The young Turkish Republic, although it was founded only 94 years ago, faced with many problems during its short history. This paper aims to discuss these problems in the light of Metin Toker’s Demokrasiden Darbeye (From Democracy to Coup D’Etat) book that contains precious information about the problematic 1950-1960 Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti) period. I will begin by giving information about the book and the author and then I will move on to the summary of the book. Lastly, I am going to make critical analysis of the book.
The book Demokrasiden Darbeye was published in 1991 by Bilgi Publishing Company (Bilgi Yayınları) and was written by famous Turkish journalist and writer Metin Toker. It is the fourth book of Metin Toker’s seven-booked series Demokrasimizin İsmet Paşalı Yılları (Our Democracy’s İsmet Pasha Years). The book is in memoirs format and consists of 353 pages. Metin Toker (1924-2002) was with no doubt one of the most respected and reliable journalists in the history of Turkish media that is known for creating sensational and made-up news. Toker was born in 1924 in İstanbul. He studied literature in İstanbul University and then continued to his education in The Political Science Institute in Paris. After finishing his education in Paris, he returned to Turkey and published Akis (Echo) magazine, a popular political journal that was critical of Democrat Party’s authoritarianism and the use of Islam in politics. The magazine was later banned by Democratic Party and Toker was sent to prison for two years. Toker worked in many newspapers (for long years in Milliyet) and tried to enlighten important political events taking place in Turkey by using his connections and by making back door diplomacy. Metin Toker was married to İsmet İnönü’s daughter and Erdal İnönü’s sister Özden İnönü (Toker) and thus, had chance to get insight information about high politics in Turkey. However, his closeness to İnönü family and Republican People’s Party also created some problems for him in being considered and treated as an objective journalist.
Toker’s book basically tells us about the fall of Democratic Party’s legitimacy in the eyes of Turkish people and the coming of 27 May 1960 coup d’état (revolution for some people). The book mostly deals with Democratic Party rule during 1957-1960, a politically turbulent period that took place after the controversial 1957 elections. In the foreword section, Metin Toker explains his worries about the interruptions of Turkish democracy with military interventions and tries to present himself as a democrat. In the book, there are many memories told by Toker that put light to the political conditions of that time.
From Democracy to Coup D’Etat
After the foreword section, Toker begins to explain reasons that prepared the 1960 military intervention step by step. According to Toker, conditions for the coup d’état began to evolve on 27 October 1957 after the re-election of Democratic Party in a very controversial election. DP seemed to lose its popular support before the 1957 elections and thus, began to look for other choices then the popular will (milli irade) few months before the elections. Having the overwhelming majority in the parliament after the 1954 elections, DP easily prevented RPP to make electoral alliances with other opposition parties by changing the electoral law. In addition, during elections many bizarre events took place; many virtual people voted in elections, many votes were disappeared, provincial records of ballots were mysteriously burned in some cities and some violent events occurred after elections especially in Gaziantep. After the day of election, on 28 October 1957, the official radio announced the victory of RPP over DP with 700 votes in Gaziantep. However, on 29 October, some votes came from unknown villages and DP achieved to prevail over RPP in Gaziantep. Since October 29 is the national celebration day of the Republic of Turkey, many people were on the streets of Gaziantep and when they learned this controversial victory of DP, they began to demonstrate. An RPP supporter died in these events and the national celebration day was overshadowed. It was never proven, but Toker believes this murder was associated with DP supporters. Toker, in the first chapters of the book explains the partisan understanding of DP politicians and their effort to politicize Turkish police and Turkish Armed Forces. The stoning of Turkish Independence War hero, RPP leader and previous President of the Republic İsmet İnönü in Uşak is another event that he mentions for showing the fanaticism of Democrats.
Toker claims that although Democrat Prime Minister Adnan Menderes never wanted to abolish secularism completely, he also did not avoid using religion (Islam) for political benefits. Democrats allowed the opening of “Preacher Schools” (İmam Hatip Okulları) and took the support of different Islamic religious brotherhoods including the strong Nurcu movement led by Kurdish Islamic preacher Said-i Nursi. Toker, in his book severely criticizes this close relation between Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and the leader of Nurcu movement. Also, during the DP period, the prayer call that was made in Turkish language during the RPP (Atatürk) rule, was made Arabic again. Many new mosques were built and religious education was expanded. The army was already suspicious about DP rule due to DP’s efforts of politicization of the army and the police force. These kinds of religious-oriented policies increased the military’s disturbance. In Toker’s idea, the army was strongly faithful to Atatürk and his principles and had always great respect and sympathy towards İsmet İnönü and RPP. However, Turkish Army approached to Adnan Menderes and DP with skepticism. This was also caused by the failure of first multi-party regime experiences during Atatürk’s period (Progressive Republican Party and Free Party failures).
Toker continues to his book by telling his memoirs about the plane crash of Adnan Menderes and its effect on politics. At that time, Adnan Menderes’ plane had an accident and crashed into the airport while taking off from İstanbul for Menderes’ London trip. Although few people died, Adnan Menderes was rescued from the accident. DP members tried to use this miraculous event for political purposes and declared Menderes as a supernatural person in order to deceive ignorant and uneducated Turkish people living in the countryside. Another memory of Toker is related to people’s religious fanaticism and ignorance. Toker tells us that in one of the public walks of Menderes, a father believing in the supernatural being of Menderes after plane crash survival, wanted to cut and sacrifice his children for Menderes in front of him and was hardly prevented from doing it by Menderes himself. He also provides important information based on his memories about tragicomic disputes of RPP and DP members in the parliament.
Metin Toker also underlines the bravery of some people and some institutions that resisted against the arbitrary and authoritarian rule of DP and Adnan Menderes. According to him, only three institutions completely struggled against DP dictatorship: the youth, the RPP (CHP) and the Turkish Army (TAF). The youth that was raised with the enthusiasm of the newly founded republic during the 1930s and the 1940s never accepted DP’s arbitrary rule and made many demonstrations in universities and in streets. We also see the rapid rise of leftist movements among the youth during the DP rule. This rise of left in Turkey, especially among the youth, later prepared new political developments in the country during the 1960s and the 1970s. RPP always tried to convince DP officials for making new elections, but was not successful in persuading them and preventing Turkish democracy from an interruption. Toker admits that some of the RPP members were also acting with partisan understanding. These RPP members chose an aggressive opposition style towards DP and did not act tolerantly. They mostly attacked on the restrictive laws of DP upon the press, civil society organizations and did not try much for compromise. Toker claims that everybody knew the possibility of a military intervention, but DP members were behaving irresponsibly and with stubbornness. İsmet İnönü once even said in the parliament, “If you persevere on this course, even I will not be able to save you”. The third brave institution that resisted against DP’s oppressive rule in Toker’s idea was the Turkish Army. Toker tells us about “Nine Officers Plot” (Dokuz Subay Olayı) that happened in December 1957. In this event, an informer close to DP denounced a group of military officers to make plans of a coup d’état against DP government. The event came into knowledge in press and increased the tension between DP and the military. Toker believes that if Menderes and other DP officials were more responsible and logical, there would never be a military intervention and Turkish democracy would be able to produce other solutions.
Metin Toker also mentions about some brave individuals and their struggle against DP dictatorship. For instance, Nail Kubalı, a law Professor in Ankara University was criticizing DP’s censorship policies from an academic’s perspective. However, Menderes was allergic to criticism and he tried to get rid of Kubalı. After strong reactions of students and independent voices from the press, Menderes decided to convince Kubalı by entertaining him in his house. However, Kubalı was not a for-sale Professor unlike many of his contemporaries and thus, continued to criticize anti-democratic policies of DP and became a symbol of resistance.
Journalist Metin Toker also explains the exaggerated fear of communism used by DP members and supporters during these years in his book Demokrasiden Darbeye. He tells many tragicomic stories and gives examples from Democrats’ efforts to take economic help from the United States by using and exaggerating the communism threat in Turkey. The most interesting story is related to the visit of American Secretary of State Mr. John Foster Dulles. Toker claims that, in order to convince Dulles in the reality of communist threat in Turkey and to take economic help, Democrats organized these bombings themselves a day before Dulles’ visit and declared these bombings as communist acts. Toker compares this event to 6-7 October 1955 events; violent events that took place after the bombing of Atatürk’s house in Salonica (Selanik) and caused cruel behaviors including the murder and rape of non-Muslim minorities living in Istanbul by Islamist and nationalist fanatics. Toker asserts that many events of that time were prepared by DP officials in order to attract people’s attention to different areas and to take their support. In addition, DP prepared a list of “hidden communists” in the country and imprisoned many writers, intellectuals and citizens. Even İsmet Pasha was in the DP’s list of hidden communists in Toker’s idea. This exaggerated allergy of communism of Democrats, directed them to more oppressive policies against the press, non-governmental organizations and to people.
Another aspect of 1957-1960 period was the emergence of Fatherland Front (Vatan Cephesi). It was a populist movement in order to mobilize the mass population. The system was working very simply; every evening on the official radio, the list of people joining in Fatherland Front was announced and by this way people were encouraged for joining in Fatherland Front and thus, becoming supporters of DP rule. These kind of acts destroyed social order and peace in Turkey by dividing people into two groups: DP supporters and RPP supporters. The book continues with memories of Toker related to the political developments of that time and social problems appeared due to this polarized politics.
Toker also mentions about the secret preparation of military for the coup d’état and details about the private life of Adnan Menderes. The relation between Menderes and İnönü is also revelaled in the book. In addition, Toker’s book contains valuable information about international politics of Menderes period especially in terms of Turkish-American relations. The book ends with a shared memory of İnönü and Metin Toker. Toker reminds that Pasha and himself went for a walk on the 26 May evening and Pasha said to him that the military intervention is inevitable and on its way to come, a day before the take-over.
Now, I am going to make a critical analysis of the book. Metin Toker is a really experienced and gifted journalist and author as we can understand from his sentences in the book. He uses a simple but beautiful Turkish and does not use old Arabic and Persian words very frequently. Although he tries to be neutral in reflecting the political realities of that time in his book, his closeness to İnönü always creates problems of objectivity in my understanding. However, his book is still a fortune for us in order to understand socio-political conditions of the 1950s. His family ties to İnönü, while creating some problems related to his objectivity, also helps Toker in having unknown information about İsmet Pasha and his personality. He generously shares this in-depth knowledge with us and tells many memories related to İsmet İnönü. He often uses short sentences and prefers clarity to literary richness. The book is very attractive for people who are interested in politics, because it contains very interesting, never heard and tragicomic stories that focus readers’ attention. Toker does not try to hide his political stance and his sympathy towards İsmet Pasha and RPP in the book, but he points out some mistakes made by them as well. The part that disturbed me most in the book is related to Adnan Menderes’ private life. Although after the coup d’état and especially during the trials Turkish people learned all details about Prime Minister Menderes’ private life, I find Toker’s interest in this subject as inappropriate. In addition, I think economic problems during the 1950s were not mentioned enough in Toker’s book.
On the other hand, while criticizing severely Menderes period, Toker seems to defend the 1960 military intervention. However, he does not accept this claim and writes that if there was no military intervention, Turkish democracy would still be able to somehow produce solutions to DP’s arbitrary rule within the system. He criticizes the intervention for discrediting civilian politics in the country and encouraging next coup d’états that will happen on 12 March 1971 and 12 September 1980. As a result, I can say that this is an important book for understanding Democratic Party period and its conditions.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
- Toker, Metin (1991), Demokrasiden Darbeye, Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi.
- Harris, George S. (1970), “The Causes Of The 1960 Revolution In Turkey”, Middle East Journal, Vol. 24, No: 4 (Autumn, 1970), pp. 438-454.