This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99 Pay by PayPal for images for immediate download Member of British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA)

Turkey’s heroic saviour – Kemal Ataturk

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Revolution on Thursday, 29 September 2011

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about Turkey originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 828 published on 26 November 1977.

Ataturk, picture, image, illustration

Kemal Ataturk by John Keay

Peace at any price. These four words summed up the thoughts and heartfelt wishes of the Western European Allied Powers when their leaders sat around a conference table in Paris rebuilding the map of Europe.

The year was 1920, and after four years of the worst war known to mankind, peace had to be bought at any price. And even while they were seeking it the war-weary statesmen were sighing hopelessly, for already the prospect of war was looming again, this time with Turkey.

During the First World War, Turkey’s Sultan had made the mistake of siding with defeated Germany. At the peace talks, the Allies therefore decided to destroy the Sultan’s corrupt and outdated Ottoman Empire. The terms they imposed, however, were so severe that the rapidly disbanding European armies would have had no chance of enforcing them if called upon to do so.

News from Turkey revealed that they were indeed being called upon to show their teeth. Trouble was coming not from the Sultan, who had been fawning on the British ever since the armistice, but from a young Turkish army officer based in Angora. He, it was reported, was about to attack the Allied armies in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

His name, it seemed, was Mustapha Kemal. For three years he had been a thorn in the side of the Allies, organising resistance to them, defying his own Sultan’s government and winning a civil war with the Sultan’s army. He and his followers, calling themselves Kemalists, had their own government at Angora and claimed it to be the true voice of the Turkish people.

If the Allied powers could have contacted Mustapha Kemal at that delicate point in their peace talks, the story of Turkey in the 20th century might have been very different. But even in Turkey, few people knew the whereabouts of the hard-faced, quick-tempered army officer who saw himself as his country’s saviour.

The few who knew where he was were simple peasants living in a village of stone houses called Chan Kaya. They were familiar with the sight of Mustapha Kemal’s swaggering dark-haired bodyguard, who kicked up the dust in the sun-drenched village as they paced up and down outside one house that was barely distinguishable from the others. They had heard of, but never seen, the man inside poring over his map . . . the man they knew as Kemal, the rebel who was to become the maker of modern Turkey.

In Paris, news of Kemal’s plans was creating considerable embarrassment for the conferring Allies. They were not prepared for another war, yet they might be forced to fight against this rebellious Turk.

“Can no way be found out of this dilemma?” they asked each other.

The answer came from a Greek statesman named Venizelos. For long he and his country had nurtured an ambition to establish a Greek Empire in Turkey. Now his chance had come. He offered to fight this war for the Allies. His soldiers, he pointed out, were already in the Turkish port of Smyrna. Relieved, the Allies readily agreed and put the matter behind them.

Consequently, in June, 1920, the Greeks advanced into Turkey and within a year they had captured most of the nation’s key points. By the summer of 1921, the Greek army was poised to mount its final attack on Kemal’s Angora citadel and to crush the rebel leader for good.

The army that faced Kemal was larger, better disciplined, better-armed and much better-fed than his own. When it attacked in the first week in July the peasants of Angora hastily gathered their belongings and fled into the mountains.

As the full force of the Greek army struck, Kemal ordered an immediate retreat to the swift-flowing Sakaria river, a natural defensive barrier. Behind the river was a range of hills. And behind the hills was Angora, with Kemal’s parliament and people waiting for the battle that was to decide their fate.

Kemal’s plan was to bring the Greeks on over ground that was unfamiliar to them, straining their lines of communication in the heat of a Turkish August, while his own men would have the advantage of fighting on familiar territory.

The battle began on 24th August. The two armies fought recklessly. Men ignored cover in their crazed desire to get to the enemy, and hundreds at a time were wiped out by volleys of artillery and rifle fire.

For fourteen days, one frenzied attack followed another until the Greeks, parched and short of food, began to withdraw.

“Now,” Kemal informed his troops, “we will go after them. Attack, again and again.”

Slowly, the Turks drove back their invaders until the Greeks reached their own lines. Meanwhile, the watching world wondered whether the rebel hero of Turkey could hold them there.

Kemal was certain that he could. He ordered his men to stand firm while he went off to fetch reinforcements. When a body of war-weary officers tried to resist him, he had them all hanged. He borrowed money from Russia and made a deal with France. This permitted him to leave the Syrian border unguarded, and released 80,000 soldiers.

Nearly a year passed before Kemal was ready. Then, at 4 a.m. on 26th August, 1922, he ordered the attack that was aimed at driving the Greeks from Turkey.

The inspired Turks tore into their enemy in a rush of fire and steel. The Greeks, tired of fighting, were overwhelmed and quickly transformed into a fleeing rabble. Heading for Smyrna and their ships, they laid waste the land they covered. It was hardly surprising, therefore that those who were overtaken by the Turks were killed instead of being taken prisoner.

Kemal entered Smyrna in triumph, although the Greeks had already fled to Thrace, where they were re-forming for another battle. Kemal now needed to carry the war to the enemy before they became too powerful. Between him and Thrace was the British army, backed by the Royal Navy. Would they prevent him by force from pursuing his enemy?

Kemal decided on a bold gamble. He would march his soldiers through the British lines with arms reversed, peacefully.

The plan succeeded and the Turks were allowed to pass through the British lines. But they never got to grips with the Greeks. Before they could fight they were halted by an Allied intervention. The Allies promised to be responsible for the Greeks leaving Thrace. They promised also to evacuate their own Allied troops from Constantinople.

The revolution was over. The Turkish Empire was dead, and in a few months the Republic of Turkey was born with Mustapha Kemal as its first president.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.