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DEMOKRAT PARTI.Turkeywas ruled by the Demokrat Parti (DP) from 1950 until its overthrow by a military coup on 27 May 1960. Its founders, Celal Bayar (1884-1986), Mehmet Fuat Koprulu (1890-i966), Refik Koraltan (1891-1974), and Adnan Menderes (18991961 ), were all ranking members of the governing Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party, CHP). Bayar, a banker in his early life, had played a critical role during the Kemalist period in the liberal, antistatist wing of the party and had served as prime minister in 19371938. Koprulu, a historian and Turcologist, had proposed a reformation that would turkify Islam; his proposal, however, was not taken seriously. Koraltan was a bureaucrat, andMenderesa large landowner from the prosperous Aegean region. Together they represented the liberal wing of the CHP; in forming the DP, they responded to the rising bourgeoisie’s demand for political and economic liberalization and an end to the state’s hegemony over civil society. The Turkish people had also come to hate the single-party regime, which had become increasingly repressive, especially during World War 11. The imposition of militant secularism was especially resented by the sullen population. The pressure for political change that came from a victoriousAmerica, which encouraged pluralism and a free-market economy, ought not to be discounted either.

The introduction of multiparty politics and the lively competition for votes made Islam a burning issue and forced all parties to reevaluate their religious policy. Between 1945 and the 1950 elections, the CHP abandoned its militant secularism and made concessions to Islamic sentiment. When the Democrats won power in May 1950, they merely accelerated the process, realizing that the overwhelmingly Muslim population had been alienated by state interference in religious life.

The Democrats’ first concession was quite dramatic: in June 1950, they lifted the ban on the call to prayer (ezan) being made in Arabic and permitted muezzins to sing the ezan in either Arabic or Turkish. Most chose Arabic, and the impact of this reform resounded throughout the country. On 5 July they permitted the broadcasting of religious programs over the radio, and the Qur’an was heard over the airwaves. In October, religious lesson in schools (introduced by the CHP) became virtually obligatory when parents were asked to inform the authorities in writing if they did not want their children to attend such lessons. Few Muslim parents did so.

There was a bipartisan consensus on religious policy as long as the secular reforms of Ataturk were not threatened. In fact, both parties welcomed the Director of Religious Affairs’ pronouncement against communism. “Islam,” declared Ahmed Hamdi Akseki, “rejects communism absolutely, its ideology in any form and all its practices. Faith and spirit are the most powerful weapons against communism. It is not possible for a genuine believer to reconcile himself to the ideas and practices of communism.”

The more liberal atmosphere marked by an emphasis on populist politics also led to the reappearance of a variety of religious orders popular with the masses. Their leaders believed that Islamist political pressure would compel the DP government to reverse some of the major reforms of the republic, notably the Western code of law and the Latin script. In the DP’s congress inKonyam 1951, there were demands for the restoration of the fez, the headwear banned in 1925, and the veiling of women. Politics also entered the mosque, and the Friday sermon was often used to denounce the opposition for being anti-Islam. Even Ataturk’s busts and statues, found in every village and town, were vandalized.

The CHP, founded by Ataturk and claiming his mantle, blamed the Democrats for failing to protect the Kemalism to which both parties were constitutionally committed. Prime Minister Menderes responded by taking stern measures against the reactionaries. In March 1951 orders were issued to protect Ataturk’s statues, and men like Necip Fazil Kisakurek, who led the Islamic resurgence, were prosecuted. Islamist publications were proscribed. In June 1951 members of the Tijani order, who were agitating for the restoration of a theocratic monarchy (also a violation of the constitution), were arrested. Their shaykh, Kemal Pilavoglu, was sentenced to ten years at hard labor. The “Ataturk Bill” passed by the Assembly on 25 July gave the state greater powers to prosecute those who threatened the secular republic. Under this law, the Islamic Democrat Party was dissolved in March 1952, Kisakurek was sent to jail, and Said Nursi (Nurculuk), the leader of the Nurists, was put on trial. Finally, the “Law to protect the Freedom of Conscience” was passed in July 1953 to prevent Islam from being used for political ends. Under this law, when the Nation Party, founded in July 1948 by a right-wing splinter group in the DP, made Islam a part of its political platform, it was dissolved by court order on 27 January 1954. [See also Nurculuk; and the biography of Ksakurek. ]

In the 1954 election, however, all parties exploited religion to attract votes, though with little success. The DP’s victory was even more resounding than in 1950, its triumph being based on its economic policies, which initially brought the country prosperity as well as a great sense of dynamism and hope. Only in Kirsehir was Islam’s role critical; there the Republican Nation Party, supported by the Bektashi order, won all seats.

After 1955 the DP too began to exploit Islam more openly. There were two principal reasons for the change. First, the liberal Kemalist wing broke away and formed the Freedom Party, strengthening the right wing. Second, the economy began to stall, leading the Democrats to flout their religious image as a distraction. They cultivated the religious orders because they controlled local voting blocs. More money was spent on mosques, and the Democrats boasted that they had spent 37.5 million liras (over thirteen million dollars) in seven years, while the CHP had spent only 6.5 million liras in their twenty-seven years.

The decline of the DP’s vote from 56.6 percent in 1954 t0 47.3 percent in 1957 suggests that its religious policy was not paying off. The economic crisis turned voters away, and religious appeal was a poor substitute. Religious activity flourished in 1958, a disastrous year for the economy with the lira devalued by almost four hundred percent. Radio was now allowed to devote more airtime to religious programs, and the Nurists were left free to spread their propaganda.

The Democrats had become identified with the resurgence of Islam. After Menderes survived an airplane crash inLondonin February 1959, that identification became more explicit; the hand of providence was seen in the escape, described as miraculous. The myth of Menderes’s immortality emerged, and it has been suggested that the junta that overthrew him executedMenderesto destroy this myth.

The Demokrat Parti facilitated the Islamic resurgence as any ruling party would have done to survive the challenge of competitive politics. In fact, the resurgence was more the consequence of the mass politics that replaced the politics of elites in 1945. The center of political gravity shifted to the provinces largely untouched by Kemalist reforms or modern secular culture. This was recognized after the fall of the Democrats, and any party that has won power since has had to cope with this element of political life.

[See alsoTurkey.]


Ahmad, Feroz. The Turkish Experiment in Democracy, 1950-1975.LondonandBoulder, 1977. Contains two interesting chapters on the Demokrat Parti and one on religion and politics.

Karpat, Kemal.Turkey’s Politics: The Transition to a Multi-Party System.Princeton, 1959. The best study of the 1945-1950 period. Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of ModernTurkey. 2d ed.LondonandNew York, 1968. Authoritative account of political and intellectual changes in post-KemalistTurkey, as well as earlier periods. Saribay, Ali Yasar. “The Democratic Party, 1946-1960.” In Political Parties and Democracy inTurkey, edited by Metin Heper and Jacob Landau, pp. 119-133.LondonandNew York, 1991. Recent reevaluation of the Demokrat Parti by a Turkish political scientist. Simpson, Dwight. “Development as a Process: The Menderes Phase inTurkey.”Middle EastJournal 19 (Spring 1965): 141-152.

Toprak, Binnaz. Islam and Political Development inTurkey.Leiden, 1981. A book that tries to make sense of this important subject.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/demokrat-parti/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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