The ugly ally of the West

Claudia Wright August 4 1980

The ugly ally of the West

Claudia Wright August 4 1980

The ugly ally of the West


Claudia Wright

In one verse of the rarely sung Turkish national anthem, there is a reference to “the monster called Europe.” Today, in all Europe, to say nothing of the rest of the world, there are few countries that could match Turkey’s record for civil violence and political murder.

In a matter of a few days the death toll has included: >

Abdurrahman Koksaloglu, Republican $ People’s Party deputy representing a g workers’ district of Istanbul in the Nag tional Assembly: the first parliamentarian of the RPP, Turkey’s major oppo5 sition party, to be assassinated by J right-wing guerrillas.

Nihat Erlm, RPP member and prime minister in 1971-72; assassinated by a leftist group.

Recay Unal, reporter for the left-wing daily Demokrat, which has been crusading editorially against police torture in Istanbul; found strangled. In the past year, editors of two other left-wing papers, Politika and Savas Yoln, have also

been murdered, along with Abdi Ipecki, editor of the centre-liberal Istanbul daily Milliyet.

Kemal Turkler, chairman of the Metalworkers Union and former head of the left-wing trade union federation; assassinated by four gunmen, probably rightists.

To observers of the Turkish scene, these assassinations mark a carefully

planned escalation of political violence designed to provoke a crescendo of retaliation. In reaction to Turkler’s death, Turkish unions called the country’s first general strike last week. Police and military officials appeared on television and radio, warning that such a mass strike was illegal and that strikers would be arrested and imprisoned. The stage thus seemed set for the massive confrontation that has long been anticipated between Turkey’s urban workers, students and unemployed, and the army. Whether the military commanders are in turn provoked into taking political authority from the government of Suleyman Demirel—they ruled for two years after a take-over in 1971 — will be tested over the next few days.

While the country’s Western allies applaud the efforts of Demirel’s govern-

ment to, in the words of a recent U.S. Senate committee report, assure “discipline without destroying all civil liberty and. . .the commitment of the military to uphold rather than remove democratic government,” the statistics issued by Amnesty International in June show an altogether different picture: one-third of the country’s provinces are no longer under civil authority; in the first four months of 1980, troops and police detained nearly 47,000 people; about 2,000 have died as a result of rioting, police attack and political assassination since January; in a single month between mid-May and midJune, there were 280 individual assassinations.

According to Amnesty, torture in Turkey is “widespread and systematic.” People picked up in army and police sweeps are routinely exposed to electric shock treatment, sexual abuse and, a particular Turkish delight, falanga, which involves the prolonged beating of the soles of the feet. Torture is also directed at women—Gülseren Kayin, arrested in Istanbul for defying a ban on May Day celebrations, required prolonged surgery to repair wounds covering her genital organs. Torture and assassination have been used to purge villages and urban districts of political adversaries. Mekmet Ali Yolagelmez, a 23year-old schoolteacher in a village dominated by the Grey Wolves, a militant right-wing guerrilla group sponsored

by the National Action Party (NAP), was kidnapped. While he was still alive, his ears and tongue were cut off and his eyes gouged out.

The NAP’S role in sponsoring political violence is widely acknowledged, and Alparslan Turkes, the party’s leader, makes no bones about his desire to “eradicate” left-wing opposition. Turkes controls 16 seats in the assembly and, by virtue of the balance of power he commands in Demirel’s fragile centreright coalition, has been able to capture a disproportionate number of ministerial and administrative posts.

Last week, Interior Minister Mustafa Guleugil was forced to resign for blaming terrorism on the left. But he was only saying aloud what Demirel’s policy

has covertly sought to achieve—the manipulation of the NAP’s Grey Wolves and other right-wing militants in murder campaigns against the leftists, in the vain hope of neutralizing both ideological extremes. The result has been merely to promote civil war.

In addition to being politically bankrupt, Turkey is also bankrupt economically. The official foreign debt abroad is estimated at more than $17.5 billion this year and, without any hope of paying interest or principal, Ankara has been compelled to plead for time. Yet between January and July, the pauper has done remarkably well at the banker’s door. In April, a 16-nation group pledged $1.16 billion in economic aid for 1981. Saudi Arabia has offered

$250 million in new loans. West Germany has multiplied its aid while the United States boosted its military and economic assistance offer to $452 million, nearly triple the aid level of three years ago. In June, the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year loan of $1.6 billion, the largest in the history of that international tightwad. Last week, Turkey’s main creditors in Europe agreed to re-schedule $2.5 billion in overdue loans and payments. Further postponements are being nego-

tiated to cover the enormous obligations that remain.

Why support so unstable a regime? For one thing, there are the debts. Aid to Turkey is one way Western governments have of protecting their loans against eventual default and of paying them off at the same time. Then there is NATO. American officials and congressional staff speak often of the value of Turkey’s role in the alliance. When pinned down for specifics, they admit that Turkish military forces are inade-

quate for defence against most types of Soviet threat. But then American and Turkish strategists do not rate the likelihood of a Soviet border attack as particularly worrisome.

On the other hand, Cumhuriyet, an Istanbul daily newspaper, has suggested that Turkey’s real value to the United States and Europe is “as a Trojan horse against neighboring Islamic countries.” After the downfall of the shah of Iran, the paper has commented, “There is tangible proof...that the United States is engaged in forming a new ‘secret’ CENTO* based on the Egyp-

tian-Israeli-Turkish triangle ... to assume duties as the guardian of the oil resources for the West in the Middle East.”

On March 29, U.S. and Turkish representatives signed an Agreement for Cooperation on Defence and Economy. The details of this pact have largely been

kept secret, both in Turkey and in the United States, but a full text of the English version became available in London a month ago, when a summary was published in the weekly New Statesman. This confirmed that the two governments had agreed on the use of Turkish bases (see map) for possible military action by American aircraft and military forces in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf area. Debate on the London disclosures in the Turkish National Assembly was furious, but parliamentary action was overshadowed by the intensification of the civil violence beginning with Koksaloglu’s murder.

At this point, it is far from clear why the Demirel government decided, after months of procrastination, to sign a pact that fails to provide Turkey with the guarantees of military aid that it had demanded, while (because of its secret clauses) posing a considerable threat to its survival. Demirel’s critics

believe, however, that the pact was the price he had to pay for American support for the rescue of Turkish debts. Without that, Demirel is thought to have calculated, he would lose—to the military—his last strong claim to retaining civil political authority.

To the National Security Council, the Politbüro of soldiers that monitors the country’s parliamentary government, the U.S. pact was not the best deal that had been hoped for, but not a bad one in the circumstances. The military has been able to barter the use of several dozen radar, electronic surveillance, storage and other military sites, for new American commitments that will increase Turkish strength against Ankara’s primary adversary—Greece, not the Soviet Union. As Turkey’s foreign and domestic masters bargain over her bones, however, there is no way of telling yet whether the army’s appetite has been satisfied, or whether the country’s angry democracy will tolerate its exclusion from the deal.

*The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) was formed in 1959 to provide mutual security by Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Britain with the U.S. as an observer. It was disbanded in 1979 after the defections of Iran and Pakistan.