Ataturk was born as Mustafa Kemal, and became known as Ataturk after the Surname Law. For the sake of uniformity, I’ll refer to him throughout as Ataturk.
Ataturk was born sometime in the Winter or Spring of 1881 in Salonica, in what is now Greece. His father was a middling civil servant, and Ataturk entered military education. He was educated at the Ottoman Military Academy in Constantinople (he was to officially rename it to Istanbul in his rule), and shortly after graduation, arrested for planning rebellion against the Sultan. He was sent off to Syria, but arranged to be transferred to Monastir, to participate in the Young Turks Revolution. He played a major role in the suppression of the 1909 counter-coup, and commanded well in the Italo-Turkish War and the First Balkan War. When the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Ataturk was placed in command of the 19th division, in Gallipoli. His command was extremely competent, and he greatly contributed to the defeat of the British, before being transferred to the Eastern Front, where he displayed similar skill against Russia. When an armistice was proclaimed between the Ottomans and the Allies in October 1918, Ataturk became Inspector of the 9th Army, a role in which he was meant to maintain some degree of organisation within the army, and order in the general area. However, he used his forces to establish a Turkish Nationalist Movement, and issued the Amasya Circular, which declared the nation in danger. He resigned from the Ottoman army, and was condemned to death by the Ottoman government in absentia. In 1919, Ataturk convened a Nationalist Congress at Sivas, of which he appointed executive. While the Ottoman government in Istanbul was placed under Allied occupation, Ataturk established a Grand National Assembly in Ankara, creating a second government of Turkey. The Istanbul government signed the Treaty of Sevres with the Allies, which would have partitioned Turkey, but Ataturk and his government refused to accept the treaty and began to fight the Turkish War of Independence, chiefly against Armenia and Greece. Funded and armed by the Russian Bolsheviks, Ataturk inflicted a series of defeats upon his adversaries, culminating in the victory at Sakarya over Greece and the re-capture of Smyrna. Recognising that the situation was now fundamentally changed, the Allies convened negotiations for a new treaty at Lausanne, Switzerland. The Treaty of Lausanne was duly signed on July 24th, 1923, and the modern Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in October, with Ataturk as President.
Immediately upon assuming power, Ataturk embarked upon a programme of urgent modernisation. The ancient and moribund institutions of the Sultanate and Caliphate were abolished, secularisation enforced in education, law and every other aspect of public life, a new, Western-inspired educational system set up, and women given far greater rights, including suffrage. Ataturk was determined to turn Turkey from an ossified empire to a modern, European nation-state. Turkish traditional dress was discouraged, and the wearing of the fez banned. Naturally, these attacks roused opposition from conservatives and the religious community, and an assassination plot was uncovered in 1926. This led to a minor purge, and many of Ataturk’s opponents in the Nationalist movement were removed. This allowed a second round of more radical reforms, including the creation of an entirely new civil law code modeled on that of Switzerland and the introduction of a law requiring western-style last names. The Turkish language then used Arabic script; in 1928, Ataturk abolished the use of Arabic, and brought forth a new, official Turkish alphabet, based on the Latin alphabet with a few accented characters. Modern Turkish culture and science were encouraged, such as sculpture, which had hitherto been forbidden under the tenets of Islam, and translation of the Qur’an into Turkish. In the area of economy, Ataturk pursued a policy of wide state intervention, in keeping with his idea of the strong national government, which would tie together and aid all Turks. The tobacco and railway industries were nationalised, and a fairly active policy pursued, but after the Great Depression, a more Liberal approach was followed. Although his economic achievements were not as great as his social ones, Ataturk managed to stop the nation from sliding into destitution after a long period of war, and socially, he brought the Turkish nation into the 20th century.
Whilst all this was going on, Ataturk had to deal with establishing foreign relations of the new state. A dispute over Mosul in British Iraq went on for many years, until the League of Nations ruled that the region should remain with Iraq. Ataturk was dependent in the War of Independence upon Soviet aid, but soon after the war’s end began to sever ties with Moscow and instead try to reconcile with the West and with Greece, which, amazingly resulted in an alliance with the latter. However, this string of domestic and foreign successes was not to last. Ataturk had throughout his life been a very heavy drinker, and in 1938 was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.He died of it on November 10th of that year.
Ataturk is the most important figure in Turkish history, and the closest thing history has to a good dictator. His reforms were in many cases unpopular, but they unquestionably modernised the nation and laid the foundations for the prosperous nation-state of Turkey. Turkey’s mere existence, its secularity and its enlightened for the time social policies all came directly from Ataturk. In some cases, force did have to be used, but Ataturk’s good far outweighs his bad.