In 1923 Kemal was elected president of the new Turkish republic. He was reelected in 1927, 1931, and 1935—always by a unanimous parliament. With enormous energy he set out on a program of internal reform and "Westernization"; 15 years of his rule changed Turkey in the essential as well as the most minute aspects of its life (see Turkey). Although a dictator, Kemal tolerated limited opposition; but he was ruthless toward those he considered extremists. Regarding Islam as a conservative force, he abolished (1924) the caliphate (thereby disestablishing Islam as the state religion) and crippled religious opposition to reform.
Abroad, he pursued a policy of conciliation and neutrality. He established friendly relations with Turkey's neighbors, particularly the Soviet Union, helped to bring about the Balkan Entente, and freed Turkey from foreign influence, though it meant refusing capital investment for industrialization of the country. On his death he was succeeded as president by Ismet Inönü. In 1953 his remains were transferred to a new mausoleum in Ankara. He remains the object of cultlike devotion by many Turks.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.