Menderes: Turkey’s 1st democratically elected premier
Adnan Menderes, Turkey's first democratically elected prime minister, is being commemorated 58 years after he was executed following a coup in 1960, an event marking a dark era in Turkish history.
Born in 1899 in Turkey's western province of Aydın, a young Menderes was educated at the American College in the Aegean city of Izmir.
During the Turkish War of Independence, from 1919 to 1923, he fought against invading Greeks, and was awarded a medal of honor for his valor.
After graduating from Ankara University's Law School in 1930, he joined the Liberal Republican Party. At the personal invitation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, in 1931 he joined the ruling Republican People's Party (CHP) and was elected to parliament representing Aydın.
In 1945, he was discharged from the party, along with MPs Celal Bayar, Refik Koraltan, and Fuat Köprülü, due to their opposition to anti-democratic provisions in laws and the party's bylaws, in an incident known as the "Memorandum of the Four."
A year later, Menderes and former Prime Minister Celal Bayar founded the Democrat Party (DP), Turkey's fourth legal opposition party to survive for more than a year.
On May 14, 1950, the DP came in first in that year's general elections -- its first ballot box victory -- taking 53% of the vote and claiming 408 out of 487 seats in parliament. Up until the coup in 1960, the DP enjoyed a string of successes, winning three consecutive general elections against the CHP.
"May 14 will always be remembered as an exceptionally important historical day which closed out one era and opened another one," he said. "We remember this historic day as a victory day not only of our party but of Turkish democracy."
As the most senior member of the group and a former close confidant of Atatürk, who had passed away in 1938, Bayar was elected by parliament to the post of president, with Menderes becoming prime minister and the party's official leader.
- DP SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC POLICY
As prime minister, Menderes restored the Muslim call to prayer to its original Arabic, as heard throughout the Muslim world. The call had been altered in 1932 by the Religious Affairs Directorate in the early years of the republic.
The DP also passed a law allowing religious education, which had been abolished in the name of secularism in education, at the request of children's parents starting in the fourth grade.
At a Cabinet meeting on July 25, 1950, the Menderes government also took the historic step of deciding to send a military force to support the UN-backed South Korean coalition.
The success of the Turkish troops fighting in the Korean War was influential in Turkey's NATO membership being approved in 1952, a membership it holds till this day.
A longtime critic of state intervention in Turkey's economic life, since coming to power Menderes followed a liberal policy in the nation's economy. Economic development spurred by his policies accelerated Turkey's transition to a free market economy.
Lifting restrictions on imports, the Menderes government also lowered interest rates and encouraged the private sector to use more loans. Suggestions that the loans be used especially in the field of agriculture helped accelerate modern-day, industrialized agriculture.
With the contribution of the U.S.' post-World War II Marshall Plan, new industrial facilities were established in the country. The Turkey Foundations Bank was founded in 1954. During this period, the country's gross national product grew an average of 9% a year.
- 1960 MILITARY COUP FOLLOWED BY EXECUTIONS
After winning over 50% of the vote in the 1957 general elections, in 1960 Menderes was jailed and made to stand trial by the military regime that had overthrown his government.
He was arrested along with all leading DP members -- Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan -- following the May 27, 1960 military coup.
They were accused of violating the Constitution as well as embezzling state funds and were put on trial by a military court on the island of Yassıada, now seen as a symbol of the nadir of Turkish democracy, located in the Sea of Marmara, southeast of Istanbul.
Following a year-long trial by a military court on Yassıada, Menderes along with Zorlu and Polatkan were executed on the Island of Imralı in the Sea of Marmara.
During his tenure, Menderes had enacted liberal policies in both the economic and political realms, and brought Turkey closer to embracing a popular traditional role for religion.
In 1990, the Turkish government said it regretted the execution of Menderes, and his grave in Istanbul was turned into a mausoleum.
As the last Turkish political leader to be executed after a military coup, Menderes' name today can be found in several public places as a mark of respect.