He entered the State Preparatory School (Mulkiye Idadisi) in Salonika. One of the masters at the school was a man called Kaymak Hafiz. One day, during one of his lessons, Mustafa had a fight with another boy. Kaymak Hafiz took hold of Mustafa and beat him so hard that he was covered with bruises. His aunt, who was in any case opposed to his going to the school, immediately took him away. Mustafa wanted to enter a military school. However, the idea of his becoming a soldier frightened his mother, who by this time had returned to Salonika, and she refused to allow him to go. So when the entrance exams were held, he went secretly to the military school and sat the examinations without letting her know. The first his mother knew about it was when he told her he had passed. She was faced with a faith accomplice. The year was 1893. At this new school, Mustafa developed a special interest in mathematics, and he used to attempt problems well in advance of those taught in class. He made a habit of submitting written questions to the teacher, who then replied to them, also in writing. The teacher's name was Mustafa and one day he said to little Mustafa, his pupil: "Look here, my son. Your name is Mustafa and so is mine. There must be something to distinguish between us. Why don't you call yourself 'Mustafa Kemal' from now on?" This suggestion was adopted and little Mustafa became 'Mustafa Kemal'. 'Kemal' means 'perfection'.
In 1895, after finishing at the Military Middle School in Salonika, Mustafa Kemal went on to the Military High School (Askeri Idadisi) in Monastir. There, too, he found the math lessons very easy, but he was behind in French. The French master took a great deal of trouble with him, while often being very critical. This criticism stung Mustafa Kemal and, during his first leave at home, he decided to remedy the situation by attending a private class in a school run by a French religious order in Salonika. After three months at this school, his French was greatly improved.
As a result of his newly-acquired proficiency in French he began to read the works of Voltaire, Rousseau and the French political philosophers. His political awareness was heightened by the fact that Monastir was the most important military centre in Macedonia at a time when Greeks, Serbs and Bulgars were fighting to break away from Ottoman rule. Mustafa Kemal became an ardent patriot and on one occasion he and a friend ran away from school in a short-lived attempt to volunteer for the army which ended when they were recognised and had to return to the school.
In 1899 Mustafa Kemal went to Istanbul to enter the infantry class at the Military Academy. He made friends with a fellow cadet, Ali Fuad, the son of a retired general, and together they explored Istanbul in their spare time. During this period Mustafa Kemal's political ideas continued to develop. The Sultan, Abdulhamid II, had dissolved the parliament and was ruling as a despot. He saw the forces of modernisation and reform as a threat not only to his power but also to his personal safety. He had shut himself in behind the high walls of his palace, trusting nobody, and set up a huge network of secret agents. The 'Tanzimat' decrees issued during the reigns of the previous two Sultans, which had brought in Western reforms confirming the rights of subjects and the obligations of the sovereign, were abandoned in favour of a policy of ruthless suppression. Among the many banned books were the works of the Turkish nationalist writer Namik Kemal; it was these 'subversive' books that Mustafa Kemal read secretly at night in his dormitory.
When he went on to the Staff College as a lieutenant in 1902, Mustafa Kemal and some of his fellow-cadets formed a secret society and started writing a newspaper by hand in which they attacked the inefficiency and corruption of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan's spies reported this to the Palace and the director of the college was ordered to take steps to stop this revolutionary activity. One day while Mustafa Kemal and his friends were writing an issue of their newspaper in the veterinary school, the director walked in. Wishing to avoid trouble and in any case half-sympathetic to their cause, he pretended not to have seen what they were doing
t was at this time that Mustafa Kemal first became interested in guerilla warfare. One day in class he asked his classmates to consider the tactical problems of a revolt against the capital staged from the Asian side of the Bosphorus. When he left the Staff College with the rank of captain in 1905, he and a few friends rented a house in the Beyazit district of Istanbul. Here they continued their political discussions and acquired a large library of banned books. These activities came to an end when a cadet who had been expelled from military school and had asked them for a room in the house reported them to the Sultan's secret service.
Now a captain in a cavalry regiment, Mustafa Kemal set about the work of passing on the knowledge of modern techniques of warfare he had learned in the military schools. In doing so his professional attitude to soldiering aroused the suspicion of the officers of the old school, who took the view that so long as an officer did what the Sultan required him to do, he was free to exploit his position for personal advantage. One of the duties of the Fifth Army was to control the Druzes, a warlike people who had only recently been brought under Ottoman rule. On one occasion Mustafa Kemal's regiment was ordered to enter their territory; he himself, however, did not receive orders to go with his regiment. Becoming suspicious, he went along unofficially, only to discover that the real purpose of the expedition was to "collect taxes", or rather to extort money from the Druzes by force; it was the troops' practice on such expeditions to loot the Druze villages if they did not pay up.
Brought face-to-face with such examples of the cynical corruption of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal resolved to take the dangerous step of forming a secret revolutionary society within the ranks of the army. In 1906, he and a few friends founded the "Vatan" (or "Fatherland") Society. Syria, however, was too far away from the hub of the Empire for such a movement to be effective. The place he chose to expand his activities was Salonika. Managing to get himself given leave, he sailed for the place of his birth. After four months he had founded a Macedonian branch of his society among his fellow officers. Its name was changed to 'Vatan ve Hürriyet' ("Fatherland and Freedom"). "Atatürk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who dedicated their lives totally to their nations." When the military bureaucracy caught up with him and it had become known in Istanbul that Mustafa Kemal had left his post, he left Salonika for Jaffa. The same commandant who had originally arranged his leave now found a suitable excuse for his absence (saying he had been sent on a frontier expedition) and the cover-up was complete. He continued to lie low for a while, and in 1907 the army played into his hands by itself transferring him to the General Staff at Salonika.
Here, Mustafa Kemal found that the revolutionary movement had outgrown him; his absence in Syria had deprived him of the opportunity of becoming one of its leaders. His own 'Fatherland and Freedom' Society had been outstripped by a larger organization, the 'Committee for Union and Progress', with which Kemal's society was forced to merge. The leaders of the Committee disliked him, finding him conceited and opinionated, and found pretexts to give him duties that would keep him out of Salonika. Law and order had all but broken down in Macedonia by this time. The Bulgars had a strong underground organization of 'komitajis' — 'committee men' who were in fact terrorists — spreading panic with their bomb outrages. Guerilla bands of Greeks, Serbs and Albanians as well as Bulgars fought with each other and with the Turkish authorities. The Great Powers closed in, hoping to profit from the chaos. Russian and Austrian agents were everywhere in Macedonia. The Turks themselves, watched over by Abdulhamid's army of spies (the telegraph network he installed in Anatolia to keep the country under close surveillance later proved very useful to Mustafa Kemal), felt that they were a persecuted minority in their own country; the Christian minorities at least had foreign governments to protect them. The young officers of the Committee for Union and Progress seemed to provide the only hope.
Abdulhamid, after sending fruitless commissions of enquiry to Salonika, invited a young major named Enver, a Committee member, to come to Istanbul on a promise of promotion. Enver, ignoring the invitation, took to the hills and began to organize a resistance movement, strengthened by members of the garrison at Monastir. The Committee demanded the restoration of the Constitution of 1876. The troops Abdulhamid sent to deal with the situation fraternized with the rebels. Capitulating to their demands, and intimidated by their threat to march on Istanbul, he agreed to restore the Constitution of 1876 and recalled the parliament. Thus the 'Young Turk Revolution' of 1908 was complete. Enver was now the hero of the hour in Salonika. Mustafa Kemal, however, saw him as an upstart whose rise to prominence was no more than undeserved good fortune. The following year, 1909, saw a pro-religious counter-revolution in which Abdulhamid broke the power of the Committee for Union and Progress in Istanbul. The Parliament was again dissolved. Mustafa Kemal organized an army in Macedonia (which he called the 'Action Army'). When the military train carrying this army arrived in Istanbul, the Sultan did not put up any resistance. He was forced to abdicate in favour of his brother and sent into exile. Constitutional government was restored. Mustafa Kemal, who had himself played only a minor part in the events which took place in Istanbul, was posted to Tripoli for a short time. He then returned to Salonika.
In the meantime events in Albania had attracted Mustafa Kemal's interest. An insurrection had broken out there, and Sevket Turgut Pasha was put in charge of the forces sent to deal with it. Failure to suppress the rebellion forced the Minister of War, Mahmut Sevket Pasha, to assume personal command of the operation. He stopped in Salonika on his way to Albania and took Mustafa Kemal into his suite. During the operation against the rebels, Mustafa Kemal acted as Chief of Staff. In Albania he met Colonel Fevzi Bey (later Marshal Fevzi Cakmak) for the first time. The Inspector of the Third Army in Salonika had by this time grown apprehensive of Mustafa Kemal's standing in the town, and on 13th September 1911 he had him transferred to the General Staff in Istanbul. "We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and legal institutions from the bonds which hold a tight grip on us although they are incompatible with the needs of our century." Shortly afterwards, on 30th September, the Italians launched their attack on Tripoli. This provided Mustafa Kemal with the perfect opportunity to display his abilities as a commander. Towards the end of the year, Mustafa Kemal travelled secretly to Tobruk via Egypt and assumed charge of the staff of the local Ottoman commander, Ethem Pasha. He carried out a reconnaissance of the Italian positions near Tobruk and persuaded the Turkish troops to launch an attack. The Battle of Tobruk followed on 9th January 1912, and was the first Ottoman success in that field of operations. Mustafa Kemal stayed in Libya for about a year. While he was still in Libya, the Balkan War broke out. As soon as he received the news he tried to secure a posting to the new theatre of war. While in Egypt on his way to Istanbul, he heard that the Ottoman forces had been defeated at Komanova, that Salonika had fallen and that the Bulgarian army was pressing against the Çatalca lines defending Istanbul. After arriving in Istanbul, he was appointed Director of Operations of the Mediterranean Straits Special Forces to defend the Gallipoli Peninsula (25th November 1912). The Chief of Staff of this force was Fethi Bey (later Fethi Okyar, Deputy for Bolu). A little later Mustafa Kemal was appointed Chief of Staff of this force, which became known as the Bolayir Army Corps. Thus he was able to make an on-the-spot study of the problems of defending the Straits in case of need. At the end of the Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal was appointed Military Attache in Sofia (27th October 1913). He stayed there until the first months of the World War. On 1st March 1914 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant - Colonel. The First World War started on 28th July 1914, and on 29th October the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria. Mustafa Kemal believed that Türkiye had acted too hastily. He followed operations on all fronts from his office in Sofia, guessing from the very beginning how the war would end. Nevertheless, whether the war was right or wrong, he preferred active service to his duties as military attache in Sofia and applied for a posting to the Office of the Acting Commander-in-Chief, as the Ottoman High Command was known, the Sultan being nominally Commander-in-Chief. Mustafa Kemal was appointed commander of a division which was being formed at Tekirdag (the 19th Division) on 2nd February 1915. It took Mustafa Kemal less than a month to transform this division into a first-class fighting force. On 25th February 1915 the division was moved to Maydos, near Canakkale. An attack on Gallipoli was yet to come. The Turkish forces were already trying to take measures to defend the Straits. The forces of the Entente launched a sea offensive on 18th March 1915. It was repulsed. On 25th April, just before dawn, the ships of the Entente started landing troops in the neighbourhood of Ariburnu and Seddulbahir. As soon as Mustafa Kemal heard of the landings, he moved his troops against the enemy, who were advancing towards the hill of Conkbayiri. When the enemy reached the hill, Mustafa Kemal found himself nearer to the enemy than he was to his own men. He shouted the order to fix bayonets and made his men lie down. As soon as they lay down, so did the enemy. He thus gained time at the critical moment. As the enemy hesitated, the 57th Regiment reached Conkbayiri. Mustafa Kemal threw it into the attack. The battle raged on through the night and the enemy was thrown back to the last ridges overlooking the sea. Mustafa Kemal's conduct of these battles proved his greatness as a commander. He continued to fight both offensive and defensive battles until 19th May. Then the two sides at Ariburnu dug themselves in and began to fight from prepared positions. On 1st June 1915, Mustafa Kemal was promoted to the rank of Colonel. "This nation has never lived without independence. We cannot and shall not live without it. Either independence or death." Seeing the failure of all their efforts at Ariburnu and Seddulbahir, the enemy brought in reinforcements and attacked the Turkish right flank along a line from Conkbayiri to Kocacimen. At the same time they landed forces at Anafartalar, where they tried to establish a base for further operations. Landings to the north of Ariburnu and at Anafartalar started on the night between 6th and 7th August. Twenty thousand of the men who were landed at Ariburnu were given the task of capturing Kocacimen. If the enemy had succeeded in establishing himself there, the Ariburnu front, and then in turn the whole of the Gallipoli Peninsula, could have been captured. Mustafa Kemal sent his last reserves to Conkbayiri, which he managed to defend throughout the day of 7th August. The next morning the enemy penetrated to the slopes of Conkbayiri overlooking the sea. A battle fought at close quarters with rifles and grenades followed, but the enemy did not succeed in gaining any further ground. The Turkish Army Commander formed an Anafartalar Army Group, appointing the Commander of the Saros Army Group, Colonel Fevzi, to lead it. Mustafa Kemal, realizing the seriousness of the danger at Conkbayiri, had drawn the Army Commander's attention to the desperate situation there. The Chief of Staff, Colonel Kazim, asked Mustafa Kemal on the telephone what his suggestions were. Mustafa Kemal explained that the situation was critical, recommending that urgent measures should be taken in view of the enemy's continued landings at Anafartalar, and asking that he himself should be appointed Group Commander. At 21:50 hours on 8th August, he was appointed Commander of the Anafartalar Group and ordered to open an immediate offensive. Mustafa Kemal took personal charge of the offensive and managed to 'throw back superior enemy forces. He prepared for the enemy's next attack. At dawn on 10th August this attack duly came. As the sun rose the enemy began to bombard Conkbayiri from their ships and with their heavy guns on land. Mustafa Kemal was hit by a piece of shrapnel but it was deflected by the watch he carried in his breast pocket. He then led an attack in massed formation by the 8th Division, and forced the enemy out of Conkbayiri. This was the second time he had saved Canakkale. The enemy started a new thrust towards the village of Küçük Anafartalar on 21st August, but they failed to make any progress. Trench warfare followed. Mustafa Kemal guessed that the enemy was going to withdraw, but failed to convince his superiors. His suggestion for an offensive was turned down and he was told that there were no troops to spare. Mustafa Kemal announced his resignation from the command on 10th September 1915, but Liman von Sanders Pasha, who had considerable respect for Mustafa Kemal, had his resignation altered to leave. Mustafa Kemal returned sadly to Istanbul, only to learn ten days later, on 19th December 1915, that the enemy had withdrawn from Canakkale, having lost all hope of success. Mustafa Kemal's heroism at Canakkale and his services to his country soon became known not only to the whole army, but also among the civilian population. It was this reputation which enabled him to carry the entire Turkish nation behind him from the time he landed in Samsun to start the War of Independence until the day of his death. After returning from Canakkale, Mustafa Kemal stayed for some time in Istanbul, then went to Sofia on leave to put his personal affairs in order. While he was there he was appointed to the command of the 16th Army Corps, which had been withdrawn from Canakkale. He took over his new command on 14th January 1916 at Karaagac, Edirne. Mustafa Kemal remained in Edirne until the end of February, when the Office of the Acting Commander-in-Chief transferred the headquarters of the 16th Army Corps to the region of Diyarbakir so that he should take charge of a corps which was to be formed there for service on the Caucasian Front, where the Turks were fighting the Russians. On 27th February 1916 Mustafa Kemal left Edirne for Re'sulayn. On 1st April, while he was travelling to his new post, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He took up his new duties at Silvan on 14th April.