Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the military and political leader who transformed what was left of the Ottoman Empire into modern Turkey. Born with the given name Mustafa (Mustapha), he was as a young student given the name Kemal (meaning "perfection") for his excellence in mathematics. He became a soldier and excelled at that discipline as well. In the Turkish defense of the Dardanelles in 1915 his military acumen and heroics made him a national icon. He was promoted to general at the age of 35 and given command of the army near the Black Sea port of Samsun. He defied the Sultan's orders to quash opposition and instead built an army of his own to fight for independence from European control. The Sultan ordered his arrest, but to no avail. Between 1919 and 1923 Kemal successfully fought off foreign armies as well as opposition forces from Turkey. On 29 October 1923 the national parliament declared the existence of the Republic of Turkey with Kemal as president. His fifteen years in office were turbulent -- he attempted political and social reforms and emulated the liberal democracies of the West, but as the party leader in a one-party state, he has also been called a dictator. Nonetheless, he is considered to have almost single-handedly saved and modernized Turkey, and in 1934 he was officially dubbed Atatürk, "father of the Turks."
The actual date of his birth is unknown. Early biographers debated between 1880 and 1881, with several settling on 12 March. More recent biographies have narrowed it down to the first part of May, and many have deemed 19 May 1881 as an acceptable date.
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