Turkey: a mix of the modern -- and authoritarian
ALTHOUGH the American press rarely deals with Turkey, Americans clearly have a considerable stake in the far-reaching reforms of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal now under way throughout this proud nation. After all, Turkey controls the strategic Bosporus and Dardanelles waterways, through which Soviet ships must pass into the Mediterranean.Skip to next paragraph
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Ankara contributes 600,000 troops to the NATO alliance, more than any other American ally, and plays host to the most vital United States listening posts, along with major air bases that house 6,000 American military personnel. Turkey is also the third-largest recipient of bilateral US aid and has recently been entrusted with joint production, in cooperation with General Dynamics, of 160 advanced F-16 interceptor aircraft.
The point, however, is that the economic and administrative reforms of Mr. Ozal, a conservative economist, are shaking Turkish life in a way that the Anatolian Peninsula has not seen since Kemal Ataturk transformed Turkey into the only secular Muslim state.
Major state enterprises, such as Turkish Airlines, are headed for private ownership, as are important parts of the mining, cement, and textile industries. Public shares in the toll revenues of the Bosporus Bridge were sold out within an hour of going on sale last year, helping to raise capital for a second bridge spanning the waterway. A similar income-producing project involving the Keban dam, the fourth-largest hydro power station in the world, is equally popular. An even larger dam, named for Atatur k, is also being built on the Euphrates, while a metro and tunnel system is being built in Istanbul, along with long-overdue modernization of major highways, railways, and telecommunications facilities.
After decades of strict state-guided economic planning, controls dating from Ottoman times are being liberalized, and private-sector investment has been growing at 5 percent a year in real terms. Likewise, foreign investment has increased fivefold in just five years. Turkish banking has also undergone a revolution, since interest rates have been allowed to float freely, and six more foreign banks will open up Turkish operations this year, not far from the newly modernized Istanbul Stock Exchange.
Yet, as an ancient society that in many respects has evolved little from Ottoman days, Turkey remains about midway in development between the third world and the European nations it seeks to join one day as a member of the Common Market. Unemployment is running at 1 in 5 workers. There is a high birthrate. Nearly half of Turkey's population still works on the land, and illiteracy in rural areas is far above European levels.
But what separates Turkey from the rest of Europe is not so much economic underdevelopment as the continuing power of the military, which permeates all facets of Anatolian life. It is a phenomenon that most Turks find as comforting as their Western allies find alarming.
A case in point is the concern that many urban Turks have expressed about the withdrawal of Turkish military police from the streets of most major cities in recent months. To the untutored observer, returning normal police functions to the civilian sector seems a logical step in the country's slow but steady march back to civilian rule. In fact, the police are regarded with great suspicion, since their ranks are still rent by the kind of ideological strife that nearly led to civil war before the militar y coup of September 1980. As one left-wing academic put it, ``The military arrested me after the coup, then eventually let me go. Had it been the police, I probably would have been dead.''