FOR many years preceding 1914 the international scene was dominated by the so-called Eastern Question--the question of what should be done to reform the Ottoman Empire, or (the real rub) to distribute its possessions when it fell apart. The Ottoman Empire fell apart in due course, and what remained of Turkey became a small Republic of some 14,000,000 souls, located in Asia Minor and concerned exclusively with its own affairs. Of the two major contenders for the prize, the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, the former disappeared totally and the latter was changed into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, by definition and by proclamation immune to the imperialist sin of grabbing territory. The Eastern Question ceased to exist. And for a quarter of a century Turkey played but a secondary rôle in international affairs.

After the First World War relations between Russia and Turkey, based on the Russo-Turkish Treaty of 1921, were friendly. Both countries found themselves to some extent isolated and were able to render each other useful services. But Turkey made no concessions to the Soviet Union in regard to her internal politics; the friendship rested on the understanding that the Turkish Communist Party would be rigorously suppressed. Nor did these good relations prove an obstacle to the eventual rapprochement between Turkey and the West; as things turned out, the Soviet Union found herself in a position where assistance from the despised bourgeois nations was decidedly useful.

With the end of the Second World War, however, all this changed. The victorious alliance in its turn dissolved. The Soviet Union abruptly ceased to be an ally of Turkey's Western associates and became their enemy. And the heirs of Lenin began to fold foreign lands to the bosom of Mother Russia with a length of arm that Alexander III or Nicholas II never knew.

Turkey had to make a choice and she made it without hesitation. She did not for a moment seek to attenuate the bonds linking her to the West, but on the contrary took steps to strengthen them. She thus placed herself squarely in the opposite camp to that of her great neighbor and automatically constituted herself an outpost of the democratic world against advancing Soviet imperialism. Politically and strategically, Turkey holds a key position in the great conflict of democracy and dictatorship in our time--and the Eastern Question reëmerges in modern dress.


Driving down through the Balkans to Istanbul and on into Asia Minor, one passes from Europe to Asia, though one notices no sudden change. But Istanbul is today a Western town and so in the main is Ankara, with its fine new official quarter and wide streets and modern buildings. Except in the remoter provinces, Eastern dress has disappeared almost completely and has been replaced by a stereotyped Western garb, noticeable mainly by its drabness. Indeed, approaching Turkey by way of Greece and Jugoslavia, I found far more reminders of the old Turkey in Thrace or Bosnia or Macedonia with their mosques and minarets, their veiled women and turbaned men, than I did once I had crossed the present Turkish border.

Though it is perhaps less apparent now than it was ten or twenty years ago, there exists in Turkey an almost pathological horror of anything oriental. The Turks have made a clean sweep of the past. The old palaces of the Sultans are falling into disrepair; the mosques have the air of museums, and until recently permission to build new ones was not granted. But the chief targets of this passion for Westernization have been the veil and the fez. Except in the country, Turkish women now seldom wear the veil, contenting themselves with pulling one end of a shawl or kerchief across part of their countenance when in the presence of strangers. As to the fez, I did not see one during the whole of the time I spent in Turkey, though the horror which its memory still inspires in official circles is shown by a recent announcement in the press that certain reactionaries had been found wearing berets which approximated the fez in shape and that arrests had been made accordingly. Only here and there does one catch a glimpse of the old Turkey--in the provinces, or, glancing through a porthole on board ship, chancing to see an aged pilgrim from Mecca wearing his turban at his devotions in the privacy of his cabin.

Turkey has one feature in common with other dictatorships. Everywhere there are portraits, statues, photographs of the Dictator, the Liberator, in military uniform or, more often, in white tie and tails which symbolize the essentially Western character of the régime which he founded. Everywhere, too, are to be found reminders of the War of Liberation, the only war now accorded official recognition. But Turkey's War of Liberation was fought more than a quarter of a century ago and Mustafa Kemal has been dead 12 years. Since his death the régime has been a dictatorship without a dictator, and today it is fast losing the last vestiges of its dictatorial character.

When Mustafa Kemal first seized power in 1923, after he had driven the Greeks out of Asia Minor and given Turkey her self-respect again after the defeat of 1918, he let it be known that his intention was to set up an authoritarian régime only for so long as was necessary to achieve the objects which he had in view. Once these had been attained, he said, he would again permit an opposition and the other machinery of parliamentary democracy. Likewise, it was not for ideological reasons that Kemal decreed the centralization of economic enterprises in the hands of the state. Determined to promote industrial development, he saw no way of doing so without endangering national independence except by making the state the prime mover. And here again it was his declared intention to restore private enterprise once the situation permitted.

The Kemalist régime had yet another feature which distinguished it from Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy and Stalin's Russia: it was non-expansionist. After 1918, the Turks had fallen back on their homeland, the Anatolian peninsula, and there they gathered themselves together, a homogeneous people, determined to yield no more ground, but equally without desire for foreign conquest. Perhaps it is in this absence of imperialist designs that lies the reason for the success of the Kemalist régime, for its moderation and, above all, for its survival.

During the 15 years of Kemal's personal rule, the situation did not in his judgment ever become ripe for democratization. It was only after his death in 1938 that his successor, Ismet Inonu, felt able to take the first cautious steps. But by then the storm clouds were already gathering fast and it was not until after the war that the process could be continued. In preparation for the elections of 1946, two properly constituted opposition parties were for the first time allowed: the Democratic Party of Celal Bayar and the more reactionary Nationalist Party of Marshal Cakmak. Both were offshoots of the People's Republican Party which had been founded by Kemal himself in 1923, and both Marshal Cakmak and Celal Bayar had been closely associated with Ataturk during his lifetime. Both parties prided themselves on their Kemalist origins, and loyalty to the memory of Ataturk and to Kemalist traditions was an essential article of their creed. Nor was there any very marked divergency between their programs and that of the People's Party. At the same time they provided a genuine rallying point for any opposition to the government that there might be in the country, and the mere fact of their creation marked a notable departure from the one-party system.

At the 1946 elections the two opposition parties together obtained only 50 or 60 seats to the 400 or so held by the Populists. But even this result was striking, coming after 23 years of oneparty rule and under an electoral system that was heavily weighted in favor of the government party. In the eyes of many Populists it represented a danger to the régime. The President, Ismet Inonu, was strongly urged to meet the danger by dictatorial methods. It is to his credit that he declined to yield to this pressure and continued along the path of gradual democratization.

There were some complaints by the opposition parties that the elections of 1946 were not fairly conducted. In order to meet this criticism, Inonu in due course passed a new electoral law which provided for the secrecy of the ballot, the public counting of votes in the presence of representatives of all political parties, and the supervision by the judiciary of all electoral procedures. This law, which was brought into force in time for the general election of May 1950, appeared to give reasonable guarantees of fair play. But it was clear that much would depend on the way in which it was implemented, especially as practically all Mayors and Muhtars (parish headmen), who play a prominent part at elections, were members of the government party. Another unprecedented feature of the 1950 elections was that the two main parties, the People's Party and the Democratic Party, allowed their local organizations to nominate the greater part of the parliamentary candidates. Hitherto candidates had been chosen by the central party organizations from distinguished national figures who as often as not had no connection with their constituencies.

In spite of these reforms, however, no one was prepared for the overwhelming victory of the Democrats, who won 408 seats to the Populists' 69. And indeed the result of the election amounted in effect to a bloodless revolution. After 27 years of continuous power, the People's Party, founded by Ataturk himself, was swept out of office by a free vote of the people and reduced to the rôle of a virtually powerless opposition.

The probable explanation of this development seems to be that the People's Party had been in office too long and had grown complacent and self-satisfied. The heroic age of the Revolution and the War of Liberation had receded into the dim past. A generation had grown up that knew Kemal only from his portraits and effigies. The tension had relaxed. The spell had been lifted. And in its place had come disillusionment: distaste for the old familiar figures, a tendency to hold them responsible for everything that had ever gone wrong, a tendency, too, to lend heed to the stories of nepotism and corruption. In short, as is so often the case in elections, a great many voters voted against something rather than for something.

Most of all, perhaps, the middle classes had grown dissatisfied with a party blamed for continual state interference in the economic life of the country and the high cost of living. But although the strength of the Democratic Party lies mainly in the middle classes, it did not owe its victory entirely to them. One of the relatively few important differences between the party program of the Populists and Democrats was that the latter had announced their readiness to grant industrial workers the right to strike. Thus the working-class vote went almost entirely to the Democrats. The peasants, too, had come to resent the highhanded behavior of the provincial bosses of the People's Party. Finally, there was the younger generation, which characteristically voted for a change and for what seemed to be the more progressive of the two main parties.


The outcome of the 1950 elections appears to be the final justification of the policy which Ataturk initiated. Certainly it has been so regarded by the principal protagonists. The very result of the elections provides striking proof of the fairness with which they were conducted by the party in power; and the orderly transfer of power testifies to the good sense and political maturity of the country as a whole.

Credit for this must go first and foremost to the leaders of the two major parties, Ismet Inonu and Celal Bayar. These two men have confronted each other at almost every turning point in recent Turkish history. It was Celal Bayar who succeeded Inonu as Prime Minister in 1937, the year before Ataturk's death. When, a year later, Inonu succeeded Ataturk as President of the Republic, it was Celal Bayar who, as Prime Minister, arranged the transfer of power. Again, after the 1950 elections, Inonu carried out his duties as retiring President with quiet dignity, while Celal Bayar, who had resigned from the Democratic Party in order to assume the office of President, played his part with equally laudable moderation. Credit too must go to the Turkish press. When the change took place, Zafer, the organ of the Democratic Party, paid tribute to Inonu as the retiring President, while on the same day a leading article in the Republican organ, Ulus, wished the new government success and undertook on behalf of the opposition to be moderate and constructive in criticism.

On the whole, these portents have not been belied by subsequent events. As was to be expected, numerous changes in the civil service have followed the election, but it cannot be said that there has been a wholesale purge of the administration. Though some Democrats are excessively enthusiastic about their victory, the new rule cannot by any stretch of imagination be described as repressive. The ease with which the transfer of power has taken place is no doubt largely due to the absence of any really fundamental divergency of principle between the Democrats and the People's Party. Another reason for Turkey's political stability is the absence of any glaring social inequalities, attributable to the levelling influence of Islam and the action of the Sultans centuries ago in destroying the power of the feudal lords of Anatolia. Yet another safeguard against political excess was the suppression by the Kemalist régime at a much earlier stage of extremists of both the Right and the Left, of both Monarchists and Communists.

Like the People's Party, the Democrats still stand in the main by the anticlerical principles inaugurated by Ataturk. They have, however, shown themselves slightly more lenient on various minor issues and have granted permission for the building of new mosques. They are likely to move toward less state control in industry, though again the fact is that both the two principal parties have for some time past been moving gradually toward the conclusion that the time had arrived to allow greater scope to private enterprise. One of the main difficulties in the way of "denationalizing" commercial enterprises in Turkey is the difficulty of finding anyone with the necessary capital to take them over; ever since the Kemalist Revolution the amount of private capital available in the country has been extremely limited. But a great many of the state-owned industries are running at a loss and the resulting deficit represents a not inconsiderable burden on the national economy. It seems likely that the government will try to bring foreign capital into the country. Nor is foreign capital the only thing that Turkey needs from abroad. Like almost every other people in the Middle East, the Turks lack skilled workers. They are making strenuous efforts to train technicians themselves, but it seems likely that for some time to come they will also need the services of foreign experts.

Despite the degree of industrialization which has been achieved, Turkey still remains first and foremost an agrarian community. At the present time 50 percent of the national income is derived from agriculture and 90 percent of Turkey's exports are agricultural products. More than 80 percent of the present population of almost 19,000,000 relies on agriculture for a living. Moreover, agricultural resources might be used much more fully. In the words of an American expert, "Turkey, properly developed, might become another California." With American help good progress is already being made. During the past two years $36,000,000 has been spent on agricultural development under the European Recovery Program, with high priority given to road building, and before long Turkey will have a network of adequate roads ensuring communication between all parts of the country.

Steps are also being taken to improve crop rotation and to mechanize Turkish agriculture. Here the main difficulty lies in the fact that 70 percent of Turkish farmers own 25 acres or less each, and cannot therefore afford to discard their wooden ploughs and oxen in favor of expensive new machinery. Only the big landowners can pay for these, and thus for the government the choice lies between big properties efficiently exploited and a large number of small-holders who, while offering greater social stability, are proportionately less productive. A solution would seem to lie in the creation of farmers' coöperatives, but so far little has been done in this direction.

In general, the whole country is engaged in a large-scale program of national development, and the budget sets aside funds for considerable expenditure on industrial equipment from abroad and on irrigation and power schemes. The immense cost of maintaining the Turkish Army at its present level hinders this program seriously. But this is clearly unavoidable in view of the international situation and of Turkey's geographical position.


We return therefore to the paradox with which we began--the astonishing reëmergence of the "Eastern Question," not this time as a problem of reforming Turkey, but as a problem of protecting a progressive, self-restrained and self-governed Turkey from foreign reaction. In the sphere of foreign affairs and defense the present government has made it clear that it intends to follow the same policy as its predecessor. Indeed, if anything it has gone even further in support of the Western democracies. One of the first acts of policy was the dispatch of a substantial Turkish force to Korea in response to the call of the United Nations--a bold move in view of Turkey's proximity to the Soviet Union. There can be no doubt that the Turkish people stand behind the government and would fight steadfastly in the defense of their country should the need arise. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that in Turkey today there is no trace of a fifth column. After a quarter of a century of rigorous suppression there are, practically speaking, no Communists in the country. The mere fact of the Communist connection with Russia, the hereditary enemy, is sufficient guarantee against any revival of the Party.

Nor is there any real danger from disaffected national minorities, as in Iran. Since the Revolution, political equality is guaranteed to all citizens of the Republic and to all races and creeds; but no "national minorities" are recognized. Before the war the refusal of some local Kurdish chiefs to accept these conditions led to trouble in eastern Turkey, in the neighborhood of Mount Ararat. But the rebellion was rigorously suppressed by Ataturk, the chiefs exiled and many Kurds settled in other parts of Turkey. Since then, the Turkish Government has persisted in its refusal to recognize the Kurds as such, referring to them simply as "mountain Turks." This somewhat drastic policy of national assimilation, coupled with political freedom, seems to have answered very well. Travelling about eastern Anatolia, I came across many communities whose members were identifiable as Kurds by their distinctive costume, but nowhere did I find any signs of discontent or subversion.

Of recent years the Russians have sought to make trouble with the Kurdish tribesmen of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, using as a nucleus a puppet "Kurdish Republic" which they have set up on Soviet territory at the foot of Mount Ararat. But, whatever effect this may have had on the Kurds of Iran or Iraq, it seems to have left the "mountain Turks" of Anatolia unmoved. All Soviet radio propaganda beamed on Turkey has been unsuccessful. The Turks are a steadfast race, with strong nerves, and the flood of threats and abuse that comes pouring across their frontiers from Russia leaves them cold. Notably they have paid little heed to Soviet demands for the return of the frontier provinces of Kars and Ardahan and the revision of the Straits régime, put forward officially soon after the end of the war and several times repeated. Turkey cannot be pulled down from within. If the Russians wish to impose their will on the Turks, they will have to use force--that is to say, they will have to march in.

But what if the Russians do march in? Much of Turkey is mountainous and the lines of approach to eastern Turkey are limited and difficult. The Turks are by nature a warlike race and would fight stubbornly. But even so, under conditions of modern warfare, they could not hope to stand up to the Russians unaided for long. Strategically, Turkey's position, nipped between the Balkan and Caucasian claws of a potential Soviet pincer movement and with her Black Sea coast exposed, is far from reassuring. Moreover, while the Turks are natural fighters, they have no real experience of modern warfare. Nor has the average Turkish peasant as yet the technical and mechanical aptitude to handle the modern instruments of war. Much, it is true, is being done by the American and British military advisers at present in Turkey and good progress has been made during the past two or three years in equipping the Turkish army on modern lines. But the Western Powers would be blinking the facts if they were to persuade themselves that either the military or economic help which they are giving Turkey is sufficient to enable her to hold off the overwhelming military might of the Soviet Union for more than a few weeks. Their salvation must, to a great extent, come from the West. And it is to the West that they are looking for help in case of a Soviet attack.

Events in Korea have been closely followed in Turkey. They have been followed with relief, first of all that the armed forces of the West have indeed taken the field on behalf of the victim of aggression; then with dismay at the early reverses of the U.N. forces; then with satisfaction at their subsequent victories. In case of an attack by Russia on a third Power, Western intervention is now assumed to be certain. To this extent Korea has served to reassure the Turks; but only to this extent.

Though the old dread that the Western Powers might stand by inactive and let one small country after another be bludgeoned into submission has disappeared, it has been replaced by the fear that, in the event of war, Western help, when it comes, will be too little and too late. The Turks still fear that the most to be hoped for would be occupation by the Red Army, followed at some later date by liberation at the hands of the Western Powers--if by then there was anything left to liberate.

Even in Korea help barely arrived in time. Looking around the Middle East, the Turks find little to comfort them: a handful of British troops in Egypt; a sadly depleted Mediterranean Fleet; no aircraft to speak of; no indication, above all, of how help would be given or whence it would come. "We do not even know," a high officer of the Turkish General Staff said to me, "what the Western Powers would do to help us to defend the Straits, if they were attacked, or even if they would help us to defend them at all."

It was this anxiety, this uncertainty as to Western intentions, that found expression in the Turkish Government's renewed application for admission to the Atlantic Pact last August, and there can be no doubt that its rejection was a serious disappointment. This disappointment was to some extent dispelled, it is true, by the Atlantic Powers' counter-proposal that Turkey should join in the military planning of the Atlantic Pact countries, and there seems indeed no reason why this should not serve as a first step toward the creation of a wider Middle Eastern defense system. But this should not distract the Western Powers from the basic issue. If the security of the Middle East is to be effectively safeguarded, two things are needed. First, a suitably trained, suitably equipped Western striking force, able to give immediate and effective help to any country in this vital strategical area that is attacked by Russia; and, secondly, machinery which would enable the general staffs of the countries concerned to coördinate their plans for combined action in case of attack. So long as neither of these exists, the resulting gap in our defenses will continue to tempt Providence--and the Kremlin.

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  • FITZROY MACLEAN, head of the British Military Mission to the Partisans in Jugoslavia, 1943-45; author of "Escape to Adventure"
  • More By Fitzroy Maclean