Democratisation & the coups
Though reform had proceeded apace in Turkey, the country remained economically and military weak and Atatürk’s successor, İsmet İnönü, stepped carefully to avoid involvement in WWII. The war over, Turkey found itself allied to the USA. A bulwark against the Soviets (the Armenian border then marked the edge of the Soviet bloc), Turkey was of great strategic importance and found itself on the receiving end of US aid. The new friendship was cemented when Turkish troops fought in Korea, and Turkey was made a member of NATO soon afterwards. Meanwhile, the democratic process, previously stifled, gained momentum. In 1950 the Democratic Party swept to power. Ruling for a decade, the Democrats had raised the hackles of the Kemalists from the outset by reinstituting the call to prayer in Arabic (something Atatürk had outlawed), but when, as their tenure proceeded, they failed to live up to their name and became increasingly autocratic, the army stepped in during 1960 and removed them. Army rule lasted only briefly, and resulted in the liberalisation of the constitution, but it set the tone for years to come. The military considered themselves the guardians of Atatürk’s vision – pro-Western and secular – and felt obliged and empowered to step in when necessary to ensure the republic maintained the right trajectory. The 1960s and ‘70s saw the creation of political parties of all stripes, from left-leaning to fascist–nationalist to pro-Islamic, but a profusion of new parties did not necessarily make for a more vibrant democracy. The late 1960s were characterised by left-wing activism and political violence that prompted the creation of unlikely coalitions and a move to the right by centrist parties. The army stepped in again in 1971 to restore order, before swiftly handing power back in late 1973. Several months later the military was again in the thick of things when President Bulent Ecevit ordered them into Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority, in response to a Cypriot Greek extremist organisation who had seized power and was espousing union with Greece. The invasion effectively divided the island into two political entities – one of which is only recognised by Turkey – a situation that persists to this day. Political and economic chaos reigned for the rest of the ‘70s so the military took it upon themselves to seize power again and re-establish order in 1980. This they did through the creation of the highly feared National Security Council, but allowed elections in 1983. Here, for the first time in decades, was a happy result for Turkey. Turgut Özal, leader of the Motherland Party (ANAP), won a majority and, unhindered by unruly coalition partners, was able to set Turkey back on course. An astute economist, and pro-Islamic, Özal made vital economic and legal reforms that brought Turkey in line with the international community and sowed the seeds of its current vitality. The late 1980s, however, were notable for two aspects – corruption and Kurdish separatism – that were to have an impact long beyond Özal’s tenure.