Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Kemal Mustafa°

KEMAL MUSTAFA° (Ataturk; 1881–1938), Turkish general and statesman, founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president (1923–38). Endowed with far-sighted vision and boundless energy, he was responsible, after the defeat of the *Ottoman Empire in World War I and its dismemberment, in leading the remnants of the Ottoman army to victory. No less significantly, he shaped Turkey into a state with institutions modeled on West-European patterns, aiming to achieve a modern society. What was noteworthy in his reforms was the comprehensiveness of his approach and his drive to institute change in practically all walks of life, from the roots up. His most important reforms in modernization and secularization (he limited, intentionally, the influence of *Islam) were the following:

The creation of a modern republican state structure with a constitution (proclaimed in 1924), a freely elected parliament (for which women could vote), the founding of a political party (as an agent of modernization), recruitment of a modern bureaucracy, building a new capital in Ankara, disestablishment of religion by secularizing education and the courts, emancipation of women both politically (by giving them the right to vote) and socially (by instituting monogamy and discouraging the veil), adoption of the Latin instead of the Arabic alphabet, and reformation of the Turkish language.

Mustafa Kemal set out to change the mentality of his people in order to induce them to adopt and support his reforms. He never tired of lecturing them on their proud past (and insisted on a patriotic school curriculum in history as well as on historical research at the universities). He insisted on symbols that would enhance love for the fatherland and increase national solidarity for nation-building. The single party he headed was mobilized for these ends and for promoting the reforms within parliament and outside it. While Turkey's economy did not improve visibly, other aspects covered by the reforms did, largely carried out due to his impressive charisma.

Jews and other religious groups were freed from all limitations imposed by the late Ottoman Empire and considered equal citizens. Of course, equality had some drawbacks such as the laws instituting Turkish as the language of instruction (instead of minority languages) in the entire school system. However, Mustafa Kemal should be remembered, also, for his magnanimous and far-sighted decision to invite about 300 professors, physicians, and lawyers, most of them Jewish, from Germany, during the 1930s (along with their extended families), thus rescuing them from Nazi persecution (and worse) and raising the level of teaching and research in Turkey's universities, where many were offered academic appointments.


The best bibliography on Mustafa Kemal is still the 3-vol. compilation of Mozaffer Gökman, Atatürk ve devrimleri bibliyografyasi (1963–1977). See also: R. Mantran, " Atatürk," in: EIS2, 1 (1960), 734–35; Lord Kinross, Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation (19642); A. Kazancigil and E. Özbudun, Atatürk: Founder of a Modern Nation (1981); J.M. Landau, "New Books about Atatürk," in: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 75 (1983), 183–92; idem, Tekinalp: Turkish Patriot (1984); idem (ed.) Atatürk: Founder of a Modern Nation (1984); L. Macfie, Atatürk (1994); E.J. Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History (1997); A. Mango, Atatürk (1999); F. Tachau, "German Jewish Emigrés in Turkey," in: A. Levy (ed.), Jews, Turks, Ottomans (2002), 233–45; G.E. Gruen, "Turkey," in: R.S. Simon a.o. (eds.), The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (2003), 303–15.