In 1920, the Ottoman sultan reluctantly signed the Treaty of Sèvres, in which the empire lost its Arab and North African lands. The sultan also had to give up some land in Asia Minor to a number of Allied countries, including Greece. A Greek force landed in the city of Smyrna (now Izmir) to assert Greece's claims.
Turkish nationalists, led by the determined and energetic Mustafa Kemal, overthrew the sultan, defeated the Greeks, and declared Turkey a republic. Kemal later took the name Atatürk (ah tah TURK), meaning “father of the Turks.” He negotiated a new treaty. Among other provisions, the treaty called for about 1.3 million Greeks to leave Turkey, while some 400,000 Turks left Greece.
Atatürk stands before a crowd, pointing to letters of the Roman alphabet. He introduced the western alphabet to Turkey as one of his many modernizing reforms.
Between 1923 and his death in 1938, Atatürk forced through an ambitious program of radical reforms. His goals were to modernize Turkey along Western lines and to separate religion from government.
To achieve these goals, Atatürk mandated that Islamic traditions in several fields be replaced with Western alternatives. For example, he replaced Islamic law with laws based on a European model, replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin alphabet, and forced people to wear Western-style clothing. Under Atatürk, state schools replaced religious schools.
Atatürk's government encouraged industrial expansion. The government built railroads, set up factories, and hired westerners to advise on how to make Turkey economically independent.
To achieve his reforms, Atatürk ruled with an iron hand. To many Turks, he was a hero who was transforming Turkey into a strong, modern power. Some Turkish Muslims, however, rejected Atatürk's dictatorial powers and his formation of a secular government. To them, the Quran and Islamic customs provided all the guidance needed.
The success of Atatürk's reforms inspired nationalists in neighboring Persia (present-day Iran). Persian nationalists greatly resented the British and Russians, who had won spheres of influence over Persia in 1907. In 1925, an ambitious army officer, Reza Khan, overthrew the shah. He set up his own dynasty, with himself as shah.
Reza Khan, seated here on the throne of the shahs, overthrew the reigning shah in 1925. On December 16, 1926, the Grand Council of Persia appointed Reza Khan king.
Like Atatürk, Reza Khan rushed to modernize Persia and make it fully independent. He built factories, roads, and railroads and strengthened the army. He forced Persians to wear Western clothing and set up modern, secular schools. In addition, he moved to replace Islamic law with secular law and encouraged women to take part in public life. The shah had the support of wealthy urban Persians. However, Muslim religious leaders fiercely condemned his efforts to introduce Western ways.