Turkey after Atatürk

Turkey Table of Contents

Atatürk's death in Istanbul on November 10, 1938, caused an outpouring of grief throughout the Turkish nation. With much ceremony, the president's body was transported to Ankara and placed in a temporary tomb from which it was transferred in 1953 to a newly completed mausoleum on a hill overlooking Ankara. The building has since become a national shrine.

The stability of the new republic was made evident by the smoothness of the presidential succession. The day after Atatürk's death, the Grand National Assembly elected his chief lieutenant, Inönü, president. Celal Bayar, who had succeeded Inönü as prime minister in 1937, continued in that office.

World War II

As tensions in Europe heightened, Inönü determined to keep Turkey neutral in the event of war, unless the country's vital interests were clearly at stake. The Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact of August 1939 prompted Turkey to sign a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain and France in October. Hedging its bets, the government concluded a nonaggression treaty with Nazi Germany on June 18, 1941, just four days before the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. The early military successes of the Axis forces contributed to increased pro-German sentiment, even in some official circles. However, Inönü seems never to have wavered from his position that the Axis powers could not win the war. Despite German pressure, Turkey at no time permitted the passage of Axis troops, ships, or aircraft through or over Turkey and its waters, and the Montreux Convention was scrupulously enforced in the straits. Turkey broke diplomatic relations with Adolf Hitler's government in August 1944, and, in February 1945, declared war on Germany, a necessary precondition for participation in the Conference on International Organization, held in San Francisco in April 1945, from which the United Nations (UN) emerged. Turkey thereby became one of the fifty-one original members of the world organization.

Multiparty Politics, 1946-60

The UN charter was approved by the Grand National Assembly in August 1945, but the debate on the measure during the summer brought about Turkey's first major postwar domestic political conflict. A proposal was entered by former Prime Minister Bayar, Adnan Menderes, and two additional CHP deputies calling for changes in Turkish law to assure the domestic application of the liberties and rights to which the government had ostensibly subscribed by accepting the principles of the UN Charter. When the proposal was disallowed, its four proponents left the CHP and resigned their seats in the assembly.

Despite the rejection of Menderes's proposal, the government relaxed many wartime controls and agreed to the further democratization of the political process. In January 1946, the Democrat Party (DP), headed by Bayar and Menderes, was registered; it subsequently became the main focus of opposition to the CHP. The general elections in July 1946 gave the DP sixty-two seats out of 465 in the assembly, demonstrating the appeal of the new party. Although the DP represented the interests of private business and industry, it also received strong support in rural areas.

In the May 1950 general election, about 88 percent of an electorate totaling about 8.5 million went to the polls, returning a huge DP majority. In the assembly, 408 seats went to the DP and only sixty-nine to the CHP, whose unbroken dominance since the founding of the republic was thus ended. Bayar was elected president by the new assembly, replacing Inönü, and named Menderes prime minister. As expected, the Menderes government's economic policy reduced reliance on state direction while encouraging private enterprise and foreign investment in industrial development.

In the May 1954 election, the DP increased its parliamentary majority. Taking its election victory as a mandate to make sweeping changes, including reform of the civil service and state-run enterprises, the Menderes government obtained the passage of a legislative package by means that the opposition characterized as "undemocratic and authoritarian." The CHP concentrated its attacks on a government-sponsored law that limited freedom of the press. Tension increased when the press law was tightened further and restrictions were imposed on public assembly several months before the scheduled October 1957 election. The government argued that the legislation was necessary to prevent "irresponsible journalists" from inciting disorder. The inability of the two main political parties to cooperate in the assembly brought the parliamentary process to a standstill as months passed. When a tour of central Anatolia by CHP leader Inönü in early 1960 became the occasion for outbreaks of violence along his route, the Menderes government reacted by suspending all political activity and imposing martial law. On April 28, 1960, students in Istanbul who were demonstrating against government policies in defiance of martial law were fired on by police; several were killed. The following week, cadets from the military academy staged a protest march in solidarity with the student movement, thereby bringing an element of the armed forces into confrontation with civilian authorities.

The Armed Forces Coup and Interim Rule, 1960-61

Atatürk had always insisted that the military forces, as a national institution above partisanship and factionalism, should stay out of politics. The military leadership traditionally had subscribed to this viewpoint, with the proviso that a major role of the armed forces was to act as guardian of the constitution and Kemalism. By 1960, with the military already deeply involved in political affairs because of the government's use of martial law to enforce its policies, the senior command concluded that the government had departed from Kemalist principles and that the republic was in imminent danger of disintegration. On May 27, 1960, Turkish army units, under the direction of the chief of General Staff, Cemal Gürsel, seized the principal government buildings and communications centers and arrested President Bayar, Prime Minister Menderes, and most of the DP representatives in the Grand National Assembly, as well as a large number of other public officials. Those arrested were charged with abrogating the constitution and instituting a dictatorship.

The coup was accomplished with little violence and was accepted quickly throughout the country. The government was replaced by the Committee of National Unity (CNU), composed of the thirty-eight officers who had organized the coup. The committee acted as supreme authority, appointing a cabinet, initially consisting of five officers and thirteen civilians, to carry out executive functions. The number of civilians in the cabinet, however, was later reduced to three. General Gürsel, who had fought at Gallipoli under Atatürk, temporarily assumed the positions of president, prime minister, and defense minister. At the outset, Gürsel announced that the committee's rule would be of an interim nature and that government would be returned to civilian hands at an early date.

The most pressing problems the CNU faced in the first months after the coup were economic. The ousted regime had been responsible for inflation and heavy debt, and emergency austerity measures had to be taken to stabilize the economy. An economic planning agency, the State Planning Organization, was established to study social and economic conditions and to draw up the country's five-year development plans.

In January 1961, a constituent assembly was formed in which the CNU participated. This interim legislature produced a new constitution, which, after much debate, it ratified in May and submitted to a popular referendum in July. This constitution, which created Turkey's so-called Second Republic, contained a number of substantial departures from the 1924 constitution but continued to embody the principles of Kemalism. The new constitution was approved by 60 percent of the electorate. The large opposition vote was a disappointment to the CNU and showed that sympathy for the DP persisted, particularly in socially conservative small towns and rural constituencies.

Meanwhile, the trial of some 600 former government officials and DP functionaries had begun in October 1960 on the island of Yassiada in the Bosporus. All but about 100 of those tried were found guilty, and fifteen death sentences were pronounced. Partly in response to public appeals for leniency, the death sentences of former President Bayar and eleven others were commuted to life imprisonment, but Menderes and two former cabinet ministers were hanged.

Fourteen political parties offered candidates in the October 1961 election, but only four won seats in the bicameral Grand National Assembly created under the new constitution. The results gave the CHP 173 seats in the lower house--the 450-member National Assembly--and only thirty-six in the 150-member Senate. The Justice Party (Adalet Partisi--AP), generally recognized as the heir of the DP, obtained 158 seats in the lower house and seventy in the upper. The remaining seats were divided between the New Turkey Party and the Republican Peasants' Nation Party, subsequently renamed the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Haraket Partisi--MHP). The New Turkey Party was led by onetime DP dissidents who had broken with Menderes in the mid-1950s; the MHP attracted militant rightists. Because neither of the two larger parties commanded a majority, formation of a broad coalition either between the two larger parties or between one of them and the two smaller parties would be necessary.

Politics and Foreign Relations in the 1960s

The new bicameral legislature elected General Gürsel president of the republic. On taking office, he asked seventy-eight-year-old former President Inönü to form a government. Inönü, who had first been named prime minister by Atatürk in 1923, attempted to reach an agreement with the AP for a coalition in which that party would share an equal number of cabinet posts with the CHP, but party leaders failed to resolve their differences concerning amnesty for those convicted in the Yassiada trials. President Gürsel and General Cevdet Sunay, chief of the General Staff, warned that the irresponsibility of some legislators could provoke renewed military intervention in politics. In February 1962, a group of army officers staged a revolt in Ankara in protest of the role of the AP in government-proposed amnesty plans. The uprising was quickly suppressed, and suspected sympathizers in the officer corps were purged. Inönü subsequently introduced legislation granting amnesty to the officers involved in the revolt. In October 283 of those who had been convicted at Yassiada were given executive clemency on the recommendation of the assembly and freed. Another two years elapsed before former President Bayar and the remaining prisoners were released.

The AP made such significant gains in the 1964 local elections that Inönü stepped down as prime minister. After unsuccessful attempts by the AP and the CHP to form a government, an interim administration was appointed to serve until the October 1965 general election. Voters in that election gave the AP a clear majority in the Grand National Assembly. The vote allowed the new prime minister, forty-four-year-old Süleyman Demirel, to form a single-party government and claim a popular mandate for his legislative program. An engineer and former head of the National Water Authority, Demirel was a onetime protégé of Menderes. Although Demirel cultivated a pragmatic and technocratic image for the young party, the AP inherited the DP's identification with right-wing populism and catered to the same broadly based constituency. The party attracted support from the business community and from artisans and shopkeepers, but its real strength lay in the peasantry and in the large number of workers who had recently arrived in the cities from the countryside. Although it never disavowed the principle of secularism enshrined in Kemalism, the AP promoted tolerance of the open expression of the traditional Islam that appealed to many in these latter groups. While accepting a large role for state enterprises in a mixed economy, the AP also encouraged the development of a stronger private sector than had been allowed previously and was receptive to foreign investment in Turkey.

Although Demirel increased defense spending and took a hard line on law-and-order issues, military leaders remained suspicious of his party because of its roots in the DP. Demirel seemed to improve his standing among them by supporting the successful presidential candidacy of General Sunay when Gürsel died in office in 1966, but objections by the military subsequently forced the prime minister to withdraw legislation that would have restored full political rights to surviving former DP leaders. Enactment of other legislation was also hampered by growing factional splits in the AP. Representing the party's business-oriented liberal wing, Demirel urged greater reliance on a market economy. He was opposed on some issues and prodded on others by a traditionalist wing that was socially conservative, more agrarian in its orientation, and had ties to the Islamic movement.

Following the CHP's defeat in the 1965 general election, that party engaged in an internal debate to determine its position in the left-right continuum. When forty-year-old Bülent Ecevit succeeded Inönü as party leader the following year, he sought to identify the CHP with the social democratic parties of Western Europe. The party platform favored state-directed investment over private investment and recommended limits on foreign participation in the Turkish economy. It also called for rapid expansion of public services financed by taxation that would restrict the growth of private incomes. Ecevit emphasized the CHP's dedication to maintaining political secularism in contrast to the AP's leniency in the face of a revival of religious influence. While promising to adhere to Turkey's defense commitments, he insisted on a more self-reliant foreign policy that included efforts to improve bilateral relations with the Soviet Union.

As party leader, Ecevit attempted to transform the CHP from an elitist party seeking to guide the nation from above into a mass movement involving a broadly based constituency in the political process. Ecevit's socialist rhetoric was compatible with the Kemalist principles of state direction of the economy, but the shift to the left he inaugurated caused dissension in the party. In 1967 forty-five CHP deputies broke away to form a centrist party that won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the October 1969 general election. Both major parties lost votes, but right-of-center parties, led by the AP, outpolled the CHP and the small left-wing parties by nearly two to one, and the AP was able to increase its Grand National Assembly majority by sixteen seats. To some observers, the election results indicated a polarization of Turkish politics that would pull the AP and CHP in opposite directions and aggravate political extremism.

The extreme left was represented in the Grand National Assembly during the 1960s by the Turkish Workers' Party (TWP). Its platform called for the redistribution of land, nationalization of industry and financial institutions, and the exclusion of foreign capital, and urged closer cooperation with the Soviet Union. The party attracted the support of only a small number of trade unionists and leftist intellectuals. Although it had won fifteen seats in the 1961 election, its share of the vote in 1965 and 1969 averaged less than 3 percent. Of greater consequence in the 1960s--and for the future--was the party of the extreme right led by Alparslan Türkes, one of the architects of the 1960 coup. Türkes had been among those officers ousted from the CNU for opposing the restoration of democratic institutions. He subsequently resigned from the army and in 1965 took control of the Republican Peasants' Nation Party, later the MHP. Türkes came to personify the ultranationalistic and authoritarian nature of his party. Labeled by some as fascist, the MHP demanded strong state action to maintain order and manage the economy. Although sympathetic to private ownership, the party was hostile toward capitalism and foreign investment. Essentially secularist, the MHP nonetheless regarded Islam as one of the pillars of the Turkish state, and Türkes incorporated references to religion into his nationalist platform.

Türkes's party had won 14 percent of the vote and fifty-four seats in the 1961 election, but electoral support plummeted to under 3 percent in 1965, when many marginal rightist voters switched to the AP. In 1969 the MHP was reduced to a single seat in the Grand National Assembly; however, Türkes's inflammatory rhetoric and confrontational tactics gave the party a higher profile than its strength at the polls alone would have justified. He organized the party on military lines and indoctrinated party activists, imposing strict discipline on them. The party's youth movement included a paramilitary arm, the "Gray Wolves," whose members disrupted left-wing student activities, initiated physical attacks on political opponents, and retaliated for assaults on MHP members. MHP-incited violence escalated in the late 1960s and set the tone for the volatile political atmosphere of the 1970s.

Turkey's links to the United States grew rapidly in the aftermath of World War II. Turkey took a resolutely pro-Western stance as the Cold War developed in the late 1940s and, in 1950, sent an infantry brigade to the Korean Peninsula to serve under UN command there. The pattern of close bilateral ties with the United States that characterized postwar Turkish foreign relations began to take shape with an agreement signed in Ankara in September 1947 implementing a policy formulated by President Harry S Truman the previous March. Known as the Truman Doctrine, the president's policy declaration spelled out United States intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece. Truman won approval from the United States Congress for an initial appropriation of US$400 million to aid both countries. Congress also authorized United States civilian and military personnel to assist in economic reconstruction and development and to provide military training. Turkey subsequently participated in the United States-sponsored European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan). Turkey also was admitted to membership in the Council of Europe and in 1959 applied for association with the European Community (EC), later called the European Union (EU--see Glossary). Set aside after the 1960 coup, Turkey's application finally was approved in 1964.

Turkey was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO--see Glossary) in 1952, and in 1955 joined with Britain, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan in the Baghdad Pact, a multilateral defense agreement that became the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958. Turkey played a vital diplomatic and strategic role as the bridge between the NATO and CENTO alliance systems. The headquarters of NATO's Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) was established at Izmir. In addition, operational bases near Adana were developed for NATO purposes. A 1954 military facilities agreement with the United States permitted the opening of other NATO installations and the stationing of United States forces in Turkey. Headquarters for CENTO were moved to Ankara when Iraq withdrew from the alliance.

Turkish participation in NATO was complicated by a regional dispute between Turkey and Greece involving the status of the island of Cyprus, until 1960 a British crown colony. The Greek-speaking Cypriots sought an end to British rule and many favored enosis (union) with Greece. Fearing discrimination and the loss of identity, the Turkish-speaking minority countered with proposals for partition of the island between the two ethnic communities. Conflict between the two communities led to major crises in 1964 and again in 1967, during which Turkey and Greece--both members of NATO--reached the verge of war.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress