In the early-modern period, the Ottoman Empire controlled the Balkans and on two occasions threatened Vienna. The empire also dominated the Middle East and North Africa. Turkish power receded in the nineteenth century, however. Regarded as the "Sick Man of Europe," the Ottoman Empire was forced to yield most of its territory in the Balkans. The empire was also on the losing side in World War I and suffered substantial territorial losses, especially in the Middle East.
Turkey became a republic in October 1923 with the abolition of the sultanate. Domestically, Turkey had been a secular state since 1924, but it was hardly a democracy. Only one political group, the Republican People's Party, was permitted.
The father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk ("the father of the Turks"), mounted a successful military effort against the Greeks, whose army had occupied western Anatolia (including Izmir/Smyrna) after World War I. Atatürk also carried out a rapid and enforced Westernization, insisting on strict separation of religion and state. In 1924 religious instruction in the schools was forbidden. Turkish replaced Arabic as the national language, and the nation adopted Roman letters. Islamic law was abolished in favor of a new civil code.
Atatürk died in 1938. Premier Ismet Inönü, his closest associate, succeeded him as leader of the nation and the Republican People's Party. Inönü was reelected president in 1943. He and other Turkish leaders were determined to maintain Turkish neutrality in World War II. They kept the large Turkish Army mobilized, alarmed by the ambitions of Germany and the Soviet Union and especially concerned that the two might combine against Turkey. Italian ambitions in the Balkans were also a concern.
Once the Germans controlled the Balkans, in June 1941 Ankara signed a Treaty of Territorial Integrity and Friendship with Germany that offered economic concessions. Inönü, however, strongly resisted pressure from Berlin to enter the war on its side. As soon as the Allies were ascendant, Turkey resumed its pro-Western position, although it also resisted pressure from the United States and Britain to join them in the war. Not until February 1945 did Turkey declare war on Germany, and this was done to assure membership in the United Nations (UN).
Following the war, the Soviet Union applied tremendous pressure on Turkey in an effort to annex Kars and Ardahan. These two northeastern Turkish provinces had long been in contention between the two states. Moscow also demanded a share of control over the defense of the straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles).
In fulfillment of its obligations to defend the West, Turkey sent a brigade to fight on the UN side in the Korean War (1950–1953). There, Turkey established an excellent combat record. Turkey also provided bases to the United States for communications intelligence gathering on the Soviet Union and in 1955 joined the Baghdad Pact.
Internally, Turkey struggled to achieve a Western economy and style of government. After World War II, Inönü allowed the formation of a genuine second political party. The 1946 elections were held so abruptly, however, that the new Democratic Party, led by Celal Bayar, lacked time to organize properly and was only able to secure 63 of 465 seats.
In the 1950 elections, by contrast, the Democratic Party won a landslide victory, taking 408 seats to only 69 for the Republican People's Party. Bayar became the president, with Adnan Menderes as premier. The Democratic Party held power until 1960 and emphasized private enterprise. Under the leadership of Menderes, Turkey embarked on an economic development program. Agrarian reform had already been introduced by the previous regime, but the Menderes government continued the process of breaking up the large estates, government holdings, and ecclesiastical lands and transferring these to the peasants. It also sought to introduce modern farming methods, with agricultural production doubling over the next decade. As more than 80 percent of the Turkish population lived in the countryside, the benefits of these reforms, including new roads and rural electrification, provided a powerful base for the Democratic Party. Some state-owned industries were also turned over to private ownership, and new factories were built to produce sugar, textiles, cement, and steel.
Rapid development, however, brought both large government deficits and inflation. Some $3 billion in U.S. aid as well as loans from Europe drove up both prices and the cost of living. As its unpopularity increased in the cities, the Menderes government began to restrict political liberties. It won an easy election victory in 1954, but only repressive measures kept it in power thereafter. Then, in 1957, all other Turkish political parties combined against the government. The government struck back by declaring this illegal and denying the opposition access to the media.
In May 1960 the Turkish armed forces stepped in, seizing power. The armed forces repeated this process two more times, in 1971 and in 1980. Much to its credit, each time the army also peacefully relinquished power. General Cemal Gürsel headed the new government, made up chiefly of younger army officers. In 1961 the government submitted for voter approval a new constitution that established a bicameral parliament and proportional representation, along with a constitutional court. New elections gave the Republican People's Party 173 of 450 seats in the national assembly, and Inönü became premier. Unfortunately, the system of proportional representation led to many small blocs in parliament and political stalemate. At first the Republican People's Party and the Justice Party (successor to the Democrat Party) shared power, but in 1962 Inönü formed a new ministry made up of members of the Republican People's Party and smaller political parties. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 affected Turkey, for as part of the settlement President John F. Kennedy agreed to remove obsolete U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
Seemingly intractable problems remained in regard to a large foreign debt and annual budget deficits. Help came in the form of a $100 million loan from a consortium of twelve nations. Turkey also benefited from admission as an associate member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963. The Turks resented the fact that they could not secure full membership, a consequence not only of Turkey's economic problems but also of concerns among many West Europeans that Turkey was a Muslim nation.
Early in 1965, the Justice Party brought down the government in a vote of no-confidence, and Inönü again relinquished power. Elections later that year gave the Justice Party 240 seats and the Republican People's Party only 134 seats of 450 in the assembly. Süleyman Demirel became premier. The Justice Party continued to draw the bulk of its support from the countryside, conservative Muslims, and part of the middle class, while the Republican People's Party drew its support chiefly from the cities.
In March 1971, with Turkey sharply polarized between Right and Left and strikes occurring, the military again seized power. The generals modified the constitution, and in October 1973 new elections brought an odd coalition of leftists and Islamists to power.
A crisis with Greece over the island of Cyprus complicated matters. In July 1974, Greeks on the island seized power in order to reunite Cyprus with Greece. The Turkish government appealed to the British for a joint military intervention, but London refused. That same month, Turkey sent 40,000 troops to northern Cyprus. They drove out some of the Greeks there and occupied 37 percent of the island. Turkish troops remain on the island, with Ankara claiming that they are there to protect the Turkish Cypriot community. Talks to resolve the impasse have been unsuccessful, and the Turks have set up a de facto Turkish Cypriot state. With Greece and Turkey longtime enemies, concern remained through the Cold War and afterward that these two NATO members might go to war with each other. The Turks believed that their allies, particularly the United States, had let them down, and by the mid-1960s Ankara was distancing itself a bit from Washington and seeking improved ties with Moscow. A U.S. embargo on the sale of arms to Turkey plunged relations between the United States and Turkey to a new low.
Turkey benefited from the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, both in 1979. That same year the United States substantially increased its assistance to Turkey. Aid went from $300 million a year to $500 million. The United States also continued to maintain military bases in Turkey.
For most of the 1970s, the government was run by the left-of-center Republican People's Party headed by Bulent Ecevit or, at the end of the decade, Demirel's rightist Justice Party. As neither party was able to win a majority in parliament, both were forced to form uneasy alliances with smaller parties and independents. Meanwhile, many of Turkey's fundamental problems went unaddressed.
In September 1980 the army, led by Chief of Staff General Kenan Evren, again took power. The junta dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and some civil liberties, and arrested Premier Demirel and more than 100 other politicians. The army also arrested thousands of suspected terrorists and executed a number of them. The army's action had again been sparked by political infighting; neglect of the nation's serious economic problems, including an inflation rate of nearly 100 percent a year; and right- and left-wing terrorists who had killed more than 2,000 people in 1980 alone. The generals were particularly concerned with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in view of recent events in Iran.
The army takeover led to Turkey's expulsion from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a halt in negotiations with the EEC, and investigations by the European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg. But General Evren saw himself as a leader in the mold of Atatürk. In 1982 Evren became president for a seven-year term in a referendum that was also a vote for a new constitution. The referendum received a 92 percent favorable vote. The new constitution was framed to increase presidential powers and, in the case of the Grand National Assembly, the Turkish parliament, to encourage the development of a stable two-party system.
In the 1983 parliamentary elections, the party favored by the military, the Nationalist Democratic Party, came in third. The big winner was the Motherland Party, led by Turgut Özal, that won an absolute majority in the Grand National Assembly, the first party to enjoy such power since the 1960s. Özal put the nation back into financial order and created a free market economy. In 1985 Turkey was readmitted into the Council of Europe. There was some resentment toward the West, with Turkey's leaders believing that their allies had failed to appreciate the situation that had necessitated military rule.
In 1989 there was a crisis with neighboring Bulgaria when that country drove out many members of its Turkish minority (1.5 million people out of a total population of 10 million) into Turkey. Turkey did benefit from the crisis over Iraq's seizure of Kuwait. Özal was quick to join his country to the anti–Saddam Hussein coalition, but Turkey suffered economically. By November 1990, rigid enforcement of the economic blockade had cost Turkey an estimated $3 billion in revenues, chiefly from shutting down an oil pipeline through the country.
Turks resented the phobia expressed by many Americans and West Europeans toward its Muslim identity and what it perceived as a lack of support for Ankara's efforts to stamp out demands for autonomy by its Kurdish minority (20 percent of the country's overall population) in southern Turkey. This was evident in Operation steel curtain in March 1995, when Turkey sent 35,000 troops into the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq in an effort to trap several thousand guerrillas and halt cross-border raids by the Marxist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK had been fighting for more than a decade in southeastern Turkey to establish a separate Kurdish state. More than 15,000 people had been killed since 1984, and Turkey mounted the military campaign in an effort to wipe out the movement. Economic problems in the cities also led to a rise in Muslim fundamentalism, perhaps the greatest threat to the secular Turkish state. At the end of the Cold War, Turkey nonetheless remained committed to NATO and sought to become a full-fledged member of the European Community.
Cem Karadeli and Spencer C. Tucker
Deringil, S. Turkish Foreign Policy during the Second World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.; Kinzer, Stephen. Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.; Mango, Andrew. The Turks Today: Turkey after Ataturk. London: John Murray, 2005.; Zuercher, Erik Jan. Turkey: A Modern History. London: Tauris, 1997.