferred to Anitkabir in Ankara on November 10, 1953.
A man of many hobbies
Fluent in 5 languages including French, English and German, Atatürk enjoyed reading books. He owned an extensive library. He often would invite intellectuals, scientists and artist to dinner parties where they would discuss various topics.
Like most of the military man of his generation; he was an excellent athlete. He loved sports. He loved riding horses and swimming. He also liked playing billiards. He had many pet dogs.
A lover of life, he enjoyed alcohol, dancing and music. He was known to be an excellent ballroom dancer as well as an avid fan of Turkish traditional folk dancing.
Atatürk was 1.74metres tall and weighed around 75kgs. His athletic physique combined with his straight posture often made him appear larger.