World War I

Although the Turks favored neutrality in the conflict germinating between the Central Powers of Germany and Austria and the allied countries of England, France, and Russia, Enver Pasa, who declared himself war minister in 1914, favored cooperation with the Germans.

In the summer of 1914, Enver Pasa signed a secret peace treaty with the Germans promising naval assistance in the face of Russian aggression in the Black Sea. Two months later, the Ottoman Empire was dragged into a war. With the Arab revolts in the east and the Russians on the northern border, the Turks were surrounded by hostile forces. Atatürk's legendary defense of Gallipoli in 1915 succeeded in saving the Straits, and therefore Istanbul, from invasion. But Turkish forces were no match for Allied tanks, automatic weapons, and airplanes. On October 30, 1918, the Turks, represented by the CUP government, agreed to an armistice with England and France.

The Treaty of Sèvres was signed on August 20, 1920 by the government of Mehmet VI. Under the treaty, the Ottomans relinquished all European territories except for a small area around Istanbul. Armenia and Kurdistan gained autonomy, Greece was assigned the administration of the region around Izmir, and French and Italian troops were left to occupy portions of the rest of Anatolia. Control of Turkish finances was taken over by the Allies. But the treaty was to be short-lived.

Turkish Statehood

Spurred on by defeat and foreign occupation, nationalists established pockets of resistance called "Defense of Rights" groups. Atatürk -- who was already an active nationalist, having taken part in the CUP overthrow of 1909 -- began organizing various nationalist factions, with the twin goals of recognition of a national movement and the liberation of Anatolia from foreign occupation.

In the fall of 1919, the Greeks got greedy and began moving inland, arriving as far as the Sakarya River (about 81km/50 miles west of Ankara). Troops led by Ismet Pasa (General) beat the Greeks back to Izmir, and in several decisive victories, Mustafa Kemal succeeded in driving the Greek troops completely off the peninsula. This last victory in the war for independence earned Kemal recognition by foreign governments as the de facto leader of the Turks. The Soviet Union was the first power to sign a treaty with the nationalists in 1920, establishing set boundaries between the two countries.

France and Britain soon followed suit. Kemal had succeeded in retaking possession of Istanbul, the Straits, and Thrace, and the Treaty of Sèvres was essentially null and void. In a bold move that was to be the beginning of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk declared the sultanate abolished and sent Ismet Pasa as sole representative of Turkey in the drafting of the Treaty of Lausanne. Sultan Mehmet VI was allegedly smuggled to Malta on a British ship where he remained in exile, putting the final nail in the coffin of the "Sick Man of Europe" and ending 6 centuries of an empire. The role of caliph was given to his cousin Abdümecid, heir to a defunct Ottoman

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk & the Republican Period

At the beginning of the war for liberation, Kemal saw a country in ruins. Kemal's vision for the republic was Westernization, modernization, solidarity, secularization, and equality for all Turks. Kemal governed as an inflexible yet benevolent autocrat, asserting that a transitional period was necessary in securing effective reform. To this end he formed the Republican People's Party (RPP), which became the exclusive political vehicle for his programs. When Abdümecid indicated a desire to expand his role as caliph into the political sphere, Kemal, wary of opposition from anti-reformers and traditionalists, abolished the caliphate and banished all members of the house of Osman.

In 1924, the Grand National Assembly drew up a constitution establishing guaranteed civil rights and a legal framework for the government. Formally elected president by the assembly, Kemal selected Ismet Pasa as his prime minister, handpicked his cabinet, and set out virtually unobstructed on a path of brisk modernization.

He closed the religious courts and ordered all religious schools secular. Years earlier on a trip to Europe, Kemal had borne the brunt of ridicule for his tasseled red felt hat; so in 1925 the fez, symbol of Ottoman oppression, was outlawed. Stating that "civilized men wear civilized hats," Kemal chose to wear the more modern Panama hat, much like how Mehmet the Conqueror had replaced the turban with the more "modern" fez. Dervish orders were outlawed (but not completely suppressed). The praying at tombs was prohibited. Honorary titles were abolished. It seemed to the people that Kemal was determined to sever all ties with the past and with tradition, and the people in the outlying regions rioted. Mindful that a drastic measure such as banning the veil would enrage his critics, he opted for discouragement instead. Women in Istanbul and in the other cities began to appear in public without the veil, but the practice caught on less quickly in the rural areas.

The legal code was overhauled, and civil law, previously the dominion of the religious leaders, was secularized. In a move toward equality, polygamy was outlawed and marriage became a civil contract, depriving husbands of the absolute right provided by Islamic law to divorce for any reason. Women were also granted equal rights in matters of custody and inheritance, while education for women on the secondary level was recognized as equal in importance to that of men. By 1934, women's rights had extended to universal suffrage, and Turkey won the distinction of being the first country in the world to have elected a woman to the Supreme Court.

His rapid reforms were not without opposition -- both from those who wanted a larger role for Islam in the government as well as those who grew disillusioned with Kemal's pervasive cult of personality. Kemal's flurry of reform angered many Muslims, and in 1926 a plot to assassinate the president was uncovered. Fifteen conspirators were hanged, including members of the extinct Republican People's Party and a former deputy, while others were either tried and exiled or acquitted. In 1928, a constitutional provision declaring Islam as the state religion was deleted, completing the secularism of the Republic of Turkey.

A census, which was the first systematic accounting of the people of Turkey, brought to light gaping holes in the needs of the population. Only 10% of the people over the age of 7 were literate, while an even smaller percentage of children were even in school, prompting significant reforms in education in the next few years.

Kemal's next task was aimed at both engendering Turkish pride and uniting his polyglot nation under one tongue. By the 1920s, Arabic, Persian, and French words made up 80% of language use, and Kemal ordered his scholars to the task of constructing a pure Turkish language purged of foreign influences. Arabic script was replaced with Latin characters. To quiet the voice of his critics, Kemal personally traveled around the country teaching the new alphabet in public squares when necessary. Not even Islam was spared: In 1932, the state made it mandatory for the traditional call to prayer to be broadcast from the loudspeakers in Turkish instead of Arabic, the language of Islam.

All this modernization and bureaucratic reorganization only served to underline yet another need for change. Keeping track of all these Mohammeds, Mahmuts, and Mehmets was getting confusing, and it was obvious that a better method of identification would be necessary. Up to this point, villagers were called by their first names; now, the people were ordered to select a last name, lest they be assigned one less imaginative. Mustafa Kemal was given the name Atatürk ("father of the Turks") by the Grand National Assembly. Ismet Pasa (the Pasa meaning "general") adopted Inönü, the site of one of his victorious battles, while others selected surnames ranging from the less original Bey ("Mr.") to something more creative along the lines of "great slayer of mountains." Old habits die hard, however, and even today it is common practice to address a person by his first name, followed by the respectful "Bey."

In 15 years of presidency, Atatürk transformed a feeble dictatorship into a modern, reasonably democratic, forward-thinking republic. On November 10, 1938, his efforts finally took their toll, when, after years of drinking, he died of cirrhosis of the liver, but not without naming Inönü as his successor. The League of Nations offered tribute at his death by calling him a "genius international peacemaker." Atatürk's legacy lives on, and even to this day, the time of his death is always observed with a minute of silence.

World War II Through the Cold War

The Soviet Union's relentless lust for unfettered access to the Bosphorus Straits made it a continuous threat to Turkish national security, while Hitler's appetite for the Balkans boded badly for Turkey as well. Still, Turkey managed to maintain its neutrality at least until February 1945, when a declaration of war on Germany became a prerequisite for admittance into the San Francisco Conference (the precursor to the United Nations, of which Turkey was one of the original 51 members).

Nevertheless, war took its toll on the Turkish economy. Simultaneously, pressure mounted in postwar Turkey over the state's increasingly authoritarian rule. Responding to spreading dissension, then-President Inönü yielded to his critics and authorized multiparty activity. By the election of May 1950, the Democratic Party had attracted enough of the displaced minorities to win a sweeping majority, appealing to private business owners, Islamic reactionaries, and the struggling rural population. In a move to appease their Islamic supporters, the Democratic Party approved the reinstatement of religious instruction as an optional educational program and reversed Atatürk's decree requiring Turkish as the language of the call to prayer.

Despite a brief period of progress in the early 1950s, Turkey's economy took a nosedive. To finance its poorly managed reforms, the government was forced to take out foreign loans, and Turks began seeking employment beyond their borders. Meanwhile, in a move to return to a one-party system, Menderes began undermining his opposition by banning political meetings, invoking censorship, and creating a special Democratic Party to "investigate political activity," a sufficiently vague mandate for random arrests. Although Menderes maintained a high degree of popularity, the military elite and the foreign-educated intelligentsia began to sow the seeds of rebellion. In response, Menderes imposed martial law. Within a week, students were demonstrating in the streets and cadets from the military academy were staging protests. Cemal Gürsel, a commander of the ground forces and one of the leaders of the movement, decided it was time to act, and despite the lack of a clear plan, set the military machine into motion. On May 27, 1960, in a nonviolent coup d'état, the armed forces arrested President Bayar, whose later sentence of death was changed to life in prison. Menderes was hanged on charges of treason, along with hundreds of members of the Democratic Party (DP). The Committee of National Unity, composed of high-level military officials who had participated in the coup, dissolved the Democratic Party government and took over. The people, jubilant of the overthrow, were rewarded with a new constitution; Gürsel was elected president of the Assembly, and former President Inönü, 37 years after his first appointment as prime minister, assumed the position again, along with the task of constructing the Second Republic.

Four political parties offered candidates in the 1961 election, of which only three won seats: the Atatürk-influenced Justice Party (JP), led by Süleyman Demirel; Inönü's social democratic RPP; the right-to-moderate Turkish Workers Party; and the communist Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions. Despite Inönü's popularity, the RPP lost ground, while the JP, plumped up by displaced members of the late DP, made gains. Nevertheless, neither was able to summon a majority and legislation was paralyzed. After a year and a half, the military handed over control of the state to civilian rule but maintained a watchful eye on the government in the ensuing years. In 1965, the JP was successful in acquiring a majority in the Grand National Assembly, sidelining the RPP for the first time since 1961 and providing Demirel with enough votes to end the coalition-style government in favor of a cabinet.

Modern Turkey & the Third Republic

In spite of the new structure, bickering, crossing of party lines, and splinter groups plagued the political machine. Confidence in the system plummeted, as did the value of the Turkish lira, resulting in unemployment, poverty, hunger, and ultimately social repression. The social and economic situation deteriorated so much that in 1971, in what became known as the "coup by memorandum," Demirel was forced by the military to resign.

The 1970s were a reactionary time in Turkey, much as the 1960s were in the United States, with Marxist and Leninist doctrines clogging impressionable minds. It wasn't long before antigovernment organizations turned to violence in order to further their cause. The left-wing Turkish People's Liberation Army resorted to political assassinations, kidnappings, and fantastic bank robberies, while the Grey Wolves, the terrorist arm of the Islamic-minded National Salvation Party, made standing in a bus line a potentially fatal activity. By mid-1979 the death toll attributed to terrorist violence had reached 20 a day. The military again stepped in.

The military coup of 1980, led by army Chief of Staff General Kenan Evren, was greeted with relief by the general population as well as by concerned members of NATO. Two years later, just as they did after previous coups, the military restored civilian government, although they did only offer one candidate for president: Kenan Evren.

The new government found a secure identity in the Motherland Party, led by Turgut Özal, an economist with a proven track record in economic policy. Özal removed Atatürk's policy of etatism and replaced it with a policy of private enterprise with mixed success: Some of Turkey's nouveau riche got accustomed to the excesses of the 1980s, although not always by legitimate means. Upon Özal's death in 1993, Demirel, representing the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi, or DYP) composed of former members of the now defunct JP, made yet another political comeback as Turkey's seventh elected president. By 1995, with pro-Islamic sentiment on the rise, the Islamic partisans, having formed the Welfare Party, had gained enough votes in the parliamentary elections to make the coalitions stand up and take notice. With Necmettin Erbakan at the helm, the Welfare Party obtained legitimacy through a coalition with the majority DYP, an alliance that most factions had tried to avoid. Erbakan was appointed to serve alternating years as prime minister with the current prime minister, making him the first Islamic leader in the history of the Turkish Republic.

Erbakan's participation as prime minister was an outright affront to the 1982 constitution's prohibiting of "even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political, and legal order of the state on religious tenets." Erbakan was widely criticized, especially by the military, which later forced him to resign. The Welfare Party was accused of being antisecular and was banned in 1998 along with Erbakan, who was prohibited from participating in politics until 2003. The Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AKP in Turkish), formed in August 2001, took over where the Welfare Party left off, claiming a new, moderate stance and a willingness to work within the secular system.

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