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Turkey pulling itself together

By Paul B. Henze, Special to The Christian Science MonitorPaul B. Henze is a former National Security Council staff member whose field included Turkey. / August 13, 1981


"What we had in this country before Sept. 12 was not democracy, it was anarchy. No one could trust anyone. The country was tearing itself apart. The military had to step in.They brought order and slowed inflation. Now we can plan for the future."

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These remarks were volunteered by the first Turk I met on arriving in Istanbul. He was the taxi driver who took me from the airport into the bustling old city.

In the month that followed, I talked to several hundred more Turks in all stations in life and in many parts of the country. Their comments were all variations on the same theme.

Some went even further. "[Gen. Kenan] Evren pasha must not give up power too soon," an Ankara businessman declared."We don't want the old politicians back. I hope the military stays for 10 years."

Only a small part of the population seems to share this sentiment, however. The military themselves do not. They and most Turks want to return to parliamentary rule. But they all want the system reformed so democracy will not become deadlocked again.

Devising a better system requires time. The job has to be done in tandem with sweeping economic reforms. And the process of rooting out terrorism must be completed.

It is hard to find people in Turkey who feel oppressed by the military regime. The country is experiencing an exhilarating surge of self-confidence. People recall the killings, which had reached a national rate of 28 per day by the time the military stepped in 10 months ago, and laud the security that now exists in the streets, in factories, in schools.

"The worst thing was to try notm to take sides," an engineering student at the University of Ankara said. "I didn't want to be either a rightist or a leftist, but I was attacked by both extremes. I gave up and joined the rightists so they could protect me against the leftists."

His roommate added: "Extremists terrorized all the rest of us. Now we are all Ataturkists again.

We don't argue parties. We study. And we have time for other things: sports , music, hobbies, dating. It's a great relief."

One cannot walk more than three blocks on the streets of Istanbul or Ankara without passing a two-man military patrol, automatic weapons at the ready, strolling among the crowds.People see these young soldiers as symbols of the new stability in Turkish daily life. They watch girls, chat with passers-by, are offered free tea in chayhanes.m

Like their colleagues manning road checkpoints in remote parts of the country , they are obviously under orders to be friendly and helpful to ordinary citizens.

Some Europeans seem to have difficulty understanding the bland form of military administration which Turkey is experiencing. Criticisms of European journalists, motions of censure in European parliamentary bodies, and the preoccupation with allegations of oppression and torture have generated strong irritation among Turks.

Turkish feelings toward America, on the other hand, are warmer than they have been in more than a decade. Seyfi Tashan, head of the Turkish Foreign Policy Association, sums it up: "The Carter administration is praised for lifting the arms embargo and increasing military and economic aid. The Reagan administration's tougher stance toward the Russians and its condemnation of international terrorism have been welcomed both by Turkish leaders and the majority of the population." The terrorist legacy

As the arrest and interrogation of terrorists continues, the extraordinary dimensions of the problems are beginning to come into sharper focus.