PRESENT-DAY Turkey is the culmination of a series of events — evolution, revolution, and wars - which began at the turn of the century when the Sultan’s government engaged the German general Baron von der Goltz to establish at Constantinople a staff college to instruct a limited number of young officers in modern strategy and tactics.
A few outstanding graduates of the Turkish Military Academy were chosen each year for this course of instruction. Upon completing the course, they were assigned to divisions and corps as operations officers, and were virtually in command of the units.
In 1908 these young men led the movement that forced the Sultan to approve a constitutional government; it was they who, still in their thirties, fought the British to a draw at the Dardanelles in the First World War; and it was they who drove the invading Greek army, the occupying Allied armies, and the Sultan out of Turkey after the war.
Mustafa Kemal, strong man of Turkey
Mustafa Kemal demonstrated the qualities of a military and political genius. In the provisional government that was set up initially he contented himself with being President and Commander-inChief, but when the Republic was formed, he wanted to be a dictator. He finally found a Prime Minister and a cabinet that, wile fulfilling the letter of the constitution, would leave all authority to him. Thus he molded a system of government that fitted him like a suit of clothes.
But the spirit of democracy that had shown itself in the revolt of 1908 was still alive in 1923. Heated debates, fist fights, pistol shots, and assassinations were a part of the process. As any dictator must, the Gazi (Conqueror) employed ruthless methods to maintain his position. Turkey had always been a police state, and remained so. During the first years of the dictatorship a traveling “Tribunal of Independence" visited areas where opposition was reported. In the wake of these visits, it was not unusual for people going into the street in the morning to encounter tripods with “counterrevolutionaries" hanging by the neck.
With an empty treasury, little credit at home or abroad, no industry, limited agricultural production, and practically no interior communications, the Turks began to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Because of the unscientific and poorly administered tax system, the chief burden fell on the peasants, who constitute some 80 per cent of the population, produce 80 per cent of the national wealth, and who still have one of the lowest living standards in the world. The Gazi (later “Atatürk” Father of the Turks) employed every available medium of propaganda to control the people. Actually an atheist, at one time he considered making himself Caliph and using the church as a political instrument, as the Sultans and priestkings everywhere have always done, He went so far as to appear on one occasion in the robes of a high priest.
Yet, as dictator, Atatürk accomplished important reforms. He abolished the Sultanate and Caliphate, which had been responsible for the politically, economically, and intellectually undeveloped condition of the people, He emancipated Turkish women, liberating them from the seclusion of the harem and the veil, which had been copied from the Byzantines.
He changed the alphabet to that in general use by the more advanced nations, making it possible for future Turkish generations to join more easily in a world civilization. He abolished the capitulations which had given foreigners a strangle hold on Turkish economy. He took the armed forces out of politics and established them on a high plane of national service.
The question arises whether it would have been possible for Republican Turkey to bring about these changes without the ruthless dictatorship of Atatürk; whether his insistence on becoming dictator resulted from personal ambition or from the realization that the reactionary forces around him were so strong that the necessary reforms could not be achieved through normal parliamentary processes.
On the answer to this question must depend the decision as to how great a man Atatürk was. This can lie answered best by those contemporaries who started out with him, with the same aspirations for a better Turkey; who worked and fought and won against overwhelming odds the victories which freed Turkish soil of enemies that were there to dismember the country, and some of whom were then eliminated from the team because they did not agree to the dictatorship. These were the men who really knew him. It cannot be answered by the Turkish people of this or the next generation, because Atatürk’s propaganda definitely established him in their minds as a demigod.
The Russian dream
When Ismet Inönü, who had been Prime Minister under Atatürk until shortly before his death, was elected head of the People’s Party and President of the Republic, he inherited the system that had been cut to lit Atatürk. It did not fit President Inönü.
President Inönü is reputed to have been a brilliant staff officer, one whose planning was superior, but one who had difficulty making decisions. Perhaps it was this quality which made him willing to serve as Atatürk’s rubber stamp, when others with stronger personalities had refused.
He became President two years before World War II started. Mussolini had brushed aside the League of Nations and marched into Ethiopia. Hitler was preparing for war. Russia was always a threat. Turkey’s feeble economy was weakened further by the necessity for strengthening her armed forces. While taxes increased, production stood still.
Within hours of the signing of the Russo-German treaty in Moscow, in August, 1939, Turkey signed a treaty of alliance with Britain and France. This treaty took into consideration Turkey’s isolated and strategically weak position, located as she was on the opposite side of the Axis powers from her Western allies. Britain and France were to furnish her arms, but the war started, France was eliminated, and Britain needed all her arms, and more. When the Uinted States eventually shipped arms under a Lend-Lease agreement they were seized by the British army that was being hard pressed by Rommel in Egypt. With her army fully mobilized and deployed, but not well equipped, Turkey sat tight and awaited eventualities.
Stalin, twirling his mustache and licking his chops, looked from across the Black Sea and saw the Russian dream of two hundred years coming true. Then Hitler attacked Russia, and Turkey was saved from the Russo-German pinchers.
But the close Washington-Moscow relations that had been interrupted temporarily by the Russo-German treaty were immediately renewed, and Stalin again set his sights on the straits As part of the deal for Russian support in World War I the British had agreed that Russia should possess the Turkish straits, and Stalin asked his allies to bring Turkey into the shooting war. Accordingly the British sent a high-powered mission to Ankara in December, 1943, for that purpose. In the course of the month they spent there they must have exhausted many arguments, but, to the everlasting credit of President Inönü, he did not permit them to persuade, cajole, or push him into hostilities with the Germans.
To have done so would have been suicide for Turkey, and possible disaster for the Allied cause. The western front had not been opened; German reserves were adequate to weaken Turkey to the point where the Russians could have liberated them as they did other areas. Again Russian designs had been checkmated. The British had been unable to make good their promise to Stalin.
The war ended, the Russians moved into those parts of Europe that had been ceded to them by their Western allies, and then they made direct demands on Turkey for the straits and for territory in the Eastern Provinces. The situation was alarming. The military establishment required more money than the country could afford. It was apparent that the Russians would soon destroy the country, even without attacking, by driving it to wild inflation and bankruptcy.
Among the gestures of support made by the U.S. government at this time was an offer of a loan by the Export-Import Bank to support Turkish economy. The Turkish government asked for several hundred millions of dollars, but upon inquiry as to how the money could be used effectively, it did not know.
When the ECA sent a mission in 1948, it found the same situation. At the end of a year, and in spite of Turkey’s desperate need for wealthproducing enterprises, the government had been unable to provide the mission with information which would serve as the basis for recommending the advancement of funds.
This inherent Turkish weakness has its foundation in the centralized form of government, the bureaucracy, which was the same Under the dictatorship of Atatürk and Inönü as under the hundreds of years of Sultans who preceded them.
The peasant backbone
Turkey is larger in area than prewar Germany and Austria combined, has a population of only 20 millions, and is believed to be well endowed with natural resources, but no one knows exactly what or how much. They include extensive agricultural lands, forests, iron, coal, oil, copper, chrome, and other minerals, and abundant fish along a coastline of some 2500 miles.
Most of the peasant majority, who produce the nation’s wealth, inhabit the high central plateau where the climate is severe. The prevalent mode of tilling the soil is still the crooked stick which was the ancestor of the modern plow. The peasants live mostly in mud huts. Their fuel, for cooking only, consists of dung and twigs. Their diet consists of cereals, cheese, olives, eggs, and milk. They raise herds of sheep and goats, but cannot afford to eat the meat. They do not raise vegetables, and hardly know what they are. Malaria prevails throughout a large part of the country. The roads are bad. Medical service is limited.
These people do not travel far from their villages, have mixed but little with other races, and therefore retain to a large extent the appearance, character, and even the costumes of their ancestors who came down from central Asia. They are stolid, rational, and friendly. It was by their sweat that the dictatorship built ihe modern city of Ankara and many villas in other parts of the country, and bought and maintained the largest yacht ever built and a special train for the President. They also built a few miles of roads and railroads for strategic purposes, and these made it possible, incidentally, for the peasants to move more produce to market.
Distinct from the peasants are the dwellers in the cities. These have mixed more with other races—beginning with the Byzantines whom they found there, and whose descendants still inhabit the area. The Byzantine environment has left its trace, especially in the city of Istanbul, where the ruins of Byzantine architecture are prominent features.
The first free elections
When laws controlling the press were lifted after the war, criticism of the authoritarian leadership and the economic plight of the country began. Demands for free elections followed. The President spoke in favor of democracy, but the reluctance with which a law guaranteeing free elections was passed indicated that he either was not as strongly in favor of it as he stated, or he was not as completely in control of the government as was generally supposed. The law was finally passed only a few weeks before the elections were held, on May 14, 1950.
Turkey was in a political situation which probably has no parallel in history. Opposition parties had been authorized and were actively campaigning, the law guaranteeing free elections was in effect, nearly everyone questioned said he would vote for the new Democratic Party, but no one thought that the new party would win enough seats to control the government. They could not bring themselves to believe that the dictator would actually permit his party to be voted out of office. Somehow or other the police state was expected to exert its magic power at the last, moment.
When the Democratic Party won over 408 seats out of a total of 487, the whole country was flabbergasted. That the government was as surprised as everybody else is indicated by its having made no provision for turning over the government.
The landslide was a censorship of the dictatorship rather than a vote of confidence in the Democratic Party. This party had simply promised better living conditions, with an improved economy based on private enterprise. It has assumed a grave responsibility. The people want action. Except for the President, Celâl Bayar, the new government has no experienced men in it, and there is no indication that the experienced leaders of the opposition will try to help them.
The new government showed a highly encouraging degree of statesmanship in the manner in which it responded to the call of the United Nations for military support in Korea. If it continues to handle its problems with the same energy and realistic grasp of Turkoy’s best interests it will place the country on a new level of prestige and prosperity.
The fact that the people have now demonstrated that they can change the government by peaceful processes should have a stabilizing influence while the problem of placing the national economy on a sound footing is being solved.
Turkish national defense is basically weak because the national economy is weak, but this is balanced to some extent by the Turks’ readiness to oppose Soviet aggression. They learned long ago that civilization cannot be advanced by agreements or compromises with the Soviets. Their material strength is being increased through Marshall Plan aid and grants of military equipment.
Turkey has the strongest ground force in Europe or Asia outside the Communist bloc, and therefore its desire to have a place at the conference table of the Atlantic Pact nations, where the plans for using the available defense forces will be made, appears to be justified.
As a people and government, the Turks fully realize that their own security depends upon the effectiveness of the United Nations and the Atlantic Pact. Of all the countries where Marshall Plan and military aid are being extended, there is none where a dollar produces as much support for those institutions as in Turkey.