How the Turkish Republic was established
“Gentlemen! We shall declare the republic tomorrow” is what modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said on the night of Oct. 28, 1923 as he addressed lawmakers and his close brothers-in-arms. One day later, the Turkish Parliament adopted the new regime type and elected Atatürk as the first president, as lawmakers were heard shouting, “Long live the Republic! Long live Mustafa Kemal Pasha!"
The establishment of the republic, however, was not as easy as it sounds. It took over 20 years, with much blood shed in numerous battles as Mustafa Kemal, his comrades in arms and soldiers under their command fought courageously for the independence of the Turkish nation.
The struggle for independence after WWI
After World War I was concluded in 1918, Istanbul and the Ottoman government were controlled by Allied powers.
Mehmet VI Vahdeddin, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire who later fled the country under British protection, dismissed the parliament in December 1918 and started to rule by decree.
Meanwhile, the Allied powers were invading many territories across the country, dismantling what was left of the long-standing Ottoman Empire.
Local resistance groups were forming units all across Anatolia, in a spirit of national struggle. These resistance groups were under the command of three experienced Ottoman commanders. Among them was Mustafa Kemal, who later assumed his leadership of the Turkish resistance.
When representatives from the allied states met in Paris on May 15, 1919, a decision regarding the occupation of Aegean province of İzmir, by the Greek forces, was made.
On May 16, 1919, İzmir had officially been placed under Greek invasion.
The Greek invasion had gained a brutal dimension. They captured the northwestern province of Bursa, a former Ottoman capital, and were pushing the borders of Anatolia. The invasion was posing a serious threat to the national movement of local resistance groups.
Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun
On May 16, 1919, Mustafa Kemal left Istanbul.
He arrived in Samsun three days later, on May 19. Today, Mustafa Kemal’s arrival in Samsun is acknowledged as a turning point for the independence of the Turkish nation.
Many describe the day as “the start of one of the greatest national struggles in the world.”
Mustafa Kemal was sending circulars to known persons in Istanbul, inviting them to join the national struggle. He was in Amasya at that time.
On Oct. 22, 1919, what is now known as the Amasya Circular (“Amasya Genelgesi” in Turkish) was distributed across Anatolia.
“The integrity of the country and the independence of the nation are in danger. The independence of the nation will be saved by its devoutness and determination. It is decided that a national congress will be convened in Sivas, upon urgency,” the circular read.
Subsequently, two congresses were convened in Sivas and Erzurum in 1919.
‘Either independence, or death!’
The Erzurum Congress, dubbed as a landmark in the national struggle period, convened on July 23, 1919. It was chaired by Mustafa Kemal.
Mustafa Kemal was dismissed from all his posts under the Ottoman government, including his military duties.
“The nation shall not accept the status of a mandate of a protectorate. The nation would resist foreign occupation,” the declaration of the congress said.
“Istanbul is insisting on an American mandate. This will not happen. Turkey will have independence. No gentlemen, there will be no mandate. Either independence or death!” Mustafa Kemal told his friends in Erzurum.
One of the most important decisions taken in congress was the formation of a provisional government.
Sivas Congress, where national sovereignty was accepted
After the Erzurum Congress, another one convened in Sivas. The pivotal weeklong congress of the Turkish National Movement was held in the eastern Sivas province on Sept. 4, 1919.
“Here were made decisions that prepared the independence of a nation,” Mustafa Kemal once said about the congress.
In context of the congress’ decisions, the delegation became a first-degree body deciding the fate of the country, and the legitimate organs of the national movement were formed with the participation of newly elected members.
Istanbul under occupation
On March 16, 1920, Istanbul was occupied by the allied forces, including Britain, France and Italy.
When a dispatch clerk told Mustafa Kemal about the occupation, on April 6, 1920, he established Anadolu Agency in a bid to tell the world about the Turkish national struggle.
On April 21, 1920, he declared to the provinces that parliament will be opened on April 23.
The Istanbul government, not content with Mustafa Kemal or the national struggle, sentenced him to death.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary government signed a 20-day-long cease-fire agreement with France. Following that, the Istanbul government signed the Treaty of Sevres.
The treaty sought the dismantling of Anatolia to victorious allied powers and an establishment of an independent Armenian state centered around Erzurum.
Struggle gets crowned with battle victories
With the start of 1920, the newly established government started to have victories both on battlefields and in diplomacy.
Both battles of İsmet İnönü, one of Mustafa Kemal’s closest allies, were won and a treaty was signed with Russia.
On Aug. 5, 1920, Mustafa Kemal was declared Commander in Chief by law and on Aug. 23, 1920 the Battle of Sakarya commenced as Greeks took the offensive.
“There is no line of defense but an area of defense. And that area is the whole country. Not one inch of the nation is to be abandoned until it is drenched with Turkish blood,” Mustafa Kemal had said.
The foreign invasion across Anatolia was coming to an end. On Aug. 26, 2921, the Battle of Dumlupınar was launched.
İzmir was liberated on Sept. 9. About a month later the Armistice of Mudanya was signed.
The parliamentary government seized control of the administration with a declaration to the Istanbul government.
As for the War for Independence, it ended with victory and the Lausanne Conference was held on Nov. 20, 1922. After months-long discussions, İnönü, a successful general and the first prime minister of modern Turkey, signed the treaty that had defined the borders of the Turkish Republic and ended foreign occupation for good.
‘Gentlemen! We will declare the republic tomorrow’
The victories at the battlefield were being crowned with diplomatic and political gains as well. On Oct. 28, 1923, Mustafa Kemal told his friends and lawmakers at a dinner party that the republic will be founded on Oct. 29.
The parliament adopted the new regime type and elected Mustafa Kemal as the first president, with 158 votes.
President Mustafa Kemal appointed İnönü as the first prime minister.
Thousands flocked to the streets, celebrating the declaration of the republic and the independence of the Turkish nation.
After the republic was founded, Atatürk’s sweeping reforms came. He transformed what was left of the Ottoman Empire to an established, respectable state with his Westernization ideals.