The Modern Turkey, 1923-1963

  By Arda Akbulut, 29 February 2008; Revised
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Building a nation equals to a sea of change in every aspect of social life.

The Turkish nationhood was established under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Centuries of emirehood had come to an end, and with the defeat in the Great War, the empire  haddissolved. Mustafa Kemal assumed the leadership, thanks to his fame in the Gallipoli Battle of 1915, and led his nation to victory against the invading Greek, British, and French forces, that had invaded Asia Minor in the wake of the Great War. Thus, a new state, a new nation was given birth. This essay is the story of the Modern Turkish nation until 1963.

Turkish victory was confirmed in the treaty of Lusanne in July 1923, and Turkey became a republic on 29th  October 1923. This marked the beginning of a new era, for establishing a republic in an Islamic society was one of the most remarkable events in the 20th century. The Sultanate was put an end as well as the last Sultan and his family were sent abroad. Mustafa Kemal became the first president and Ismet Inonu the prime minister. The new capital city of the republic was Ankara, as it was where the national struggle was commanded during the war of independence.

The next year, the Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The Ottomans had been entitled the symbolic leadership of the Islamic Peoples after the conquest of Egypt in 1517, but when the holy war was declared  during the Great War only 5% of Muslims worldwide had heard the call. In 1924 the first constitution of the republic was also put into practice as well as first opposition party was established, altough the latter was short-lived due to a Kurdish Islamist rebellion.

Mustafa Kemal was now in a much better position to embark on his great reform programme.

His biggest ambition was to help his country  catch up with contemporary civilization and go forward with it. It was a very difficult task from the very beginning. The country was un ruins, people were fed up with their lifes because of constant wars since 1911. The great amont of human capital was already lost.  But these did not stop Mustafa Kemal and people like him to prove the world that a sea change in a society was to happen in such a short while. His Kemalist regime was a single party state, altough he ultimately wanted his nation to be fully democratic. His biographer Andrew Mango wrote that: "between the two wars, democracy could not be sustained in many relatively richer and better-educated societies. Atatürk's enlightened authoritarianism left a reasonable space for free private lives. More could not have been expected in his lifetime."

The most remarkable reforms took place in the field of education.  AT the beginning Less than 10 percent of the whole nation were literate. In accordance with the aim of increasing literacy, The Turkish alphabet, as a variant of the Latin alphabet was created in 1928, after having used the Arabic alphabet for centuries, which had lacked adequate letters for Turkish. The transition was facilitated with Peoples houses, where people were enouraged to read books in the new Turkish alphabet. New teaching methods were promoted, and the number of schools were increased. In the 1930s an ambitious university reform was put into practice with the help of fleeing German Jewish professors. By the death of Mustafa Kemal, a quarter of the nation were literate. The biggest achievement in education was the establishment of a uniformal system, which helped built a nationhood.

Probably another remarkable reforms were those in law. With the adaptation of secularism as one of the pillars of the newly established republic, it was obligatory to change the centuries of legal system, which on some occasions were not able to meet the needs of the 20th century. Islamic canon law was replaced with a civil code modeled after the Swiss Civil Code and the penal code was modeled after the Italian one. As in the field of education, a uniformal system in the field of law was thus brought into practice.

The culture and social life in the new state also experienced significant changes. Especially, the role of women in the society was unthinkable just  a decae ago. The Turkish women were entitled to participate fully in the political life from 1934 onwards, whereas The French women could be entitled the same rights only after 1945. 18 female MPs were elected in the general election of 1935. Sabiha Gokcen, Mustafa Kemals adopted daughter, became the first female combat pilot in the world. Women clothing also witnessed very different attitudes compared with other Islamic societies.

In the economy, the Turkish Republic inially practiced liberal policies for the economic developments. But with the drastic effects of the Great Depression of 1929, Mustafa Kemal added a new pillar to the state: statisme. From 1931 onwards the economic life was run by the complete interevention of the state. New factories were established with the hand of the state and 5-year economic plans, modeled after the Soviet experiment, were implemented. A significant change was seen in the lifes of the peoples, but when Mustafa Kemal died, Turkey was still a backward country in terms of wealth.

Mustafa Kemal defended the status quo through out his foreign policy decisions. He argued that the world is a single body and every nation is a part of it. Remarks like PEACE AT HOME PEACE IN THE WORLD became the motto of the Turkish state. He scored important successes tough. In 1936 The Turkish state gained full control of its straits and Ataturks policies on Hatay paved the way for the reintegration of this province into the republic in 1939. He pioneered defence pacts with the Balkan States and the Middle Eastern States for defending status quo, in particularly, against the dreams of  t heMussolini regime. Ataturk established a good reputation of his country that Turkey was invited to join the League of Nations. His iniation of the 1930 Turco-Greek Friendship Treaty led his Greek counterpart, Venizelos, to nomitate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In conclusion, Mustafa Kemal ATATURK established a new nationhood and a republican regime that was one of  the most successful stories of the 20th century. Therefore, it is no wonder that he was given the surname ATATURK(the father of the Turks).


Inonu Period

After Ataturk, Ismet Inonu was elected president on 11st November and given the title Milli Sef(National Leader). Inonu was Ataturks war time buddy and a close friend until 1937, when both could no longer tolerate the opinions of each other. Like Ataturk, Inonu was a true pragmatist and his first concern was to safeguard the achievements of the republic. His period until 1950 multiparty elections were marked by the Second World War, famine and the neturalaziation of the radicals. His biggest successes were to keep Turkey out of the Second World War, which devastated the whole continental Europe and to neturalize both extreme right-wing and left-wing groups within the country. His biggest mistakes were the impelentation of the Wealth Tax in 1943, suggested by then prime minister Sukru Saracoglu and allowing Turkey to become a democratic regime without the establishment of a sufficient middle class.

In 1945, the government wanted to implement a land refom and according to the bill, the government was supposed to distribute land to landless peasants at the expense of landlords and state-owned lands. This provoked a strong opposition among some members of the assembly, who were also landlords. Their leaders were Adnan Menderes joined by Celal Bayar, Inonus biggest enemy, and Fuat Koprulu. There was no law against the formation of opposition of new parties, so in 1946 Celal Bayar and three former memers of the ruling Republican Party formed the Democratic Party. Hence, the first multiparty elections in the political life of Turkey took place in Julay 1946, in which the Republicans won 400 seats, the Democrats 40. The results were disputed, but Inonu remained in power with Recep Peker as prime minister. In March 1947 Turkey secured military aid from the United States under The Truman Doctrine against the bullying of the Stalinist Regime of the USSR, which demanded imperialist cessions even tough the very nature of the USSR was supposed to fight imperialism, not being a part of it. Stalin had wanted two provinces from Eastern Turkey and a base in the Straits.

In 1950, the first free elections in Turkey were held and was a true victory for the Democrats, who won 408 seats against the Republicans 69. It is said that when the results came in, a leading general came to Inonu and asked him whether the army should intervene to prevent a change of governmnet, and that Inonu refused. He had agreed to free elections and would abide by their outcome.


The Democratic Party of the 50's

The Democrat Party under the leadership of Adnan Menderes was a populist party, and became the first political party to use religious sentiment. But just like the Republicans, they also disregarded the Islamic law. The call to prayer was again in Arabic and thousands of mosques were built nationwide. Altough the reforms of Ataturk left untouched, some iniatives of Inonu were reversed, like the closing of the Village Institues and abolishment of the land reform.

Turkey was transformed under the Demoratic Party regime. The area under cultivation increased from 14 million to 23 million hectares, the umber of tractors from under 2,000 to 42,000. The length of metalled roads ros from under 2,000 to 7,00 kilometres; 14 dams, 15 power stationaand 20 harbours were built. Private ownership was encouraged and many biliteral agreements were signed with the US in economic fields. But it should also be noted that the 50s were miracolous everywhere else in the world and Turkey started to be debtful overwhelmingly.

The Democrat Party had to face high tensions in foreign policy. The 50s were marked by quarrels with the USSR and Greece. Altough, the USSR revised its imperialist policy on Turkey after the death of Stalin in 1953, Turkey was very close to the US and a member of NATO from 1952 onwards. In addition to that border problems with Syria also draw the attention of the USSR, for Syria was under the Soviet influence.  The failure of British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt created a power vacuum in the Middle East, and fearing that this vacuum would be filled by the Soviets, the  Democrat Party supported the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957, which paved the way for uture American interventions in the Middle East. This further worsened the biliteral Soviet-Turkish relations. As far as Turco-Greek relations were concerned, Turkey became a party to the Cyprus conflict from the second half of the50s onwards. The Greek Cypriot organization that bears the name  EOKAs ultimate goal was to unite the island Cyprus with Greece after gaining independence from the British rule. In accordance with this policy, EOKA members started to kill British soldiers on the island. Due to the fact that there was also a well established Turkish Cypriot population on the island, EOKA also considered this as a threat to its ultimate goal. Soon attacks on the Turkish population also were targeted.  At the same time, news like the Greeks bombed the memorial house of Ataturk in Thessaloniki provoked an anger in Istanbul. Supported by the Democrat Party, mobs attacked the houses and shops of Turkish citizens of Greek origin on 6th and 7th September of 1955. All these incidents in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey ended the friendly relations between Turkey and Grecee , which were pioneered in 1930 by Ataturk and Venizelos.

Menderes succeeded in winning a third election in 1957, but with a reduced minority. The economic crises left the country overdebted and the go vernement had to devalue the national currency.  But all these geenral state of unhappiness with economy had encouraged both the legal opposition and military plotters. The Democrat Party, which came to power by defending freedom of speech, now it  became s pretty tightly run regime  to silence the opposition. The arrestments of journalists added fuel to the already established fire of opposition. On 18th April 1959 the Democrat Party established an extraordinary commission to investigate the opposition, and this commission sugegsted that all political activities had to be banned. The regime was turning into a dictatorship by  parliamentary majority. Eventually Menderes was struck by military poltters on 27th May 1960.

The government was was taken over by a Military National Unity under the leadership of Cemal Gursel, who had been the commander of land forces. The three important names of the Democrat party- Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatih Rustu Zorlu, and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan were hanged on charges of a series of  the constitutional crimes.

Thus, the Democrat Party, which rules the 50s in Turkey, was put an end in 1960.


Turkish Return to Democracy

The 60s began with the rule of the military junta, which was not disputed niether at home, nor abroad. In one year a new constitution was prepared, which was to become the most liberal constition that Turkey would ever had.  In July 1960 this constitution was approved in a refrandum and in the general elections of October, Inonu came first. The Democrat Part was divided into three small parties, and the strongest among them was the Justice Party as Ragip Gumuspala its president. Inonu teamed up with him and formed a coalition government as the prime minister. Cemal Gursel, the leader of National Unity committee was elected the forth president of Turkey. Turkey had returned to democratic regime just 1 year after.

The first challenge of the 60s was again the disputed island Cyprus. Cyprus had become an independent state under the treaties of Zurich and London in 1960. The newly established republic was to be ruled by both Greeks and Turks in equal political rights, Greeks made up 65% og the population, and Turkish Cypriots 35%,and with Greeks having 70% of the seats in the parliament, since they were outnumbering the Turkish Cypriots. The president was Greek Cypriot, the vice-president a Turkish Cypriot.  Britain, Turkey, and Greece were given guarantoor rights to intervene in the island in  order to restore the constitunal order, if any problem arised.

But, just within three years of time, in 1963 problems emerged. Archbishop Makarios, who was the first president of Cyprus were determined to revise the settlement. He wasas joined in forces by the nationalist Greeks who wanted to be the only owners of the island or at least unite it with the motherland Greece. On Christmas Eve 1963, The Turksish Cypriots came under attack. They were also driven from the government and forced to shelter in a few enclaves. Turkish Prime Minister Inonu called on Britain to use its treaty right to restore the order. British government preferred to call in the United Nations, which stopped the slaughter of the Turks, but did not reverse the Greek gains. Inonu wanted to intervene unilaterally, but was warned by the American President Lyndon Johnson. Eventually ,a United Nations Peace Force was assembled in Cyprus in 1964.

In the meantime, Turkey signed an agreement with the European Economic Community  on 12th  September 1963. The agreement read  that Turkey would become a member of this community after a step-by-step process. Firstly, bi-literal trade was to be liberalized between European Economic Community and Turkey.

Suggested Reading

Andrew Mango, 'The Turks Today'

Niyazi Berkes, 'The Secularization of Turkey'