Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism VII

Now this series moves onto the first government that resulted from a peaceful electoral transfer of power in Turkish and Ottoman history, the government of Adnan Menderes and the Democrat Party (DP), which came to power in 1950.

The DP was more open to religious conservative sentiment and more free market oriented, though that has to be understood in a very relative way. In power, the DP expanded the number of state enterprises, used economic clientelism to generate business backing, and tolerated an inflation rate of about 20%, though it did also open the economy more to international investment. It was not only more open to religious conservatism (which included creating more pressure for school students to take religion classes and openly Islamist attitudes from some DP politicians), but had a highly nationalist aspect to it, which overlapped. This can be seen most dramatically in the case of the attacks on Greeks in Istanbul in 1955, leading to systematic destruction of property and the loss of about 30 lives.

Though the Menderes government tried to deny involvement and engaged in a token crackdown on ultranationalist groups afterwards, there is plenty of eye-witness information that Democrat Party officials orchestrated mob violence and the police were ordered to remain passive. The army also played a role, drawing on the NATO Gladio structure (groups preparing to resist Soviet occupation, which have also been associated with violent deep state activities in Italy and Spain), to establish a covert command-and-control group. The riots were orchestrated in reaction to armed Greek resistance to British rule in Cyprus, which was seen as threatening the reduction of Cypriot Turks to a second class minority in Cyprus.

We see here the intersection of religious chauvinism (as in Muslim hatred of Orthodox Christians), nationalist chauvinism (as in Turkish hatred of Greeks), inter-state conflict (Greek-Turkish rivalry over the future of Cyprus), inter-communal tension in a historically connected territory (Greek-Turkish rivalry in Cyprus which was an Ottoman possession for centuries), decolonisation (the breakdown of British colonialism in Cyprus) and Cold War covert security structures.

We also see here how troubled claims of the Turkish right to offer something more liberal than Kemalism are. There has been a persistent tendency of some Turkish liberals to go along with this for Menderes in the 50s, Türgüt Özal in the 80s, and Erdoğan in the 2000s and even early 2010s. This is all highly misguided, as will be discussed in future posts. For now, we can concentrate on the record of the Menderes government in encouraging and instrumentalising a combination of ethnic and religious chauvinism, along with growing attacks on the freedom the press and freedom of opposition culminating in the imposition of martial law in early 1960.

The Democrat Party pioneered the politics now followed by the AKP, in which democracy means the dominance of the majority (understood in artificially homogenous terms) in terms of political processes and officially promoted culture combined with the squeezing out of minority and oppositional politics and culture. Elements of economic liberalisation become drowned in state cronyism and inflationary debt-financed vote buying. This is what we might now call authoritarian populism, illiberal democracy, or electoral authoritarianism. Sad to say this has taken place with the assistance of those in Turkey who describe themselves as liberal.

This bad understanding of democracy was promoted by the manner in which the Menderes government ended. A military coup led to: government by military council, the dissolution of the Democrat Party, the arrest of DP politicians, the subsequent execution of Menderes and two other ministers, the adoption of a new constitution by referendum during the military government, the creation of a military-dominated national security committee with power to place issues on the cabinet agenda, and the encouragement of nationalisation.

The complication in this highly illiberal process is that aspects of the new constitution were good from a liberal point of view, including the creation of an elected senate (the first upper house in republican history) and the legalisation of the socialist left, which had been previously heavily squeezed by both the Republican People’s Party and the Democrat Party. Some of the more liberal members of the Democrat Party contributed to the constitutional revision process, so we just can see the process as a straightforwardly anti-liberal process, however undesirable the process was from a liberal point of view.

The political change through coup left disturbing elements in later Turkish political life, which are still with us: the attitude that military intervention is a normal way to end political crisis, the identification of opposition to government with the formulation of a military coup, a victim-desire for revenge mentality amongst the most socially and religiously conservative parts of Turkish society.

The army colonel who proclaimed the 1960 coup on state radio, Alparslan Türkeş, was already known as a militant nationalist. He was purged from the military government along with other colonels who were formulating some kind of long term radical authoritarian regime, and carried on in politics as the most prominent figure in the history of Turkish ultranationalism.

İsmet İnönü enjoyed his last period in power from 1961 to 1965 as Prime Minister. Süleyman Demirel emerged as the new big figure on the centre right. Türkeş and his associates entered politics through infiltration of the National Peasant Party, which broke away from the Democrat Party in the 60s with a more aggressively religious and nationalist program. More on this and later developments in the next post.

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism VI

The end of World War Two placed Turkey between the Soviet Communist world and the western democracies. It’s Middle Eastern neighbours consisted of one outright colony (thinly disguised as a League of Nations mandate), French Syria; one de facto colony of Britain, Iraq (formally independent after a mandate period); one country whose sovereignty was highly compromised by United States and British ‘interests’, that is Iran. After decades of rule by the secularist-nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP is the Turkish acronym), the idea of a Middle Eastern orientation was not a major one at any kind of obvious level, and had limited practical applicability even for those oriented towards the kind of traditionalist Islam which inevitably looks for some kind of connection with the original Muslim heartland.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in (British dominated) Egypt in 1928 and that becomes more important in Turkey over time. A Turkish version, National View, was founded by Necmettin Erbakan in 1969, and forms the core of the AKP today, led by Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. Turkish history from the 1940s to the AKP coming to power in 2002 can look like an inevitable process, and with some qualifications that is probably a reasonable one-sentence way of thinking. Qualifications include the dangers of seeing history as the inevitable unfolding of a single unified process, and the constant possibility that better decisions by secular leaders at various time could have prevented this outcome. The decisions of the small numbers of self-defined liberals in Turkey were not really any better, sad to say.

İnönü’s response to the post-war world was to adopt multi-partyism. The Democrat Party was allowed to form under Adnan Menderes, who had been a member of the short-lived Free Republican Party and then a CHP deputy, and former prime minister Celâl Bayar. The DP contested the 1946 election, which was not all fully free and fair, but came to power in a more properly conducted election in 1950. Bayâr became President and Menderes became Prime Minister. This worked more as the Turkish constitution suggested than when the CHP was the only party in the national assembly. The result was that Menderes was the decision making person.

This political opening up helped Turkey into the Council of Europe (the grouping of European democracies) in 1949 and made it eligible for Marshall Aid under İnönü. Under Menderes, Turkey joined NATO in 1952. Acceptance into NATO was helped by substantial Turkish participation in the Korean War. The participation of conscript peasant soliders from Anatolia is still remembered in folk songs.

All these ways in which Turkey was acknowledged as part of the community of European democracies took place simultaneously for Greece, so the countries were taken as a pair during this period. The peaceful transfer of power through election from İnönü and the CHP to Menderes and the DP was the first such occasion in Turkish and Ottoman history. Some have seen İnönü as ‘only’ responding to US pressure and therefore denied him credit. This has, in the past, been the default position of most Turkish liberals though I believe that the latest historical work shows that İnönü was much more of an active enthusiast for the transition to genuine elections. On this matter, and others, it looks like time for the default ‘liberal’ position to change.

In any case, the whole idea that İnönü only responded to pressure is unsatisfactory. Of course he made his decision in a context of international balances of power of the time. Others made different decisions. In Spain, for instance, Francisco Franco stuck to ultra-conservative, Fascist-influenced dictatorship, accepting US military bases and continuing previous valuable trading relations. In Portugal, the corporatist dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar joined NATO after the adoption of an absurd imitation of party pluralism, with a purely token licensed opposition. Spain and Portugal were not aid recipients, but were able to get considerable trade advantages from the differing deals they made to associate with North Atlantic democracies. İnönü could have found ways to stay in power for ever, but did not.

There were limits to İnönü’s moves towards political pluralism and it was certainly not the ideal process. To some degree, it was one part of the CHP agreeing to the demands of the other part (which left to form DP) to have its turn in power after the current, most favourable to state-led joint secularism and modernity had been in power for so long. More on the DP in the next post.

Returning to İnönü’s rule after the war, the left became victims after a period relative tolerance in the latter years of World War Two, when it looked like the western allies would win in alliance with the US, so the Turkish state showed more tolerance of leftists and less of pan-Turkish nationalists who had the most tolerance of Fascism and Nazism (there has never been a self-identified fascist or national socialist political movement in Turkey).

Not only did İnönü oppress leftist groups outside the CHP as he moved towards genuinely contested elections, he identified left-Kemalist loyalists to the regime as communists who needed to be purged. This was at least in part to gain favour in the US by presenting himself as the main enemy of a real communist threat. Left-Kemalist academics who lost their university jobs at the time included Neyazi Berkes, the most notable Kemalist intellectual of any kind, who went onto an academic career in the west. Measures against left groups outside the CHP included using a religious conservative gang to smash the printing presses of a left newspaper. The willingness of the state to tolerate, and even promote, illegal violence by far right groups supposed threats to the regime and has been a frequent occurrence ever since.

To be continued