• U.S.

Turkey: Dangerous Deadlock

6 minute read

Looming over Ankara’s busy Ataturk Boulevard like an Anatolian mountain peak is the massive, honey-colored stone structure that houses Turkey’s Parliament.

It was built by Premier Adnan Menderes and completed two years ago, just before Menderes was toppled by a military coup that led to his trial and hanging. Now the cavernous, wood-paneled Grand National Assembly building houses 450 Deputies in Byzantine comfort. Each man sits in a well-padded blue leather chair; on his desk is a row of white, green and red buttons linked to an enormous electronic vote-counting machine behind the speaker’s platform. The only trouble with the gadget is that it does not work. Since opening day last fall, neither has Parliament.

Most Turks in and out of Parliament last week were following familiar patterns.

Muscular students were perfecting gymnastic displays to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Kemal Ataturk’s campaign of liberation from the Ottoman pashas and their Western allies. In the southern town of Mardin near the Syrian border, thousands of fans rioted during a soccer game, then fought off police and soldiers who tried to put down the melee. Nightclubbers at the Istanbul Hilton twisted to an Italian band; pub crawlers in the Ankara Palas Hotel leered at “Velvet Veronique,” a stripteaser from Paris billed as “Queen of the Crazy Horse Saloon.” Such was normalcy in Turkey, the U.S.’s firm NATO ally, but it scarcely concealed the country’s troubles.

Chaos & Coups. The aim of General Cemal Gursel’s coup had been to eliminate financial chaos and corruption, invigorate the stagnant economy, restore political liberty. While the ghost of the hanged Menderes still haunted the nation, the army returned the country to civilian rule last October and sponsored parliamentary elections that made Gursel President, but failed to provide a stable majority to enact essential reforms. The result is a freakish two-party coalition government that joins the army-favored Republican People’s Party of Premier Ismet Inonu with its archenemies, the political heirs of Menderes gathered in the Justice Party.

The political deadlock frustrated a group of young army officers and cadets who, in February, tried a coup but were quickly crushed by the regime. Nevertheless, the meaning of the young Turks’ impatience was plain. Warns President Gursel earnestly: “For six months not a single issue of importance has been dealt with. The present situation cannot continue indefinitely. Either the nation’s affairs will be led into a rational channel, or other means will be sought.”

Plans & Problems. The government can take credit for some rational accomplishments. Determined to level extremes of wealth by heavy taxation (“Just as it is done in the U.S.,” says Gursel), it has pushed a law through Parliament requiring an honest declaration of assets—previously unimaginable in Turkey. The measure has increased tax receipts by a modest $60 million a year.

But many businessmen fear that the law is a prelude to outright confiscation, have been hiding their hoarded cash instead of investing it in badly needed production facilities. Some businessmen have no cash to hide. Moaned one Istanbul factory owner who was whiplashed by the alternating inflationary and deflationary policies of the Menderes regime: “In the U.S., you can build up a business and live on it for three generations. Here, in one generation I’ve run through three businesses.” The government has kept the currency stabilized, is gamely trying to slash imports and boost exports to reduce the chronic trade deficit of $150 million a year. But the basic problem is to raise national income to meet Turkey’s rapid population increase (3% annually, compared to 2% in India). Other badly needed improvements delayed by the political stalemate are housing, education, a modernized judiciary.

The government’s ambitious five-year plan envisions a total investment of $5.5 billion ($1.6 billion from the U.S. and other allied sources) in power, irrigation, steel and oil production, promises an ambitious annual economic growth rate of 7% (current U.S. rate: about 3%). But the plan is not scheduled to get under way until next March. Like so many other nations, Turkey seems to think that association with the thriving Common Market, for which it has applied, will solve its economic troubles. Says Gursel: “Membership in NATO is meaningless without membership in the Common Market.”

Shouts & Whispers. Under the constitution, President Gursel has little real power, but he continues to exert pressure on the politicians. Regularly, he climbs into the presidential Cadillac, speeds from his seaside villa near Istanbul to buttonhole and prod key politicians and military commanders. Gursel today is a spry 67, has almost fully recovered from a partial paralysis he suffered 17 months ago; he has also broken the chain-smoking habit and is proud of it. “During those first days,” he recalls, “I felt that someone had me by the throat and voices were whispering in my ear ‘Smoke, smoke!’ “

Other voices are being heard by wily Premier Ismet Inonu, 77, who, like such aging leaders as Adenauer and De Gaulle, seems to become more important to his nation as he grows older. More than anyone else, he manages to keep Turkey together. Almost deaf, Inonu spends long hours in Menderes’ former office listening to reports shouted at him by aides, follows the interminable parliamentary debates over a special white loudspeaker at his desk. Last week he saved his coalition by a rare compromise. The Senate ratified a bill granting immunity from prosecution to the leaders of the abortive February coup, but the coalition partners were still arguing over the burning issue of freeing hundreds of Menderes supporters still in prison. At the crucial meeting, Republican and Justice Party leaders were seated at two tables pushed side by side. Said Inonu, leaning across the tables toward his rivals: “It’s up to us to keep these two together.” Later he added to TIME Correspondent William McHale: “All we demand from the people is to put up with our difficulties for another year or two.”

Not everybody is in the mood to wait. While the soccer fans rioted and tourists twisted, 1,500 jobless workers marching along Ataturk Boulevard in a procession clashed with police and army units. Dozens were arrested. The fracas emphasized anew the urgency of the workers’ plea, emblazoned on their banners: “Give us fields and we will sow, give us jobs and we will work, show us the way and we will march.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com