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A Visionary Reformer

Volumes have been written about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s life and leadership as a visionary reformer.   Although this website is kept brief, please see Books and Articles about Atatürk for more information.

Throughout his presidency, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk diligently implemented his visions of a modern nation. For over 600 years, Turks had only known Sultans as absolute monarchic rulers, a system to be obeyed.  But to bring his nation into a new era, Atatürk knew he needed to expedite Turkey’s social, political, and technological standards to those of Europe. He also understood that encouragement was needed for the citizens who were war-shocked, exhausted, near poverty, and confused about this new way of governing. He was also quite aware that progress meant a struggle with those who advocated the return of ancient traditions and the religious Ottoman Sultanate dynasty.

Atatürk scrapped the archaic, convoluted Ottoman form of government and replaced it with policies and principles based on Swiss and other European laws. More than just trading one system for another, Atatürk dedicated himself to his people, believed in them, and knew that they would value the reformations as deeply as he did. As a result, Turkey was transformed into a secular nation with westernized legal, economic, social, educational, and cultural programs.

The following highlights the most prominent aspects of Atatürk’s reforms:

  • Abolished the Ottoman Sultanate (late 1922).
  • Declared the Turkish Republic (29 October 1923).
  • Formed the office of Prime Minister, President, and a democratically-elected National Assembly (1923).
  • Adopted a new constitution (1924).
  • Abolished the Caliphate (leadership of the Muslim religion) and restricted its theocratic institutions (early 1924).
  • Replaced the religious education system with a national education system (1924).
  • Adopted the Gregorian calendar and western time zone system, including defining the workweek as Monday to Friday (1925).
  • Prohibited the veil and other religious-based clothing but only encouraged western-style clothing for women. Atatürk believed that women would follow fashions according to their free will.
  • Enacted a revised legal system, including the Civil Code, Penal Statute Law, and Trade Law, based on Swiss and Italian civil law (1924-1937).
  • Replaced the Arabic script with the Latin alphabet, which was mandated to be taught in schools (1928). Atatürk believed that the Latin alphabet would be easier to teach to a largely (90%) illiterate population, easier to learn, and therefore would immediately impact the literacy rate.
  • Promoted construction of thousands of new schools, made literacy reform a priority, and made primary education compulsory and free.
  • Accelerated Turkey’s post-war economic development by establishing state-owned factories for textile and agricultural industries.
  • Supported construction of the national Turkish State Railways (1927).
  • Modernized state banking systems.
  • Promoted advancement in the fields of science, health and medicine, law, and education.
  • Adopted the international numeric system (1928).
  • Supported Turkey’s culture by establishing a Turkish Historical Society (1931), a Turkish Language Association (1932).
  • Adopted the International System of Units to standardize national measurements (1933)
  • Changed the tax code to reduce the tax burden on peasants.
  • Enacted women’s suffrage rights (1934).
  • Legalized gender equality and women’s emancipation rights (1926-1934). 
  • Passed a law to require that everyone have a surname instead of surnames based on titles of honor (1934).
  • Developed foreign policies of neutrality and cultivated friendly international relationships.
  • Replaced a provincial legal system (called millet) that allowed every minority community to govern themselves with a unified, secular constitution.
  • Established the Directorate for Religious Affairs, which affirmed the new Republic of Turkey’s protection and equality of all religions, including Islam.
  • Encouraged reform of the Turkish language by establishing a Language Commission that replaced foreign words with Turkish ones with standardized spelling and phonetics.
  • Declared that “Culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic.” Strongly supported the arts, such as opera, theatre, literature, and music; opened museums; encouraged interest in Turkey’s indigenous Anatolian heritage, eg, naming the state-owned banks Sümerbank after the Sumerians and Etibank after the Hittites; and encouraged the importance of Turkish folk art.


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