The Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, was one of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire, which fell after World War I. Founded around 1300, the Ottoman Empire was a dynastic state that expanded rapidly from western Asia Minor into the Balkans, capturing territory from a declining Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans suffered a setback at the hands of Timur (Tamerlane; 1336–1405) in 1402 but soon recovered their power, capturing Constantinople in 1453 and inheriting the mantle of Byzantium and imperial status. Expansion continued for the rest of the fifteenth century as Asia Minor was brought under Ottoman rule. In order to secure his flank, Sultan Selim I (r. 1512–1520) defeated Iran's Shah Isma῾il (r. 1501–1524) in 1514 and seized Syria and Egypt from the Mamluks in 1516–1517, at the same time gaining the submission of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the trappings of the Caliphate.
The empire reached its peak during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) when Ottoman armies continued the conquest of Europe, besieging Vienna in 1529. Süleyman fought what has aptly been described as a sixteenth-century world war, supporting the Dutch and the French against Spain in Europe while fighting the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. But during the sixteenth century the center of gravity of the Western world shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and with that the military balance also changed. The Ottomans continued to hold their own into the eighteenth century, even besieging Vienna for the second time in 1683. However, the loss of Muslim Crimea to Russia's Catherine the Great and the Treaty of Kücük Kaynarca (1774), followed by Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (1798), exposed the urgent need for reform so as to create a modern state. The opposition of the Janissary army in alliance with the ulema, the clerical class, made structural reform impossible.
Ottoman Reform and Fall.
Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839) was able to begin the process of reform—called the Tanzimat—after destroying the Janissaries in 1826, leaving the ulema totally isolated. The new state restored the authority of the center, creating a strong bureaucracy with a new bureaucratic class that had loyalty to the state rather than to the sultan. Faced with the revolutionary ideas of nationalism, the empire tried to meet the challenge by carrying out reforms throughout the nineteenth century, with important reform charters in 1839 and 1856 and a constitution in 1876.
Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) shelved the constitution in 1878 and ruled as an autocrat for the next thirty years. However, the educational and administrative reforms during the nineteenth century resulted in the creation of a new class made up of officers, teachers, doctors, and officials. They believed that the only way to face the challenge of Western imperialism that threatened the empire was by restoring the constitution and creating a modern state and society. They carried out the so-called Young Turk revolution in July 1908 and began the process of reform. However, the early twentieth-century conjuncture of imperialist rivalry and the growth of nationalism did not promise success for reforming a multinational empire. Finally the Young Turks were left with no choice but to join Germany in the world war that had already broken out in August 1914. Until July 1918 they hoped that the last German offensive would lead to a negotiated peace that would allow the Ottomans to retain their empire in Asia Minor and the Arab provinces. The offensive failed, and the Ottomans were forced to sign an armistice on 30 October, marking the end of the empire.
The Ottomans had ruled over eastern Europe and the Middle East for six centuries, creating one of the longest-lasting empires in history. Their success was based on their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and constantly innovate. They began as leaders of a tribal confederation, sharing power with other chieftains as the first among equals. They began to marginalize the chieftains when Sultan Bayezit (r. 1389–1402) adopted the military levy of non-Muslim youths—the devshirme—and created an infantry and bureaucracy that were loyal only to the ruler. By the time that the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, the tribal chiefs had been marginalized and the sultan's power firmly established. In the sixteenth century when the empire became too complex for the sultan to administer alone, authority was transferred to competent grand viziers like Mehmed Sokullu (r. 1565–1579) and the Köprülü family (1656–1683). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the bureaucracy took charge of the reform movement, and that remained true until virtually the end of empire.
Ottoman rule was relatively benign compared to that of most other empires. The Ottomans adopted the Islamic practice of giving non-Muslim communities—Greek, Armenian, and Jewish—protection and allowed them to be governed by their religious heads under their own laws so long as they paid special taxes. Thus these communities retained their religious and cultural identities over the centuries. Only with the rise of nationalism did these communities—which were never seen nor saw themselves as “minorities”—begin to chafe under Ottoman rule and struggle for independence.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the very existence of the Turks was in doubt. The victorious Allies did not honor the armistice borders that came to define Asia Minor or Anatolia and intended to give territory to the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Kurds, while having spheres of influence. Treaties signed during the war had already assigned the Arab provinces—Iraq and Syria—to Britain and France. Thus the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920) left the Ottoman dynasty a small state in the center of Anatolia. However, national resistance emerged in response to the Greek invasion in May 1919, and General Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938)—who took the surname Atatürk in 1934—turned sporadic resistance into a movement. The national struggle against the Greek army ended in 1922. Ironically, the sultan opposed the nationalists, leading to the abolition of monarchy in 1922.
Rule of Atatürk and the Kemalists.
Because the Sevrès Treaty could not be imposed on the nationalists, a new treaty was negotiated at Lausanne in 1923. The state of Turkey was recognized with the armistice lines, which had become the so-called National Pact of the movement. But having gained international recognition for the country, the nationalists were divided on the kind of state and society to create on the foundations. Some, perhaps the majority, wanted continuity, with possibly the caliph being the president of the Republic of Turkey that was proclaimed on 29 October 1923. That would have meant having an Islamic state with limited social and political reform. Radical nationalists, soon to be known as Kemalists after their leader Mustafa Kemal, were determined to carry out a revolution that would enable Turkey to become part of modern civilization. That meant establishing not just a secular state and society but a laicist state (like that of France) that would control Islam and prevent religion from being an obstacle to change.
In February 1925 a rebellion of Kurdish religious-tribal sheikhs in eastern Anatolia provided the Kemalists reason to crush, not only the rebellions, but all opposition to the Kemalist reform program. On 3 March 1924 the Caliphate had already been abolished and the Ottoman family exiled, a serious blow for the conservative opposition, whose party was dissolved in June 1925. Kemal Pasha now began to launch a program designed to secularize state and society. The fez was banned, and the so-called Hat Law was passed on 25 November 1925; dervish orders, the very basis of folk Islam, were outlawed on 30 November. In February 1926 a secular civil code was introduced, giving equal civil rights to women; a criminal code followed on 1 March. In April 1928, reference to Islam as the “religion of the state” was removed from the constitution, and in August the Latin alphabet was adopted in place of the Arabic-Persian script, thereby cutting the republic culturally and intellectually from its Ottoman past. In April 1930 women were given the vote in local elections; in December 1934 they acquired the vote in general elections and the right to hold office.
All these reforms had been imposed by the new state without any thought being given to the reaction of the people living in a tradition-bound society. The Kemalist elite seemed impervious to any popular reaction, convinced that the new nation would be grateful for being dragged into modernity. In August 1930 a state-sponsored “opposition” party, the Free (or Liberal) Republican Party, was founded by a close associate of Mustafa Kemal's; but contrary to the founders' expectations and wishes, conservatives embraced the party, giving it wide popular support. The party therefore dissolved itself in November. But worse was to come. In December there was a demonstration by reactionaries in the town of Menemen in the west, the most developed region of Turkey. It was led by a dervish sheikh who demanded the restoration of the Caliphate and the Sharia. When an officer was sent to investigate, he was beheaded by the demonstrators, and his head was paraded around the town.
The incident, trivial in itself, forced the Kemalists to educate the people with an ideology that would explain the reforms and the regime's program. The result of these deliberations was the adoption of the Six Arrows, which became the ideological platform of the state. The principles adopted into the constitution in 1937 were:
1. Republicanism: the state would always remain a republic.
2. Nationalism: all those who lived in the borders of Turkey were Turks.
3. Populism: to bring together all those who were opposed to the old order.
4. Laicism: the state actively controlled religion, rather than creating a separation of state and religion.
5. Statism: given the lack of private capital, the state would undertake capital investment when the private sector could not.
6. Revolutionism or Reformism: this principle was interpreted differently by radicals and conservatives within the ruling Republican People's Party; radicals saw the party's obligation to continue to carry out a permanent revolution, whereas the conservatives argued that the revolution was over and that reform was needed only from time to time.
The Turkification and secularization of society gathered pace throughout the 1930s. The Qur᾽an was read in Turkish in 1932, and services were broadcast from the famous Aya Sofya mosque in 1934 before it was turned into a museum in January 1935. With Soviet aid, Ankara began to play an active role in Turkey's industrialization with the launching of a five-year plan and the founding of factories in Anatolia.
When Atatürk died on 10 November 1938, people wondered how Turkey would fare under new leadership. Hitler is said to have declared: “After Kemal's death, Turkey will be ruled by morons and half-idiots.” But that was not the case, and Turkey's new rulers, led by President Ismet Inönü (1884–1973; president 1938–1950), weathered the storm of World War II by remaining neutral, much to the annoyance of the Allies. Once the war was over, Turkey faced a dilemma. Some in the ruling Republican People's Party wanted to pursue the policy of autarchy by carrying out land reform and looking inward. The majority, however, was convinced that the only way for postwar Turkey to develop was to join the West so as to benefit from U.S. foreign aid and investment. A minority believed that Turkey should abandon the single-party system and adopt the multiparty politics of the West. Led by Celal Bayar (1883–1986), four republicans broke away from their party and formed the Democrat Party in January 1946.
Meanwhile, the Cold War had broken out between the Soviet Union and the West. Stalin had made a huge mistake by not renewing the 1925 Friendship Treaty with Turkey unconditionally. That enabled Ankara to turn away from Moscow and seek support from the West—support that Washington was happy to provide. The Truman Doctrine (1947) and the Marshall Plan began the process that culminated in Turkey's joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952.
After four years in opposition, the Democrat Party won an overwhelming victory in the May 1950 general election. It then ruled for the next ten years, until the party was overthrown by the first military coup d'état on 27 May 1960. During these ten years Turkey was transformed and modernized. The statist economic policy of the single-party years was discouraged, and laws were passed that encouraged private enterprise and foreign capital. With Marshall Plan funds the agrarian sector was mechanized, and the statistics in the table show the dramatic increase in mechanization.
Mechanization allowed more land to be cultivated with less labor, as well as an increase in production, so that after 1950, Turkey began to export grain. But mechanization, aided by a new network of roads and buses, also led to the flight of peasants from the countryside to the cites, the creation of shantytowns, and new social problems and politics.
Table 1. Mechanization of the Agrarian Sector
End of the Golden Years.
The golden years of the Democratic Party came to an end around 1955; stagnation and inflation set in, affecting the salaried classes—which included military officers—most severely. The artificial exchange rate of 2.8 Turkish liras to the U.S. dollar—the real value was around 10—led to corruption, especially in the commercial sector, where fortunes were made. There was glaring inequality and the erosion of “traditional” values, which were being replaced by a new materialism for which the Democrats were held responsible. The opposition exploited these social and economic trends in order to criticize the ruling party, who in turn became more autocratic, undermining democratic values.
The soldiers carried out a coup in May 1960, but intellectuals—law professors—made the revolution by replacing the single-party constitution of 1924 with a liberal document that transformed social, economic, and political life. Turkey was described as a “social state” that had a planned economy and an electoral system with proportional representation rather than “winner take all.” Intellectual life blossomed under autonomous universities, and students became active politically. The generals became the guardians of the new regime thanks to the creation of the National Security Council, a body designed to advise the government, and of the Armed Forces Mutual Fund (OYAK), which became a major sector in the economy.
During the 1960s Turkey began to industrialize, and with industry a small but articulate working class and a Socialist party, the Workers' Party of Turkey, emerged. Economic growth—it averaged about 7 percent a year throughout the 1960s—led to the emergence of an Anatolian bourgeoisie, more traditional and less secular than that of cosmopolitan Istanbul, and the founding of the first “Islamist” party—the National Order Party—in 1969. The first Cyprus crisis of 1964 and the warning letter from President Lyndon Johnson to the Turkish government caused virulent anti-Americanism. The threat from the trade union movement and the fragmentation of the center-right party, in power since 1965, led to political instability and the military intervention of 12 March 1971.
This time the generals were unsuccessful in remedying the political situation, and piecemeal reform and instability continued throughout the 1970s. But the Left was crushed, and the unions were brought under control. However, the Republican People's Party, now social democratic under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit (1925–2006), became a potent political force. But its influence was undermined by political violence of the Right. The 1970s were difficult years for Turkey. They were marked by the second Cyprus crisis of 1974 that led to Turkish intervention followed by a Western embargo, the huge hike in oil prices following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and constant violence from the Right and Left. Moreover, the world was rapidly moving toward globalization, while Turkey seemed to be stagnating. But in 1978–1979 the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Iran required that Turkey become a model of stability, and the generals again intervened to bring that about.
The intervention of 12 September 1980 was designed not only to provide stability but also to smooth Turkey's path into a rapidly globalizing world. The generals restructured the political life of Turkey with an authoritarian constitution in 1982, undoing all the liberal elements of 1961. They created the environment in which Turgut Özal (1927–1993)—appointed deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs—who had already launched a belt-tightening economic program in January 1980, was able to put his free-market, export-driven policies into operation. All parties were dissolved, and politicians were barred from political life for up to ten years; unions were no longer a threat, and the universities lost their autonomy. In short, the generals tried to depoliticize society.
When political life was restored in 1983, new politicians emerged to lead new parties. Özal's Motherland Party won the general election, and he was able to rule as prime minister without opposition until 1987, when the rights of former politicians were restored by referendum. Turgut Özal transformed Turkey in the 1980s into a society where acquiring wealth and ostentatious consumption became dominant values. With new import policies, everything was available at a price. Gone was the idea of social welfare, justice, and the social state. Özal was able to maintain strength by manipulating the electoral system, but after winning the 1987 election he knew that his days as party leader were numbered. Therefore he had himself elected president in November 1989 when General Kenan Evren's term expired; his party remained in the majority until his untimely death in 1993.
The Politically Instable 1990s and Beyond.
The 1990s were marked by political instability, and there were even rumors of another military intervention. The Kurdish insurgency in the southeast, led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since 1984, was costing the country an estimated $7 billion a year and thousands of lives; it continued unabated until the capture of its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, in 1999.
Turkey seemed to be losing its strategic importance for the West with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 transformed the country's situation dramatically. The political crisis was forgotten for the moment, and Turkey began to redefine its place in the new world order, especially with the emergence of independent Turkic states in the former Soviet Union.
In the long run there was no escaping the political instability and the economic problems that confronted Turkey throughout the 1990s. Coalition governments involved in corruption discredited the secular politicians and opened the way to the Islamists, who had never exercised power. A survey revealed that trust in politicians had decreased by 82 percent. The Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party won the 1995 election in December but was able to form a coalition only in June 1996. With a hostile press and the flight of foreign capital, there was talk of military intervention. When it came, it came in the form of the so-called 28 February (1997) Process. The generals told the government to clamp down on Islamists, especially the wearing of headscarves, and to carry out educational reform so as to limit the influence of religious schools. In June the Islamist-led coalition collapsed, making way for secular coalitions and more instability.
Despite the political instability, Turkey's economy survived. In 1993 a World Bank survey ranked it 17 out of 105 economies according to its gross national product. Turkey had experienced growth of 5.1 percent throughout the 1980s, better than such developed nations as Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, and the United States. Reliance on privatization was bolstering economic growth and altering the structure of Turkey's industries by making them more competitive and therefore able to withstand competition from the European Union. The customs union within the EU that came into effect on 1 January 1996 soon began to transform the economic landscape.
In October 1999 the European Commission recommended that Turkey be considered a candidate for the EU, provided that Turkey meet the so-called Copenhagen criteria that included human rights, the protection of minorities, and economic reform. However, the EU continued to express its unhappiness with Turkey's progress under the coalitions; the parties supported the idea of reforms rhetorically but refused to carry out, let alone implement, the reforms, lest they alienated their voters. Finally, by July 2002 the political crisis had become so acute that Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit was forced to call elections for November. The press talked of regression under the coalition that had seen two economic crises, shrinkage of the economy, and total surrender to the International Monetary Fund, while unemployment had risen from 8.6 percent to 11.85 percent. The U.N.'s Human Development Report for 2002 found that Turkey had declined from eighty-second to eighty-fifth place; only such states as Turkmenistan, Tunisia, Iran, Moldova, Bolivia, Burundi, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone were behind Turkey.
Turkey's voters were totally disillusioned with the conventional parties, including the Islamist party that had been led by Necmettin Erbakan since 1969 under a variety of names. In the November 2002 election the new Justice and Development Party (AKP, the party's Turkish initials), a party with Islamist roots but that called itself conservative democrat, won 34 percent of the vote and 363 seats, while the Republican People's Party lagged behind with only 19.4 percent and 180 seats. All the other parties failed to obtain the 10 percent required to enter parliament; the original Islamist party, now calling itself the Happiness (Saadet) Party, won only 2.5 percent.
Since 2003 there has been a danger that with such a large majority the AKP might attempt to practice “majoritarian democracy” and pass Islamist, antidemocratic laws. Before the election the AKP's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (b. 1954), said that if he came to power he would call for a referendum banning alcohol consumption in the streets and outdoor cafés and restaurants. But in power the AKP leaders, benefiting from the lessons of the past, behaved responsibly toward the opposition in parliament and the secular establishment, though they kept appealing to their religious bases with promises that they did not try to keep. The AKP leaders have also made many compromises—compromises that were forced upon them by the requirements of globalization, as well as by the need to meet criteria for EU membership. The party's concerns had to be secular—to join the EU by passing the required reforms, bring down inflation, increase the rate of growth, and reduce poverty. Thus such issues as the headscarf, the religious imam-hatip schools, and the Higher Education Board (YOK) became marginal for the party's leadership. The party tried to project an image of moderation, making Turkey's entry into the European Union its priority. By October 2004, Turkey had fulfilled these criteria sufficiently so that in October 2005 Turkey was allowed to begin accession talks with the EU, talks that were expected to last between ten and fifteen years.
The secular forces led by the generals have remained suspicious of the party's Islamist past, convinced that the government has a secret agenda to Islamize Turkey. For them the headscarf remained an important political symbol because it is worn by the wives of both the prime minister Erdogan and the foreign minister Abdullah Gul, as well as the wives of some other AKP leaders. Alarm bells rang when the government wanted to pass a law criminalizing adultery, and in 2007 the AKP's Istanbul municipality attempted to ban billboards displaying bikini-clad models in their advertisements. But under EU pressure the adultery law was dropped in September 2004, and pressure from business concerns forced the municipality to back down on the billboard issue. The secular opposition continues to claim that the AKP is colonizing the state by placing its members into strategic ministries; the opposition thus fears that in a short time the state will lose its secular character.
In 2006 the election of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's successor emerged as the principal political issue. Sezer was a militant secularist whose term expired in May 2007. Prime Minister Erdogan wanted to elect the president while he enjoyed the majority necessary in parliament to do so. The opposition demanded a nonparty candidate and called for an early general election, calculating that that the AKP would not win the necessary votes in the new parliament to elect its nominee as president. Instead of compromising, Erdogan chose Abdullah Gul, his popular foreign minister, as his presidential candidate. The opposition party, the Republican People's Party, sabotaged the presidential election, claiming that a president could be elected only if there was a two-thirds quorum in parliament, a requirement that could not be met if the opposition boycotted parliament. The question went before the Constitutional Court, which found in favor of the opposition. Having failed to elect Abdullah Gul, the party withdrew his candidacy and decided to hold an early election on 22 July 2007.
The election results confounded most predictions. The Justice and Development Party performed far better than expected, winning 46.5 percent of the vote and 341 parliamentary seats, whereas the Republican People's Party won 21 percent and 112 seats and the Nationalist Action Party 15 percent and 71 seats. For the first time Kurds were also represented in parliament. Their party, the Democratic Society Party, would not have cleared the 10 percent barrier necessary to enter parliament. So its members entered the election as independents and won 23 of 26 seats, later forming a parliamentary bloc in order to articulate Kurdish grievances in the parliament.
The 2007 election was undoubtedly one of the most important elections of the multiparty period, marking the bankruptcy of the traditional center-right, whose party had failed to enter parliament yet again. The AKP, despite its Islamist roots, emerged as the new representative of the center-right. With his huge popular mandate, Erdogan again chose Abdullah Gul as his candidate for the presidency. Gul was not elected in the first two rounds, however, because the vote was divided among three candidates, and he did not win the necessary two-thirds majority of 375 votes. In the third round, when a straight majority was sufficient, he won 339 votes and was duly elected the eleventh president on 28 August. Thus the AKP controlled the three principal levers of power: the executive, the legislature, and the presidency. It remains to be seen whether the party will use its power to undermine the secular character of Turkey's state and society.
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