Turkey revisited

The last week in September was marked in Turkey, as in all the Muslim world, by the Feast of Sacrifice, Kurban Bayram. There was a festive and often secular mood in the streets. It was a time of celebration and for receiving gifts from your elders.

My friend Atif Bey, the horticulturalist, massive, white-haired, full of energy, smiled and shrugged. ''I will go to my father's house and kiss his hand and he will give me a present.''

It was not by chance that the Turkish government chose this holiday to give the nation's farmers a gift. The newspapers were full of the story, and as I sat in the village coffeehouse it was the major topic of the men's conversation.

Turkish farmers have come increasingly to depend upon government-sponsored credit cooperatives for the short-term financing of fertilizers, seed, and gasoline. In turn, they sell their crops to the coops at harvest time. The farmers, until this September, were given 25 percent of the crop's value upon delivery. The remainder was paid in three equal sums over the next six months. Even with a declining inflation rate - this year 20 to 30 percent compared with 100 percent or more prior to the establishment of the military caretaker government in September 1980 - erosion of the farmers' profits had become more and more an irritant to them. The government's well-timed announcement of the initial crop payment's being increased to 50 percent of the total value did much to offset a possible crisis in Turkish agriculture.

This year, as last year, I returned to rural Turkey to talk with the farmers. This time, my work led me to the prosperous farms of the Menderes Valley in the west. Affluent or modest farmers, local earth-moving contractors, and small-scale farm equipment manufacturers, all spoke of their continuing relief from the terrorism which had gripped the country prior to Gen. Kenan Evren's firm regime. Soldiers with automatic weapons are seen far less often than last year. The economy, amazingly, continues to bustle despite a serious balance-of-payments deficit.

In Anatolia, far from the touristy, nearly Byzantine facade of Istanbul, there is an almost frontier mood stimulated by another year of plentiful rain, good crops, and a perhaps somewhat anxious search for opportunities to invest the individually modest sums brought by returning Turkish workers from abroad. These returnees are not only ''gastarbeiter'' from Germany but also workers coming back from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, for Turkey is turning to new markets in the Middle East. There the skills of its people are by comparison more desirable than in Europe.

But is this energetic mood only something imagined by a sympathetic outsider? I think the answer is no. In 1968 the Turkish Soil and Water Conservation Bureau (Toprak Su) with some assistance from the United States Agency for International Development began a small-scale project in western Turkey meant to encourage private sector participation in the manufacturing of farm equipment. Careful planning and hard work paid off and by 1974, when AID's role ended, a number of small metalworking shops had begun making land planes, scrapers, subsoilers, and a variety of other farm machinery. It was all simply constructed, easily repaired, and capable of being pulled by the small tractors available on the farms.

Now, eight years later, in five Aegean provinces 185 companies produced 44, 000 pieces of farm equipment compared with only 7,700 in 1968. One manufacturer planned to exhibit his wares at an agricultural fair in Egypt this fall and another now prints his brochures in Arabic as well as Turkish.

By the same token, many farmers have organized small earth-moving contracting groups. These usually consist of members of extended families from a single village. They do this work in their own agricultural off-season leveling fields for their neighbors, or contracting for government irrigation projects in other areas, and sometimes working as far away as the Iraqi Diyala-Khalis irrigation project north of Baghdad.

This is nothing ephemeral. The energy is there, and seen from the fields of the Menderes Valley the image of the fatalistic Turk is very wrong.

It seems that if the people are apprehensive, it is not about economic stagnation, nor with the forthcoming seven-year term as president for General Evren under the new constitution which was overwhelmingly endorsed by Turkish voters Nov. 8. After all, he is the strong father who gave a gift at Kurban Bayram. The villagers wonder, instead, about the possibility of a resurgence of political violence as control is returned to civilian hands. And even more about the high price of gasoline.

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