The Birth of the Republic of Turkey: A Historical Journey

On October 29, 2023, the Republic of Turkey will commemorate its 100th year and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Republic’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was revered as its founding father. He held the position until his death in 1938.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire ruled large areas of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. The empire began to decline gradually in the nineteenth century, but in the early twentieth century, its decline accelerated due to the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, its defeat in World War One, and the Turkish War of Independence that followed in 1919. In the latter case, Atatürk strengthened his hold on power, leading to the overthrow of Sultan Mehmed VI and the creation of the Republic of Turkey.

In this Archives Explored article, we will analyze Atatürk’s contribution to the founding of the Republic of Turkey and his legacy during President Erdoğan’s presidency using a variety of sources from the Gale Primary Sources archives.

Using Gale’s Digital Scholar Lab, where we could browse through all of the Gale archives and create a content set for analysis, we began our investigation.

The name “Atatürk” was ascribed to Mustafa Kemal after the founding of the Republic. But because we were interested in finding out more about Atatürk’s role before and after this, we also searched for “Mustafa Kemal” and “Mustapha Kemal” in addition to “Atatürk” to take into account different spelling conventions for his name. This ensured that we captured any documents published prior to the founding of the Republic in our research.

We used the ‘Advanced Search’ feature to identify all documents within Gale’s archives that referenced Atatürk. In order to eliminate documents that had nothing to do with our study, we used keywords such as “Turkey,” “Young Turks,” “Sultan,” and “republic” to cross-search Atatürk’s name variations.

From 1919 to 2019, we were able to locate 848 different pieces that covered the conflicts that emerged during and after the Turkish War of Independence, Atatürk’s demands and ambitions for Turkey, and the establishment and background of the Republic. Additionally, ordering them by date allowed us to investigate them chronologically too.

It is significant to remember that the study’s document sources were Western European, American, and British. Following World War I, Britain and France, among other European powers, partitioned parts of Ottoman territory among themselves. These areas would later play a crucial role in the Turkish War of Independence. Therefore, we had to consider their role in the conflict when analysing the views portrayed in these sources.

The Republic of Turkey, a modern nation with a rich and complex history emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Its birth a pivotal moment in the 20th century, was marked by political upheaval, social transformation, and the rise of a charismatic leader who would shape the nation’s destiny.

From Empire to Republic: A Tumultuous Transition

The Ottoman Empire, once a sprawling dominion encompassing vast territories across Europe, Asia, and Africa, had been steadily declining for centuries. Internal strife, economic woes, and military defeats had weakened its grip on power, leaving it vulnerable to external forces World War I proved to be the final blow, as the empire sided with the Central Powers and suffered a crushing defeat.

In the wake of the war, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and its territories were carved up by the victorious Allied powers. However a group of Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, refused to accept the dismemberment of their homeland. They launched a War of Independence, a fierce struggle against foreign occupation and internal rivals.

The Rise of Atatürk: A Visionary Leader

Leading the Turkish War of Independence was the brilliant military strategist and charismatic leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His leadership and the Turkish people’s willpower resulted in the withdrawal of foreign forces and the creation of an independent Turkish state.

On October 29, 1923, the Republic of Turkey was officially proclaimed, marking a new era in the nation’s history. Atatürk, hailed as the “Father of the Turks,” became the first president of the republic and embarked on an ambitious program of reforms aimed at modernizing the country and transforming it into a secular, Western-style nation-state.

Atatürk’s Reforms: A Legacy of Modernization

Atatürk’s reforms were sweeping and transformative, touching every aspect of Turkish society. He replaced the centuries-old Islamic institution of the caliphate with a new constitution based on Western ideals. He made literacy more widely available for the general public by substituting the Latin alphabet for the Arabic script. He promoted women’s rights, granting them suffrage and equal opportunities. He also implemented economic reforms, encouraging industrialization and modernization.

Atatürk’s reforms were not without controversy, but they undoubtedly laid the foundation for the modern Turkish state. He envisioned a Turkey that was strong, independent, and progressive, and his reforms helped to achieve that vision.

The Multi-Party Era: A Shift in Political Landscape

Following Atatürk’s death in 1938, Turkey entered a period of multi-party democracy. When the nation held its first multi-party elections in 1946, the political climate significantly changed. After the Democratic Party under Adnan Menderes won the election, an era of economic expansion and liberalization was ushered in.

However, Menderes’s rule became increasingly authoritarian, and in 1960, a military coup d’état ousted him from power. The military remained a powerful force in Turkish politics for decades, intervening in several subsequent governments.

The Challenges of Modern Turkey

Despite its progress, Turkey continues to face numerous challenges. The Kurdish conflict in the southeast, the legacy of Atatürk’s secularism, and the country’s relations with the West are just some of the issues that continue to shape Turkish politics and society.

The birth of the Republic of Turkey was a momentous event in the nation’s history. It marked the end of an empire and the beginning of a new era. The reforms of Atatürk laid the foundation for a modern, secular state, while the multi-party era brought about political change and economic growth. However, Turkey continues to grapple with challenges, both internal and external, as it strives to forge its own path in the 21st century.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When was the Republic of Turkey founded?

A: The Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923.

Q: Who was the first president of the Republic of Turkey?

A: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the first president of the Republic of Turkey.

Q: What were some of Atatürk’s reforms?

A: Atatürk’s reforms included the abolition of the caliphate, the introduction of a new constitution based on Western principles, the replacement of the Arabic script with the Latin alphabet, the promotion of women’s rights, and the implementation of economic reforms.

Q: What are some of the challenges that Turkey faces today?

A: Some of the challenges that Turkey faces today include the Kurdish conflict in the southeast, the legacy of Atatürk’s secularism, and the country’s relations with the West.

Additional Resources

Atatürk and the Nationalists’ Demands

The primary goals of Atatürk and the nationalists are evident in the accounts of the Turkish War of Independence that we can find in the sources. However, a wealth of additional materials in our collection offer a deeper comprehension of their demands; one such article is titled “Outlawed Turks” and was printed in The Times in August 1919. 11 In this passage, nationalists criticized the current Turkish government for its “willingness to accept technical, scientific, and administrative assistance from a foreign Power,” arguing that it did not represent “national aspirations.” 12 Permitting foreign intervention was seen as endorsing the punitive agreements that the Ottoman Empire was forced to sign after World War One, which were criticized for stifling nationalist calls for independence. A call for a “new and representative Chamber” to be elected is suggested in response. 13.

Another article that surfaced in The Times’ “Imperial and Foreign News Items” section a month later provides additional insight into Atatürk’s plans to install nationalists in leadership positions and push for the “immediate resignation” of the current administration. 14 This article offers the first true account of Kemal’s threat to “declare an independent Anatolian Republic” with himself as President if they did not abide by his demands. 15.

Again, we find Atatürk’s aspirations for Turkey in January 1922 in The Times, supposedly based on a telegram allegedly from Mustafa Kemal. 16 The demands of the nationalists are being sent as “peace terms,” and they are once again demanding “the recognition of the complete independence, political and economic, of Turkey within the national borders.” One of the main issues this article takes with these demands is the lack of input Turkey wants from other powers on “the settlement of the Straits question,” which previous articles have highlighted was causing much controversy.” 17 18.

Furthering these demands, a September article in The Daily Telegraph reprints an interview between Atatürk and John Clayton. Kemal’s desire for “real independence over all Turkish lands” is emphasized, with specific reference to “that part of Thrace which is predominantly Turkish, Constantinople, and Adrianople.” ” 19.

Less than a week later, The New York Herald reports that the Allies planned to concede to Atatürk and the nationalists’ demands for “Adrianople and Thrace as far as the Maritza river, the withdrawal of every Allied soldier from Constantinople and the sovereignty of the Straits.” 20.

Another demand we found amongst our sources was in relation to the Sultan. The Times first reported in February 1921 that one of Atatürk’s objectives was to overthrow the Sultan’s authority. According to this, Atatürk supported “abolishing the Sultan’s temporal authority and relegating him in his spiritual capacity as Khalif.” ” 21.

Another article from The Times in October 1922 emphasizes the desire to lessen the Sultan’s authority. 22 Referring to the Sultan’s prior combination of temporal and spiritual authority as a “grave political error,” the nationalists wanted the Sultan to be “deprived of temporal power.” ” 23.

Kemal’s criticism of the Sultan and his administration in a November 1922 Daily Telegraph article for having “accepted the conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres, which put an end to the independence of Turkey,” suggests that this was one of the driving forces behind the opposition to the Sultan’s rule. Kemal compared this action to the Sultan and his government “suicide. 24 The Treaty of Sèvres, an agreement between representatives of the Ottoman Turkish government and the victorious Allied powers that attempted to divide Ottoman territories after World War One, served as a catalyst for part of the Turkish War of Independence.

Reactions to Atatürk and the nationalists

Because many of the primary sources in this content set are of British, US, and Western European origin, as was previously mentioned, the representation and response to Atatürk, the Turkish War of Independence, and the establishment of the Republic must be examined in light of their Allied influence. Based on our research, we have concluded that Allied meddling sparked the Turkish independence movement. This is supported by the Allies’ opposition to Atatürk and the nationalists’ actions, especially those of the British.

An example of resistance to Atatürk and the nationalists can be found in a June 1920 article that appeared in The Times. It vividly and horrifyingly links Atatürk to the atrocities associated with the military campaigns by characterizing him as “the head of an insurgent body which shoots political prisoners daily and has inspired one very successful massacre at Marash and several minor horrors in Cilicia.” 25.

But among the more overt reactions offered by our sources was fear; several articles expressed worries about the likelihood of future conflict for Britain after the devastation of World War One. One such example is from the Sunday Mirror in March 1920, titled “Are We Drifting into Another War?”. 26 The paper makes it clear that, despite not endorsing Kemal and the nationalists, it acknowledges the conflict’s possible global repercussions and calls on the Allies to abstain from going to any “extremes” and to “give the Turks a better position in Asia Minor” in order to avoid being dragged into more conflicts. 27 The article’s acknowledgement at the conclusion that the “Allied nations are weary of war” emphasizes how war has plagued the continent since World War One. 28.

The Courier article “War Menace Growing in near East” from September 1922 still reflects this ominous tone. 29 This language presents a concerning picture of an impending conflict by implying that “war with Turkey comes measurably nearer” and that the fight for Straits independence was about to set the Near East “ablaze.” 30 Unlike previous articles, this one criticizes the actions of the British government, even though it doesn’t appear to support Kemal and even suggests that his decision could lead to war. For example, it states that “the British people have never approved Mr Lloyd George’s pro-Greek policy”. 31.


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