ON THE night of May 14, 1950, Ismet Inonu, President of Turkey, was listening to election returns in Cankaya (Bloody Rock), the pink fortress palace that stands on a hill overlooking Ankara. It was the Turkish republic’s first free election. When it became clear that Inonu’s party was headed for defeat, Inonu sought out his wife and asked: “How much time will it take us to move out? We must turn over the palace quickly.” Inonu moved from the palace and turned the seat of power over to the victors — a voluntary transfer of power that was a rare event in the politics of the underdeveloped, non-Western world.
Ten years and two weeks later, on May 27 of this year, the Turkish Army sent its tanks up the hill to Bloody Rock to drive Inonu’s successors from power. The ten-year experiment in democracy initiated by Inonu seemingly had failed.
Inonu’s free election in 1950 was the capstone of the social revolution wrought by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the extraordinary genius who tried to drag Turkey into the modern world in a single lifetime. Ataturk’s revolution was not a popular one: it was carried out by an elite Westernized minority against the indifference of the peasant masses and the hostility of the forces of Islam. It was initiated and supported by the officer class of the Turkish Army, which for more than a century had been a spearhead for Western ideas and which produced both Ataturk and Inonu. In his drive to build a modern Turkey, Ataturk created many of the basic conditions for democracy: a national consciousness, a political party organization, parliamentary government, a school system free of clerical influence, and a general commitment to democracy for the future.
Ataturk, realistically, did not submit his revolution to the decision of the voters, though he did experiment briefly with opposition parties. For example, in 1930 he created a Liberal Party (in which Adnan Menderes got his start as a provincial chairman), but he decided that the time was not ripe, and four months later the Liberals disbanded at Ataturk’s “suggestion.”
After World War II, Inonu, who came to power on Ataturk’s death in 1938, decided that the time had come. He began dismantling government controls over opinion and authorized the creation of opposition parties. One of these was the Democratic Party. Among its four founders were two dissidents from the governing Republican People’s Party: Celal Bayar, an old foe of Inonu; and Adnan Menderes, who had switched to the ruling party after the Liberals dissolved. Menderes, a member of a wealthy landowning family, had previously split with the regime over land reform (he was against it) and had made a name as a bold critic of Inonu’s restrictions. When the new party was formed, Inonu asked Bayar for assurances on its policies: would religion be kept out of politics, he asked, and would the emphasis on school construction be maintained? Bayar answered Yes on both counts, but neither promise was kept.
Menderes, the Turkish Perón
Bayar replaced Inonu in the presidential palace, but Menderes, as Premier, became the dominating personality in the new regime. Once in power, Menderes showed himself to be a Turkish Perón, who through irresponsibility and opportunism did much to weaken the social fabric woven by Ataturk and Inonu.
Menderes’ vision of himself was that of “Adnan the Builder,” the leader whose gift to the people would be economic development. Later he was to argue that this development justified the political short cuts he increasingly found himself impelled to take. But in his headlong effort to industrialize, Menderes built many of his monuments on sand. Textile plants were constructed, with Italian credit, while existing plants were running far below capacity; sugar-beet refineries were located far from their source of supply.
With bountiful U.S. aid — $2 billion military and $1 billion economic — and a runaway printing press in the mint, Menderes set off an inflation that tripled the price level in ten years. His economic policies wobbled from one extreme to the other. At one time he would take all restrictions off imports, and the nation’s foreign exchange would evaporate. At another time, under pressure from the United States and the International Monetary Fund, import regulations became so severe that there were no drugs in the drugstores and no coffee in the coffeehouses.
In the end, Menderes did not have much to show for all the money he had spent. Farm production languished, and the per capita real income rose very little.
In casting about for the votes to keep himself in office, Menderes courted the peasant majority with price subsidies and moratoria on farm debts. More important, he began using the dangerous force of religion. Funds were devoted to the clerical training schools that Ataturk had carefully starved. In the villages, Menderes built new mosques and repaired old ones, cultivating the reputation of the “Man of Allah.'’ The Democrats as a whole presented themselves as the party of religion and hinted that the Inonu opposition was atheistic. The religious question touched on the most sensitive nerve in Turkish society, a moral issue that cuts as deeply as civil rights in America.
The elite were horrified at the prospect that the medieval forces of Islam, which they had fought and beaten a generation before, might ride back into power on Menderes’ opportunism.
In his foreign policy, Menderes abandoned the strict neutrality Ataturk and Inonu had maintained toward Arab politics. According to well-informed Turks, he dispatched troops to the Syrian border for a possible invasion at the time of the Iraq Revolution of 1958, meanwhile assuring U.S. officers that the same units were still right outside Ankara. It was widely felt, too, that Menderes was instrumental in launching John Foster Dulles on the dubious venture of the Baghdad Pact.
When the Republican People’s Party became stronger and more vocal in its opposition after 1954, Menderes muzzled the press and jailed journalists (eight hundred sentences in eight years), reduced the autonomy of the universities, and sought to bring the judiciary under his control. He confiscated the property and records of the Republican People’s Party and generally harassed its political operations. Often he would put the blame on Bayar for what he himself was doing, and certainly Bayar’s corrosive hatred of Inonu contributed to the regime’s petty vindictiveness toward the opposition. The general weakening of controls, in turn, gave free rein to gross corruption and economic folly; the Menderes regime seemed to have the vices of democracy without the saving virtue of popular control.
The Army stays neutral
Through several years of rising tension, the Army carefully stayed out of politics, even though the officer class was increasingly restive. It had a strong tradition of political neutrality, which had grown in the sheltered environment produced by a civil power that followed the progressive policies the Army wanted. Still, the Army served as a silent check on Menderes. He had managed to install pliable generals in the top jobs, but, as one Republican People’s Party leader put it, “We have all the colonels.”
It was Menderes himself who finally drove the Army out of its neutrality. Twice in the year before the coup, Menderes used troops to harass Inonu, and twice the Army showed spontaneous affection for its old general. In 1959, when the 74-year-old Inonu was on a campaign tour, police and soldiers broke up crowds waiting for him. In Istanbul, an imported mob stoned Inonu’s car while the police stood idly by; the old man’s life was saved only by the intervention of a young officer who ordered his unit to disperse the mob.
Last April, Menderes again used the Army against an Inonu trip. At one point, soldiers and trucks were lined up to barricade Inonu’s path. Inonu calmly walked toward the troops, and at the last moment they gave way and saluted him. The major in command said that if ordered to fire on “my general,” he would shoot himself instead. He was later arrested.
In April, Menderes began the final process of destroying the opposition party by manufacturing an all-Democratic parliamentary commission with star-chamber powers to investigate the Republican People’s Party for subversion. The commission report came to light after the coup. It recommended Inonu’s exile from Turkey and the punishment of all 116 Republican People’s Party deputies, 14 professors, and 15 generals for illegal opposition.
By this time, Menderes had put the Army in an impossible position. If it obeyed orders, Menderes would use it as his bludgeon to crush the party of the social revolution, to which the Army was committed. The last strong outpost of popular control would be lost, and with it all hope for democracy. The Army could remain neutral only by letting itself be the instrument for the destruction of all it stood for. Menderes had left it no alternative. It had to intervene.
The well-mannered revolution
The resulting coup was planned, with the usual Turkish military efficiency, by a group ol field-grade officers, mostly colonels. To steer clear of the pro-Menderes lop brass, they organized a system of small cells reminiscent of the Young Turk officers’ conspiracy against Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908. The officers approached Inonu. In the past Inonu had steadfastly refused suggestions from within his party that he organize a coup. Now he refused the officers on the farsighted grounds that he did not want his party tainted by participation in a revolt. But he did not try to stop the plot.
The tempo of events quickened in the last month before the coup. The university students rioted and were clubbed down by Menderes’ despised police; the Army refused to tire on them. The officers and cadets of the War College, whom the Turks call the “umbilical cord” of the Army, marched in a silent, disciplined demonstration against Menderes that was virtually a dress rehearsal for the coup that came a week later. In a last wild gamble to cling to the power that was slipping from his hands, Menderes struck out in all directions. He closed the universities and Parliament, slapped on mail censorship (unknown since Ottoman days), and imposed martial law through his few reliable generals. Worst of all, from the Army’s point of view, he intended to create a loyal militia by arming thousands of Democratic Party members.
When the officers planning the coup got wind of what Menderes was up to, they advanced their date to May 27. Then, between midnight and three o’clock, they staged what must be considered the model for a coup carried out by small forces without the top brass. Ankara was taken by the War College cadets. Bayar was captured in the Bloody Rock palace with the help of the commander of his own Presidential Guard, who was in the plot; Menderes was caught fleeing on a lonely country road; six generals, including one who had tried in vain to make his men fire on the cadets the week before, were scooped up.
The Army’s smooth takeover was accomplished with the loss of just one life. The Turks promptly named it the “well-mannered revolution” (the imprisoned Bayar was, as befitted his status, accorded a room with a bath). There was a holiday atmosphere in Ankara and Istanbul; the coup was greeted with general relief by a people fearful of civil war.
Washington s surprise
In Washington, it was admitted the next day that the coup had completely surprised high-ranking officials in the State Department. Even after the cadets’ march, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara — and the correspondents who got their forecasts from the embassy had been predicting that Menderes would win out. The Central Intelligence Agency, on the other hand, had guessed that Menderes would fall.
One possible reason for the State Department’s surprise is that, having a government it could work with, it simply failed to keep in touch with the opposition. Menderes gave the U.S. military the missile bases they wanted and U.S. oil companies the leases they wanted; he signed every treaty the State Department laid on his desk. These affiliations looked good on a map and made it possible for the State Department to talk about the “anchor” of Western defense. No one seemed to care about the condition of the anchor.
The new government
The new rulers were the old Ataturk alliance of the elite and the Army. The Army appointed a civilian cabinet dominated by professors and government technicians; a commission, mainly of constitutional lawyers and jurists, was set up to draft a new constitution. The junta — the Committee for National Union — freed forty students and nine journalists from jail, reopened the universities, ended censorship of the press, and relieved it of the indirect controls (allocation of newsprint and advertising) that Menderes had used.
Both the Army and the Republican People’s Party want in the new constitution a guarantee that no new demagogue will unravel Turkey’s social revolution. The use of religion in politics is to be expressly prohibited. The Army and the Republican People’s Party want a system of checks and balances to keep any future Menderes in hand. They also want a new electoral system to replace the winner-take-all mechanism under which the party carrying a province gets all its seats. The Democrats in 1957 got two thirds of the scats with less than half the vote.
The government technicians in control of the economy have found themselves saddled, like Perón’s successors, with the wreckage of Menderes’ expensive sand castles. The new rulers began by drastically paring Menderes’ grandiose public works program. They warned the Turkish people, whose belts have already been taken in several notches, that they could expect another unavoidable period of austerity.