Born at Thessaloníki, he secretly applied to a military academy, where his excellence at mathematics won him the surname Kemal [the perfect]. As an officer he joined the Young Turks, a liberal movement that sought to establish a constitutional government for the Ottoman Empire, although he disagreed with its pro-German policy, because he considered Turkish interests to be paramount. In 1908 he took part in the successful Young Turk revolution as chief of staff of Enver Pasha, whom he later opposed over the German issue.
He served in Libya (1911–12) and in the Second Balkan War (1913). In World War I his efficient work in the Dardanelles, on the Armenian front, and in Palestine, though it merely helped to postpone disaster, won him the title pasha. After the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies, Sultan Muhammad VI sent Kemal to E Anatolia, hoping to limit his influence.
Arriving in May, 1919, Kemal organized the Turkish Nationalist party and began to form an army. When the Turks were aroused by the Greek landing at Smyrna (now Izmir) he convened nationalist congresses at Erzurum (July, 1919) and Sivas (Sept.). Outlawed by the sultan, who was in the hands of the Allies in Constantinople, he set up a rival government at Ankara. The signing of the Treaty of Sèvres by the Constantinople government made the split with Ankara final.
With the tacit consent of Soviet Russia, Kemal retook Kars and Ardahan from Armenia (1920). Then, taking advantage of disagreements among the Allies, he expelled the Greeks from Anatolia in a brilliant campaign (1921–22). For his victory he received the official name Ghazi [victorious]. On Nov. 1, 1922, Kemal proclaimed the abolition of the sultanate, and Sultan Muhammad VI fled to a British warship. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923; see Lausanne, Treaty of) was a triumph for the nationalist cause; an independent and sovereign Turkey was recognized by the European powers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.