There is a current saying in Turkey, “It is bad luck to wake up on your left side.” The inference is obvious: in Turkey the “left,” in the political sense‚ is uncomfortable. To the unsophisticated Turkish peasant — small farmers and agricultural laborers, along with their families, account for two thirds of the country’s population of 33 million — the “left” can roughly be equated with Communism and the Soviet Union. Russia has been Turkey’s traditional enemy for centuries.
It was therefore all the more surprising that the grand old man of Turkish politics, Ismet Inonu, adopted a left-of-center slogan in the 1965 elections for his Republican People’s Party. The RPP had ruled for thirty-one out of the previous forty-two years; it was founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923‚ at the same time he created the Turkish Republic and drove the last Sultan of the “Ottoman Porte” into exile. Inonu served as Premier under Ataturk, then was President himself from 1938 to 1950‚ and Premier once more from 1961 to 1965. Now eighty-three years old‚ Inonu should have had enough experience to know how much the great mass of Turkish voters‚ in the towns as well as the countryside, disliked “leftism,” Communism, and the Soviet Union.
Young Turks and old
Inonu hoped to attract “modern” intellectual Turks to his banner; he believed that this would pay political dividends in an era of material progress which would carry “Turkey into Europe” and into the twentieth century. He did just that. But there simply are not enough modern, intellectual Turks for him to win on the basis of their support. The opposition Justice Party now in power is equally modern‚ but strictly practical. The elections in October of 1965 produced a huge parliamentary majority for the conservative Justice Party and a sense of considerable disquiet in Inonu’s ranks.
There was every possibility of retracting the left-of-center slogan, or of letting it fade quietly into oblivion. Inonu, convinced of his role of national prophet, refused to do either. Those who know him well think that he may have been influenced by the success of the “opening to the left” in Italy, effected through a union of Italian socialist parties. Inonu persisted with his slogan, and early in May of this year, the RPP split asunder. Fifty-one of its 181 parliamentary members formed a breakaway group under the young‚ efficient, and matter-of-fact Turhan Feyzioglu. He believes that this group will become the real heir to the Ataturk tradition, which was coldly practical.
In the 1969 elections the group will go to the country with proposals for a precise program‚ in contrast to Inonu’s slogans. It will carry some heavy guns politically. Feyzioglu has taken with him twelve former ministers in RPP governments, men who have played key roles in constitutional reform and economic planning.
Inonu’s young and dedicated lieutenant, Bulent Ecevit, intends in turn to press for a new, progressive RPP program. Inonu will back this to the hilt, but it is reasonable to suppose that his own political career is nearly over. Left-of-centerism may have even less hope of success when he departs from the political scene. And his Grand Old Party faces the prospect of a shattering defeat in the 1969 elections.
In the view of some observers the RPP split is the most significant event in Turkish politics since the revolution of May 27, 1960. Then, the army intervened sensationally to overturn the government of Adnan Menderes and subsequently to ban the Democrat Party. The army’s objections against the Menderes regime seem to have been that it was ready to desert the Ataturk precept of the secular state, that it was corrupt, and that Premier Menderes was building up a “personality cult” which would have led to one-party rule.
The assumption might be that the army was defending democracy‚ though armies seldom do that. It is more likely that the army, 600,000 strong and led by an elite officer corps, feared a diminution of its own influence.
Menderes’ Democrat Party disappeared. Its place was taken only a year later by the Justice Party, which now rules Turkey. It preached the same political principles. It even included, as members of Parliament, Menderes’ eldest son and the widows and daughters of his henchmen who were executed along with Menderes after the 1960 coup. Since 1965 the Justice Party has emerged as the main driving force in Turkish politics, strongly antiCommunist‚ sympathetic to private enterprise‚ and above all, intent on producing efficient administration. Since the 1969 elections are certain to confirm it in power, it is useful to examine both its ideas and its record.
The present Justice Party Prime Minister is Süleyman Demirel. He is half the age of Ismet Inonu. Portly, suave, and slightly balding, he is a man of common sense and immense vitality. He depends for votes on the conservative, agrarian population, but he depends for help and advice on an emerging generation of businessmen and technocrats. Demirel has decided that political success will depend on how well he manages in bringing prosperity to Turkey. He has coined the phrase‚ “We should not be afraid of becoming rich, one day.”
Demirel was born in an Anatolian village. He is a self-made businessman, who became an engineer, has traveled widely‚ and has studied business methods in the United States. He is well aware of the magnitude of Turkey’s problems, which he lists in the following approximate order of importance: the population explosion and its effects, illiteracy (still around 50 percent of the population)‚housing, the balance of payments, and good foreign relations. In tackling these matters, Demirel is aided by the split in the RPP. He is not particularly concerned with any need for a strong parliamentary opposition or for the development of a greater “political content” (as the Turks word it) in the life of his country.
Too many people
The population explosion is his first preoccupation. In the last six years the population of Turkey has risen from just over 27 million to just under 33 million. Every improvement on a material plan tends to be overtaken by the need to provide more jobs, more food, more houses, more of everything. There is a need to encourage birth control‚ and the government has acknowledged this to the extent of launching a small family-planning campaign. So far, this has not gone much beyond the distribution of literature and the dispatch of a limited number of government health officers‚ who tour the country, advising the “economic limitation” of the size of families and supplying contraceptives on request.
In many of Turkey’s 40,000 villages there has been a fair degree of interest. But the influence of the Muslim priest, the imam, has generally been thrown against any form of birth control. For the imam still tends to believe that as Allah wills, so it shall come to pass. Big families are God’s blessing‚ as well as God’s will. And Turkish countrymen are still obsessed with the need for sons, who will support their fathers in their old age. It looks as if the population will continue to increase by around a million a year.
Meanwhile‚ the flight from the land to the towns will continue too. The population of Istanbul and suburbs has risen from 1.5 million to 2.5 million in fifteen years; that of Smyrna (Izmir) has doubled during the same period to over half a million. Ankara, the new national capital which was created in the heart of Anatolia, now has nearly a million inhabitants. Urbanization has been overdue‚ and it has brought painful problems. Within the city limits of Istanbul one in every three of the population lives in the shantytowns which have grown up as a result of the old Turkish law that a “householder” cannot be ejected who has built his four walls and roof between dusk and dawn. These colonies of “overnight houses” now exist in every Turkish city. Nearly all of their inhabitants are countrypeople, who have yielded to the lure of better jobs and pay in the city. On the land, the average income of a farmer or farm laborer is about $130 a year; in the towns it is about $700.
The shantytowns have become a huge problem. Istanbul’s shantytown has a population of over 600,000; it contains shops and coffeehouses. The state, with some hesitation, has installed pumps and water troughs, road lighting and road surfaces, postal services, schools, and sanitary inspection. Life may be primitive in buildings of wood and corrugated iron, but youngsters play with abandon in the gutters and flock to their overcrowded classrooms. There is no sense of defeat or apathetic acceptance in the alleyways; it has required some initiative to get there at all, to build a semblance of a home and to go on trying to improve it.
Turkish municipal officials talk of abolishing the shantytowns in five years by moving their inhabitants to new government-financed public housing now under construction. A useful beginning is beingmade; but it will take not five, but twenty years to complete the task. For the total slum population of Turkey, according to Demirel himself, is over 2.5 million.
Illiteracy may be a more serious problem even than housing. Before the war, over 80 percent of the population was illiterate; today 50 percent of the people can read. Only 60‚000 students reach universities and technical colleges, and only 600,000 children receive secondary education. Of all Turkish children of school age, about 20 percent get no regular education whatever, and most of the rest usually end their schooling after five years‚ at the age of twelve.
There is a Muslim tradition of putting children to work in order to build up the family income. Once again, the influence of the imams is retrograde. But villagers are displaying an ever greater interest in education‚ and outlying villages with no schools of their own badger authorities for “ambulant” teachers, often provided by the army, who stay for a week and leave behind a program of home studies when they depart. Four new universities are to open during the next five years, and there are to be new teachers’ colleges. The state is spending around 15 percent of its budget on education.
Sultanas and figs
The present government faces a tough balance of payments problem. In the 1966—1967 financial year imports cost $718 million and exports were worth only $491 million. Still, exports were $41 million over the target set under an existing FiveYear Plan, while imports were $7 million below. The government, justly, was pleased. It could point as well to two other valuable sources of foreign exchange. Tourism should earn the country around $30 million this year, and has immense potential for development, while Turkish workers in foreign countries send home $150 million a year. In addition, Turkey receives foreign aid amounting to $300 to $350 million a year, although virtually all of this is used for capital investment. Thus, there need be no acute balance of payments crisis.
But Turkey is overdependent on raw materials for its exports, and is at the mercy of lean harvests. A modern export trade cannot be created on a base of cotton, grain‚ tobacco, hazelnuts, sultanas, and dried figs. Turkish industry has to be expanded — and in the course of this, is being overprotected. And Turkish agriculture has to be further modernized. Many Turkish businessmen who have earned hard currency in West Germany aid in these efforts by investing their savings in tractors which they have imported into Turkey‚ or in motorcars which they have converted into taxis.
Turkey is already an associate member of the European Common Market, but it cannot hope to become a full member for a long time to come. So far‚ only 50 percent of its imports have been liberalized; the remainder are still subject to quota restrictions as well as import tariffs.
Home industries have to be made fully competitive‚ and Turkey looks for help wherever it can find it. One of the biggest current projects is a S200 million Soviet-financed program for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the frontier river of the Arcanay, and of seven factories for the production of aluminum, woodwork, glass, sulfuric acid, and steel, and for oil-refining and vodka distilling.
Turkey in the middle
It is typical of Demirel’s techniques that he is sponsoring the building of an oil refinery at Izmir, which will be supplied with Russian crude oil. Izmir is the NATO headquarters in Turkey‚ and American NATO officers may in future fill up with “Türkpetrol” made from the crude of the Caucasus. For Demirel believes both in détente with the Soviet Union, and in his country remaining a loyal member of NATO and CENTO. In May he paid visits to Iran and Pakistan to cement the CENTO alliance‚ and to West Germany, where he emphasized the fact that Turkey provided the biggest NATO army outside of the United States’s. Turkey both maintains the strength of its armed forces and modernizes them.
The Demirel government has‚ however, suggested that nuclear land mines should be laid along Turkey’s frontier with the Soviet Union in the Caucasus, thus sealing it off against all possible aggression. This proposal was not immediately accepted. It may have occurred to the United States that its secondary purpose was to allow the reduction of conventional forces and the diversion of greater manpower into industry. Demirel, at all events, desires no flirtation with the Soviet Union, but a guarded peaceful coexistence. This is in step with the détente which has taken place in Central Europe, and which could profitably be extended to the whole of the Middle East.
The army remains‚ to some extent, a power behind the scenes in Turkey. No one can forget that it overturned the Menderes regime in 1960. The younger army officers, almost all of them university graduates, remain politically aware. There have been signs that they are today more worried by left-wing trends than by the growth of a powerful, independent conservative political force. Demirel has treated the Army with calculated tact, and the President‚ ex-General Sunay, has been a useful link between government and the armed forces. It is significant that the Army showed restraint during the Greek constitutional crisis‚ and that it supported the government in its refusal to exploit the situation to secure concessions in Cyprus.
For United States Ambassador Peter Hart the present is not altogether an easy time. As in other countries where there has been substantial American aid‚ a vague sense of resentment has built up which today stops just short of the printing up of anti-American slogans of the “Ami-Go Home” type. Every wellinformed Turk is aware of the extent of American aid‚ estimated at around $5 billion in the last twenty years. Credits currently promised by the United States are more than $70 million. American forces and their families currently stationed in Turkey number more than 18,000‚ and G.I.’s are given the most explicit instructions for dealing with a proud and somewhat remote people.
A Turkish-American agreement is being negotiated, which will consolidate the patchwork arrangements that have worked surprisingly well in the past. The agreement will cover American use of their own or joint installations, the status of American troops stationed in Turkey, and the adjudication of civil offenses committed by them.
The Turkish government does not believe that a new overall agreement will present any insuperable difficulties. The United States government‚ for its part, is likely to continue to regard Turkey as a most valuable ally and friend; a developing country with an important future in one of the world’s most strategically vital areas.
— Terence Prittie
Douglas Kiker, the ATLANTIC’S Washington correspondent, is also on NBC’s capital staff. Michael Lerner has been a reporter for the Washington POST, and was in Israel during the Arab-Israel war. Terence Prittie is diplomatic correspondent for the MANCHESTER GUARDIAN. In future issues, as in this one, some reports will be unsigned at the request of their authors. The ATLANTIC‚ of course, assumes responsibility for them.