"The major challenge facing us is to elevate our national life to the
highest level of civilization and prosperity."|
Atatürk's aim was to modernize Turkish life in order to give his nation a new sense of dignity, equality, and happiness. After more than three centuries of high achievement, the Ottoman Empire had declined from the 17th to the early 20th Century: With Sultans presiding over a social and economic system mired in backwardness, the Ottoman state had become hopelessly outmoded for the modern times. Atatürk resolved to lead his country out of the crumbling past into a brave new future.
In his program of modernization, secular government and education played a major role. Making religious faith a matter of individual conscience, he created a truly secular system in Turkey, where the vast Moslem majority and the small Christian and Jewish minorities are free to practice their faith. As a result of Atatürk's reforms, Turkey -unlike scores of other countries- has fully secular institutions.
The leader of modern Turkey aspired to freedom and equality for all. When he proclaimed the Republic, he announced that " the new Turkish State is a state of the people and a state by the people." Having established a populist and egalitarian system, he later observed: "We are a nation without classes or special privileges." He also stressed the paramount importance of the peasants, who had long been neglected in the Ottoman times: " The true owner and master of Turkey is the peasant who is the real producer."
To give his nation a modern outlook, Atatürk introduced many reforms: European hats replaced the fez; women stopped wearing the veil; all citizens took surnames; and the Islamic calendar gave way to the Western calendar. A vast transformation took place in the urban and rural life. It can be said that few nations have ever experienced anything comparable to the social change in Atatürk's Turkey.