It's 1939 in Turkey

"Turkey is the world’s No. 1 potential trouble spot — it’s like a nation on the eve of war"

L. S. B. SHAPIRO July 15 1946

It's 1939 in Turkey

"Turkey is the world’s No. 1 potential trouble spot — it’s like a nation on the eve of war"

L. S. B. SHAPIRO July 15 1946

It's 1939 in Turkey


Maclean’s European Correspondent

ISTANBUL Although I have never before been in Turkey, my first observations of this country unloose a flood of memories. They are bitter memories that shuttle across the black inhuman years of war and return me to that unreasoning period of autumn, 1939. Memories of football fields filled with groups of rawboned youths learning from a hard-bitten sergeant the technique of the three-inch mortar. Memories of city parks alive with the sharp commands of drill. Memories of airfields where youngsters in fresh blue uniforms crowd enthusiastically around a newly arrived wonder machine, the Spitfire. Memories of week ends curiously glamorized by the high jinks of amateur soldiers o«n their first leaves. Memories of high spirits, of how unbeatable we will be when and if the real fighting starts, of how pure are our hearts, and how numerous are our potential allies. Full bursting memories—and yet, when dragged across the desperate years that ensued, how tragic they are!

This is June, 194fi, and Turkey lives in our September of 1939. Life here is gay, but not lighthearted; it is vibrant , but not lacking in foreboding. Turkey is preparing for war, defensive war, with as much energy as possible without resorting to that unmistakable clamor which would drown out diplomacy and create the conditions that make war inevitable.

Turkey’s reasons are clear. Her leaders feel that Russia has designs on her sovereignty and that the Kremlin has already launched a diplomatic war of

nerves in preparation for more urgent action. In this the Turkish leaders are not alone.

Every well-informed European diplomat/ fully aware of what Russia wants for security, knows that Turkey is the world’s No. 1 potential trouble spot. Iran, Iraq, Korea, the Balkansarealso-troublespqts; each may have its moment at centre stage in "the world’s theatre of postwar confusion. But Turkey, bestriding water and land lines that aim into the heart of Russia, and, inversely, that reach from Russia to a Mediterranean outlet and the British lifeline, is beyond and above all other the No. 1 trouble spot.

We will not concern ourselves here with what lies behind Russia’s foreign policy. That is a larger subject than can be incorporated in an article dealing mainly with Turkey. I should like, however, to begin this essentially sympathetic study of today’s Turkey by saying that I am not one of those who regard Russia as the undisguised villain in the piece now being played out between Moscow on the one hand and London and Washington on the other. We of the Western Powers do not, in my opinion, have all the wisdom and justice on our side in this matter.

If Russia is delicately but clearly threatening Turkey, as I think she is, we on our side are backslapping Turkey into an attitude of belligerence. The process cannot long continue without a clash—

and if the clash comes it will be the opening drumbeat of the third world war.

Here is a case for preventive diplomacy of a most urgent nature. Turkey wants nothing more s frantically than she wants peace. Ruasia needs * Jjpeacè.’ Yet the countries are moving toward a clash along the rim of the Black Sea.

What are the known facts? Is Turkey worthy of í the moral support we have already thrown on her side, and of the material support we have led her to expect? In the brave new world we envision for the future, is she a fit nation to retain unrestricted sovereignty over one of the world’s most critical waterways? These are the questions that must be examined.

Ankara—Dull but Tense

ANKARA, an ancient provincial capital now made into the modern national capital, sits on a plateau of high land in the centre of Asiatic Turkey. Kemal Ataturk moved the capital from Istanbul mostly for military reasons (Istanbul is open to quick capture in case of war from the north or west), and partly for reasons of efficiency (Istanbul is one of the gayest cities in Europe, and even legislators are vulnerable to music and bright lights and pretty women). The late President’s reasoning appears to have been well-taken. Ankara is clean, practical, and deadly dull. Its buildings are modern but modest. Its restaurants are good but not glamorous. When I paid a last call on Prime Minister Saracoglu before leaving Ankara for Istanbul, he said rather wistfully, “You will like Istanbul. You know Continued on page 45

"Turkey is the world’s No. 1 potential trouble spot — it’s like a nation on the eve of war"

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what we Turks say: Ankara is for work; Istanbul is for pleasure.”

If Ankara lacks gaiety, it does not lack excitement. Government leaders aie nervous. The people are nervous. Military staff cars race around the city as though seconds counted. Generals and colonels carry bulging brief cases in and out of state buildings. Now and then a squadron of fighter planes is sten on patrol high over the city. Why tie nervousness?

From the highest government sources cane the answer. Russia has made demands upon Turkey—demands of a nature the Turks feel they cannot entertain, no matter how deadly the pressure. When and how the demands wire made is revealed in the following authoritative summary of Russo-Turkisi relations during the last 15 months:

In March, 1945 (stated the authoritative spokesman), Russia denounced tie treaty of friendship and nonaggression which had long been the cornerstone of Russo-Turkish relations. The denunciation (though quite legal; it gave six months’ notice) came as a surprise and a shock to the Turkish Government. The timing of the denunciation (when the war with Germany was quickly rolling to a close and Russia was at the pinnacle of her military power) seemed to have an ominous significance.

The Turkish Government made every effort to discover the source of Russia’s grievance, but Russian diplomats maintained polite silence. Finally word came through diplomatic channels in Moscow that the Kremlin was disposed to talk terms for a new treaty. When this intelligence was received (in April, 1945) the Turkish Ambassador to Moscow happened to be in Ankara. He was immediately dispatched to see the Russian Ambassador to Ankara, in order to open preliminary discussions toward drawing up a new treaty. The discussion opened informally and closed quickly. Verbally, across a desk, the Russian Ambassador stated that the minimum conditions for any new treaty would be recognition of Russia’s right to take over the three eastern Turkish provinces of Kars, Ardahan and Artvin, and recognition of Russia’s right to construct fortified bases on the Dardanelles, at least in time of war.

Russia’s claim to the three small provinces of Kars, Ardahan and Artvin, adjoining Russian territory at Baku, dates back to one of the innumerable 19th century wars between Imperial Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The Russians occupied these Turkish provinces for 10 years in order to ensure payment of war reparations. The Russians finally withdrew, and the Turks conveniently forgot about reparations. In 1925, when young Soviet Russia and the new Turkish Republic settled their boundary disputes, Russia made no mention of a claim on the three provinces.

The Turkish Ambassador flatly declined to continue the discussion, on the ground that Turkey could not countenance the cession of an inch of her territory, nor forego her sovereignty over the Straits. He reported immediately to President Inonu and Prime Minister Saracoglu. They instructed him to impress on the Russian Ambassador that this view had the fullest support of the Turkish Government.

That was in April, 1945. Since then nothing but the most innocuous formalities on picayune matters has taken place between the Turkish and the Russian Governments.

It is important to note that Russia

has made not the slightest official demand upon Turkey. The conditions laid down by the Ambassador to Ankara (obviously on instructions from Moscow) were informally delivered; their validity, even their existence, can be disclaimed by the Russians.

War of Nerves—Moscow Style

This was followed by a war of nerves as only a totalitarian state in Russia’s unique position can wage it. There were Red Army manoeuvres across Turkey’s northeastern frontiers. Russia’s claim to the three provinces and to bases on the Straits was discussed on the Moscow radio by historians, professors, journalists—never by anyone in an official position. Russia’s garrisons in Bulgaria and Romania were strengthened; her Black Sea fleet increased. Russia asked for trusteeship over Tripolitania, then withdrew; she asked for a base in the Dodecanese Islands (in the Aegean Sea off the shore of Turkey)—and hasn’t withdrawn her claim. Russia has encouraged the Kurdish tribes to seek independence— and there are over a million Turkish Kurds. Russia has withdrawn an army of seven divisions from Iran—where? And so the record goes. The bear is pawing at Turkey but never touching her.

Turkey’s reaction was to turn to the Western Powers. And the Western Powers have responded. American fields in the Middle East are training Turkish military fliers to handle American-built planes. Douglas C-47’s and British Spitfires are being delivered to Turkish airfields. British and American military missions to Turkey are swollen in size and are introducing Turkish soldiers in latest methods of warfare. President Truman made a heavyhanded gesture of support by sending the giant battleship Missouri to Istanbul. The Turks went wild with enthusiasm, and in many cases their enthusiasm ran away with their good sense.

When I asked Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Hasan Saka, what Turkey’s reaction would be to Russia’s demand for a base in the Dodecanese, he replied (most undiplomatically, I thought): “Everybody knows on whose side we are, and our reaction would be guided by those on whose side we are.”

With the whole country solidly antiRussian, Turkey is turning toward the northeast, swelling her little chest (present army strength, one million; potential strength, two million men), and giving the impression of lifting her thumb slowly toward her nose. Although Turkey sincerely wants peace in her section of the Mediterranean, she is determined to fight the moment an inch of her territory is violated. That is my distinct impression. It will be a matter of resisting first, complaining to UN afterward.

Saracoglu told me he is willing to make any reasonable concession with regard to conditions of the Montreux Convention restricting military use of the Dardanelles, but he will not cede bases on Turkish soil to any foreign power, nor will he countenance Kurdish claims or Russian claims to parts of Turkish territory.

Thus, as I see it, we have the makings of a diplomatic triumph for Russia. The Soviet slate toward Turkey is clean, by all official standards. But is the reverse true? One day, when her war of nerves has reached the proper stage, Russia will be able to claim that Turkey is assuming a provocative attitude. And in the same indictment Russia will be able to include the Western Powers.

Turkey, I repeat, does not want war. (Is there a nation on earth that does?) But she has been jockeyed both by

Russia and the Western Powers into an unenviable position. Unless there is a final settlement of all outstanding Anglo - American - Russian problems within the next fateful year, Turkey may yet become another Czechoslovakia of 1938 or France of 1940.

Inonu, the Pliable Dictator

In Ankara the authoritarian nature of Turkey’s Government is deeply underlined. President Inonu rules the country with a firm, albeit paternal, hand through his chief lieutenant, Saracoglu, who is leader of the People’s Party. Officially there is an opposition. The Democratic Party, led by former Prime Minister Celai Bayar, holds six seats in the Chamber of Deputies. But Inonu’s rule is unchallenged. The Democratic opposition is powerless to thwart his legislation, and the press is timid about raising more than the mildest voice when scandal or evidence of arrant dictatorship develops. Three Turkish newspapermen were recently arrested for being too outspoken in opposition to the Government. They were convicted by an Istanbul district court, and the appeal before the Supreme Court is pending. Meanwhile they are in jail.

When one reaches Istanbul, gay and glittering on the Bosphorus, one begins to feel the throb of the future. It is a hopeful throb. After 23 years of dictatorship under Ataturk and Inonu, the Turkish people feel that the time has come to change their mode of government. And they are exerting such pressure from below that Inonu is powerless to resist it. His own party is introducing increasingly liberal legislation. It is not that Inonu and Saracoglu do not love the unrestricted power they once possessed and which they still possess in good measure. It is that they are unwilling to resort to open violence to retain that power. And the pressure from below is becoming so insistent that they must give way or become bloody-handed dictators. They are giving way, perhaps because of their love of country, perhaps because they feel the trend to real democracy in Turkey is irresistible, perhaps because Turkey today cannot afford to compromise herself in the eyes of Britain and America.

To confirm my impression, I went to see Celai Bayar, the opposition leader. He was prime minister under dictator Ataturk, and was ousted by Inonu after Ataturk’s death in 1937. Some consider him to the right even of the Saracoglu regime, yet it must be remembered that there is no left wing movement of consequence in Turkey. The people veer from right of centre to far right. Perhaps when next year’s election produces an active and powerful opposition, left wing elements will develop in Turkey. If they exist now they are so small as to be imperceptible.

I asked Bayar if his policy included freedom of all opposition parties, including the Communists. He replied, “We think all parties which do not aim at the disintegration of the territorial

entity of our country, at bringing our independence to an end, or at curtailing the basic rights of the citizens, should be completely free.”

In reply to my next question, “Do you consider yourself free to conduct a vigorous opposition to the Government?” Bayar replied:

“Yes, we consider ourselves free. Our laws, which were passed as a result of extraordinary times, are now being changed according to the requirements of normal conditions. As soon as this work is completed our activity will develop into its final form.” Bayar was referring particularly to the election law, an antiquated document which gives the party in power the fullest control over the voters and ballot boxes. He is confident that the Inonu-Saracoglu Government will be forced by public pressure to modernize and liberalize this election law before 1947, when the Government goes to the people. He has declined to contest byelections this year because the current voting law does not give his candidates a chance of victory.

It was with regard to Turkey’s attitude toward Russia that Bayar made the most interesting observations. He was, he recalled, prime minister when he negotiated with Russia for a settlement of problems which had produced a series of wars between Imperial Russia and the Ottoman Empire. “There is not a valid subject of dispute between the two countries,” he stated firmly. “I had the opportunity to witness in my official capacity all the negotiations and understandings which led to such a result. The gossip made by nonofficial persons should be met with great caution. Being a person who has followed closely the era of harmonious collaboration in Turko-Russian relations, it is very difficult for me to believe that the contrary is possible.”

Celai Bayar looked out from the terrace on which we were seated, and his grey eyes scanned the Bosphorus. It was a dazzling sight. The great harbor was alive with the shipping of 30-odd nations. The mosques of Islam threw their shadows over a bustling handsome city which had in the 23 years since Ataturk’s revolution changed from a veiled city of the East to a great metropolis of the West.

Turkey’s future is glittering as the gold of the mosque towers—if she can keep out of war. Turkey is one of the few countries of Europe that has come out of the last 10 years with her economy unimpaired, with her people’s stomachs full, and with her potential capacity for living still unexplored. With peace she can go forward. With war she is lost—perhaps for 100 years.

Her chief danger lies, curiously enough, in the fact that her people haven’t experienced modern war. They don’t know it’s destructiveness. They don’t know that everybody loses, nobody wins, no matter who sits at the victor’s table. Somebody should tell them. And quickly. They still believe it is a wonderful sight to see youths training in the fields and learning to fly fighters.