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MUSTAFA KEMAL 'ATATURK'

Mustafa Kemal was a soldier by profession but the depth of vision and courage he embodied is rarely found even in experienced statesmen. After organizing and then monitoring the War of Independence, he set up a new parliament in Ankara in 1923, proclaimed the state to be a republic and was elected the first president. As he died in 1938, his presidency lasted for only fifteen years but within this short period of time he managed to transform his country to such an extent that even his immediate predecessors would not have recognized it.

To start with the administrative, legal and educational systems were changed. The constitution was rewritten. The state became secular and populist. The Caliphate was abolished and so were the religious orders. The script was changed by replacing the Arabic alphabet with the Latin one and the language was purged of foreign elements. Polygamy was prohibited and international time and the international calendar were adopted. Women were given the right to vote and be voted for. The old fez was cast out and the European hat was brought in.

When the new law of surnames passed through the parliament, the nation gave Mustafa Kemal the name Ataturk, (Father of Turks). Indeed, the adoration he has inspired amongst his fellow countrymen falls only a little short of the love of God. Today, any office you enter will have his picture on the wall, and if you happen to be in Turkey on November 10th, the date of his death, you will see the whole country come to a standstill at 9.05 am for five minutes. Turks will stop literally wherever they are to mourn Ataturk, be it on the way to work, ascending a flight of stairs, or halfway through a bowl of lentil soup.