142. Telegram From the Embassy in Turkey to the Department of State1

5416. Subj: (S) Political Reporting: Prospects for Military Intervention. Ref: State 178919.2

1. Secret-entire text.

2. Summary: We do not think intervention by the Turkish military in the Turks political process is imminent before the October elections. The military is dissatisfied with the trend of events, however, and should the political/economic situation deteriorate further they might decide to intervene for a third time. End summary.

3. Because the Turks military regards itself as the ultimate defender of Ataturk’s Westernizing and modernizing reforms and has intervened in the political process twice since 1960, a third intervention has to be regarded as possible. The failure of Turkey’s politicians to find solutions to deep-seated economic and social problems and continuation of cutthroat politics as usual during the first half of 1979 has created dissatisfaction among senior military officers. Centrifugal forces at work in neighboring Iran, renewal of Kurdish activity in Iraq and internal expressions of Kurdish nationalist sentiment in Turkey’s sensitive southeastern provinces have heightened their concern. As a result, there is evidence that senior military officers have discussed the possibility of a third political intervention among themselves and with elements of the Turkish political elite. However, our information suggests that intervention in the period immediately ahead is unlikely. The failure of Demirel’s effort to unseat Ecevit in June has given Ecevit a breathing space at least until the October elections. Barring some dramatic event before then, it is unlikely the military will intervene.

4. In the past there have been signs of rumblings below the surface before the military moved which have been picked up by our intelligence reporting. We are not at present getting these types of signals. There were some indications that senior military figures were discussing intervention earlier during the spring but for the moment these have tapered off. (Comment: If the coup plotters were relatively junior in rank, the prospect of their carrying out preparations without it coming to our attention would be greater.)

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5. In any case, we believe that it would be difficult for the military to intervene under present circumstances. The military establishment is heavily preoccupied with its own internal problems. In order to justify such action, maintain their prestige, and win broad public acceptance, the military would need a rationale which does not exist at present. There are, however, conceivable events which if they occurred might provide a credible justification for action:

—Revolt in southeastern Turkey: Open revolt by Kurds in southeastern Turkey or a spill over of fighting from neighboring Iran or Iraq would probably lead the Turkish military to intervene, particularly if the civilian leadership was seen as indecisive or capitulatory.

—Economic collapse: A disaster, such as a major crop failure or riots protesting high prices and shortages might lead the military to feel intervention was warranted. Agricultural production in 1979 should, however, be high. Moreover, the Turkish people are by nature stoic. Riots or nationwide strikes are not traditionally regarded as acceptable forms of protest.

—Mishandling of a major incident: Bungling a serious outbreak of violence, similar to the Kahramanmaras incidents of December 1978, the 1977 May 1 celebration in Istanbul or the Palestinian attack on the Egyptian Embassy, could prompt military action.3 The 1971 coup by memorandum was sparked by the Demirel government’s mishandling of the kidnapping of four American airmen. Ecevit’s failure to appear decisive or consult fully with the military could prompt some form of limited military intervention.

—Political statemate—Perhaps the most likely cause for intervention would be a prolonged political crisis in which the democratic process as presently structured in Turkey appeared totally incapable of dealing with the country’s many problems. Such a crisis might occur later this year should the Ecevit government fall and no clear alternative emerge. As noted in our earlier assessment (Ankara 4193), pres[Page 436]sures are building up for fine tuning the political system.4 A prolonged crisis could cause the military to take a hand in this process.

6. In sum, while it is our judgment that military intervention is not likely in the short run, we cannot be as confident about the medium term. Turkey’s prolonged economic and political crisis has, according to our Consulates in Izmir and Adana, begun to have an adverse effect on the traditional stoicism of the Turkish public. The Consulates sense a growing inclination among some elements of the Turkish elite to want the military to intervene to “set things right.” As our earlier analysis indicated, we doubt the current military leadership is inclined toward intervention, but a failure of the political system in dealing with Turkey’s political/economic crisis may alter this attitude.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Box 10, Ankara. Secret; Immediate; Roger Channel. Sent for information to Adana, Istanbul, and Izmir.
  2. Not found.
  3. The Turkish city of Kahranmanmaras erupted in political violence when Sunni and Alevi Muslim fighting left over 100 people dead. The incident on May 1, 1977, known as the Taksim Square Massacre, occurred during May Day celebrations in Istanbul, when gunmen shot into a crowd, killing 36 and wounding over 200. On July 13, 1979, Palestinian fighters attacked the Egyptian Embassy in Ankara, killing two Turkish security guards and taking nineteen hostages with the demand that Egypt renounce the peace negotiations with Israel and recognize a Palestinian state. The Consulate reported the May 1, 1977, violence in telegram 1503 from Istanbul, May 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770153–0400) The Embassy reported the July 13 incident in telegram 14194 from Cairo, July 13. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790316–0785)
  4. Telegram 4193 from Ankara, June 4, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790252–1037.