He was born in 1881 (probably in the spring) in Salonica, then an Ottoman city, now inGreece. His father Ali Riza, a customs official turned lumber merchant, died when Mustafawas still a boy. His mother Zubeyde, adevout and strong-willed woman, raised him and his sister.
First enrolled in a traditionalreligious school, he soon switched to a modern school. In 1893, he entered a military highschool where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal (meaning perfection)in recognition of young Mustafa's superior achievement.
In 1905, Mustafa Kemal graduated from the War Academy in Istanbul with the rank of Staff Captain. Posted in Damascus, he started with several colleagues, a clandestinesociety called "Homeland and Freedom" to fight against the Sultan'sdespotism.
In 1908 he helped the group of officers who toppled the Sultan. Mustafa Kemal'scareer flourished as he won his heroism in the far corners of the Ottoman Empire,including Albania and Tripoli. He also briefly served as a staff officer in Salonica andIstanbul and as a military attache in Sofia.