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TURKEY: The Impatient Builder

23 minute read
TIME

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Where a plank bridge spans a small brook that runs into the Black Sea, two Turkish infantrymen stood guard this week. Their posture was rigidly prescribed: each had one foot on the bridge and one foot on Turkish soil, one hand behind his back and one on a rifle topped by a flat-bladed, freshly honed bayonet. Motionless, they stared across the brook into thick underbrush where no human figure was to be seen. They were two of the thousands of 12¢-a-month Turkish mehmetciks who keep sleepless vigil over the 367-mile border which is the only frontier between Russia and the rest of the world (save for a small, frozen strip of Norway) that the U.S. is committed to defend.

Five hundred miles southwest of them, in Turkey’s capital, the statesmen of six nations—Britain, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the U.S.—gathered this week for the fourth meeting of the Baghdad Pact Council. Among those assembled in Ankara’s still-unfinished Parliament Building were Britain’s Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, Iraq’s durable ex-Premier and Strongman Nuri asSaid, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, representing the nonmember U.S. as an observer. Presiding as host was small (5 ft. 6 in., 156 Ibs.), chipmunk-cheeked Adnan Menderes, Premier of Turkey, whose driving force has animated the Baghdad Pact from the outset, kept it alive when it was threatened with dissolution after Britain’s invasion of Suez.

Like his border guards, Adnan Menderes keeps an unwavering eye on Russia, never takes his hand far from the trigger, and never succumbs to the illusion that just because nothing is visible in the underbrush, there is no danger. Unlike some of the U.S.’s other allies, neither Menderes nor his people have been even momentarily lulled into relaxation by Russian blandishments or tempted toward neutralism by Russian threats. In the last 300 years the Turks have fought the Russians so many times they have lost count; some say there have been 13 Russo-Turkish wars, some estimate as many as 22. In the process, Turkey has come to regard Russia with hatred and utter distrust. “The Turks,” says Foreign Minister Fatin Rustu Zorlu, “think in terms of Russia, not personalities. We don’t think their policy has been changed by changing personalities.”

Armored with the courage that comes from living year after year under the gun, the Turks are unimpressed by Russia’s rocket-rattlings. In the midst of Turkey’s election campaign last fall, Khrushchev threatened the Turks with atomic extinction if they “interfered” in Syria (TIME, Oct. 21); neither Menderes nor any other Turkish politician thought the matter important enough to warrant more than passing mention in their speeches. At the Paris summit meeting this winter, most European NATO members dithered unhappily over the wisdom of accepting U.S. missile bases; Menderes spoke up to announce that Turkey was eager for any and all missiles whenever offered.

Last week when the Soviet Foreign Office, on the eve of the Baghdad Pact meeting, cried that Turkey’s acceptance of such missiles was likely to have “dangerous consequences,” sturdy Adnan Menderes did not even bother to comment. Says one U.S. official, noting with rueful admiration that Turkey’s 470,000-man army constitutes the biggest force contributed to NATO by any nation: “With most of our allies, the problem is to get them to build up to minimum strength. With the Turks, the problem is to get them to stop somewhere.”

One of Four. The U.S. could be grateful that it had so rugged an ally in so vital a location. As the one power that belongs to both NATO and the Baghdad Pact, Turkey is the anchor post in the chain of alliances that the free world has forged to head off Russian aggression. Possession of the Dardanelles gives the Turks the potential ability to close off the Red navy’s only means of direct access to the Mediterranean.* If Turkey were not in the way, no substantial military force would stand between Russia and its dreams of domination of the Middle East and its oil riches except the small forces and the uncertain tempers of the Arab nations themselves.

In strategic terms, Turkey is one of the four areas that are vital (the others: Britain, Formosa. Okinawa) as IRBM sites if the West is to maintain its nuclear deterrent in the perilous period when Russia may have an intercontinental missile while the West has not. IRBMs launched from Turkish sites would reach well past Moscow, could command the industrial complex that lies west of the Urals.

Free Translation. With all his courage and steadfastness. Adnan Menderes is often a worry to Turkey’s friends. Determined to remake his nation economically overnight, busy Premier Menderes has built so many dams and factories, spent so many lire, marks, dollars, pounds and francs that Turkey today has one of the world’s most inflated currencies, and a credit rating so poor that even the Turkish Central Bank refuses to honor government orders to release foreign exchange. Neither near bankruptcy nor the appeals of his friends can persuade Menderes that the time has come to end his headlong passion for building and spending. To every suggestion for retrenchment, Menderes responds by commissioning a new project.

Once, during a Menderes visit to Bonn, West Germany’s brilliant Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard cautiously suggested that it might be wiser for Turkey to build only two new cement factories instead of the twelve that Menderes planned. Smiling courteously, Turkey’s Premier—who speaks English, French and Greek but no German—replied: “C’est line affaire de notre cuisine inteérieure.” Explained an Erhard aide: “In good German, this means, ‘That’s none of your goddam business.’ ”

With his every year in office, Menderes has become more autocratic, more sensitive to criticism. Striking out in fury at anyone questioning his policies, he has half smothered both the press and opposition political parties under a blanket of repressive legislation. Today, only seven years after Turkey won its graduation certificate as a democracy by peacefully voting out of office a regime of a quarter of a century’s standing, the Turks again live in a society characterized by the over-the-shoulder glance to see who may be listening. Midnight Cable. Good or bad, the shape of Turkey today is the shape given it by Adnan Menderes. His energy is seemingly inexhaustible. Out of bed by 6 a.m. at the latest, he heads off without breakfast on an hour to two-hour hike that invariably includes at least one hill. His workday is a 12-to 19-hour affair, punctuated by impulsive trips into the countryside to inspect one of his projects. Out of long experience, his bodyguards always keep packed bags at the office, and Turkish Airlines is instructed to hold open at least two seats on every Ankara-Istanbul flight. Along with his energy goes a monumental memory for detail. Says one aide: “He knows things like telephone numbers, how many bags of cement such and such a construction project will require, and how much rainfall there was yesterday all over Turkey.”

So far as it is humanly possible. Menderes adamantly refuses to delegate any authority at all. often seems to be trying to run the country singlehanded. “If the Hilton Hotel needs foreign exchange to buy toilet paper.” says one longtime Western resident of Turkey. ”Menderes probably has to approve it.”

With typically blithe disregard for his economic troubles, he set out a year and a half ago to make Istanbul “the most beautiful city in the world,” has spent much of his time ever since dashing about Turkey’s ancient capital to determine personally which streets shall be widened, which buildings demolished, which squares enlarged, and where new roads are to run. Some months ago, during a diplomatic trip to Baghdad, Turkey’s Premier rose in the middle of the night to dispatch a cable to Istanbul: “Have decided to tear down house opposite Spice Bazaar at Eminonu Square. Proceed with expropriation.”

He hugely enjoys being Adnan the Builder, has developed a technique that is a mixture of bulldozing and infectious persuasion to get what he wants. After he allowed four foreign companies to distribute petroleum products in Turkey, he demanded that they collaborate to build Turkey a refinery. They objected, then gave in; Menderes will get his refinery. Menderes wanted a modern school of architecture in Ankara, got the U.N. to supply the architect. Scarcely had he arrived before Menderes summoned him, instructed him to set up parallel schools of management, civil and mechanical engineering. The architect protested that he knew nothing about such topics. But, hypnotized by Menderes’ drive, he is scraping together the nucleus of a staff, and odds are that Menderes will get his schools.

The Best Bike. Until he became Premier in 1950, Adnan Menderes (rhymes roughly with trend-in-dress) had never administered anything but the family farm near the southwestern Turkish town of Aydin, where he was born in 1899—he does not remember the month or day. He was orphaned soon after birth, thereby fell heir to 30,000 acres of cotton and wheat land watered by the river known to the Turks as the Menderes and to the ancient Greeks as the Meander. (It was affection for his birthplace that led the dynamic Adnan to choose so undescriptive a surname when in 1934 the late great Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, ordered all Turks to take a family name.)

Sent to live with his grandmother, Adnan was brought up in sunny Izmir (Smyrna) on the Aegean coast, in a manner befitting a young gentleman of property. His English bike was the best in his fashionable neighborhood, his pocket money ample, and his clothes impeccable. At Izmir’s American International College, a Congregational mission school that he entered at 13, Adnan showed himself an exceptionally good student and a born athlete. He was center forward on the school soccer team, an outstanding swimmer, and a first-class billiards player whose popularity was enhanced by the fact that, win or lose, he always paid for the table.

Snatched out of school in 1917 to serve in the Ottoman army, Adnan saw no combat in World War I, but made up for that deficiency after the war, when Greece, backed by Britain and France, set out to annex large chunks of the defeated and disintegrating Turkish empire. As a member of the Turkish underground, Menderes took part in a rebellion against the Greek forces occupying his native Aydin. Later, as an army lieutenant, he served under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the offensive that recaptured Izmir from the hapless Greeks. (Among the factors contributing to the defeat of the Greeks: their commanding general’s conviction that his legs were made of glass and would break if he moved about too freely.)

“Hat” by Name. Few countries have ever gone through so much ferment in so short a time as Turkey did in the years following the ouster of the Greeks and the end of the 600-year-old Turkish sultanate. Blindly bent on lifting his countrymen from Ottoman medievalism to Western modernity in one short haul, Ataturk converted Turkey into a facsimile of a parliamentary republic, fought an unending battle to break the influence of the Moslem clergy. Under his tireless prodding, Turks found themselves obeying not Islamic law but the Swiss Civil Code, writing not in Arabic script but a new Romanized alphabet, wearing not the fez but a strange Western headgear the name of which, Ataturk felt obliged to explain, was “hat.”

In the midst of this turmoil, young Adnan Menderes confined his energies to the management of his estate. He was often seen riding across his fields at midnight for a last check. “He learned on the farm,” says a friend, “that the work went best when he tended to it personally from beginning to end, and he got in the habit. Today he’s still like a farmer watching his crops.” He sold or gave the bulk of his properties to families that lived on them, then converted the 3,000 acres he still had into one of Turkey’s most modern and prosperous farms. In due course he found a suitable wife—a handsome, well-born Izmir girl named Berin, who bore him three sons.

In 1931 he was elected to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly at Ataturk’s personal order. For 14 years he remained an obscure backbencher who never achieved a committee chairmanship, spent his spare time earning a law degree from the University of Ankara. But, he recalls : “I was a very conscientious Deputy. I went to Parliament early in the morning and was often the last to leave at night. I was trying to learn how the government works from the inside.”

Call for Liberty. Early in 1945, with Ataturk seven years dead and soldierly Ismet Inonu ruling Turkey in his place, Menderes abruptly ended his long obscurity. Boldly moving front and center, Menderes joined Banker-Statesman Celal Bayar and two other Deputies in presenting a resolution demanding that the government at long last put into effect the democratic liberties promised by the Turkish constitution. Soon the four rebels launched their own Democratic Party—the first genuine opposition party to be allowed by the ruling Republicans since Kemal Ataturk put Turkey on the road to democracy.

As the new party’s organizational boss, Menderes scoured cities and the smallest villages for votes, developed a highly effective way with a crowd. He promised civil liberties, an end to economic restrictions, free enterprise instead of the state-directed economy favored by Ataturk and his heirs. In 1950, in the scrupulously honest election insisted upon by aging President Ismet Inonu, the Democrats rode into power on a surprising landslide, winning 408 Assembly seats to the Republicans’ 69. Celal Bayar, the elder statesman of the Democratic Party, replaced Inonu as President. Adnan Menderes became Premier of Turkey.

Coal, Steel, Sugar. In his revulsion at the special power and privileges enjoyed by foreigners under the Ottomans, Ataturk had discriminated against foreign capital and expelled from the country hundreds of thousands of the Greeks who (along with Jews and Armenians) had always handled Turkey’s business. Traditionally, the Turkish ruling class were landlords and slaveowners; they had no experience in modern management, little capital outside their land.

Turkey in 1950 still had something close to a colonial economy. Despite its coal, iron and water power, it remained an industrial pygmy, earned most of its foreign exchange by exporting tobacco, cereals, filberts, raisins, figs and chrome ore. More than 65% of Turkey’s 20 million citizens were still illiterate. Four out of five of the nation’s 36,000 rural villages had no proper drinking water. More than half of Turkey’s 27,000 miles of “highway” were officially listed as “passable by carts during the dry season only.” And Turkey’s peasants—80% of the population—still exercised almost no influence on the country’s political life.

Boldly, Adnan Menderes set out to alter all this—at first by his announced program of relying on free enterprise. He rewrote Turkey’s laws to encourage foreign investment by such means as easy profit transfers and the promise of generous exploitation terms to anyone who found oil. He encouraged private investment in textile production and light industry. Among his first acts was abolition of the rigid import controls that the Republicans had established at the beginning of World War II. The consequence was that the Turks, starved for almost a decade for the products of Western industry, began importing huge quantities of everything from steel and cement to wire recorders and electric razors.

Too impatient to wait for private enterprise to work its measured miracles, Menderes concurrently embarked on an immense government development program. Without much regard for cost, he opened new coal mines, expanded Turkey’s single steel complex, constructed a dozen beet-sugar plants, started work on six huge new dams and threw up 1,250 miles of power lines—nearly seven times as many as there were in all Turkey in 1950. Above all, he concentrated on improving the lot of the peasants. He boosted crop subsidies, imported (with U.S. aid) 40,000 tractors, and between 1950 and 1956 increased the national outlay on irrigation tenfold.

The Debt Pyramid. At first, Menderes’ development program had nothing but happy results. Acreage under cultivation doubled. In 1953, when good weather gave it the biggest wheat crop in history —8,200,000 tons v. 3,800,000 in 1950—Turkey became for the first time a substantial exporter of wheat. The once arid Anatolian plateau was dotted with green fields and bustling communities, and the cotton-producing areas of southern Turkey experienced a new prosperity. Turkey’s sugar production, which nearly trebled between 1950 and 1956, was barely able to keep pace with domestic demand. Reason: the Turkish peasant, with money in his pocket, had taken to using sugar for sweetening instead of honey or homemade fruit jam.

But before long, the inevitable consequences of a spending program that outran income began to catch up with Menderes and Turkey. Poor-to-medium wheat crops cut the nation’s exports. The unabated import spree sent Turkey’s foreign-exchange debts soaring to a current figure of $1.2 billion—about four times Turkey’s annual foreign-exchange earnings. In time, Turkey found itself backed up against a wall, fighting off creditors one by one, like a horse-opera hero picking off the members of an Indian war party. The government put off paying one debt to pay another. Foreign shippers refused to deliver any goods until they got cash or the equivalent in barter goods. “Today the Turks’ credit isn’t good enough to buy a radish except for cash,” said one U.S. businessman.

Result: a series of shortages that make life one long frustration for Turkey’s city dwellers. Coffee, long the Turkish national drink, is virtually unobtainable, and so are tools, soap, pots and pans, pharmaceuticals, razor blades, pencils, pins and needles, a plug for the bathtub, a picture hook for the wall. Most damaging of all, economically, are the shortages of items essential to industry and agriculture. Istanbul’s $2,000,000 General Electric light-bulb plant has been idle since last August for want of foreign exchange to buy raw materials; at least a quarter of the nation’s tractors are unusable because there are no spare parts for repairs. And along with the shortages has come inflation. Dropping in value about 20% a year, Turkey’s lire are 2.8 to the dollar at the official rate, sell for 14 to the dollar on the black market.

Demolished Neutral. Devoted to Turkey as an ally of rare courage and fortitude, the U.S. since 1947 has given the country more than $2 billion—$1.3 billion in military aid, $777 million in economic aid. U.S. support is now running at about $150 million a year. But three years ago, as the economic storm signals became unmistakable, Adnan Menderes sent Foreign Minister Zorin off to the U.S. to ask for a $300 million loan to carry Turkey through its “growing pains.” The U.S. refused. Politely but firmly, Menderes was told the reason: before the U.S. plowed any such sum into the Turkish economy at one grand swoop, Turkey must put its finances in order.

Menderes never accepts such unsolicited advice. He has made gestures toward economic stabilization, i.e., a tightening of bank credit in 1956, a 1958 budget that is up only 11% v. a 16% cost-of-living increase last year. But he is still allocating more than 30% of the government’s funds to public investment. The redevelopment of Istanbul has already cost more than $200 million, and will clearly cost far more before it is finished. (So much of the city has now been demolished that tourists regularly express their surprise that neutral Turkey was so badly bombed during World War II.) But Menderes is coolly counting on the fact that the U.S. cannot afford to let Turkey founder.

Secure in this conviction, he ignores the thrusts of the opposition Republicans, now led by ex-President Ismet Inonu. They charge that Menderes’ development has been by impulse rather than plan, point to factories set up where there are no facilities to bring in the coal to fuel them, to a sugar refinery that closed within two weeks of its opening because no. sugar beets were grown in the area. Even more bitterly, they accused him of using development funds as a bottomless pork barrel with which to woo the peasant vote—a charge at least partly borne out last year when Menderes swept along Turkey’s Black Sea coast in a pre-election tour passing out promises of sugar mills, cement factories and port improvements with all the abandon of a new father distributing cigars.

“A Blood Feud.” Adnan Menderes chooses to treat such criticism of his policies as personal persecution. “This,” he once shouted in response to a series of political attacks, “is not democracy; it is a blood feud!” He has cracked down on the urban intellectuals who are his bitterest opponents, just as they were Ataturk’s. In one repressive move after another, he persuaded the Grand National Assembly to bar university professors from politics, authorize the forcible retirement of judges unsympathetic to the government, and establish heavy fines and prison sentences for newsmen whose writings could be considered “harmful to the political or financial prestige of the state.” Today, even use of the word “inflation” may render a Turkish newsman subject to prosecution.

In preparation for the 1957 elections, Menderes banned all political meetings except at campaign time—a law that was interpreted so strictly that Republican Party Leader Kasim Gulek was arrested for shaking hands with well-wishers in a village bazaar. (As publisher of the newspaper Ulus, Gulek estimates that he now has 150 editorial and political charges currently pending against him.) And less than two months before election day, the Democratic majority in the Grand National Assembly passed a bill prohibiting any coalition among the three chief opposition parties.

By opposition estimates—no official figures have yet been published—Menderes and his Democrats won 48% of the popular vote, v. 41% for their closest challengers, the Republicans. Under Turkey’s electoral law this gave the Democrats a comfortable 424 Assembly seats (out of 610). But there was widespread public resentment and, in places, rioting.

Looking West. Even his most implacable opponents do not quarrel with the main lines of Menderes’ foreign policy. By sending the 5,000-man Turkish Brigade (717 dead, 2,156 wounded) to Korea, Menderes doused the memory of Turkey’s World War II neutrality in a general wave of admiration for the tough Turkish soldier. It was Menderes who, in 1952, ignoring a Soviet warning that Russia “could not remain indifferent,” led Turkey into the NATO alliance.

He has been accused of straining that alliance by his quarrel with Greece over Cyprus. But to a considerable extent, Menderes is a prisoner of popular feeling that Greek rule in Cyprus would be intolerable for the island’s Turkish minority —a feeling whose full strength first became apparent with the 1955 Istanbul riots in which hundreds of Greeks were injured and at least $25 million worth of damage done to Greek property. Many Greeks are convinced that Menderes actually encouraged and organized the riots. “The alliance continues but the friendship died,” says one Greek official.

Once committed to the West, Turkey has never looked back. In 1953 when the U.S. first began to talk about a “northern tier” alliance in the Middle East, Menderes promptly became its strongest local champion, set in train a series of mutual-assistance treaties that resulted in the Baghdad Pact.

In private conversation, even the delegates meeting in Ankara this week would probably not argue that the Baghdad Pact has been an unqualified success. It has aroused vast antagonism to the West—and to Turkey—among hysterically “anti-imperialist” Arab nations, and its members’ hopes that more Arab states may one day be persuaded to join (Iraq is the only Arab member) still remain just hopes. The U.S.’s refusal so far to become a full member—largely because this would prompt an immediate Israeli demand for a separate mutual-defense treaty with the eyes.

But the real importance of the Baghdad Pact is simply that it continues to exist. Thus it serves to deter Soviet aggression and, scarcely less important, to provide four major countries of the traditionally anarchic Middle East with practical experience in economic and military cooperation.

The Sports-Car Type. Domestic opposition to Menderes is growing, and is becoming increasingly bitter. Some longtime members of the Democratic Party have resigned in disgust. More ominous are the first signs of disaffection in Turkey’s heretofore scrupulously nonpolitical army. The government admitted last week that it had arrested eight active army officers on charges of “plotting,” and popular Defense Minister Semi Ergin resigned, apparently in protest against the arrests. (His successor: Ethem Menderes, no kin.) Foreigners watch Adnan Menderes’ headlong economic rush, and wait unhappily for the day of reckoning. “Menderes is a master brinksman,” says one U.S. observer, “and somebody has to outbrink him sooner or later.” Even Menderes himself once moodily remarked: “You know, I’m the kind that prefers a fast, flashy sports car with all its risks to a slow, safe passenger car.”

Menderes is gambling that he can create an industrialized Turkey in a matter of years without quite slipping over the brink into economic disaster. So far, he is still ahead on his gamble. In his heedless impatience, he has achieved things that more reasonable men would never have attempted. Turkey’s peasants, for the first time in history, are something more than beasts of burden, have a stake in their country’s future. Turkish industrial and agricultural production are far above 1950 levels, and still inching up. Says the representative of one West German company that has been shipping goods to Turkey without payment: “The Americans will never let the Turks down. One day we will get our money, because one day Menderes will have made Turkey into a very healthy and powerful country indeed.”

Less easy to see is why repression of the press and often anti-democratic maneuvers are necessary for such success. Apparently, hardworking, dedicated Adnan Menderes cares not, so long as his name goes down in Turkish history, alongside Ataturk, as Adnan the Builder.

* Under the terms of the Montreux Convention of 1936, Turkey is obliged to let the Black Sea powers send warships of any size through the Straits in peacetime—so long as they pass singly—is empowered to close the Straits in wartime or whenever it is threatened with war.

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